The Signal Movie - Synopsis
Imagine every cell phone, radio, and television in your city suddenly broadcasting the same mysterious signal over and over. Now imagine these 'terminus' transmissions evoking violent, uncontrollable, psychotic chaos from everyone who comes in contact with them.
The Signal invades the minds of everyday citizens living their workaday lives and having their sordid affairs. Suddenly struck by the power of the insidious transmissions, they are compelled to kill or be killed. Complicating matters is a zombielike resistance some characters have to the idea of remaining dead. The story violently explodes, blending bloody gore with psychological satire, for a truly original horror experience. The Atlanta filmmaking team of David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry tell the eerie tale in three parts (cleverly called "transmissions"), shifting perspectives to draw out a larger story that explores dark secrets and fears as well as jealousy and betrayal.
Not for the faint of heart, The Signal will nonetheless satisfy those looking for a smart exploration of the power of media to mutate our minds. It is truly inspired independent filmmaking that will stalk viewers from every dark corner while examining the surprising human madness lying deep within.
The Signal Movie - Press
"The Signal is an unholy Trinity of tales that will leave you breathless. As in dead." - Wes Craven
"The Signal will earn its place amongst the greatest cult horror films of all time." - Bloody-disgusting.com
"This film will explode4. Mark my words. It has cult classic written all over it." -Aint it Cool News
"The Signal is one viciously fun genre flick." - Cinematical"
The Signal Movie - Directors' Statments
I have a lot of big ideas. Massive ideas. Like dropping into the middle of a citywide sunrise apocalypse complete with raving mad lunatic armies colliding like the Battle of Sterling except instead of swords they carry modified household items designed to maim in a frighteningly simplistic kind of way. They’re murdering each other because they can’t see through their own mental ego driven fog. Oh, and did I mention that the camera never cuts while it whirls around our hero protagonist as she carefully forges her way through the chaos step by calculated step? These are the kinds of ideas anyone might have if their job is to make Act 1 of a sci-fi horror movie depicting the end of the world. These are also the kinds of ideas that go nowhere when you’re still arguing with one of your producers about whether or not you can shoot Act 1 in four days. Maybe five. Probably four. Okay fine. This is how it is. So how does one with such limited means introduce the audience to a giant all encompassing shit-storm? The only answer could be perspective.
I decided just do that thing where you tell the whole story from one person’s POV! It’s visceral. It’s fun. It’s like the angry stepchild of video games and movies. As long as Mya hides from the demons,we only have to show them when she peeks around the corner. We would use everything we could to emphasize this: the camera, the language, the sound, the pacing, the editing, even the music. Satisfied with my new big idea, I hit print and ran off to play.
Pretty soon after that I realized that there were these two other guys. I remembered them from before. They were my friends. In fact, we had all agreed to make this movie together. But they kept asking me questions. Crazy questions like, “Do you think Mya’s relationship with her boyfriend could maybe, I don’t know, mean something?” Or, “What if we throw out your version of her husband and make him intothis exterminator guy that I thought of.” Or my favorite, ”Your script isn’t funny Dave, funny things are better than not funny things. This is always true.” Maybe it didn’t come to that, but it definitely felt that way. It turns out they had a lot of big ideas too. There was no getting away from it. No hiding in my own creative happy place. We would have to collaborate. I don’t mean sit around and talk about each other’s work like we’d done for years. I mean take off the boxing gloves and really fight it out, argue passionately for the little glimpses of impact that it seems you can neither describe nor justify. We began to make little deals: “Okay Dave, you can kill Jerry with the baseball bat, but Rod’s gonna need to find something else to duct tape knives to because Lewis has the baseball bat at that point in MY movie!” Or “Listen! I have to be able to wreck the fucking car if you’re gonna set some dude on fire! That’s only fair!” I realized pretty soon that I had to learn how to talk about my big ideas or they weren’t worth very much. I had to learn to communicate why something had to be one way as opposed to another. Surely they would understand my unbreakable logic. Surely we could collaborate.
