Slamdance 2019: The Vast of Night Interview

Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick in The Vast of Night.

Actors Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick joined producer Adam Dietrich in speaking with Solzy at the Movies about The Vast of Night at Slamdance.

Unfortunately, director Andrew Patterson was not feeling well on the Sunday afternoon in which this interview took place.  As such, producer Adam Dietrich took his place four days after his wife gave birth to their new child.

The Vast of Night was truly the gem of the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival.  It’s one of those films that I just want to be able to watch again to just enjoy it without having to take notes every now and then.  To be able to sit down with them to discuss the film was truly a real honor.  The film took home the Audience Award for Narrative Features–joining the likes of previous award winners such as Dave Made A Maze.

Congrats on the premiere of The Vast of Night.

Adam Dietrich:  Thank you.

Sierra McCormick:  Thank you so much.

What was the reception like?

Adam Dietrich:  Oh my G-d.

Jake Horowitz:  Pretty freaking awesome.  It was fun!

Adam Dietrich:  A packed house—people sitting on the floor and standing in the back.  We’ve never watched it with an audience.

Sierra McCormick:  It was wonderful.

Adam Dietrich:  Seeing people sigh and laugh and buzz their buddies.  After so long, it was really special.

Sierra McCormick:  Absoutely!  I think there was a gobsmacked silence after it was over.  It was silent for a second.

Jake Horowitz:  They went on a journey.

Adam Dietrich:  It was nerve-wracking to share something that you intimately nurtured especially for Andrew.  It was one of those moments we kind of laughed about but it is one of those moments that changed your life in a sense.  Every movie should when you start the conversation with the audience and the audience becomes a part of this movie that you’ve been making for them for years essentially.  Now they’re here.  I just had a kid four days ago and it’s essentially like that.  Yeah, four days ago!  If you want kids, you talk about having kids, and then when the moment happens you’re like, “Wow, this is crazy!  A new life is born.”  Same with The Vast of Night.

Jake Horowitz:  I’m glad we’re your kid.

Adam Dietrich:  Andrew’s kid.

Sierra McCormick:  We’re all Andrew’s kids.

It seems like every year there’s a gem discovered at Slamdance that tends to break out on the festival circuit. This year, I think The Vast of Night is that gem.

Adam Dietrich:  Oh my gosh.  You are so beautiful.

Jake Horowitz:  That’s wonderful to hear.

Sierra McCormick:  Thank you so much.

Jake Horowitz:  You’re everything to us.

Adam Dietrich:  You’re everything.

Sierra McCormick:  Can you just follow us around and hype us up all day?

Adam Dietrich:  Repeat that everywhere.  We did not say that.

Jake Horowitz:  It’s going to be my ringtone.

Adam Dietrich:  We love the movie.  From the moment I read the script and then sat down with Andrew and talked about his vision, I just believed wholeheartedly that this movie was something special.  There’s never been a moment where I didn’t believe that.  Tthat’s not common. You usually have some moment where you go, “Maybe it isn’t what I thought it was.”

Sierra McCormick:  I think all of us had total faith this whole time.  I don’t think any of us were doubtful.

Adam Dietrich:  I agree. It’s kind of crazy, isn’t?  It’s like we’ve done a lot of “stuff” and it feels like it’s a rare thing to just kind of know the whole time that you believe and you’re a fan as well as a collaborator.

Jake Horowitz:  Everyone be on the same page with the same level of commitment.

Sierra McCormick:  Absolutely.  I think that’s why this was so special because I have such a high standard.  Typically, things that I am in aren’t things that I would like to watch personally and this was that first sort of exception that I got to be a part of.

Adam Dietrich:  That is so true by the way. Sierra has a high standard.

Sierra McCormick:  Repeat that—I have a very high standard!

Adam Dietrich:  That could just be repeated over and over again, too.

Sierra McCormick in The Vast of Night.
Sierra McCormick in The Vast of Night.

On that note—what is the one thing that you look for when you’re reading a script and what was so appealing about this particular one?

Sierra McCormick:  Strong female characters.  I was really drawn to the character of Fay.  Not only that the beauty of the script itself and the story and the way it’s told and such but as a young female actress often playing teen roles, you don’t often see roles like Fay that are so multifaceted, interesting, and kind of nerdy or just not afraid to hide certain parts of herself that aren’t acceptable for the time especially.  I don’t often get the opportunities to get to do so much research and heavy lifting.  I don’t know.  I just feel like a lot of a lot of roles for teen girls and young women are just kind of flat or they’re pining after some boy.  It’s just very special when I get to find one like this.

