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Filmmaker Jim Byrkit debuts ‘Shatter Belt’ at Boston Science Fiction Film Festival

The director of ‘Coherence’ discusses the project’s inspirations, how the cast came together, and a run-in with police that nearly derailed shooting

Patton Oswalt as freelance reporter Dervey Ryan in the third episode of Jim Byrkit's new project "Shatter Belt."Jim Byrkit

In some ways, for science-fiction filmmaker Jim Byrkit, a return to the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival has been a long time coming. It’s where his cult hit “Coherence,” about a series of reality-altering events that occur after a comet passes through the sky, screened 10 years ago. This year, on Feb. 14, his newest project, “Shatter Belt,” will receive its US theatrical premiere at the festival.

With Patton Oswalt and Abigail Spencer leading the cast, Byrkit’s new anthology features four stories, distinct in plot and tone, exploring themes of human consciousness, free will, and pitfalls of modern technology. “Shatter Belt” first premiered at SXSW 2023, and Byrkit said his plan is to continue shopping it to studios as a television series and potentially enlist other directors to create new episodes.

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Byrkit described the project’s completion as “a miracle in all ways.” He shot it with a scant crew and no studio involvement, relying on personal connections for financial and creative assistance. Fans of his work also pledged their support, raising over $56,000 through Kickstarter to help bring Byrkit’s vision to life.

Ahead of the fest, Byrkit talked with the Globe via Zoom from his home in California about the project’s inspirations, how the cast came together, and a run-in with police that nearly derailed shooting.

Q. When did you first have the idea of this being an anthology?

A. I’ve been thinking about it for years, actually, because I wake up almost every morning with a new idea for a story. I was really inspired by what Rod Serling did with “The Twilight Zone” in the ‘60s and how he just churned out story after story. That just felt like a hugely appealing challenge. It involves letting go, and it goes against a lot of my instincts as a filmmaker to move that quickly, but it was exhilarating.

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Q. How did you zero in on those four ideas specifically?

A. I wanted them to have a variety of themes, variety of tones, and some of them were specifically chosen because of the people who were available to be involved. Patton Oswalt reached out right at the beginning because he became a fan of “Coherence,” and he wanted to know what I was doing next. So I instantly wrote an episode for him. I knew Abigail Spencer was interested because she saw a rough cut of the Patton Oswalt episode, and I had an idea for one of the episodes that would take advantage of her.

A lot of it is just matching your resources to the script, and then trying to imagine what an audience would go through. And I think if you watch the first four, they’re so different but also interconnected and thematically related that after you watch them you’ll get a very good sense of what the show could be.

Q. Do you have a favorite of the four?

A. No, I love them all. Every time I think I have a favorite, then another one reminds me of how much I love looking at those actors and remembering the experience of making it. It would have made the best documentary ever if we could have had a crew showing all the times we almost got shut down, or when I almost got sent to jail, all of those things we overcame because we stuck together.

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Q. Well now I have to hear that story.

A. We were shooting at a house. We didn’t have any trucks or equipment on the street, and we also didn’t have a crew, and so we didn’t have a permit. We had fewer people than would be at a birthday party.

What we didn’t know was there were neighbors peering out of their curtains every day hoping to nail their neighbor on some infringement. We only had three days at this house, and on the second day, I come around the corner and see two cops. They informed me that the shoot is being shut down and I’m going to jail.

I somehow went into Obi-Wan Kenobi mode, and I got very still and very quiet and said, “Tell me everything. What is going to have to happen in order to fix this?” Luckily, something about the tone of my voice connected with [one] police officer, and once I explained what was happening, he realized what a ridiculous situation it was. He told us that technically the neighbors are right, and he asked me, “How long do you need to be here?” I said, just till tomorrow night. And he said, “OK, here’s the deal: You are shut down, and you have until tomorrow night to get out of here.” And I said, “Thank you.”

Q. How does it feel knowing you’re premiering it at the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival in particular?

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A. It feels like coming home a little bit. We had our film “Coherence” there years ago, and it was received so well. The fan support has been so generous. It just feels like coming to a safe space, and a place that truly honors science fiction and all the personality types that are drawn towards this kind of storytelling. We are with our people.

“Shatter Belt” screens Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre following a screening of “Coherence” at 5 p.m. Byrkit will appear in person for an audience Q&A. For information about the festival, which runs in person Feb. 14-19, and online Feb. 20-25, visit bostonscifi.com



Henry Bova can be reached at henry.bova@globe.com.