William Eubank on The Signal's Unexpected Anime Influences

Director and writer William Eubank's highly-stylized aesthetic is reason enough to see this flick.
Director and writer William Eubank's highly-stylized aesthetic is reason enough to see this flick.
Courtesy of Focus Features

In William Eubank's new sci-fi thriller The Signal, three friends are driving across the country when they have an online run-in with a creepy, enigmatic hacker named Nomad. When they chase after the hacker's IP address, they find something very unexpected. It's hard to talk about the film without giving too much of it away, which Eubank says made marketing the The Signal a little tricky.

He talked with Jackalope Ranch about the new film, which he called a labor of love from the entire cast and crew.

See also: 10 Movies You Didn't Know Were Filmed in Arizona

The trailers for the movie are fairly ambiguous. How would you describe the film? I would say that it's a mind-bending sci-fi thriller, something like that. It's not as sci-fi as some people initially think it's going to be. It's a slow burn. It starts out in one place and ramps up to somewhere completely different.

You're known for your stylized aesthetic and cinematography. How would you say your style has changed from your first film Love to The Signal? A lot of people think that I was a commercial director, but I wasn't. My style came out of necessity really because I didn't have the money to do big explosive action scenes. You see that in both of my films. I use slo-mo as a technique to make something bigger when it isn't really that big and more poetically represent it.

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Where did you get the idea for shooting slow motion scenes like that? It's all kind of stolen from anime that I liked growing up like Drangonball Z and Evangelion. . . Well, that wasn't really growing up.

I would hope not. Yeah. But you know, like Akira, things like that.

In terms of the slow motion, you do that but you also use handheld camera techniques, too, like Blair Witch Project. What were some of your influences for the film? Definitely Blair Witch is a big one. I take from things I think can help a moment feel intense. I had to fight for it in this movie, but I'm always just trying to do the best in any moment I can. I think Distict 9 is a good example of jumping around with POV and making it work.

What were some of your other influences? I hate to say it, but all of those found footage movies like Paranormal Activity are really scary. It feels so raw. You still get in the seat and it feels really intense.

 

What's in Laurence Fishburne's briefcase? You'll have to see The Signal to find out.
What's in Laurence Fishburne's briefcase? You'll have to see The Signal to find out.
Courtesy of Focus Features

There's a juxtaposition of old VHS technology and super high-tech gadgets in the film. What was that supposed to represent? If you have ever had the chance to visit an old military base or government facility, often they're not staying cutting edge in all realms. It's like they're just renovating what they currently have. That's always been interesting to me. The old tech is a nod to that, but there's also a reason for it later.

Have you visited old military bases? I grew up outside Vandenberg Air Force Base just north of Santa Barbara. You'll go there and they have the same old school stuff--lots of tape machines. You walk in and it feels like you've walked into the 60s. It's meant to function cutting edge, but not necessarily look cutting edge.

What was it like to work with such a young cast? At the end of the day I really wanted to find people who embodied the characters themselves. Olivia (Cooke), Brenton (Thwaites), and Beau (Knapp) are just all genuinely great human beings. I feel like we were all coming up together, which was cool because we were all really eager to work hard and going the extra mile. After meeting them all, it felt like they could really be friends.

What about Laurence Fishburne? He was huge. He let us feel like we were doing something legitimate by enjoying the script and wanting to do it, but also by being such a presence on the set on screen and off screen. He was in that suit in 120-degree weather and was really a lion of a guy.

Without giving the ending away, it's a little Twilight Zone-y. Was it difficult to center a movie that is a slow burn around a big secret? I don't know if it's hard because I love that stuff, but it does make it more hard to market it. Those enigmatic trailers help me get in there and create those things. Nobody was doing this for a payday. I have a lot less hair than when I started three years ago and a lot more wrinkles.

Do you think audiences see the ending coming? I've been to enough screenings now that I've never had anybody come up to me and go, "I knew it." I've had people say that they thought about it, but decided not. It's one of those things where you have to tell people to go see it because you can't give too much away.

So what's next for you? A bunch of stuff. I have so many characters in my head that I don't know how I'm going to get them all out before I die. Currently, I'm working on three projects. One has to do with the Norman invasion of England, the other has to do with drone pilots and sort of a loss of innocence, and also one that I'm working with the same writers as this movie and it's about a mining accident in South Africa.

William Eubank's The Signal will be released in Phoenix beginning Friday, June 13.

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