William Eubank grew up reading a lot of Stephen King novels. He also watched a lot of movies, particularly those directed by Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. Eubank used those influences in making "The Signal."
Just as King likes to put average people in extraordinary circumstances that lead to a surprise ending, Eubank creates a huge mystery around three college students who go through a life-or-death battle only to reach an ending with a twist. The Hitchcock influence comes in the way Eubank's characters are not what they seem. And Kubrick comes through in the way the young director shot the movie.
His passion for cinema has given Eubank what he calls "a lot of different voices" when it comes to directing. That passion has also influenced his writing. Because "The Signal" has such a dramatic ending — a la King — the writers (Eubank and his brother, Carlyle) began with the ending and worked backward.
"On the first pass of the script, I knew where the characters were going and so I just wanted to work out their journey," Eubank says. "King once said that when writing, he lets his characters do what they want. That's what I did here."
Eubank made his feature directorial and screenwriting debut in 2011 with "Love," a film that premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. He used a more avant-garde style for that film, so this time around, he opted to go more with a King or "Twilight Zone" approach.
His intent with "The Signal" is to have viewers ask, "What the heck is going on?"
"Visually, I wanted 'The Signal' to have a grounded, slice-of-life opening so that we could then go directly into a weird groove — one with as much of a Stanley Kubrick style as possible where everything has lines, and is grounded and sharp."
This is Eubank's second film as a director, but he's worked on a number of features as a cinematographer, including "Wreckage," "Caught in the Crossfire" and "House of the Rising Sun." When he was 18, Eubank got his directing start working on commercials.
One thing he's learned is that good movies have a timeless feel. One way he tried to do that with "The Signal" was to strip away almost all of the color for the movie. He also has his characters using old and new technology to help blur the time element.
The final element was putting together the right group of actors. Eubank was already working on locations in New Mexico when he started casting and handled a lot of the selections via Skype. He was floored when Laurence Fishburne signed on to be the mysterious figure at the heart of this strange world.
"We were so lucky to get Laurence. He was such a fan of the script and told me he couldn't stop turning the pages to see what would happen," Eubank says. "And then, he ended up being such a great sport. It was 100 degrees in that suit he had to wear, but he never complained."
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355.