The Signal’s William Eubank: Lightning, Reading Reviews and Uncle Buck

The sci-fi thriller The Signal races into theaters on June 13, 2014. I had a chance to sit down with director William Eubank, who looks a lot like Aaron Paul, who was on hand for the Seattle International Film Festival. He, unfortunately, had to suffer through my questions…

How did the idea for The Signal emerge?

I was finishing up my last film Love and wanted to make sure I had the next job ready to go. I was talking a lot with a friend of mine–David Frigerio–and we started an outline together and brought my brother in, who had just graduated from college. I really like his writing in general. I’ve never felt comfortable writing by myself because I enjoy bouncing things off people so much. The three of us sort of tackled it.

I had this concept of these three kids who were on a road trip and end up in some strange place, where the tables have sort of turned and they wake up in a government facility of some sort.

The SignalWhat was the most challenging part of production?

We shot in New Mexico in April and… yeah. Other than getting everything together at the very end and making sure financial is good to go, shooting around New Mexico in April and May was… well, the wind gets so crazy and the dust storms are so out of control. You wouldn’t think it, but there is weather every afternoon. You’re running a large power generation that acts as a lightning rod.

There were a lot of weather things that affected us. But we roll with those punches.

How much of the unexpected weather made it into the film?

There are lightning strikes a couple times in the movie; we never put that stuff into the screenplay, it’s just organically there. It’s sort of funny, you sometimes read a review of your stuff and some people have no idea how crazy this stuff is, and how hard you fight to make everything happen. Especially when you get into production, it turns into a real battle where you go home every day and you do a shot of whiskey and flop onto your bed. But it’s all in the name of art, entertainment and fun. At the end of the day… it’s not like being a fireman where you’re saying lives. You bring it upon yourself. <laughs>

So you pay attention to movie reviews?

I unfortunately do.  Though I won’t at a certain point. When The Signal comes out on June 13, I probably will not read reviews at that point, or I will just filter for the good ones. I can’t even watch myself doing interviews.

Between movies, do you take any common criticisms you’ve read in reviews to your next film?

What matters to me the most is not what is being written on the page. The best review is when you’re sitting in the audience and you hear them get scared, or gasp, or start to talk to the screen. I was in a screening recently where the audience was so vocal.

And trust me, if there’s a plot hole, I’m already aware of those things. I was there for the 27 days of shooting. I know what made it and didn’t make it. I edited it; I’m aware. At this level of filmmaking, some people just come out swinging hard. You just have to accept it. But the best review is hearing someone react to something. You think, that was fun getting that reaction, you can’t wait to do something similar in the future.

With the indie budget, how did that affect your filmmaking approach?

There’s always the process of trying to fit your film within the budget and the days you have to shoot. That will inherently change the film to a certain degree. So you just try to respect the things you know are core to the film and other things you have to be loose about in regard to changing. The quicker you can get over it not being your exact vision and embracing different things, the better.

That happens all over the place, and sometimes you find something way better than you expected. I had this really talented young cast—Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp—and originally Beau’s character was written to be very different. When I found him he was reading the dramatic parts of his role. I was like, “Gosh, he is so good and yet he’s not what I pictured at all.” So you embrace and roll into that as soon as you can, and then maybe you have something better than you first thought.

What were your favorite movies growing up?

Huge fan of Dark City. Brenton is actually shooting for Alex Proyas right now for Gods of Egypt. He is going to blow up this summer. Big fan of THX, the usual culprits, both Solaris’s actually. I saw Soderbergh’s remake way earlier than the original; I went into that movie knowing nothing about it, not even that it was set in space. I just went to a theater and that was really crazy for me.

I like a lot of weird stuff… I love anime of all kinds. You can see a lot of influence in The Signal. I just feel like anime is the key to lean action. If you don’t have a lot of money, because they’re drawing all the action frames they find a way to extend moments and I feel it’s a really untapped resource to punch up action when you don’t have a lot of cameras or a lot of time to shoot.

I love all of John Hughes’ films. Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I love Uncle Buck. I have the weirdest group of movies that I love.

But my two favorite films are Chinatown and Casablanca. Casablanca first, Chinatown second. I’m a huge fan of movies that tell stories from one perspective. Chinatown is all told over Gittes’ shoulder. You’re seeing it as he discovers it.

The Signal, to some degree, follows that model except for a few moments. I don’t know why, but I tend to understand stories better from that viewpoint.

At time of release, do you let out a deep breath?

As a filmmaker, and I know I have a long ways to go, you’re always kind of looking ahead to your next thing and trying to make sure you have your next project sort of ready to go. There’s a lot of always trying to stay ahead of the curve. I don’t know if there is ever a sigh of relief.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Featured, Science Fiction Movies, Thriller Movies