Scott Poythress gives us the low down on this horrific cult masterpiece
The Signal In Interview Transmission II: Finding Sanity in Terminus
The City of Terminus is under attack. A frequency plague is seeping madness out of every available cell phone, television, and radio receiver. These "transmissions" are making the American populace go insane. People everywhere have been infected with "The Crazy". A few individuals have found out that they are immune to these stinging airwaves. While their neighbors turn into a mass sea of murderous assholes, this small group of seemingly normal individuals fight to make it out of town with both their bodies and brains intact. It is a grueling journey that brings each individual spiraling down their own black hole of psychosis.
The good-natured Clark is one of the few people in Terminus that hasn't been inflicted with the insanity of The Signal. Trying to be a good neighbor, his helpfulness in securing a bit of safe ground only turns the situation into a chaotic mess. Actor Scott Poythress brings some much needed heart and good humor to his role, helping to put the movie on a tailspin that it never fully recovers from. Scott is perfectly cast as the ne'er-do-well who ultimately learns that the only person he can truly save is himself.
We recently met up with Scott for an exclusive chat about his new cult hit in the waiting. Hear is our conversation:
Now, I have heard that you are a real pain in the ass.
Scott Poythress: I bet you were talking to A.J., weren't you?
Yes, I was.
Scott Poythress: No, it's not true. Maybe to A.J., but that's because he is so sensitive.
On the screen, you have such a genuine heart. You seem like such a good-natured person. I'm wondering if that goes back into my own interpretation of the film. Do you feel that a genuine love and joy for life is what keeps this guy from crossing all the way over into a world of madness? Does having some semblance of love, or the emotions associated with that, keep you from getting "the crazy"?
Scott Poythress: I don't know. I never thought of it that way. It certainly is possible. Why not. Go with that. Sure. You have to think about what brings Ben out of this thing. It's his love for this girl. It's almost like you have to have good triumph over evil in some way. Maybe being good-natured does make you immune.
Maybe if you are always a happy person, or have a genuine love for the world, you can see through that type of anger. How do you see through the light of the anger once the crazy has taken a hold of you, though? Did you search through that in dealing with your own emotions away from the context of the film?
Scott Poythress: I, fortunately, never really had to get to that point. It is Justin's character, Ben, that really travels through The Signal. He figures out what it is, what it is doing, and how to get out of it. So, he helps my character get out of it. Clark is in it, but he hasn't evolved yet. He hasn't gotten that deep yet. He hasn't fallen into that wormhole. It wasn't that hard for him to get out of it. At least, that's how we played it.
Was it hard, as an actor, working through the tonal differences presented to you by the three different directors?
Scott Poythress: Not at all. But that might be because I know all three of those guys very well. Jacob and I actually grew up together. I have known him for about twenty years. All of us have made movies together before. Independently. So, no. Just coming away with the script, and really knowing the arc of each character and what they are going through, I didn't see much of a problem tonally. Between the apocalyptic world that Dave presents in the first part, to the dark humor that is brought to the screen in the second part by Jacob, and then with Dan having to wrap this whole shebang up, they all managed to find a way to tell their own stories.
Was there ever an argument over your character's progression from the first "transmission" to the last "transmission"?
Scott Poythress: Oh, yeah. But it was never a bad fight. It was an open discussion between everybody. It was a very democratic process. It was really cool.
Now, where do you think the directs' combined fascination with killing people by means of household items comes from? Because it is very fun to watch?
Scott Poythress: It is fun to watch. Most people don't have a chainsaw hanging in their kitchen. Or a samurai blade in their living room. You are going to grab the first thing you see. If "the crazy" went down in this room, I could just grab this file cabinet and hit you in the face with it. That idea is a lot of fun. You don't see that too often in a movie.
I've heard that there were arguments between the directors about which character got to utilize which weapon in which "Transmission". Were you ever involved in those arguments? Or did you ever have your own ideas about how you might want to kill someone?
Scott Poythress: No. Never. They just handed me a shovel and said, "This is your pieces de resistance!" I'm holding it, thinking, "Great. They gave me a shovel." Lewis had his pesticide tank. Sahr, who plays Rod, has that killer-ass curtain rod beast of a weapon.
See, Sahr is another person in the film that has this real winning quality about him. He's just naturally good-natured, and that translates to the screen. And he is immune to the transmissions.
Scott Poythress: Yeah, you are right.
How did you all meet?
Scott Poythress: Sahr, I did not know, really, before we shot. We knew of each other because we both worked in the Atlanta theater community. This was the first time we'd gotten a chance to act together. But everyone else I'd worked with before. It was a very family oriented set. We all knew each other quite well.
