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Director William Eubank discusses his film “The Signal”

Courtesy of Alicia Hamar.

Courtesy of Alicia Hamar.

Director William Eubank’s second film, “The Signal,” is an upcoming sci-fi inspired film that revolves around three-college students— Nick (Brenton Thwaites), Hailey (Olivia Cooke) and Jonah (Beau Knapp)— who find themselves lured into the desert by a hacker they have been tracking while on a cross-country road trip. The Daily sat down with William Eubank for an exclusive discussion of the film.

 

The Stanford Daily (TSD): How did you get the inspiration to make this film? How did this all come together?

William Eubank (WE): I was finishing my last film, and I have a close friend, David Frigerio, who was kind of getting at my ear a lot going, “What’s your next film? What’s your next film?” We like a lot of the same movies and things and we started talking about this big, sort of twisted and crazy, idea that we wanted to kind of arrive at somehow. The movie kind of came about backwards because we knew where we were going to go and what we wanted to do with the end of the film. Then we started to sort of re-engineer from there. Before we knew it we were writing it, and we pulled my little brother on board: he’s a terrific writer, as well. Because there were so many crazy ideas, it was the type of thing where we were sort of exploring them together, about how to unravel them and how to take these kids on this crazy road trip.

 

TSD: What came first: the idea for the plot of the idea for the characters?

WE: The truth of the matter is that I always kind of have a crazy bunch of plot ideas in my head, and I have a crazy bunch of characters in my head. We kind of put two together in this particular situation, where the first idea was definitely the plot, this big sort of… idea that I don’t want to give away because of spoilers, but that was first. The very end was first and then we populated it with two characters that were in my mind already and then we gave them a friend.

 

TSD:Do you identify with Nick more?

WE: Yeah, I’m definitely more of a Nick type of person. I’m always trying to put up emotional walls… I always find if I’m getting too emotionally involved in something or somebody, I’m like, “Oh no, I feel, like, slow, I feel, like, weak,” you know? And it can be very awesome, but it’s also really scary at the same time, and that’s what Nick is going through.

 

TSD:One of the things that was interesting was Hailey’s role and looking at the role of women in the film. Hailey was “it” for Nick and you need Hailey to tell Nick’s story. But what was her power? She seemed spacey and out of it so I saw her not as dynamic, but kind of flat. But maybe there’s a point to it?

WE: Well it really is Nick’s story; it’s definitely not Hailey’s story. Somebody asked me that question and was like, “why was she in the film?” And, well, my question is, how can you tell his story without having her in the film? What am I supposed to do? Put a wig on a piece of board or something and be like “he loves this board,” you know? We all have things that we love or people that we love, and I think that a lot of people are eager for me to say that Hailey is a device, but she’s not a device. She’s everything; she’s the whole point at the end of the day. What is your emotional self, if you have nothing to be emotional about? And a lot of people… I know it, I can feel them going “she’s just a device, why is she in the film?”

I’m like you guys are nuts. Do you love your grandmother? Do you love your mother? Do you love your baby brother? Like, are they a device for that love? No, they are that love. You know what I mean? And that’s so important, that she [Hailey] is telling us… She’s the whole point of him trying to do everything that he’s doing in the film.

It would be difficult for me to truthfully voice from the perspective of a female just cause I don’t know the same feelings. It’s easy for me to write Nick and to know kind of how I’m scared of emotionally connecting with people. It’s easy for me to write that, beccause I’ve been there. And I’ve been that guy, and I’ve had those feelings for somebody and have been scared of losing them or been scared of them pushing me away somehow. It’s difficult to envision writing that from a female’s perspective ‘cause I don’t know it. I’m always analyzing it [laughs], but I don’t know it.

It’s fair to say that she’s not even remotely, in this movie, as rounded as Nick, but she is the point, but she’s not extremely active.

 

TSD: Do you have a lot of sci-fi/horror thoughts going on in your head when you’re making movies?

WE: This was just something. My next movie is very different, I have a sort of “loss of innocence” story that I’m doing that’s sort of modern warfare tale about, sort of, how war is conducted now, and just because we’re, like, so far away and disconnected from war doesn’t mean that it’s any better. It’s like, you can’t put lipstick on a pig and say that the pig is now prettier, you know? That’s a VERY different type of tale. And then I’m doing a sort of Scottish Highlander story. It’s sort of 1% fantasy, very sort of “Miyazaki,” that is about fatherhood and about wanting to pass on better parts of yourself to your children, but not wanting the worst parts of you to be in them. And how do you do that? It’s sort of a strange story.

 

TSD: How has your first experience [directing “Love”] helped you with this experience?

WE: My first experience taught me the crazy importance of thinking outside the box and how being forced into rethinking how to do something can sometimes lead to the more creative choice. When you’re making low budget stuff, you often want to do something, but you don’t have the money to do it so you have to figure out a different way to execute that. I had to do that throughout my first film, like every shot almost.

For example, there was a shot where I didn’t have a way to get him [main character] outside of space, like I didn’t have a door for him to leave when he was leaving the space station, and I came up with the idea to shoot a TV reflecting into his mask. So I’m shooting his mask but there’s a TV of space. I put a trash can lid in front of it, and I roll the trashcan lid away, and then I used keyboard cleaners upside down so they sprayed spray everywhere. And in the end, that choice said the same thing. He was opening a door to go to space, but it was ten times more powerful because I’m watching it in his eyes. You can see how he feels about it. So the moment is being reflected in him, who he is.

And I would have never have done that. If I had the money, I probably would have him open a door and go out. But this was way more powerful, so in a weird way being forced into this creative solution ended up being a much more strong moment in the film that I wouldn’t have ever seen unless I’d been forced to dig deep and find the best way to shoot it. “Love” taught me the importance of that. When you are forced to come up with a different solution, sometimes that solution is ten times better than just throwing money at something.

 

TSD: What was it like working with Brenton, Olivia and Laurence Fishburne on set?

WE: It was amazing, all of them are amazing! Laurence Fishburne is out of control. He’s the greatest guy in the world, he was wearing this suit and it’s like 100 degrees and he’s never complaining. He turns the smallest things into such gravity and such power. He just has a presence, and that’s what we needed. I don’t know what I would have done without him; you know what I mean, because you need that presence from him as a character. To get him was like a dream.

It was cool working with the kids because they’re so eager and are really those people, and they are really just good human beings. They would shoot on the weekends with me. I feel like they’re all coming up right now: Brenton’s got “The Giver” and he’s coming out with “Maleficent.” I feel like they’re all blowing up because they are such good people. It’s so cool; it just means the right people are doing the right stuff. And as a young filmmaker, only my second film, to get such talented kids to work with, like Beau, Olivia and Brenton, makes me feel like I’m on the right track, or I’m chasing the right thing.

 

Contact Alicia Hamar at ahamar22 “at” stanford.edu.

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