I had the pleasure of meeting William Eubank and Gunner Wright, director and star of the Sci Fi film Love, on Monday night, August 27. It was part of Regency Film’s special preview of this cult classic at Dendy Newtown, in Sydney, and we spoke in front of a packed house just after the film had been screened.
The film was a labour of love (no pun intended), with William enlisting his brothers to build a set in his backyard, which then became the focus of filmmaking over the next four and a half years. Gunner Wright, who plays stranded astronaut Captain Lee Miller, holds the focus of the film, for the most part singlehandedly. He would work nights, weekends, all sorts of odd hours in between working on gigs like J.Edgar with Clint Eastwood and being the face and voice of Isaac Clarke in the DeadSpace 2 (and now DeadSpace 3).
Love is an undeniably beautiful, contemplative film, and it’s amazing how they managed to create it, with the help of Tom DeLonge and his band Angels & Airwaves, who produced the film.
William: The story behind this film is that I was working at Bannervision which is a kind of rental house in LA. I was shooting stuff every weekend when I could sneak cameras out the back door and I did a music video for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (for a YouTube competition) and somehow they saw it and wanted me to come do some videos for them. That’s sort of where this all began basically.
Oscar: So if you’re an aspiring filmmaker, you really should enter those competitions no matter what?
William: I think you should just work as much as you can basically, whether it’s your own work or whatever it is. It’s funny because at the time I was trying to making something else and the guys were helping me make that, and I was like, ‘Come on guys, I want to make this other thing for YouTube…’ and they were like, ‘That is dumb, don’t do that.’ So, then I made it into this movie, so you never know what’s going to happen. (Laughs)
Oscar: I think not knowing what’s going to happen can work if you’re working on a couple of weeks’ shoot here and there and all that kind of jazz and maybe, eventually we’ll get a film out of this. You’ve worked over four and a half years and Gunner’s worked alongside you for four and a half years; the film was created literally in your back yard. The set – the story of actually building the set to prove that you could make the movie which is basically insane, because the set, I mean, obviously there’s throwbacks to ’2001′, but it’s you and your brothers building a set from scratch. Can you tell us a little bit about your mind and how unbalanced you were going into that project?
William: As a filmmaker, there’s a point where you want it so badly, you’re just like, ‘Ok, I want to make movies so bad, what do I really have to do?’ So, then there’s this grand idea and then there’s all these steps that you need to take to get there and unfortunately in this particular situation, we didn’t have a set that we could afford to rent. I didn’t think I imagined that I would ever have made as big of a set as I did; it started out slowly with one skateboard ramp and then I made another skateboard ramp and I put it on top of it and I had a little eight foot tunnel and I was like, ‘Wow, this is cool, but it would be way cooler if there was like forty feet of tunnel…’ so like two years later we had just, I don’t even know… I tell people all the time that I was using furniture staples to put it all together so I went through nineteen boxes of those and there’s a thousand in each box. And every staple, you’re wondering, ‘Is there a point to this? Does this really have to do with the movie that we’re trying to make?’ It was definitely an arduous process but worth it in the end I guess. There were nights where I would wake up, and in California we have this winter where you have all these wind storms and all this rain and it was all outside covered with Visqueen, so I would just wake up and go outside and start trying to shovel water off this set because I just had to keep it dry for two years. It was difficult but definitely worth it in the end and here I am in Australia with you guys and it’s just awesome!
Oscar: William, talking to you is just a wonderful experience, but the other side of this coin is Gunner here, and it’s one thing to be a filmmaker with a vision, but there’s another thing to be an actor who’s caught up in this vision. Some people say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ll help you out on weekends and things like that, but for four and a half years coming back – and also the arduous nature of the shoot where you’re up in the middle of the night, freezing, and then trying to emote a story that’s existing only in your mind. Gunner – what was going through your mind when this was happening?