Perspective was, in the end, the variable that made it possible. I don’t think we would have been able to make this movie if the structure didn’t somehow justify three separate styles. Although we managed to fit our jigsaw puzzle together, the movies were inherently different. They just worked from a different logic. But then again, so did the characters they were representing. Perhaps that was part of the charm. Perhaps that was the whole point. Perhaps that said something about something that I had started talking about back when I had my big idea. Perhaps. At least I got my sunrise
The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn: a radical re-assessment of all the facts
It is the 11th hour. The final script is past due and if we hope to begin shooting on schedule, none of what is happening is possible.
What is happening? A fundamental change to our story and the script we call "Terminus." Being that I am the guy responsible for resolving this story in Act 3, this means I am fucked. "Don't you see?" Istress, "If you change the rules of the game in Act 1, there is no Act 3 - it no longer exists!" This is true. Especially when you have no less than three driven writer/directors telling one big story. So I refuse. "You can't just invent a new labyrinth." To which someone says, "I don't think you really have to change anything, Dan." I try to reorder my universe. I test the new idea against my plot. It's like an earthquake hit my story. Every road to my ending is blocked or destroyed. "How can you change the beginning and expect to have the same conclusion?" But even as I blurt these words, the unimaginable dawns on me. Nothing in act three would work any more; every action, every line, every detail of my story is absolutely dependent on the previous two acts. In one instant all of it has become irrelevant. Act 3 would have to be rewritten from scratch.
My next call is from JD Taylor, our A.D. He needs a decision from me about a major location because we have less than a month until principal photography begins.
That was last year. I remember it like it was yesterday. I snapped. I wandered out into the fog that had settled on the yard of my rental flat in East-Atlanta as the sun came up. I sat down in the wetgrass and began laughing hysterically. "I think Dan's been Signalized,” Alex would warn Dave after our next phone call. "I think we've lost him.” But somewhere deep inside the sound of my laughter, the absurdity and the madness, I also realized that Dave Bruckner and Jacob Gentry were probably right. This change would simplify everything. I had fought for this idea originally, but that was then and now we were out of time.
"Fuck it all," I thought. "I've got to let go. How do I let go? Let go of my story... Let go of my protagonist? Let go of my identity? Just let go! Maybe then I'll rediscover what was cool about thestory and why I signed up for this in the first place.
I grabbed a bottle of wine and a corkscrew and went to my computer and started writing. This time with abandon. This time for fun. And as I dropped into "The Signal" before the low-glow of my cold blue monitor, suddenly the new ACT 3 flowed right through me- faster than the wine. This time the rules were simple and everything clicked. It was one of the best, most lucid writing experiences I've ever had.
I met with Jacob the next night at "The Earl,” an east-Atlanta watering hole. We were there to reevaluate our scripts and estimate the damage. Surprisingly, we were on the same page. The new story was tighter than ever and, before we left, we realized what this movie is really about: It's about point-of-view. It's about shared identity. It's about the interconnected structure of reality despite the end of the world.
This was the first of many trials-by-fire: more training for "finding the zone" as a director when the challenges are non-stop. And though this was only the first of many battles that dogged our every step while making "The Signal,” I realized that if you are on to something good you have to get out of the way of that goodness. The battle isn't with each other; it’s within yourself... And the darkest hour is always just before dawn. Even though I had already rewritten Act 3, we decided to call Bruck and tell him that we were all wrong and that it was his act that would have to go. Just to scare the shit out of him. I hope, that just for a moment, he felt the hell that I had gone through. Just to give him a taste of that beast we all call "The Signal."
The second greatest moment in my professional life was walking into the mother of all independent record stores, Amoeba Records in Los Angeles, and wandering upstairs to the video department to find thaton their own volition they had displayed my first feature film Last Goodbye in the CULT section. If you are wondering why this so appealed to me then allow me to explain.
The concept of “Genre” hangs over every decision you make as a film producer. What kind of movie is this? Who will want to watch this? Is it a Comedy? Drama? Action? Thriller? Western? What is the singlephrase I can use that essentializes this piece of filmed entertainment down to the most articulate degree of categorization? Is it a Romantic-Comedy? Science Fiction-Fantasy? Soft-Core Porn? Audiences want to specify type in order to feel comfortable with their choices. It allows people to feel like they can quantify the movie-going experience: I can feel safe in my decision to watch this Ashley Judd/Morgan Freeman suspense-thriller because this is the kind of movie I know I like.
