TR Interview: The Signal's Writer-Director William Eubank

By Luke Y. Thompson in Movies
Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at 4:00 pm


LYT: Interesting that you bring up fish, because that was going to lead to my next question. I'm not going to ask for a direct explanation here, but the scene where Laurence Fishburne puts another goldfish into the bowl - is that a throwaway, or is that something I should be reading more into, just in broad strokes?

WE: Well, it's a pretty strong metaphor, talking about fish and fish bowl. It also has a little bit to do with Damon's character. But yeah, what do fish in a fish bowl represent, and is there a mirror there to something else?

LYT: But he had that fish on his person the whole time?

WE: What's that?

LYT: Did he have that fish on his person the whole time, in his suit?

WE: Oh, no, no! [chuckles] When he shoots the guy, the guy has a fish bowl next to him. When he shoots the guy, the guy knocks the fish bowl over, or splashes the fish out.

LYT: Oh, OK! So he was just picking the fish up and putting it back in.

WE: [chuckles] That idea is hilarious!

LYT: There was one fish in there - I thought he had somehow produced a second one.

WE: Oh, that's so funny! I hadn't even looked at it that way. No, the idea is he knocked the fish bowl, knocked the fish out, and Damon didn't want the fish to die, because that was not a part of the plan, so he picks it up and puts it in the fish bowl. [laughs] That's so funny! Wouldn't that be funny if Laurence Fishburne had a fish on him!

LYT: Exactly! Were you aware of the other movie called The Signal, which is also a favorite of mine?

WE: You know, I was not aware of that. And obviously, that produced all kinds of crazy, weird Sundance stuff, because apparently it went to Sundance as well, and it's a genre film, and it was - I guess it was seven years ago or something. Or 2007, correct?

LYT: Yeah, that's about right.

WE: So yeah, obviously, that produces all kinds of, "Wait a second-what Signal are we talking about here?" But we were so deep into it that it wasn't like we were going to change the title at this point. Shit - there's a couple of Signals out there.

LYT: They're very, very different movies.

WE: I have to see it. I have not watched it. Anyone I talk to who brings it up says they're a big fan, so I'll have to check it out.

LYT: It's a good one. It's also ironic, because it's a signal that makes people homicidal, and then some guy in the screening actually did go homicidal.

WE: Oh, no! What do you mean?

LYT: Some dude in Orange County, California, just started attacking people in one of the screenings.

WE: Oh, no.

LYT: With an axe or something.

WE: Holy shit! Did anyone die?

LYT: I think it was just injuries, but it was very tragically ironic, given that that was what the movie was about.

WE: Oh, no! That'd be awful. Holy moley.

LYT: I don't think you have to worry about moviegoers being trapped in underground facilities after seeing your movie.

WE: Yeah, right! Hopefully not.

LYT: So how did you bring Laurence Fishburne on board?

WE: You know, he, I guess, just read the script. Yeah, he picked it up, he read it, and he said, "You know what? It's a cool story." When I talked to him on the phone, he was like, "Look, man, when I started reading this, I couldn't put it down. I wanted to know what was going to happen. It's really cool." He was like, "I want to do this." Those are like magic words - all those were like, holy moley. I have a legend who is into doing this, so I was just - it was exciting, man. I just was like - he brought so much design to Damon suddenly. So much power and gravity to his voice and to the weight and the force that Damon was going to carry on screen, so it was a really big moment to get him. And on set, he's such a nice guy and such a hard worker and such a good dude.

It was really like - it made us feel legitimate, you know what I mean? Even though we were a smaller film, he was there for about two weeks or whatever, and it just made us feel like we were really doing something real here. And that - when he's on point and Brenton's on point and all the kids are doing great, it's really a huge confidence booster to the ranks - to the production designer and the cinematographer. Everyone's like, "Oh, cool! We are making a cool film!"

LYT: Yeah.

WE: It was really great getting Laurence there.

LYT: Did you conceive the character in your head as being anything vaguely Morpheus-like? There's a little bit of commonality, and then you bring him, and it automatically kind of gets there.