Gunner: I grew up with an upbringing of ‘you finish what you start’ and it resonated with Will, because there were so many moments as a filmmaker, especially with independent films and short films, you don’t have budget and so everyone’s trying to make money just so they can go and do that project, an so, so many times these films start off really strong because everyone’s so fired up and it has momentum, but then because of circumstances they just never get completed. And, that actually happened a couple of times with, ‘Love’ because really if it hadn’t of been for Will’s tenacity, the project would have stopped; we would never have finished this movie. And as an actor, for me, in some ways I try to balance myself with Will’s enthusiasm, I figure, Well hell, if he’s getting up at four in the morning to make sure there’s no water coming into the space station, then I can give him 110% and try to bring that collaboration as an actor to the project, where if it’s twenty degrees and I’m wearing these crazy shorts they made me wear, or if it was a hundred and five degrees, my aspect was to say that everybody’s giving 110% then I wanted to do the same. It was also a passion project; I mean when Tom talks about them scoring the film for the first time, them scoring the movie, with Will being a leading director and me being the leading actor, we weren’t doing this for money, we weren’t doing this for any other aspect than hey, let’s do something we care about and something we believe in. And because of Will’s tenacity, that wasn’t something we started and stopped – we’re here in Sydney getting a chance to share it with you.
Oscar: I think the one thing that really strikes audiences is the beauty of the film; it’s a gorgeous looking film. But, the other one is that it’s just you and I want to know the thoughts and the acting process inside your mind; the on-going series of thoughts that kept you together, whether the idea was, what’s it like to be lonely? What is it like to be the only guy still holding on? Was there a tenuous thread that you held on over the four years?
Gunner: Well, it started off with a vision; Tom and Will had this idea of, who is Captain Lee Miller and how does he lose his sanity, and what’s a good definition of that. So, I did watch, ’2001: A Space Odyssey’, I watched Tom Hanks in ‘Castaway’ and a handful of films to try and get an idea, but one of the things we knew right off the top was that this guy’s a normal guy, but he’s also a trained astronaut in the sense that there’s protocol, there’s procedures, he’s a survivalist. So, he’s going to be a normal person in extreme circumstances but he’s going to be someone who also wants to survive. So, we used that common denominator throughout the film, even though a lot of things changed. One of the things that really helped me during set, was obviously the space station that he built because I could look up, I could look down, any angle and I was encompassed into a world of ISS. And the other this was we weren’t filming on a Hollywood lot where I could check my voicemail messages and go to this meeting after we wrapped for the day; I was living on his ranch where I was completely removed from my normal life as an actor in Hollywood, outside of going for runs in the morning where you’re going past the chickens, the horses and the cattle, we were completely away from that aspect of our daily lives. We used that in a lot of ways to draw on that isolation as Gunner going into Captain Lee Miller.
William: But as a testament for that, literally there were so many crazy things as we were trying to film. For example, this neighbour I have just chose that time of year to weed-whack his entire forty acres, so every afternoon, you’d just hear, ‘Brrrm’ and Gunner’s trying to act and then you have that and then there’s the mosquito hawks flying around and the loads of bugs. At night we’d have to put somebody by, there was this little pool area we have and every night we’d have to put someone there stomping their feet every thirty because there’s these frogs that would start chirping up, and it’s just so hard to get the moment right, and then to have him be on, just to get into that mode, he did a great job and I can’t imagine.
Gunner: We also had the freedom. The other side of that is yeah, you’re going to have that in any film. You go to LA and you’re going to shoot a movie and there’s aeroplanes and helicopters and traffic; I don’t care if it’s Avengers or Love. The coolest thing to me about ‘Love’ is the memories of those times where it was almost two o’clock or three o’clock in the morning and the crew were pretty much asleep for the day and yet Will would have an idea and almost wake me up and go, hey, everything’s pretty much set… Let’s just go, I’ve got this concept, let’s just go out there for a bit – and obviously those shorts were easy to get to – so I’d jump in, throw them on and there were these magical moments where it was just he and I exploring, there was no executive producer telling us, ‘No, you can’t do it!’ And, a lot of that, a lot of those little magical moments just came from mistakes. But, having that freedom of time, to not necessarily have to rush that scene or that day.
Oscar: Now, William, the ISS set is impressive, but it’s the beginning of the film that sets the tone, the script and the words that you’ve chosen are powerful but it’s the scenery, the hyper slow-mo and the explosions, and also the accuracy of the renditions of the actors that really set up the film. You’ve got some fantastic actors; my initial reaction was that you got some really great re-enactors to come on set. Can you tell us, a) I believe you also shot that scene on your ranch, so this is another backyard jobbie, but also just the ability to get that kind of authenticity shooting on a budget that’s stretched over five years that’s still under half a million dollars.
