When we look to the stars, and wonder about our purpose on Earth, we probably ask the same things: “Why are we here? What is it all about? Is there more to the day-in, day-out routine:? Well, I’m sorry to say that I can’t answer that for you. However, director Gille Klabin and writer/producer Carl Lucas try their best to provide answers to those nebulous questions.
But how can they do that which Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan couldn’t? Easy: they use time-travel and drugs. What a concept! In all seriousness, The Wave is a simple story about one man trying to find his place in the world and if you just pay attention to the signs, you’ll see that the universe does have a plan for you.
In the film, Frank (Justin Long), a bored corporate lawyer, decides to shake it up with a wild night out. In the process, he takes a mysterious drug that launches him into a mind-bending time travel adventure. A fresh take on a classic genre, The Wave simultaneously confounds and entertains. The film had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest, where we spoke with Klabin and Lucas.
The Film Stage: There’s a line in the beginning of the movie that states, “Reality is a choice, man.” I think that’s a good way to describe The Wave. It’s trippy, but fun, animated, and focused. It kind of felt like a Saturday morning cartoon. How long did it take to bring all this together?
Carl Lucas: I first met Gille back in 2012. Right around that time, he was doing really amazing work with Steve Aoki and doing really, really interesting low budget stuff. To me, it was better than the music videos people were producing at the time and with nominal fees. Right away, I knew I wanted to work with him. So I started to come up with an idea that fit his visual style, and also told a story that was very personal to me.
Over the course of about a year and a half, the story was pieced together until 2014 when I finally sent Gille some pages.
Gille Klabin: Man, I can’t believe it’s been five years between when you sent me the script until now when we’re able show the movie to people.
The film has a real economy to it. Did that have to do with funds, the shooting schedule, or something else?
GK: We had very limited funds, and a very, very quick shoot. It was twenty days, which consisted of five-day weeks, twelve-hour days, and there was one day we went into overtime–only by 15 minutes–but we were a well-oiled machine. Then we spent the better part of six months getting picture lock, and roughly four months on visual effects. It was hardcore!
From how it looks on screen, I don’t doubt it.
CL: [Laughs] From a producing standpoint, I have many experiences where I would be dealing with the director who has no idea how he’s going to do a scene, and then it would be up to me to find a bunch of people to help us get what we want. So it was important for us that whatever we wanted to see on screen, we could do ourselves.
GK: We planned meticulously on The Wave. We storyboarded the entire movie and animated it. [Laughs] There is a 62-minute cut of the film that is just an animatic with my monotonous voice doing dialogue and narration. [Laughs] We’ve worked on a lot of different films in a lot of different departments, and there’s a joke that the only people who can show up on set with no experience are PAs and directors. [Laughs] In my mind, if I was going to ask all these people to work on this insane project, I’d better be damned prepared. There wasn’t any money to throw at a problem.
Going from what you can control to what you can’t, let’s talk about time travel which is nebulous, undefined, and unless I missed something, impossible. I really like how you took the term “punching the clock” and turned it into your means of time travel. How did you land on that concept?
CL: There are so many different types of time travel movies so, when I was writing it, I had to know what kind of time travel I wanted. Are we in a situation where time travel is a big circle, and we’re trapped on this big ride, and there’s nothing you can do? In that case, no matter where you jump in time, nothing changes anything– which is a very fatalistic way to look at life–but we wanted to come from a place where no matter what Frank did, he was always going to end up at where he ended in the film no matter what he did. There was no choice but to embrace the fact that Frank had no choice.
This film is all about the education of Frank. He jumps into time and he gets piecemeal information to help them understand why it is that his life is being hijacked by the universe to rebound Karma. We mess around with causality, but it isn’t a time period that he’s affecting. He’s just a passenger on this ride. Along the way, he’s figuring out that what happens to him is supposed to happen to him. And it takes time for him to be okay with that.
In the film, you make a good point about how chaos is really the universe trying to find balance. Whereas a time machine would give you the ability to pinpoint where you’re going, this reminded me of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–activate the improbability drive, and get a random result. Frank is in a similar situation.
GK: [Laughs] But what is seemingly random is exactly what you were meant to learn at that particular moment. That was the vibe for us.
CL: Yeah. Fact of life is that you’re going to be dead. So, do good while you’re not. [Laughs] Most of your existence will be dead, so while you’re not dead, try to do as little harm as possible.
There’s a point in the movie where Frank is in this astral plane trying to learn these lessons. The visuals are smoothed out giving it this Monet quality, but everything is subtly moving. How did you decide on that look?
GK: I was trying to marry psychedelic visuals into a surreal living painting. But really I was trying to be true to the visuals of psychedelia. So they present the revelatory nature of psychedelic drugs. And it’s fun for people of tried psychedelics to look on screen and go, “That is what that looks like!” [Laughs] That was very important to me because a lot of drugs are represented in movies in preposterously stupid ways, and you don’t have to do that. Yeah, a lot of drugs are bad, and some are therapeutic, but we don’t have to shit on them all.
