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The Vast of Night is a masterclass in small budget sci-fi, Ars Technica

The Vast of Night is a masterclass in small budget sci-fi, Ars Technica


    

      It’s always New Mexico –

             

Film festival darling snuck up and attracted Amazon money, hits theaters / streaming in 2020.

      

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A festival circuit trailer for Amazon’sThe Vast of Night.

AUSTIN, Texas — Everyone kinda, sorta knows the story ofThe Vast of Nightbefore they even hear of this movie.Filmmaker Andrew Patterson readily admits he partially based his debut feature on a real-life event —The1955 Kecksburg incident– and even the initial idea that led him to researching Kecksburg struck Patterson as familiar. “I have a document in my phone of three or four dozen single line movie ideas,” he told Ars. “This one said, ‘1950 s, black and white, New Mexico , UFO film. ”

ButThe Vast of Nightultimately doesn’t hinge on how its plot plays out. This small budget, tightly scoped sci-fi film has wowed festival audiences enough toattract Amazon moneylargely on its spectacle — individual images you’d gladly frame for the office wall, dialogue that draws you in no matter the subject, sonic flourishes that stick with you long after the credits roll. Talking to the filmmaker after a recentFantastic Festscreening, it becomes hard to shake the feeling he’ll be managing a much larger studio budget of his choosing in the very near future.

“We knew we were working in a genre that was shop-worn, nothing new,” Patterson says. “We wanted to let people know,‘ OK this is an abduction in New Mexico — we know this story, you know this story. How can we find a way in and do something special, to make something new? ‘ I wanted to make it like the films I enjoy, which are usually about people learning about each other, their dynamics and relationships. So, OK, I want to start this like it’s a Richard Linklater movie… then we get side-swiped into something extraordinary. ”

      

      

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                          Fay (Sierra McCormick) is a go-getter student who bought a tape recorder and works the switchboard.

                                                            

                                                  Amazon / YouTube

                                      

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                          Everett (Jake Horowitz) is a radio DJ willing to train Fay on interviewing techniques. (He has Rivers Cuomo style crossed with McConaughey speech.)

                                                            

                                                  Fantastic Fest / Fons PR

                                      

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                          Whitney, Texas is pretty stunning when viewed through the right lens (it plays Cayuga, New Mexico in the 1950 s in this film)

                                                            

                                                  Amazon / YouTube

                                      

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    The Vast of Nighthas its period pieces down pat, including some delightful classic cars and driving style .

                                                            

                                                  Amazon / YouTube

                                      

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                          This is very muchnotlike the modern NBA game, but 1950 s New Mexico High School basketball rivalries bring all the townspeople together.

                                                            

                                                  Amazon / YouTube

                                      

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                          The current trailer’s official title image …

                                                            

                                                  Amazon / YouTube

                                      

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                          … but the film impressed enough people in Austin, Texas to get the Mondo treatment during Fantastic Fest 2019.

                                                            

                                                  Fantastic Fest / Fons PR / Mondo

                                      

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Midwestern maker mojo

Patterson has worked as a videographer and amateur filmmaker around (Oklahoma City) for years, partially financingThe Vast of Nightfrom funds gained through shooting Oklahoma City Thunder promotional videos. All those reps have evidently built an incredible technical base for this first-time filmmaker. It may have taken four years to go from script to screen, but the craftsmanship behind this film only grows more impressive (and becomes more glaringly obvious) as the story unfolds.

To start,The Vast of Night’speriod touches appear seamless but took a lot of care. Basketball in the 1950 s, for instance, has no three-point line or modern backboards, and the game didn’t feature endless pick-and-roll. So for the big rivalry game that would occupy most of the town in this story, Patterson and co. scoured Oklahoma and Texas until they found a gym inWhitney, Texasthat could look the part. “We went and counted gyms, looked at 400 or so, ”he says. “We sanded the floor, got rid of the three-point line — and that’s a $ 20, 00 0 cost, but I’m glad we did it. I’m enough of a sports guy that if I saw thatandglass backboards, c’mon. ”

TheVast of Nightteam took the same obsessive approach toward more central aspects of the film like the radio station and switchboard, too. (Patterson initially toyed with the idea of ​​a stage play, and those locales would’ve been two of three main sets.) To help these young actors better sink into the world and roles, Patterson wanted to make sure the switchboards used for the film could beactually used. They called up theOklahoma City Museum of Telephone Historyand connected with passionate switchboard collectors in the area, eventually finding four functional switchboards and an enthusiast willing to modify them for 2019. “He got under the hood and got them functioning again, then he built a system where you can make calls,” Patterson says. “You could pick up your cell phone, call the box, and then [Sierra McCormick, who plays Fay] could hear you in her headphones.”

The old-school looking radio station required even more small film ingenuity. The team made a set for the interior of the station and hosted it next to the basketball court at the Whitney gym… because they didn’t actually have permission to go into a radio station to film. “We knew they were going to bulldoze [the building for the town radio station] a month later, and the company had said,‘ Yeah you’re good to use it, ’” Patterson recalls. “So we put that tower on top, those call letters in front, and then they said, ‘We’re not comfortable with this, we’re not going to sign off.’ And then we went and shot it — it’s in the movie. The production design team did a lot of work. Luckily it’s night, so we got away with murder. ‘There’s a neon sign in the distance — someone throw someduvetyneover it. Do we have permission? No. OK, no one’s awake, go do it. ’That way we could keep our dirty little secret — there’s a Subway five feet away.”

        

Listing image by Amazon / YouTube

                                        

                     

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