However, despite this widely accepted filing system we try to maintain, there ever so often comes a movie that refuses to be labeled. In sneak these little movies that mess up our well-oiled organizational machine by defying genre. Who do they think they are? I can’t use that many hyphens when describing this movie to my friends! So to maintain order we give a genre to the genreless. We call them CULT. We call them cult because: since they defy generalization they are little orphans who have no home. Then one day, a small group of people who fancy themselves outsiders take these little orphans into their lives and hearts and build a cult around them. They feel an ownership over this unwanted jewel because they loved it despite the rest of the world casting it aside, the mean old world that threw it away due to its lack of genre. They love it despite box office take or critical reception. They love it for it’s odd nature or left field sense of humor. They love it because it is more extreme in it’s sex and violence than others are willing to be. They love it for its big ideas that may seem too far-out for the mainstream. They love it because the closest genre it can represent is now out of fashion. They love it because it’s theirs.
So there it was on the shelf, my movie, placed in that special echelon of alternative masterpieces the likes of Repo Man, The Big Lebowski, Pink Flamingos, Plan 9, Rocky Horror, Oldboy, Donnie Darko, Eraserhead, Deathrace 2000. (And speaking of Deathrace 2000, if you’re interested in my first greatest moment, it was standing on the set of Last Goodbye with cult film legend David Carradine as he regaled me with mind-blowing stories from his fascinating career. He had just come off of Kill Bill, so it was a particularly interesting time in his life. He said something about himself that sums up my affection for movies: “I can safely say I’m the only actor who has been directed by both Ingmar Bergman and Fred Williamson.” Wow. There could not be two more seemingly disparate filmmakers than this Swedish existentialist auteur of isolation and despair and this ex-football player turned blaxplotation icon. But that’s just it, their fundamental differences being a common thread in Carradine’s life is what makes the realm of possibilities within movies so damned exciting! So what does all this have to do with The Signal? I’ll tell you.
When we set out to make the signal, the first thing we even talked about was genre. It was the most overriding principle guiding the writing of the screenplay. We’re making a horror movie. Horror movies are hot right now. We can sell a horror movie. We must stay true to the genre of horror. All our influences must be horror film-related. HORROR! Now anybody who has done anything creative knows that limitations and constraints breed the highest level of creativity. I’m not sure if I would consider the horror genre to be a constraint, but in order to give it respect there are certain things you try toavoid. Such as? Well you don’t want to not scare people. And you want to ensure a proper level of horrific-ness. We actually had a sheet given to us that had rules on it. It was basically the “If you want to make a horror movie don’t reinvent the wheel, just make sure you have a violent death every ten pages” sheet. Now I thought this was a fun challenge. It was a rule that forced us to be more
creative. Okay, fine. If I have to follow your stupid rule to kill someone every ten pages then I’m going to REALLY KILL THEM every ten pages. It will be the most extreme example of this rule. I ‘m
usuallyambivalent toward rules in general, but they always seem to make me do better. They also keep you on track when you’re writing with two other people. Our collective stubborn defiance of rules
allowed forsome really cool stuff that we would have been too lazy to strive for if we weren’t trying to fly in the face of limitations.
One rule that I think crosses all genres and is said to be the thing that distinguishes film from all other art forms is Suspense. Suspense is a funny thing. It’s an obvious thing, but not necessarily aneasy thing, and it kind of applies across the board. I think that what makes horror work is the same mechanism that makes comedy work: “Anticipation.” Horror is kind of the ultimate forum for suspensebecause in order to scare people, that level of Anticipation must be so high that when it’s paid off people shit their pants. That pay-off has to completely subvert their expectations even if it is justto fulfill them: I was expecting you to do this, but I anticipated it so long that I started to think you were going to do something else, then you did the thing I expected but by that time I wasn’t expecting it. And when you did it you did it in a way I never expected. “SUBVERSION OF EXPECTATIONS.” I was expecting you guys to give me a run-of-the-mill Horror movie because that was the compartment itwas put into by the genre. I like my horror like I like my coffee, consistently black.