William: Yes, the thing is that what happened there is that we had shot all the space stuff and I had shot a few little Civil War things, and Tom (DeLonge) came back to me and said, what if we re-shot some of this stuff to make it bigger and better? At that point, I thought, ‘oh man, what does this mean I have got to do at this point?’ But, the more I started thinking about it, the more I knew it would help the overall aspect and the overall design of the film. So I started again, and two of my brothers helped me, who were in high school at the time, and we just started building those sets kind of not really with an exact time in mind but we ended up shooting for about three days after six months of building those sets and most of those – we had about twenty-five/thirty re-enactors come down and a lot of the rest of the people were friends from the town that I live in and a friend of mine from that town is here tonight, Dan Johnson – so he was recognising like my third grade teacher as the general to go out the door. It’s funny because when you get your friends to help you, they’re willing to whatever to help you, but when you have re-enactors, they’re like, ‘Oh no! That’s not authentic.’ I’m like, man, you don’t know how hard it is to make this movie, just please help me out for a second and roll down the hill! (Laughs) The re-enactor is saying, ‘Well, what battle would this be?’ There’s a lot of small, dealing with people things that you never really think about when you’re making a film. But, in the end, my friends just came out and really helped me for three days of shooting and I knew we didn’t have the budget to make big battle scenes, so what else could we do. I love the movie, Thin Red Line and I love the opening sequence where they’re musing about life and nature and all that stuff, so really it was trying to capture some of that and so the slow-mo is a way to paint a picture of a moment as opposed to having to play the entire moment.
Oscar: When you’re using special effects of that nature, which is not really special effects at all, trying to get that big budget feel but on zero budget, can you explain to the audience – especially if there’s any filmmakers in the audience – just how you did that?
William: The whole movie, or…?
Oscar: Well, in particular the opening sequence because it looks spectacular.
William: Yeah, air cannons, lots of air cans and lots of cork (laughs). It’s just lots of prep; if you don’t have any money, then you give up money for time – and in my situation, we spent six months, me living at home sort of homeless – I didn’t have a place at that time and I was eating my Mum’s cooking every night – just taking that time to create the bombs that were going to explode and the big roller door and you’re creating all of these big, physical things that you know are going to look cool later. I think specifically, framing wise, I always just try to think of things like layers; what’s really cool about slow-mo is that you shoot it and then you have time to really study the details of the image. So we would shoot a slow-mo scene for instance – it’s really funny because one of the greatest shots never made it into the film because watching it, it was awesome, everything was chaotic and was hitting and everything was happening and there was mud everywhere and I was watching it back looking at the layers, going through the image and there was one thing that wasn’t happening, and there was a tree that had a branch hanging into the shot. So you had all this visual chaos, and it looked really cool, but that tree, it was just not moving. It was just totally still, so we did one more shot and we threw a rope over that tree branch and right during that moment where the clash happens, we were yanking on that tree branch really hard and it changed the moment. So, I think that as a filmmaker, especially with slow-mo you have an opportunity to think of things in terms of layers, what’s right in front of the lens, what’s twenty feet in front of the lens, what’s two hundred feet in front of the lens.
Oscar: Gunner, while this film is being created, and you have a very specific mind-meld with the director, you’re actually going off and making other films. You’re starring in the DeadSpace franchise which is a massive, seventy million dollar gaming franchise. You’re working with a couple of Hollywood Directors like this Eastwood chap. How much does it mess with your head? How difficult is it to go back into this headspace? What is there that’s there something that’s always there you can go back to and go, ‘Yes, I’m back to Captain Miller’?
