On Friday, May 29, The Vast of Night hits Amazon Prime. While it’s currently playing in drive-in theaters, its release on Prime is exciting as it will give a broader audience the chance to see Andrew Patterson’s debut film. And they should see it. Vast is one of the most exciting movies to come from a first-time filmmaker in a long time.
It’s a throwback sci-fi film, set in the waning years of the ’50s right in the middle of the Cold War. The events, which are set in the framework of a Twilight Zone-like TV show, unfold in the tiny, sleepy town of Cayuga, New Mexico. Our heroes are Fay Crockett (Sierra McCormick), the town’s plucky teenage switchboard operator and Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz, who I also interviewed), the town’s confident, charming radio DJ who dreams of bigger things. On a night in which the entire town is at the first high school basketball game of the season, Fay and Everett hold down the fort at the call center and the radio station.
Soon, they begin to pick up a strange, eerie signal coming through their speakers and as they piece the mystery together it becomes increasingly clear that what they’ve stumbled across is bigger than they could have imagined. There is something up in the sky…and it’s not of this earth.
I spoke with Sierra McCormick about playing Fay, how she wrapped her head around the archaic small-town slang of the 1950s, and the magic of getting an almost perfect script.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
I loved the character of Fay because she’s a character you just don’t see that often, particularly in that time period. What was it like to be able to play a character like that, who was so nuanced and well-rounded and quirky?
Sierra McCormick: It was such a treat! That’s why, when I read the script, I jumped up and was like, okay, I need to do everything in my power to make sure that I at least try to get involved with this because it’s such an amazing character and such an incredible opportunity. Like you said, I just don’t see it very often. Reading scripts as an actress, I read all kinds of scripts all the time and I just don’t come across female characters like Fay very often. So it was super exciting.
And once I actually got to beyond that, Andrew [Patterson, the director] and I got to work on crafting Fay and who she was. It felt super effortless even though if you ask Andrew or Jake, they’d say I’m pretty much – well, maybe not the opposite of Fay, but pretty different. It was just really wonderful to put myself in her mindset because she’s so excited and so optimistic and just so enthusiastic about everything. Putting myself in that brain space, I think it was good for me.
I really loved her dynamic with Everett, because you could tell there was maybe a little tiny bit of a crush there, but ultimately more of a big brother-little sister dynamic.
SM: I was so refreshed by that! When I was reading the script at first and it was like, “Ugh, if they get together like some forced romantic thing between the two of them, I’m going to be so mad,” and it never happened.
The language is so interesting. There’s a lot of dialogue in this – it’s a tiny bit reminiscent of Locke, where it’s just Tom Hardy in a car, driving and talking for two hours–
SM: Oh, yeah! Love that movie.
And although this is a completely different movie, there’s still a lot of dialogue and monologuing like that. You have to really nail the cadence and of your individual character. Was it hard to find that rhythm?
SM: I don’t think it was terribly hard for Jake or me to fall into that movie because everything you hear in the movie is, for the most part, verbatim what is written in the script. So the script showed up like what, which is crazy. That also caught me off-guard and excited me because it was just so rich and varied and interesting and nuanced and everyone had their own quirks in the way they talked and the small-town shorthand they used. I just thought it was so cool.
But when it came to the period jargon, specifically, some of the slang that, you know, didn’t make it to the 2020s, Jake and I would go back and forth with Andrew and sit around and talk about it. To me, I had to tie it to something else I would say – like “lay dead” is my favorite thing that Fay says throughout the movie. I’d never heard that before, and she’s like, “Oh, lay dead!” I was trying to figure out, what is the current equivalent to that phrase, because she says it whenever Everett tells her something interesting. So I was like, maybe “no shit?” So every time you see me say “Lay dead!,” just know in my head I was like, “No shit!” [laughing]
The blocking and cinematography in this movie are so interesting. Did it take any adjusting to get into a scene with a camera at your back for long shots or the extreme close-ups and slow zooms in your face?
SM: I’ve been working for a really long time so at this point, I’ve just trained myself to tune the camera out… Like that scene where it’s close-up on me and I’m answering calls, I had so many other things to be thinking about. I had the switchboard to operate, I had all these people calling me. Also, when I shot that scene, the first AD was just reading all the voices of everyone off-camera, like super monotone. And he also had a cold, so he was just reading this really plugged-up, flat version of all these different women I was supposed to be calling. So I was just thinking about all of that. And then the long shot where we’re walking and talking and the camera is at our backs, I was just focused on recalling and recounting all the science fiction stories I was telling to Jake.