Is it a better work environment coming onto a project where everyone knows each other? As opposed to a set were everyone is a stranger on day one?
Scott Poythress: Definitely. It made the days go by quicker, and it made the days more productive. We knew were the other person was. Knowing someone that well, you can tell if they are having a bad day. I'd know if A.J. needed a few more minutes to himself. Or if we had to rehearse the scene again. Or if I had to bust someone's ass. Yeah, knowing the cast and crew so intimately definitely helped.
From what I understand, Dave Bruckner did a major rewrite on "Transmission One". And this caused a chain-reaction throughout the script that had the other two directors scrambling to fix their sections of the screenplay. Do you know what changed as far as your character's outcome in the film?
Scott Poythress: I don't know too much about that. Uh-uh. I'm not sure how that change affected the progressive arc of my character. This was a couple of years ago, though. I do remember getting different versions of the script. But I don't remember there being any major change to what was happening with my character. Maybe that's just me. I probably didn't pay too much attention to that. I think its because it didn't affect my character too much. I don't think his journey changed. But I don't know. I didn't really show up until the very end of the first segment, and then I'm in the rest of the movie. I didn't really get to work with Dave too much. I was only on his set for one day, for that one scene. Right at the end of Dave's story I show up to pull Sahr out of the car. That was right after the car crash.
Are you objective enough to look at the film and have a favorite segment? Or is it all one cohesive experience at this point?
Scott Poythress: I can objectively look at it. And I really like watching all of it. But, for different reasons, both narcissistically and for the comedy, I love Transmission Two. I really love comedy, so seeing the dark humor in "Transmission 2" is a lot of fun too watch. But then, I definitely like watching the beginning. The shit is really hitting the fan. Lewis has just unleashed his demon. That is probably the most fun for me to watch. That stuff towards the beginning. The juices are really getting wrung out for the audience. It's like, "This is the world we are going to take you to. This is crazy to watch, so buckle up. It's going to get dirty." And that is a lot of fun to watch. Because I am a big horror movie fan. All of my life, I have loved watching horror movies. This is the first real horror movie that I have done. Thankfully I was with friends, and I was able to do my thing.
Saying that, you've got to realize already that this has taken on a life of its own, and it hasn't even had a major release yet. It is certainly along the lines of Evil Dead 2 in its cult greatness.
Scott Poythress: To even mention us in the same sentence as Raimi or The Evil Dead is crazy. Those are iconic to me. And this is incredible. It certainly is obvious that we are on quite a ride. We were never expecting this. Never. We kind of thought there was a really good chance that we would get into Slam Dance. And we were accepted. But then we found out that we had to choose, because we had also gotten into Sundance. That's not really even a choice. You have to go to Sundance. That is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I don't want to down play Slamdance. I'm sure that is also a once in a lifetime opportunity for a lot of people. It is a fantastic thing. But the opportunities we were presented with going to Sundance proved to be a lot better for us. Then, getting the movie bought was just insanity. We couldn't believe it. That was a dream world. Since then, doing the festival circuit, like with SXSW and taking the movie to New York, and San Francisco, and Spain...All of those places, it has been an incredible experience. It is very cool.
Well, to follow that up, are you prepared to be talking about this film for the next ten years?
Scott Poythress: Yeah. I am very proud of this movie. I love this movie. And a lot of friends poured their blood, sweat, and tears into making it. So, yeah, I will talk about it for the next ten years. Because I love it.
I already know, down the road, when you are in other films and you are doing junkets like this, there is always going to be that one guy that busts out The Signal poster for you to sign.
Scott Poythress: Definitely. That is going to be my trump card. I can't wait to pull this one out.
With that is going to come the action figure. It is inevitable.
Scott Poythress: God, I hope so!
What do you want to see done with your action figure?
Scott Poythress: Man, he would probably be wearing a Star Trek emblem. He'd be wearing the tinfoil hat. He'd have his own shovel.
Was he wearing a Star Trek emblem in the film? I don't remember that.
Scott Poythress: No, no, but you can tell that he is a complete Trekie, gearhead, geek, conspiracy theorist. That is what that whole character is based on. We never really got into what his favorite TV shows were, or anything like that. But when he is not on camera, I picture him going through old episodes of Small Wonder.
They should have that merchandise ready for this year's Comic Con, cause it would sell like hot cakes.
Scott Poythress: It would, totally.
I want to ask you about the scene where Rod's severed head begins to talk. Were you guys at all worried that this one scene would take people out of the experience of the film as a whole?
Scott Poythress: I don't think they ever had second thoughts about putting that scene into the film. Not that I heard of. I guess it could be a little confusing to audience members. Is this really reanimation? Or is this in Clark's head? I think it is pretty clear that it is in Clark's head. At least once you get through the entire scene. Once it is happening, people are probably thinking, "Well, here is another freaking zombie movie. And this is pretty ridiculous." My character is jumpstarting a head with a couple of cables and screws. I mean, the head is naturally going to come back to life and speak.