Jake Horowitz:  You’ve got characters who go on a journey—who really start somewhere and end somewhere that are totally different.

Sierra McCormick:  Who both have interesting arcs throughout.  Despite the compactness of the film, we’ve built we both go through a very wonderful sort of arc.  Each of us.

Jake Horowitz:  An actor like you read it and it’s clear that it’s opportunity to do some transformation and some real research.

Sierra McCormick:  Just real character work.

Jake Horowitz:  Like looking back at what America was like. That’s one of the treasures of being able to do something like this, too.

Sierra McCormick:  Absolutely and reading a role that’s so rich on the page already, which just means that there’s just more that you can add to it.  Sometimes when things are so flat it’s hard to—what can do I add to—

Jake Horowitz:  You can’t really embellish.

Sierra McCormick:  Or you just the way that they fit into the context of the script—it’s kind of like there’s not much meat.

Jake Horowitz:  You can’t mess with it.

Sierra McCormick:  No, you can’t mess with it because there just isn’t much substance there.  Because the characters are so rich on the page already, it just gave both of us the opportunity to do a ton of research and just add little bits that helped us to inhabit our characters.

Adam Dietrich:  I think for me it would be authentic voice and that could be defined in a lot of way different ways.  In Andrew’s situation, when you read the script, I felt like I was reading another voice that had a grip on dialogue like David Mamet does—David Mamet without the f bombs.

Jake Horowitz:  Totally.

Sierra McCormick:  Unfortunately.

Adam Dietrich:  Unfortunately, I agree.  In a movie that has no sex, no cursing, and no violence, I never felt like as I was reading the script that I wasn’t completely engaged.  It doesn’t have this turn of events although I like these turn of events.  I remember Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain—when Hugh Jackman answers that phone and I thought, G-d, how big a hunk and what an emotional vulnerability that man has.  This movie doesn’t have that phone call moment where somebody breaks down crying.  It’s all of the emotional twists and turns are so subtle and yet just as gripping and that I think is so challenging.

Sierra McCormick:  They’re very nuanced.

Adam Dietrich:  They’re very nuanced and that happened in the script.  Andrew’s vision of how to direct that was so complete from day one.  In the script, Andrew had asked and had this weaved in that some of his direction would be weaved into the script. You see like this one or two that is so important in the film—you see that in the script.  Some of those cinematic complexities are there from the onset.  When you see that from day one, you go, Dude, whether it rises or whether it falls, at the end of the day, I’m going to be stoked.  I’m to be excited to be a part of this project because it’s specific and it has a vision. So I think authentic voice.

Jake Horowitz:  Authentic voice 100%.

When I was watching the press screener ahead of time and the screen just fades the black, I ran to my computer to double check and make sure the monitor didn’t go to sleep.

Adam Dietrich:  There’s that request from Andrew that the audience participate in some things that they don’t normally get to participate in and maybe it’s a little uncomfortable.  I think for folks that are getting the movie and I know for us, I think we’re like—it’s like being around a camp fire with a really good storyteller and they take that long pause now and you just can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen with that hitchhiker.

Sierra McCormick:  I think as an audience member, I like doing more heavy lifting.  I like having to imagine some parts of it.  I think that’s what Andrew wanted to do is engage the audience in a way where they have to put in and they have to really, really listen closely and participate and participate and imagine it themselves instead  of being visual.

Adam Dietrich:  It’s a conversation. Every movie—no matter what the movie is or no matter how commercial or non-commercial—I think every movie in some way is a conversation.  They can be fun, light and quick or they can be more—like you’re saying—heavy lifting conversations or fans of heavy lifting.

Sierra McCormick:  I love some heavy lifting.

Adam Dietrich:  I love some heavy lifting—let’s go work out.

Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick in The Vast of Night.
Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick in The Vast of Night.

This is a film that takes place in 1950s New Mexico.  What were some of the challenges of recreating the time period with a limited budget?

Sierra McCormick:  It’s tough to get—he did all of it.

Adam Dietrich:  Wow!

Jake Horowitz:  How do you feel,sir?

Adam Dietrich:  The Hollywood Reporter said Adam Dietrich probably got the most of the allotment of the budget.

Jake Horowitz:  They ain’t seen our budget!

Adam Dietrich:  I was like, No, honey, you ain’t right.  Adam Dietrich got handed a stick and some washing soap and said Make 1950s!

Sierra McCormick:  You MacGyver’d your whole way.