Those science fiction articles that Fay read and was telling Everett about as they were recording her, were those real articles?
SM: You know, Andrew told me they were real! They were all real articles that he found and he specifically picked ones that were funny to hear in this day and age. So the one with the potential for cell phones and high-speed transportation, I think he picked those on purpose because they’re self-aware of the fact that those things either very much do or don’t exist in the world now.
There’s a lot of sly humor in this movie that I wouldn’t have expected, like those articles or the bickering dynamic between Fay and Everett.
SM: Yeah! I was surprised – a few times when we went to different festivals last year, the audience would laugh at different things and Jake and I were surprised because when we shot it, we didn’t think the humor was coming across. And I guess we were wrong, because people would always crack up at lines that, at the time we were shooting, we were like, “Ehhh…I don’t know…” At least I felt like that. [laughing] But yeah, lines where Everett is like, “…shut up, Fay,” people have picked up on the comedic moments peppered throughout the movie. Because Jake and I had a really fun time with those banter back and forth scenes.
I think the line that really got me was the one when Everett is like, “I don’t care about seeing you in your nightgown, Gretchen” and snaps.
SM: Yes! It’s great.
Speaking of that switchboard, though, you actually had to learn how to use an old-school switchboard, right?
SM: Yeah, completely. I probably wouldn’t remember any of it now, but back when we shot it at the time, I could have operated a ’50s switchboard. Actually, when we screened the film at Palm Springs Film Festival, there was an older guy in his 80s who came up and said that he was from Texas and that he was a switchboard operator in the ’50s and I did it perfectly! He said I did it exactly to regulation standard, so that was probably the proudest moment for me because I spent a lot of time with that switchboard learning how to use it. There’s actually a lot of YouTube footage of people, mostly women, using switchboards back then. They moved the switchboard into my hotel room so I could practice all night once I got home from rehearsing. I did that over and over. So I was proud I did it right.
This is Andrew Patterson’s first feature film. It’s literally his only IMDb credit. It’s kind of like, wow, okay, this came out of nowhere. What was it like working with a first-time filmmaker? Is there something freeing with that? Or daunting?
SM: You know, when you read the script, the vision is just so clear on the page, it’s crazy. I could visualize how a lot of the movie looked, already, because the writing and the script were so rich and interesting and expressive. It stopped any qualms or hesitation I might have had, they dissipated pretty quickly because I could tell right away it was special and that whoever was making it knew what they wanted and they have a very clear vision. That’s the best thing when you’re an actor because it just makes everything so much easier. And Andrew was also open to collaboration, he really fostered a creative, collaborative environment on set for Jake and I.
And Andrew and I had had a few conversations before I even self-taped for the role of Fay and sent off my audition. We actually had a few conversations over Skype just the film and the character and what he saw for it, and other films that influenced the way he wanted it to look and what he was going for. When we had that conversation, any kind of question or fear I had was definitely erased. When I spoke to him, the films he referenced were so interesting and he would take certain parts of them and be like, “Okay, this aspect of Irreversible I’m going to apply to Vast in that the characters get away from you and you catch up with them,” and I was just like, wow, I can totally see that. We just vibed over movies. So by the time I got to Texas to shoot, I was excited and had faith it would be a fun, fulfilling, awesome experience.
What was it like for you, that feeling, the first time you saw the final cut of it and how it all came together?
SM: Man, when I saw the final cut – because I had seen bits and pieces of it, as Andrew was really good after filming wrapped throughout about keeping Jake and I updated about how the movie was doing – but I remember when I saw the first actual cut that we showed at Slamdance, it was…honestly, I don’t know! It’s such a strange feeling. And it was so amazing because it’s a movie that, for me personally, I would have loved had I been an audience member and not involved with it at all and that’s such a great feeling because I’m not always in things that I would personally love to watch. So I haven’t gotten the feeling that I did watching Vast a whole lot yet, so that was really special.
Also, just seeing the way that the effects and the town looked, and the way that all of the shots that we had no idea how they turned out – like that whole long one-take through the town, Jake and I weren’t there when they were shooting a lot of that – so getting to see it wrapped up all the curiosity I had about what everyone else on set was doing when we weren’t there for those shots. It was pretty impressive. And even just, I don’t know, seeing Jake and me on screen… I mean, we shot this all the way back in 2016 so when I see us on screen together now, I can barely even recognize us, it almost didn’t even register that it was Jake and I. It’s like a whole different world.
The Vast of Night is currently in drive-in theaters and will be hitting Amazon Prime on Friday, May 29.