Going back to the film's tenth anniversary. We are dealing with an "End of the World" scenario here. Do you think we will all be around for The Signal's tenth anniversary, or do you think we will have all perished in the apocalypse by that time? Do you harbor "End of the World" fantasies?
Scott Poythress: I don't at all. I am just enjoying this ride. I am not into conspiracy theories. Or any Pentecostal craziness. I am just not into it. I think we will be around for this film's tenth anniversary. I could be proven wrong. But I don't think I will be. Who knows?
Maybe The Signal is the movie someone takes into a bunker with them to watch when the shit hits the fan.
Scott Poythress: True. This is a desert island movie. Yeah, that's what this is. (Laughs)
Driving around Los Angeles, I experience a lot of strange rage. People just freak out in their cars, and it is almost like they have "the crazy". Have you experience a lot of that sort of behavior, and did you relate it back into you character somehow?
Scott Poythress: That is Los Angeles, man. I see that all of the time. You could kind of attribute that to what is going on in the film. It is funny, man. If someone flipped out in front of me, i would think that they were signalized. She just flipped me off for doing nothing. It is rampant out here. It is pretty funny. I am a Georgia boy. I grew up in the South. I hold the door open for everybody. I say, "Hi!" to people on the other side of the street. You do that out here, you better be carrying. You have to take care of yourself. It is kind of weird. People definitely do that out here. They like to stick to themselves.
Had you experienced that before you made the film? You moved out here after this was shot, right?
Scott Poythress: Yeah, I only moved out here about seven months ago. I was in Atlanta. Even in Atlanta, there has been so much money going into that city in the last few years. It is just growing exponentially day-by-day. With that come assholes. Naturally. That is true with any big city. So Atlanta is not the Southern Hospitality center that it used to be.
When you arrived in Los Angeles, did you think that you'd entered the world of your own movie?
Scott Poythress: (Laughs) No, I didn't really think about it in that way. I probably will now, though. That is pretty funny.
Everyone everywhere is going nuts. Now, both your character and Justin's character Ben spout a lot of scientific knowledge that almost starts to sound like babble. Is there any science fact in some of the dialogue passages that you have to recite?
Scott Poythress: Dan had sent me a lot of links to E.L.F.s. Extremely Low Frequencies. Things like that. He also sent me some stuff on conspiracy theories. For the most part, I didn't do a whole lot of my own research in delving into that. I wanted to stay true to what he had written. It was there on the page for me. Whether or not that's what was causing The Signal is up to the audience to decide. Anything could have caused it. There are any number of reasons, and that is why he wraps his head in tinfoil. He is protecting himself from something that he doesn't know about.
The directors have said that they created a whole world with Terminus, and that they will continue to make stories in that world. Have they approached you about continuing this story on in the future?
Scott Poythress: They haven't talked to me about that at all. I hope they continue it, though. Clark survives. He needs to triumph. They need to do another movie and have it be with Clark in his fallout shelter. Maybe he is in a cabin up in the woods. His survival cabin.
All of the main guys are sort of alive, still, right?
Scott Poythress: Well, everyone but Lewis. He could still come back. He could still be alive. I think they lead you to believe he is dead. A couple of the others are definitely dead. Like, Rod. He is definitely dead. But man, I hope they do bring this world back.
Me too. And I hope it's as good as this because The Signal is pretty awesome. Now, was it at all hard to keep up with the "one death every ten pages" rule?
Scott Poythress: I don't know too much about that. That was a ratio that they brought up, but they never discussed it with me on the set. But it would make sense that they stuck to their guns on that. There is a lot of killing in this film.
A.J. said that you guys actually got hurt a lot on the set.
Scott Poythress: Some of the guys did. But not me. There weren't a whole lot of scenes where I am getting attacked or hurt. We did walk away with a lot of bruises. But there wasn't anything that stood out to me like, "God, that hurt. And it is going to hurt for weeks." A.J., that little puss, he likes to bring up the whole nail gun story. Did he tell you about that?
Scott Poythress: I actually screwed his arm into the wall with that drill. Of course, I didn't go all the way through his arm. But I definitely punctured some skin. (Laughs) I had to sell it. We had to sell it.
What do you have coming up next?
Scott Poythress: I am doing some writing. Jacob has another movie coming up that is called Honeysuckle Blues. I will be doing that with him. We will be shooting back in Atlanta. That is always a good opportunity to go back home. I'll get to visit some family and friends.
The Signal opens this February 22nd, 2008