The jury is still out on whether we were successful in our attempt to subvert your expectations. But we set out to make a Horror movie. Hopefully we made a movie that has all the things you’ve come to expect from a Horror movie, but in the most extreme ways possible. Maybe it will work for you as a straight up and down scream fest. But, hopefully we gave you a little extra. Hopefully we were so intenton not being tied down that we gave you some Science Fiction, some Romance, some Farcical Comedy, some Meditative Poetry. I hope we made a movie with big ideas and strong emotional power delivered with the ultimate level of excitement. And hopefully through our own stubbornness and defiance of rules we have made a movie that is more than just a horror film, but a fresh and original hyphenate that totally subverts your expectations. And maybe someday it will end up in the cult section of Amoeba Records.
The Signal Movie - The Filmakers
David Bruckner (Director)
Bruckner plays with dark, visceral films that explore the complex choices people make in extreme situations. For some reason, he adamantly prefers doing this to most other human activities. In addition to working as one of three writer-director-editors on The Signal, David has been playing rough with POPfilms since it was created at the turn of the century. He cut his teeth on television commercials and webisode comedy as Media vs Media, his market production company co-founded with Jeremiah Prescott), and fueled Atlanta's underground indie film scene as a key player in the Dailies Project, the
experimental filmmaking workshop where The Signal was conceived. Under the portfolio Wasteland Pictures, David has gone on to produce, write, direct, and edit dozens of original short films, music
videos,and film/theater experiments, including the feature-length postmodern adaptation of Freidrick Schiller's “The Robbers,” which premiered at Push Push Theatre in the Fall of 2005. Beyond writing and directing, David's work as a cinematographer could be seen on big screens across the country in last summer's Psycopathia Sexualis (distributed by Kino International). David is currently developing
several new feature projects. The Signal is his first feature film.
Dan Bush (Director)
Bush hopes to live his life well enough so that people will want to be him for Halloween. Until then he will happily make movies about all the other monsters and heroes. Dan studied filmmaking and
anthropology at the UNC- Chapel Hill. In 1997 Dan infiltrated the Atlanta film scene and joined forces with Dulcinea films to produce the movie Fight, Fuck, Pray. In 2003 he co-founded the "Dailies
Project," a film and theater collective with a focus on process over product and collaboration over isolation. Here he made several shorts including Goodbye Day, which won Best Narrative Short, Best
Drama, and Best Actor at the 2003 Dahlonega Film Festival. Dan has written several feature-length screenplays, including “Bedlam Hollow: A Gothic Western” and "Yellowman," a semi-finalist for the 2nd Project Greenlight.In 2004 Dan started Psychopia Pictures and collaborated with motion graphics designer Michael McReynolds of Itaki Design Studio to produce two new experimental works, E-Motion Studies and A Day In The Life. Recently, Dan completed his first independent feature, The Signal, with Dailies veterans David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, and Alex Motlagh. His next features, "Rife” and "Yellowman" (co-writer Brian Ransom) are currently in development.
Jacob Gentry (Director)
Gentry's first film as writer and director, Last Goodbye, is a sprawling character drama starring film legends Faye Dunaway and David Carradine. Made for very little money on the hot and humid streets ofAtlanta, the film gained considerable media attention by being featured on ABC’s 20/20, the E! Network, and the New York Times for its young ensemble cast consisting primarily of the offspring of Hollywood stars. Last Goodbye had a successful festival run starting with its premiere at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival and ending with a distribution deal with Warner Home Video. The Signal is Jacob
Gentry’s sophomore effort as a feature director. After such a somber debut, Jacob has turned his eyes toward making comedies. He has several scripts in development that he hopes to direct without two other guys to share credit with.
Alex Motlagh (Producer)
Motlagh was leading a fruitful career as an editor for a division of CNN when one day, divine providence struck and he decided to use his full first name and middle initial. The addition of the ANDER andespecially the use of the “A,” gave Alex newfound confidence and immediately transformed the aspiring filmmaker into a real Movie Producer. Having now gained this new length to his name and an exciting new moniker, young Alexander A. Motlagh forged a fresh path as an independent film producer with the Atlanta based POPfilms. His first feature film project as Producer, Last Goodbye, allowed Alexander touse none of his previous skills save for his sly wit and cunning poker face. No, all the conceivable challenges that come with making a feature film were brand new complex obstacles to face and they werehurled at him full force, yet it was as if he was the Millennium Falcon braving an unexpected asteroid field. He dealt with this myriad of complications with the assuredness of seasoned pro (or at least he made it look that way). So when he suited up again for his sophomore effort as film Producer, The Signal, Alexander believed he had gained all the necessary wisdom from his first outing to make the second one with great ease. He was wrong. The Signal had a whole other set of impossible odds to overcome like less money and three times as many directors to deal with. So he pushed onward and learned another massive volume of life lessons and career experience. Alexander learned so much on these two films he looks forward to using this acquired knowledge on the next movie he’s developing, a Karaoke Samurai film entitled “Honeysuckle Blues.” The next one should be a breeze or he might just start adding more letters onto his name again.