Adam Dietrich:  Yeah and not by myself.  Luckily I’ve got Jonathan Rudak as an art director, who designed Sister Aimee at Sundance.  He’s a genius.  I’m fortunate enough to be a blessed collaborator with him and we’ve done lots of movies together.  We’ve got these great guys back in Texas that are our family and our brothers and sisters.  I think Andrew tells a story about when my guys and I showed up on set for the first time.  We had already obviously talked to him and everything. When the guys showed up for the first time, Andrew called his wife and said, “Thank G-d, the tribe is here.”  We just love telling stories that—none of us are just art department—we’re all multi-hyphenates and we’re there to tell the story.  We’re excited for our set to fade off into the background but I think we made the right choice—I’m so long-winded—to make a film in a small town.  I’m a big proponent of that.  That small town worked with us at this every step of the way.  It was it was two towns, the city of Whitney and Hillsboro, Texas.  Those guys went out of their way to do everything they could to make it possible for us to make this movie as was physically possible.  We worked with lots of classic car owners to not only procure their cars but also get them there night after night to dumb down their beautiful cars to be more authentic and more natural to the environment.  We worked with locations that we came in and reconstructed their entire space.  We redid a basketball floor.  We redid an entire wall with bookshelves.  We built sets on atypical environments.  In addition to that, it wouldn’t have been anything—and this is why this movie is so special to me—without the collaboration.  Then these guys, Jake and Sierra—Jake goes back and works with reel to reels over and over and over and over and over and over again so it’s authentic so that it feels like this guy does—listens and watches materials.  Sierra—we move a switchboard into her hotel room and she hunkers down and becomes a switchboard operator.  Who even knows what a switchboard is?  There’s like 19-year-olds out there Googling switchboards. Frankly, I understand. I wouldn’t know it was.  Why don’t you talk about working with the switchboard?

Sierra McCormick:  When I read the script, I was like I know what a switchboard is but what the hell did it even look like?  I had to look it up like, okay.   I know that when I get there I’m definitely going to need to talk to someone about getting comfortable with this machine because there’s a lot of footage online of actual female switchboard operators back in the day and you can watch them operating it and they pull out these cords and they plug them in with this lightning fast familiarity.  You can tell they do this all day.  Because all of us here have probably never had to look at a switchboard, when I was first looking at it and trying to plug all this stuff in, it was very awkward.  I looked kind of stupid doing it and so I had to just sit and just practice just the action of whipping it out and plugging it in, whipping it out and plugging it in and disconnecting, disconnecting just for hours and hours because I wanted to look like I’ve done it a lot all day as a job.  It took a while but I actually became very to attached the switchboards.  If I could have hauled it back to LA I would have because we became good friends.

Adam Dietrich:  But they’re giant and heavy because they were made in the 1940s.

Sierra McCormick:  They huge and cumbersome and very impractical to have in a studio apartment in LA.

Adam Dietrich:  Because we used real switchboards.  In Hollywood, we would make that.  We’d have the money and we’d make it and they’d be dummied and it’d be light and we get in and out but we didn’t have that luxury.  We used four switchboards from a museum in East Texas and we had to move them from set to set because they weren’t always in the same environment.  We couldn’t leave them in the set because it was a working business.  So we built our walls in this business in Whitney and then we would move our set in at night.  Right—like 30 minutes before call.  Because we shot overnights, in the morning, we had to haul our stuff back out. There was all of these levels of playing the game that you don’t have to play—when you’re in LA, I go to the studio and I pick my props out from the shelves.  It’s fantastic!  In Texas, you’re at the antique store being like, OhI know this costs $500 but could I borrow it for the day?

Sierra McCormick:  It’s a labor of love—the whole thing.

Adam Dietrich:  We’d be remiss—we’re three people out of a whole giant group of people that made this.  Melissa Kirkendall—our other producer, who was a wally in charge of making sure this thing was on budget every step of the way and constantly found ways to find a little extra money here and a little time there.  Without her, we’re pathetic.  As always, there’s always a good woman involved that’s making sure a thing gets created because without them we’re helpless—

Sierra McCormick:  Disgrace.

Adam Dietrich:  We’re pathetic. There’s just so many people that—Stephanie, Andrews’ wife, just constantly giving us the support we need.

Sierra McCormick:  The unsung hero of this production really is Stephanie .

Thank you for your time and congrats on the film!

Jake Horowitz:  Awesome.

Sierra McCormick:  Thank you so much.  Thank you for the lovely review.

Adam Dietrich:  Yes, thank you.

The Vast of Night held its world premiere during the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.