Director Matthew Wade and DP Lila Streicher are the creators behind the breakout Slamdance Film Festival feature “A Black Rift Begins to Yawn." The film tells the story of how as two former classmates dig into their deceased professor’s set of cassette tapes, which possibly contain recordings of strange signals from beyond the stars, they begin to feel memories, the chronology of time, and their identities slip into obscurity.
According to Wade, “‘A Black Rift Begins to Yawn’ is more focused on the mental strain of isolation and believing in something that may or may not be true. This all feels too timely now, but we shot the film in 2017 and had it done by early 2020, pre-pandemic.”
Wade and Streicher can discuss what went into creating the film, including the challenges of having a minimal cast and crew (seven total, including actors); what it was like to make the transition away from film (as this was Wade’s first digital project); and the workflow and technology behind it – including how they edited and graded the film with DaVinci Resolve Studio and shot it with a Production Camera 4K.
PH: How are you both doing? How has your work and how you work changed this year?
Lila: Oh fine, thank you. Hanging in there. I lost a lot of paid work over the last year like many others, but it turned into a year of reflection and coming to a place of wanting to create again. The years leading up to 2020 were a little overwhelming to me, I was working a lot and I wanted to be a part of every cool project that came my way or that was offered to me. That became exhausting on many levels very quickly. So when I was forced to stop working, it was the first time in a long time I was able to rediscover what I actually really like doing. So yeah, this last year has changed me in how I approach work and taking time for my own projects and being choosy about who I work with (and of course, Matthew is one of those people). It’s good.
Matthew: I’ve been writing a lot this last year, working as a freelance animator from home (which isn’t that unusual) and just taking the isolated time with my wife, Sara Lynch (who co-produced the film and stars as Laura), to discover what we are really passionate about doing next. I had a very similar awakening as Lila, though years before the pandemic, where I came to the same conclusion as her: make art you love with your friends and be choosy about where you spend your free time. I don’t want to make "content," I want to make film.
PH: Can you talk about how you "broke" into the industry? What are some of the first projects you were a part of?
Lila: I mean, I’ve been a photographer for a while and so I happened upon filmmaking after doing behind-the-scenes photos on sets. And then I pretended to know how to AC, and that’s when I met Matthew. I'd been on a total of two sets before A Black Rift Begins to Yawn.
Matthew: Similar to Lila’s trajectory, I was crewing on films and commercials in my late teens/early 20’s just to be around production while trying to understand all of it. But I thought most of the stuff I was working on was pretty dreadful and had nothing to say, so I kind of stopped doing that and just started shooting my own films instead. My first short film, It Shines and Shakes and Laughs, was shot on Super 8mm with friends. I did all of the editing and sound design myself, too, pretty much learning as I went. That film got into Slamdance in 2009, before playing at other festivals all over the world, which was the sign for me that I was on the right track. I knew I had no interest in shooting local commercials or crewing on large films, so I went to school in Vancouver, Canada, to study Classical Animation. I’ve worked an animator on stuff for Target, Warner Bros. Records, Patagonia, SyFy Channel, Foot Locker, Adult Swim, Whole Foods, independent films, and so on with lots of other cool artists and animators.
PH: How did “A Black Rift Begins to Yawn” come about?
Lila: For me, it started as a couple of conversations about religion and Russian cinema (and a lot of coffee and probably a decent amount of whiskey).
Matthew: The seeds were about what happens when people latch onto an idea and exacerbate the potential dangers of it through isolation, reinforced sometimes by groupthink. I guess it may have been a subconscious response to the ever-increasing fundamentalism in religion and tribalism in politics. When I was growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch horror movies, listen to certain types of music, go to haunted houses with friends during Halloween, etc. I had to be excused from class if they were coloring in Halloween-themed coloring books. But the forbidden elements of those things gave them such a power that I would often fantasize about what kinds of forbidden things must dwell within them, thus creating new nightmare myself. Several of my friends who are modern horror filmmakers grew up similarly and we often talk about this being a major influence on our interests in these kinds of things. To me, the horror in A Black Rift Begins to Yawn is the horror of beliefs, unchecked, and acted upon, and how ideas and beliefs rob a person of their individuality and intelligence.
PH: What's the underlying message? It was shot in 2017, but it seems oddly relevant to 2020.
Matthew: Yeah, almost everyone thinks it was shot during the pandemic, which makes total sense. For me, there’s an H.P. Lovecraft quote that sums up my intentions nicely: “We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” Lovecraft’s work is about the unraveling of humanity’s feabile mind, when confronting unimaginable horror, more than it’s about monsters. While our film is not based on any Lovecraft story, his work is hugely inspirational to everything I make. The title A Black Rift Begins to Yawn comes from a line in his 1936 novella, The Shadow out of Time. I wanted to make a film where the audience was in the head of the characters as they were trying to piece the fragments of their psychological state together, which meant we get no more, or less, information than the characters.
PH: Can you talk about some of the challenges you faced working with a minimal cast and crew?
Lila: I actually really prefer a minimal cast and crew. Challenges are that everyone wears many hats, like Sara and Matthew wearing the most. And it just means a lot of work. But it’s so much better working with people you like and are comfortable working with, you can just focus on making the thing.