Morris Ruskin (Executive Producer)
Ruskin has produced over 30 films. His credits include: Glengarry Glen Ross, which garnered an Academy Award Nomination for Al Pacino; The Visit, nominated for four Spirit awards; The Man From Elysian Films, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and had its US premiere at the Sundance Film Festival; Marilyn Hotchkisss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School, which also premiered at Sundance; and Weirdsville, which will be opening Slamdance this year. Everything’s Gone Green, Constellation, and Kalamazoo will be coming to theaters in the first half of 2007. On the heels of the
success of Glengarry Glen Ross, Morris established Shoreline Entertainment, envisioning a company that would allow him to not only continue to develop and produce feature films but enhance his
professionalhorizons. His aspirations came to fruition when he expanded Shoreline to include a sales arm in 1997. By always working with prominent writers and directors and by developing and acquiring projects that are attractive to the major studios, mini-majors, and foreign markets alike, Morris has ensured for over a decade that Shoreline remains a stable yet versatile and ever-evolving
organization. Among his many activities and honors, Morris has served as a Final Judge for the Cable Ace Awards, a panelist at the Hollywood Film Festival, a Judge at the Annual Manga Screenwriting
Competition held in Tokyo, a Panelist for the Producer’s Seminar of the Santa Fe Screenwriting Conference, Juror at the Bahamas Film Festival, a Guest Panelist for the Women in Film Symposium, and the Chairman of the Peter Stark Screenwriting Competition. Clearly, it is important to Morris that he remains ceaselessly active in the world of film.
The Signal Movie - The Cast
Justin Welborn (“Ben Capstone”)
Justin has been a leading part of Atlanta's theatre and film scene for almost ten years, acting, producing and directing some of the best fringe theater in the city. He has performed hundreds of roles, including Alex in "A Clockwork Orange," Gollum in "The Hobbit," and Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet," to name a few. He is a Producing Artistic Associate at Push Push Theater, appearing in shows like the premiere of Murray Mednick's "Clown Show For Bruno Schulz," and a re-imagined multi-media production of Freidrich Schiller's classic "The Robbers." He is also an Artistic Associate with Out of Hand Theater, and is one of the co-creators of their farcical self-improvement seminar "HELP," which showcased at the 2005 New York Fringe Festival. Justin is also one of the founders of Collective Works, a multidisciplinary performance troupe that strives to push the boundaries of live "Event" theater, and is responsible for shows like "The Wide Open Beaver Festival," "The DADA Series," and "The Invisible College." He is a charter member of Black Knight Stunts, for which he appeared in his first feature film Last Goodbye, produced by POPfilms, and The Other Side, which premiered at last years Slamdance. Justin continues to develop the collaborative process already shared by so many of these groups with his work on the New Street Project, which focuses on centralizing and strengthening the resources of smaller production companies so that their individual production goals can be fully realized.
A.J. Bowen (“Lewis Denton”),
A veteran of the stage, has been collaborating with the guilty parties of POPfilms since their earliest conceptions at the University of Georgia, generally being thrown table scraps and underdeveloped poorly written garbage roles (this training proved invaluable for informing his future career in Los Angeles). After a brief and expensive exercise in futility in NYC, A.J. returned to collaborate briefly with POPfilms again in an underdeveloped poorly written garbage role in Last Goodbye. Realizing his lot in life, A.J. matriculated to Los Angeles, where he found work in an equity theater. His firststage role in Los Angeles caught the attention of a casting director, which ultimately led to a starring role in the upcoming Creepshow 3. Armed with this even further lack of credibility and several "pilots in development" at "major networks," A.J. returned to Atlanta last winter to secure a larger table scrap: the underdeveloped, poorly written garbage role of Lewis Denton in POPfilms' The Signal. Luckily, A.J. was able to save the role and, ultimately, the entire production. Since then, A.J. has starred in two features and lent supporting work to several films across the country. He and his wife make their home in Los Angeles.