We can present them as they are, and it’s by no means a pleasant journey for this guy, but I wanted something real, something risky, and something I’ve never seen before.
Everyone’s desperately trying to come up with something original, and failing miserably. [Laughs] Myself included. But there’s also the idea that the “land of drugs” is a metaphor for the thing you’re absolutely afraid of, but there’s a better experience on the other side that you want get to. It’s about coming to terms with that. You embrace it, and learn what else the world, or in our film specifically, the universe has in store for you.
There’s a drug dealer in the movie who has a really great monologue. Did you have any specific characters in mind when you wrote this? Maybe Gary Oldman in True Romance?
CL: Ritchie is so much fun. This is my third movie with Ronnie Gene Blevins, and I wrote this for him specifically. He was in my head when I came up with the scene, and it worked out really well that he was available to do it. In the script, I used a little bit of a James Franco’s character Alien from Spring Breakers because both Alien and Ritchie are the kind of person who is in that world and truly live in it. It’s so different from anything Frank has ever experienced. The goal put Frank in a situation where he was so out of his comfort zone from the minute he walked in the door. Again, there’s the idea of going through chaos to find harmony on the other side.
That kind of reminds me of that scene in Three Kings where George Clooney is talking to Spike Jonze. He tells him that sometimes you have to do the thing that scares you first and then you get the courage afterwards. And Spike Jonze’s character says that’s a back-asswards way of doing it.
CL: [Laughs] It’s like the first time you get punched in the face, you learn so much about yourself. But what you really learn is that, “Oh it doesn’t really hurt that much to get punched in the face.” [Laughs]
One thing that really got me, and I don’t know what this says about my life, was that you captured being married on paper and on screen so well. That scene with the coaster just killed me.
CL: [Laughs] I think it’s fair that a good number of people can find ourselves in a situation like that. Well, I am very happily married, but I am on my third marriage. Still, we can get in these relationships where we are marking time, and you’re not only hurting yourself, you are hurting that person. It’s not that either party is a monster, but they are literally just struggling to find their own existence on top of it. We thought it was important to be really, really real about that. The whole finances sequence was something we knew people were going to see and go “Oh, that’s too real!” Just that casual delivery of how they map out their convoluted and dangerous finances should give you chills. They think they’re fine, and the reality is that, no, you are not fine!
GK: The coaster, to me, is still one of my favorite parts of the movie just because it’s so true. You have a stag night, and drinks with a friend, and you put that glass down to the absolute antithesis of a slamming a glass down with a masculine ‘boom’ which is when another person lifts the glass and slides the coaster underneath. It’s wrong to call it emasculating, but it’s pretty damn close. [Laughs]
The scene where Frank and his wife argue is an impressive single-take shot which is lengthy. With clever editing, it’s made even longer. I imagine that had to be meticulously planned, so what went into that?
GK: I had this idea that I wanted the scene to be like a yo-yo. I wanted the action and energy to come in and out. It would be tethered to Justin‘s face, his actions, and his freneticism moving around the house. That just comes down to the endless determination of Aaron Grasso, our cinematographer. He and I have been working together for ten years. Initially, I had planned for a cut point when we were upstairs, but it evolved into what you ended up seeing.
CL: Well, going back to the script, that whole scene was to take place in the bedroom. Once we got on location, Gille said, “No let’s pull it out, and we can use the stairs and put a lot into this to give it more stakes and freneticism.” That scene just grew and grew until we decided to expand it and tie it to Justin time traveling and ending up in his office.
GK: I was upstairs operating the gimbal, and Aaron was sitting on the end of a jib with his feet around some metal pegs. So I’m following Justin around until he pulls down his pants, then I turn around and I turn to frame up Sarah Minnich (who plays Cheryl), and then I head to the banister and I hand the gimbal off to Aaron. He picks it up, holds the frame, and comes down on the jib and follows Justin down the corridor. [Laughs] I’m pretty sure we broke some health and safety regulations.
The corridor was shot with all those whip takes, and with some incredibly simple VFX we hid the cut entirely to get Frank into the office. My favorite story about that–the office door shot where Justin slams the door and he has the toothbrush in his mouth–is that it was the first shot of the movie. For that to be the first thing we did, I have so much respect for Justin. I remember telling him, “I know there’s no way this can be making any sense to you. But I want you to slam the door, you’ll have toothpaste in your mouth and you’ve just teleported… now play that realistically.” [Laughs]
I really like the score which kept pace with a lot of the visuals and the story. Talk to us about that.
GL: The score is a combination of music. Eldad Guetta is an incredible composer I’ve known for 15 years. He scored a bunch of music, and there’s a bunch of tracks from a producer I met online named Kirk Spencer who is from England. Together they make this dark, brooding, industrial electronic sound that has a lot of heavy synths and heavy replications of the vibrating frequencies of psychedelia. It gave The Wave the pulse it needed.
The Wave premiered at Fantastic Fest.