Interview: Director William Eubank transmits ‘The Signal’
If Stanley Kubrick (director of 2001: A Space Odyssey) had been able to create a mutant offspring with Josh Trank (writer/director of Chronicle) and M. Night Shyamalan (writer/director of The Sixth Sense), the result might have been William Eubank, writer/director of the new movie, “The Signal.”
We were privileged to talk to Mr. Eubank in person recently when he visited the valley (“The Hotel Valley Ho” to be exact) to talk about his latest film. We can attest that he appeared to be perfectly normal and not a cinematic freak of nature, but he is freakishly talented and passionate about his craft.
William has been making films since he was a kid, and already has a well-established career as an inventive cinematographer. His first directorial effort was the 2011 independent film, “Love,” a movie he also wrote, about an astronaut stranded alone aboard the International Space Station.
The story of “The Signal” is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, and covered with awesome cool storytelling. The less you know about this movie, the more fun you will have watching it, and before we began questioning him about his film, Mr. Eubank required arterial explosives be implanted and set to remotely detonate in case we reveal too much information. So with our very lives in the balance, read on, and pray that we’ve not let a spoiler slip.
It seems like 2014 is turning out to be a big year for sci-fi “avant-garde” films, and your movie seems like it fits into that genre, along with recent films like “Under the Skin” and “Enemy.” What are your thoughts on those movies and/or films that have ambiguous themes and unanswered questions?
I sort of try to answer one big one at the end that hopefully leads to other questions. Because all you can do is make movies that you’re a fan of, or that you want to watch. I like movies where I’m forced to engage with them later, where you wonder, “Gosh, what was up with that part, or why was that happening?”
I like a movie that answers something big, but then engages you with many other questions that could only come from that big answer. I think there were perhaps other ways I could have gone out that would have really made people mad, but hopefully where I landed with this one is enough to engage people in further questions and discussion.
I love how this film always keeps the viewer thinking and guessing as to what is going on and what might happen next, and how that stays with you even after the movie is over. Do you know the answers to all the questions the film poses?
Yeah, for sure. There are maybe a couple, that if we really talked about it, I would admit I don’t know; but I know where the movie would go from here, and I know why they are doing some of the things they are doing, and that’s what I would get into exploring next. This movie is inherently told from Nic’s perspective and following that perspective there are certain things that will be revealed and certain things that won’t.
Laurence Fishburne is perfectly cast as Dr. Damon (and does an awesome job in that role), was he your first choice for that part?
I really wrote that character to be sort of Anton Chigurh-ish, from ‘No Country for Old Men,’ that’s kind of who I always envisioned, but you never know who you’re going to get. I never imagined I would get a movie star, really, I just didn’t think that was possible. That stuff just seems unattainable when you are writing and trying to make movies.
He read it and said he loved it so much that he couldn’t stop turning pages because he had to know what was going to happen at the end. He said for that reason alone he wanted to do the film, which was huge because we’re not a big budget film and we couldn’t afford to pay him what he would normally get paid. It was really cool to have him engaged like that and make a cool little film with us and do it out of passion.
You have some awesome effects in the movie; I never would have guessed you had a tight budget.
It’s a real trick to do that. I literally worked for months in advance to just draw every shot in the film, and every frame comes with a lot of notes with how certain things could be done to save money. Even the most extensive digital parts of the film are executed in a way to save and keep the bottom line in mind, and that comes from careful planning. You don’t really have any wiggle room; you kind of have to stick to your plan and your budget.
The Signal has some incredible photography, and you are an experienced cinematographer; but David Lanzenberg was your Director of Photography. Can you talk about your collaboration with him? Was it difficult not being behind the camera?
This is only my second film [as a director] and with the other films I’ve done as a cinematographer I never planned as much; but I’m not directing them, so it’s different because you’re a tool for somebody else when you are a cinematographer and you do what a tool does, you’re helping execute something.
As a director there is so much to translate from the written word to how are we actually going to accomplish this – it’s a whole different game. And then when you are actually shooting you can get frazzled pretty easy, so it’s important that you’ve done that blueprint so you can revisit a version of you that was calmer and made educated decisions.
David Lanzenberg [the Director of Photography on ‘The Signal’] is the sweetest guy in the world and a real talented dude, and we did so much pre-production together that we were on the same page by the time we got going, so it was very simple. I had all these shot maps I had drawn out, so I’m sometimes specific about lens choices and where I want the camera, but for the most part he has such an eye that I can just trust him and let it go and worry about other things.
It’s funny to watch the cinematographer sometimes get frazzled about things, because I know that feeling, like ‘Oh no that light just went out, the shot is ruined,’ [laughs] and I can understand that; but as the director all that matters is what they are doing. It was nice not having to worry about those lights on this one.
Did any real world incident(s) inspire The Signal?
Not incidents, but there are characters in this film that are inspired by people I have met that claim they… [This section of the interview was redacted for spoilage reasons. Whew!]
The film’s story seems like it could have been pulled from any evening’s episode of Coast to Coast AM? Are you a fan of that show or any other supernatural themed programs?
I’m a huge fan of that show. I haven’t listened to it in seven or eight months, but I used to listen to it on the internet and I listened to it all the way back when it was with Art Bell. It’s such a great show.
Outside of doing interviews in a place called the “The Valley Ho”, what’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you?
I think the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me is, I grew up in Santa Ynez, which is just north of Santa Barbara [California], and I was sitting outside on the front porch and I was talking with my friend Will on the phone, and we don’t live around other houses so there were no lights really. And there was a flash of crazy light outside, like a lightning flash, but it was a clear night. It turned day for a half a second in the middle of the night, you could see everything.
I couldn’t tell where it came from or what caused it. I was waiting for some kind of nuclear rumble or something. We’re not that far from Vandenberg Air Force Base, so I always wondered if it had something to do with that. Will was outside too and he saw it from two hills over, so we knew we weren’t crazy. Yeah, so to this day I don’t know what that was – just a weird thing.
Read our review of, “The Signal!”