Scott Poythress (“Clark”)
Scott has worked with POPfilms since it’s humble beginnings. The freedom of creativity that has come with these directors and the Dailies film group along with Push Push Theater in Atlanta has been incredibly satisfying. From working “boomnastics” to copying scripts to scouting locations, Scott is thrilled to be fulfilling a lifelong dream in being a part of the process of movie making.
Anessa Ramsey ("Mya Denton")
Anessa began her performance career very young as a gymnast, vocalist, dancer, and acrobat. It wasn't until she was 17 years old that she set foot onto the stage as a professional actress in Houston, Texas. There, she was trained both classically and creatively at the University of Houston by such names as Dr. Sidney Berger, Carolyn Boone, Edward Albee, Stuart and Anne Ostrow, among others. Several years later, after relocating to Atlanta, Georgia, Anessa was lucky enough to have been spotted on stage by David Bruckner, who would almost immediately introduce her to the world of film. A few of Anessa's stage credits include Olivia ("Geek Love", an adaptation of the cult classic novel by Katherine Dunne, NYC Fringe Festival), Becca ("Refuge," winner of the Susan Blackburn Smith award), Moon ("Heartbreak," an original work combining stage and both live and previously recorded film), Pinocchio ("Pinocchio," HCF), and numerous others. Some film credits include Slowly, a short film for Atlanta'sDailies Projects and Media vs Media in conjunction with POPfilms, Why I love Shop Lifting from Giant Corporations (SubmediaTV), The Robbers (Media vs Media), Golgotha (a silent black and white film in production), and various local commercials. Anessa would like to thank Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry, David Bruckner, and the entire (quickly growing) Atlanta film community for this, previous, and future amazing opportunities.
Sahr Ngaujah aka Sahr (“Rod”)
Sahr began his career in theatre working in Atlanta with the Freddie Hendricks Youth Ensemble of Atlanta through 7Stages Theatre in Little 5 Points. As an actor Sahr has had a very rich career from the very early age of 15, working with the likes of Gerrit Timmers (Onafhankelijk Toneel, Rotterdam), Del Hamilton (7Stages, Atlanta), Walter Chakela (Windybrow, Johannesburg), Tim Habeger (Push Push, Atlanta), Made n da Shade (Amsterdam) to name a few. Sahr has also managed to maintain a subtle presence in the world of film since the late 90’s, with appearances in Passing Glory (TNT), A Lesson Before Dying (HBO), How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Castle Way), among others, and more recently in The Signal and Stomp the Yard. Since relocating to Amsterdam in 2001, Sahr has worked as a theater director and developer with Rotterdam’s Lef and ACT Festival, and as a collaborator with Made n da Shade. He recently completed his studies at Dasarts in Amsterdam under the direction of Alida Neslo and Monique Toebosch. Sahr continues to work with a host of musicians, dancers, electronic artists, and designers between Europe, Africa, and the U.S., actively attempting to help forge stronger links between the artistic community in Atlanta and the Netherlands.
The Signal Movie - Cast
Mya Denton: Anessa Ramsey
Lewis Denton: AJ Bowen
Jerry: Matt Stanton
Janice: Suehyla El-Attar
Ben Capstone: Justin Welborn
Anna: Cheri Christian
Clark: Scott Poythress
Ken: Christopher Thomas
Laura: Lindsey Garrett
Jim Parsons: Chad McKnight
The Signal Movie - Crew
Directed by: David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, Dan Bush
Screenplay by: David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, Dan Bush
Produced by: Alexander A. Motlagh, Jacob Gentry
Executive Producers: Hilton Garrett, Morris Ruskin
Co-Producer: Lab 601, inc.
Camera Operators: David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, Dan Bush
Edited by: David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, Dan Bush
Co-Editor: Alexander A. Motlagh
Sound Design: Michael McReynolds, Jeremiah Prescott
Music: Ben Lovett