Matthew: Agreed. The larger the crew, the more steam it takes to pivot and there's no time to just sit and think and be in the space to get a sense of what is needed, or not needed. We lived in the locations we shot in, so we got very close and there was nowhere to hide; we were forced to really create as one animal. Even though she’d never DP’d even a short film, Lila was the first and only person I asked to shoot A Black Rift Begins to Yawn. Our conversations and references were mostly from the work of photographers, painters, political and religious movements, and very little to with other movies. One exception: I showed her Eraserhead for the first time and that she liked it and understood, yeah, it’s about feeling and atmosphere, made me all the more confident we were golden.
PH: Matthew, this was your first digital project. What was the experience like for you?
Matthew: We shot on the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K. That camera is a beast. I bought it back in 2015 after much hesitancy over going digital at all, but really I was sold on the global shutter shooting RAW UHD images, especially at that price point. I also rented it out to shoot several films, including a couple of features before mine. I knew going in that I was going to have some shots that lasted 6+ minutes and involve a lot of experimentation, which economically is very hard to do on film stock. I love the way film looks but the digital imagery has come a really long way since I shot my first feature, How the Sky Will Melt, back in 2012. The camera we shot on was one that Lila and I were so familiar with that there was no learning curve required on our set. The biggest thing was that Lila, Chaz, or I could just grab it, slap in a memory card, and run and grab some spontaneous footage; very important for micro budget filmmaking. I will say, a learned behavior from shooting film stock for years is that we didn’t overshoot on this project. No inserts we didn’t use, no close-ups we didn’t use, etc. I hate wasting time by just shooting for coverage. But I’m also the editor, so it makes no sense to shoot that way to begin with since I already knew what I wanted the film's flow and look to be before we even started. I also have to give a shoutout to Flies Collective, a very cool production company out of Brooklyn, for hooking me up with a grant to get the DaVinci Resolve Micro Panel. That was a huge boost in my coloring process.
PH: Lila, what was the workflow like? And how did you work with Matthew?
Lila: This remains one of my favorite films I’ve ever been involved with. Pre-production was watching movies, conversations, and drawing floor plans with camera moves and lighting setups. Matthew trusted me and listened to my ideas and that was a major thing. Between Matthew, Chaz Gentry (our light designer), and I there were a lot of “What if we did blank?” We took a lot of breaks and gave ourselves time; if something wasn’t working we’d walk away for a bit. That’s how I work best, with lots of time. So yeah, Matthew and I worked very well together.
PH: Equipment/technology is obviously critical for a project like this. What was some of your favorite, go-to technology? Why?
Matthew: For this kind of film, having the ability to shoot very long takes and push the color grade were key things going in. We shot with lots of color filters and had mapped out the color theory running throughout the film. I’m the biggest DaVinci Resolve fanboy; I did every aspect of post in Resolve, save for the scoring and final sound mix (because Jacob Kinch works in ProTools). I even upgraded Resolve twice during post (it took that long for me to cut) and my working files never skipped a beat.
Lila: We used pretty basic film and photography equipment for the shoot but for me it was very cool to see the movie come to life in a whole new way after it went through its final color phase. Knowing what we wanted from day one was key.
PH: How have your roles changed? And how do you think they'll continue to change?
Matthew: I’m pretty deep into a new script. It’s an actual genre horror film (now that my two experimental features are behind me) that is very personal to me, which I kind of tease out here and there to Lila even though we both have a running joke about being retired filmmakers (something I say after every film wraps). This next time around, I’d like to have the money to make it right, on the scale it needs. Part of that will be bringing this team with me, when and wherever that next thing is. Until then, it’s just more coffee and whiskey and conversations about artists who died a hundred years ago.
Matthew Wade is a writer, director, animator, illustrator, and musician living in the Pacific Northwest. Growing up in the outskirts of Boise, ID, he began making skate and sketch comedy videos with his friends in high school. After graduating from Vancouver Film School’s Classical Animation program Matthew moved to Los Angeles, where he animated on spots for Foot Locker, Patagonia, SyFy Channel, Adult Swim, Warner Bros Records, Target, Vans, and a singing, claymation sun for the hit Brockhampton music video, Sugar, which premiered via MTV in Times Square. In 2015, Matthew released his debut feature, How the Sky Will Melt, primarily filmed in Idaho. Matthew moved back to Idaho to finish the film and founded Sky Melt, a production company focused on making personal, intimate animated and live-action films. To date, they have produced a handful of short films (all of which premiered in Oscar-qualifying festival competitions) and two features. Matthew’s second feature, A Black Rift Begins to Yawn, was produced and shot shot in Idaho. Matthew now lives and works from his rural Oregon residence.
Lila Streicher is a photographer and filmmaker based in Boise, Idaho. From her childhood spent snapping photos of whatever caught her eye to her first professional gig as a photographer, Lila has cultivated her drive to create imagery. As a filmmaker, she has worked on films in Boise, Los Angeles, Iceland, and Germany. Inspired by her work as a painter, her ideas about light and composition inform her approach to conventional filmmaking to create a novel outcome. Lila’s photographs seek to portray the relationships of objects through line and pattern interplay. Her lifestyle portraits capture moments of intimacy, dignity, and joy in everyday life. Unfussy and somber, her photos have a healthy dose of the absurd to keep things lighthearted. She has exhibited at Nous Tous gallery in Los Angeles, CA and at the Boise Contemporary Theater, The Mode Lounge, and The Gem Center in Boise, Idaho.