WE: The total truth is, I always imagined initially - the honest, honest truth - I always imagined Damon being a little more Anton Chigurh.

LYT: From No Country for Old Men.

WE: Yeah. You write a vision in your head, and that's what you're thinking. But when it became Laurence - you have to, especially on a smaller film - it's all like drunken-monkey fighting. Everything's adaptation. Beau was written as an entirely different character as well - Jonah was. When something becomes more real in a different way, you need to embrace it quickly and make that even - because it becomes better that way.

LYT: Yeah.

WE: So having Laurence take this role and embrace this, and watch him create this character was such a treat. There was no - I never - as soon as we cast him, I knew Damon was going to be different than I initially envisioned him, but he was going to be even more powerful, the way we were going to get him. It was great.

LYT: Did you always want to be a director when you started off as a cinematographer, or was cinematography your first love?

WE: Oh, yeah. Without a doubt. I mean, I literally had no connections in the industry. I had no way of getting in, I didn't get into film school at UCLA. I tried to - it didn't happen. I went to Brooks Institute of Photography. I had no way of breaking in. So the only thing I could think of was to go learn the cameras, figure out how to shoot stuff, and then try to direct my own stuff. Then basically, I would direct stuff every weekend, like little fake shorts, or I would do little spec commercials while I was working at Panavision as a camera tech, learning the digital stuff.

I built a little editing system well before data drives that were out that could capture 1920 by 1080 stuff, and I remember the digital guys at Panavision being like, "Holy crud! This kid has a computer that can digest - a person computer that can pull in HD footage." I had 17 hard drives stacked on top of each other with a loaner card from Black Magic Design. It was so crazy, man - I can't even tell you.

But I was just, at the time, trying to gather all the information I could about the tools. And that basically led to me being around cameras so long that I started to use the cameras - and I owe everything to Panavision - I started to use the cameras as leverage to get jobs. I would say, "Hey, I'll shoot your thing if you let me be the cinematographer. I have some cameras from Panavision." People would be like, "Oh, yeah, OK-great!" Like, "We don't know if you can shoot anything, but you have cameras, so great." [laughs]

So I was using that as a foot up to keep working and keep developing, and waiting until somebody was going to come along and say "I'm want to give you some money to make a movie." And then that came in the form of Tom DeLonge from Angels & Airwaves, eventually. He gave me the money to make the movie Love. So yeah, the cinematography part was always just trying to - it was a careful calculation, in terms of how do you get somewhere? What's the road map?

LYT: When I see a movie like this, I sort of think about Duncan Jones making Moon and then going to Warcraft, and then Gareth Edwards Monsters, and then going to Godzilla. Has this opened any doors, and are you taking meetings for bigger stuff, now that people see you can do the big ideas?

WE: Yeah, you have to know - I'm always writing stuff, and hopefully some of my bigger ideas I'll be able to modestly keep increasing budgets and keep moving up. Definitely doing the meetings and stuff. It's not like somebody has come out of nowhere and said "You're going to go direct this or that." But definitely there's a lot of cool - this movie has brought a lot of great energy my way, and - I don't know, I desperately want to get some of my other stories out. I feel like I have so many stories, I won't make them all before I die. But hopefully, I can kind of continue to make my strange, crazy shit!

But yeah, we'll have to see. I have a few different things in the works. They're not all sci-fi. One's a military, sort of a lost innocence, but sort of contained, during warfare. Another is sort of a Scottish, crazy film - a little bit of Braveheart, a little bit of Miyazaki madness. Sort of a fantasy film, I guess you could say. So I don't know - I have a bunch of weird stuff, and we'll have to see if I can keep making my stuff. And in the meantime, if an opportunity comes along to do something great, my ears are to the tracks. We'll have to see what happens.

LYT: If The Signal does well enough, can you see where that might go into further exploring that world?

WE: Aww, man, I would love to! Obviously, there are some unanswered things that could only be answered in a sequel, but you never know. We will have to see what happens. I would love to revisit a couple of these characters down the road, and show the world that Damon lived in. That would be so much fun.


The Signal opens Friday.

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