Gunner: You know what? It was actually cool because I look back at, for example, G.I. Joe or J. Edgar and I actually took a lot of what we were doing and applied that a lot on those big sets, because let’s face is so there was a moment when we actually shot on location and we’re eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, drinking hot Coca-Cola, and now I’m on the G.I. Joe set and I see this motorcycle pull up and this guy’s going through security, and my call time is seven a.m. and this guy takes his helmet off, and it’s Harrison Ford. I was thinking, is Harrison going to be in G.I. Joe? And they were ushering him into hair and make-up and the story is that the woman who’s heading-up the make-up department has been cutting his hair for twenty-five years and he called her that morning, and she said, “well geez, I’m on set, so if you want to come down, I’ll cut your hair?” So, there’s that aspect of, and it sounds so cool and it was, but what we were doing was in essence, just two kids playing in a sand-box; that aspect of what is filmmaking, without having a hundred million dollars to shoot a movie. So, it was almost in reverse; I would just apply what we were doing to my jobs in those bigger movies and yet we had caviar and really great crafting.
Oscar: After such a long time, and it is a low budget film and we’re not sitting in the mega-plexes of the world, and I want to know, after all this hard work, what makes it worthwhile for both of you? What in essence can you take away from this and say, ‘Yes, this is what I did this for’ or, is it something that you’ve learnt that you didn’t know you were doing it for?
Gunner: I think just – and I don’t know how many artists are in the room, no matter what that means to you – I think this is something that probably, no matter what I do in my career as an actor, I will always look back at this film for just the innocence of what it means to do something you just love to do. I love to act; all I want to do until I just decide to retire and this is just a great representation, in my opinion, for me personally of what that means because I didn’t do it for the money and not making anything and in some ways not knowing whether it was ever going to get finished. So, I would just say that for me, it’s just such a special feeling to see it done and to be able to experience it with you guys and to know that we did it for those right, those reasons. I will look back twenty years from now and just think of those memories; two kids playing in a sandbox, except it was a space station.
William: You know, if the film is about what it is to leave something behind, to leave a time capsule behind or leave a legacy if you will, it’s one of the broad strokes of the film, what are we, as human beings going to leave behind when we cease to exist one day because of some crazy unforeseen event, or god knows what. It’s funny, it’s so weird going to bed and knowing that this film is done and it’s in the locker because it’s like, this is the first of one of the stories I’ve told and to be a filmmaker and tell stories and share ideas. A lot of the stuff is obviously things that I think about a lot or feel strongly about, so to be able to get out there and share that with you guys is just worth it. When you’re making a film, you have all these crazy little details you’re trying to get done, you seem really far from that point, but I always get excited just to watch it start to roll. It’s really worth it in the end. These stories are my legacy; they are what I’m going to leave behind.
Oscar: I think there’s probably some, ‘Angels and Airwaves’ fans in the audience and they asked Tom what it was like to work with you, and I think it would only be fair to ask you what it was like working with him? You’ve touched on that he had some hands-on direction in this film; and it’s kind of interesting where you’ve got some crazy rock and roller saying, “do it like this” – How does that work? Or, how did that work?
William: It was interesting; when we started he was like, ‘What’s going to happen? Here’s some thoughts that I have about this…’ big, grand scheme stuff that we both shared and whatnot. But, I don’t think, it was until he saw all the footage coming down the pipe that he realised, ‘oh my god, there’s going to be a real film here, I had better get in here and figure out how we’re actually going to manoeuvre this’, but they were awesome. I think even just from the scoring process, them stepping outside of the box with some of the sounds they were doing, a bagpipe in the very first sequence was really cool, so working with the guys was awesome. It’s weird, because there were times that I was really angry during the process of making the film, because I felt like it wasn’t a traditional film, I had very little help, so when there’s a rainstorm in the middle of the night and you’re the only person doing anything and not getting paid, you’re just like, ah, fuck this shit! But, when it comes down to it in the end, that same quality, them trusting me to make whatever I want to make, that’s more creative freedom than I will ever have again in my life. I’m starting work on my next film right now and it’s a real film, and I finished working on ‘Broken City’ which is a big, big film and those are films where you have a lot of people telling you what to do and on this film, I just had people supporting me and it was great.
Oscar: Well, I think the end result shows what happens when you have a direct connection with the eyes and the heart, and I think that most people that really enjoyed the film get that contemplative feel, which is on par with the Kubrickian ideal, where you do get that sensation of, hang on I don’t need to know what’s going on, I just need to feel what’s going on. As an actor, Gunner, you’ve achieved that and obviously as a director, William, you’ve achieved that, so ladies and gentleman, if you could, please put your hands together for some genuine cinematic artists.
Love is out now in selected cinemas all across Australia.