You can't stop The Signal
On the set of "The Signal"
Decatur, GA.—Strands of industrial buildings, old factories and railroad tracks—some functional and others not—spot the Kirkwood district at the intersection of DeKalb Avenue and Arizona Street.
One warehouse in particular has become the set for The Signal, the follow up to the buzz-worthy Last Goodbye from local production company POP Films.
|Producer Alex Motlagh on the set of The Signal. (photo: Eric Bomba-Ire)|
An experimental task with enormous challenge—thirteen days and three directors—holds a common vision among the production.
The Signal takes place in a modern city of Terminus, where life is perfect, until a new designer communications system broadcasts a signal that makes people kill. By dawn, half of the media-dependent population is murdered. The story of Terminus is told through the eyes of three people: Mya, an innocent young woman, Lewis, a killer and Ben, the only one who can see past the signal. The game is survival in this utopia turned hell, where no one can be trusted, not even oneself.
MEET THE DIRECTORS
Loosely based on a Dailies Project called Exquisite Corpse that the directors, Jacob Gentry, Dan Bush and Dave Bruckner had crafted years earlier, the initial idea was that the city of Terminus was approaching a unique and violent apocalypse. People were killing other people for seemingly no reason, families turned against each other, friends and neighbors were suddenly engaged in mortal combat with household weapons. Some people were more affected than others, but everyone seemed to be hyper aware, affected by something. From that grew the idea for The Signal.
Producer Alex Motlagh says that they "wanted to make a film in the style of a Sin City or Pulp Fiction, where each [act] has three distinct sections that individually could stand on their own as a short story, or be put together to tell a larger umbrella story.
"With The Signal, each act is told from the perspective of one of our three lead characters. We wanted each act to have a distinct style and tone which is why the three directors came into play."
A SWITCH IN VISION
After Last Goodbye, which came with much accolade from the national and local press, as well as the local filmmaking community, it might have been easy for POP Films to opt for a more lucrative way out and make a Hollywood-type movie. However, The Signal pushes the creative impulse of this team, not only with its trio of directors, but also its multi-layered stories and an attempt to make a genre film with dignity.
"There is a business reality to doing genre films," says Motlagh. "We felt that we could capitalize on this, as well as bring in the artistic elements and integrity that are in our previous features and shorts.
"It's trying to find the line between art and commerce. I did not want to make an exploitation film. The best horror films are generally hyperbole of the current society. We are living in a time where fear and false perception dominates society, how we think and how we act.
"The signal deals with all of these themes. Not to say that our film is overtly didactic. It's a real fun film that never lets up until the end."
|Special effects makeup artist Toby Sells preps an actor. (photo: Eric Bomba-Ire)|
With the common thread involved in each act, and a world established, each director started writing a short story inside the world of Terminus.
"As writers and directors, we each had a responsibility to our character's story, perspective, and the style that best demonstrated their particular experience," notes Bruckner. "In addition, we had to keep in mind the larger arcs of the story, making sure that we properly set up things to come in later acts and that we delivered our characters in an emotional state that correlated with scenes from the other directors. It was hard, complex, awesome and fulfilling."
This day on the set of The Signal, in a small room of unbearable heat produced by cluster of human bodies (crew) and harsh stylish low key lighting, I observe the trio at work.
A man drags another disheveled man wearing a bloody and torn up green t-Shirt. He leaves him on the floor and starts to look around for something, I assume a weapon. The bloody man suddenly stands up, grunting with blood and saliva spewing from his mouth. He has a shovel in hands and a fight ensues.
The scene seems to be going well when...
"Cut," yells Jacob as he strides onto the set toward the actors, explaining his vision with Dan and Dave watching intently. They seem to approve. Another take and this time, it's in the bag. Moving on to the next scene...
The trio debates on the outcome of the following scene. This time, it seems that ideas do differ and they battle a bit to a final decision.
"On set, we were like tag-team directors," Bruckner explains. "We each had our own story and were prepared to defend it to the end.
"Often times one of us would be directing, another would be operating camera, and the third would be a second set of eyes, or off preparing for shots later that same day in which they would have to direct.
"I think all three of us are bit pigheaded in that we like seeing our vision the way we see it, but we had to strike a balance with the other directors. Sometimes the simplest idea and the way you want it to happen suddenly changes the entire context of another event."
Finally, the props, SFX and makeup are in place, including a mannequin head on an actor's back and a man with a shovel in hand. All of these elements are spotted for a ‘30s noir look. The camera frames the shadows on the wall and the result: someone gets his head chopped off.
I leave the set content with the professionalism invested into the production and eager to see the final product of this Atlanta dynamic trio who carry on the banner for filmmakers in this city.
"Everybody wants to do good work all the time," Bruckner remarks. "Our crew was made up of extremely talented individuals who worked overtime to help tell this story within our production constraints. I'm not sure we would have had the same kind of all or nothing devotion in New York or L.A.
"I'm also not sure that all the favors getting locations, props, cars and special effects would have been possible elsewhere."
"One popular misconception is that to be a Southern filmmaker you should make films about the South," Bush comments. "Although to some degree, you'll always be reflecting a Southern perspective, I don't think it matters too much where you are.
"We should be able in the year 2006 to produce a movie here about anything you want."
"I don't think we owe anything to this region except to make good work. Make better movies. Everything else will come from that. I will continue to make movies in Atlanta, not because Atlanta is a bustling cultural center and not because my Southern upbringing needs a voice, but because I have tribe here with artists that inspire me. And we're just getting started."
Eric Bomba-Ire is the founder of CinemATL.