self-promoting since 1998

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.


Fri 10

It’s Definitely Real: Syrup Shoot, Day 1

Syrup First I saw a bunch of trucks. Yesterday I asked the producer where exactly I might find this location; like, would I need an apartment number? And he laughed at me, because, no, I could just look for the trucks.

Here is me meeting the director, Aram Rappaport, for the first time without a Skype connection. I am grinning like a kid on Christmas morning because of all the trucks. And the people carrying stuff. And the trailers with names on the doors that say SCAT and SIX* and SNEAKY PETE.

Inside the building, four rooms were dressed as Scat & Sneaky Pete’s apartment and the rest were for monitors and thick cables and busy people and electrical equipment worth more than my house. It was so authentic I didn’t realize this at first. I don’t know what I thought; maybe that we were passing through someone’s disheveled bedroom en route to the warehouse with the wooden sets. But then it was gently explained to me.

When writing, I tend not to imagine physical details very precisely. I get a strong feeling for personalities and emotions, but what stuff looks like, that doesn’t really bother me. Here were those vague, floating impressions given weight and detail. It was freaking amazing.

Here I am in Scat & Sneaky Pete’s living room.

A lot of people were very busy carrying stuff and testing things and then filming began. I watched this on a monitor in another room, with a set of headphones to hear what people were saying. It was without doubt the most surreal experience of my life. I’m not sure I can explain this any better than to simply say that a whole bunch of highly talented people began to recreate with astonishing fidelity stuff I once dreamed up. It was hard to shake the feeling that they were doing it just for my personal benefit. Like I had a terminal illness and this was my Make-A-Wish. The very first scene filmed was the one where Scat bursts into Sneaky Pete’s bedroom and says, “I have an idea.” I guess this was chosen for sensible logistical reasons, but, boy, was it eerily perfect.

It was also my first look at Shiloh Fernandez, outside of “Red Riding Hood” trailers, and holy hell, he is wonderful. He said lines and they magically became way better than they sounded in my head. He was Scat sprung to life. (People call him “Scat” even when he’s not acting, which reinforced my feeling that I had invented him.)

Sneaky Pete is different, because in the book he’s Asian and in the film he’s Kellan Lutz. He has the silent shtick but for different reasons, so he’s more like a new character, rather than a hallucination made material. Throughout the day I felt this difference between stuff that was different from the book, which was merely fearsomely cool, and stuff that was the same as the book, which was like having my brain excavated.

I have a lot more respect for actors than I did twelve hours ago. They deliver a line with the exact same feeling ten times in an hour while being bombarded with instructions on where to stand and exactly how far to lean forward and can you do that with your left hand instead of your right and by the way the entire crew is waiting for you to get this exactly right so no pressure. It makes me feel like a chump because when I get tired or lose interest during my job, I just go get a snack or check my email.

I have more respect for the sheer volume of time and talent that is poured into creating a few seconds of good cinema. It seems kind of appalling to me now that I can dash off a couple lines with no regard for lighting or sound or framing or whether the camera operator’s knees can actually bend that way. (The camera operator is basically a circus strongman wearing a Transformer. The physical demands of what this guy does for ten or twelve hours in a day I cannot comprehend.) So much of what I do I actually leave up to you, the reader. A film needs to fill all that in, so around my words people are pouring in new ideas, making it expand as it solidifies.

At the end of the day, I met Shiloh and Kellan and found them to be incredibly friendly and charming. I feel so grateful to these guys for not sucking. I should probably think of a better way to express that. What I mean is: you know when you have an awesome dream and you try to explain it to someone? And as it’s coming out of your mouth you realize this actually sounds incredibly lame. These guys are making the dream sound awesome.

I seriously can’t shake the feeling that I’m talking to Scat.

Tomorrow there’s the first scene with 6, played by Amber Heard, which I can’t wait to see because 6 is very dear to me and god help Amber if she screws this up. Actually I’m just really excited. I’ve had a few sleepless nights about how this is going to turn out but now I’m blissing. It won’t be just like how I imagined, of course, or an exact reproduction of the book; neither of those would make good movies. Instead there is a spirit here that feels exactly like what I was trying to capture almost 15 years ago, and a bunch of incredibly dedicated, smart people from the director down working harder than I ever have to make it happen.

(* “Six” is wrong, of course. It’s 6, the number. I pointed that out to the the producer, trying to be funny, and he assured me it would be fixed as soon as possible, but maybe not right away because everyone was so busy. So then I felt like an asshole.)

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