“We have a history of self-sabotage that I’m kind of proud of. The work always comes first.”
After tearing up the festival circuit last year, Broadcast Signal Intrusion is finally coming home on Blu-ray. Here we sit down with co-writer Phil Drinkwater to discuss his labyrinthine world of neo-noir and physical media…
You’ve got a long time writing partnership with Tim Woodall. What’s your process when you guys are working on a project together?
We’ve been writing together for about twelve years now, so the process has become kind of symbiotic, and just kind of happens. The key thing is walking. We walk and we walk and we walk and we talk. Hash it all out; all the story beats, who the characters are, where we want the story to go, what we want to explore. Before Tim moved to Canada two years ago we worked in the same place and lived near each other too, so we’d walk to work and back again, non-stop chin-music about whatever project it was we were focused on. After all that, we tend to sit around in various cafes, bars and sheds and map out the scenes in order, before splitting them up, going away and giving our scenes a first pass. Then we swap them over and cross-pollinate until we have a first draft. And when we get there – I suppose that’s where the real writing starts.
Tim and yourself wrote and directed Broadcast Signal Intrusion as a short in 2016, before your feature script was picked up by Queensbury Pictures via the New Blood initiative run with FrightFest. What was that journey like for you from short to feature?
Long! Broadcast Signal Intrusion has been in our heads and hearts now for almost seven years. We wrote the short against all sense, really. Up to that point we’d made some sweet, kind of whimsical shorts for the BFI which had caught some attention, so no one really expected us to go down this route. But you have to write what you want to write; you can’t write to some pre-determined style because you think that’s best for your career. If anything, we have a history of self-sabotage that I’m kind of proud of, in a way. The work always comes first.
We made the short because the BFI signalled to us they were very keen to develop this into a feature, so we were very excited and made it almost as a proof-of-concept. But then, for reasons we still don’t fully understand, the BFI dropped it, which was very tough. So it sat there in the metaphorical drawer, until Dark Sky Pictures and Giles Edwards got hold of it. Now here we are! And we’re so happy they found it, because they’ve turned it into a real-life film, which is just a dream come true.
As James (Harry Shum Jr.) investigates the titular pirate signal the film feels indebted to The Parallax View, Blow Out and Italian gialli. Were there any particular cinematic touchstones you drew from during the writing?
Oh man, it makes me extremely happy that you point to those influences! We talked about them non-stop during the writing process. Not just The Parallax View but all three of Pakula’s Paranoia Trilogy, and in terms of Gialli the big one was Argento’s Deep Red, which is just this masterful combination of horror, investigative obsession and Freudian impulses. Other stuff we talked about a lot was Coppola’s The Conversation, Vertigo, Zodiac and Eyes Wide Shut – all deeply flawed men falling down rabbit holes until they move past the point of reason, to a place where the audience not only feels unsafe, but complicit in their madness, having chosen to align themselves with the character in the first act.
The old school tech also feels important, particularly in how tactile it is. What’s your relationship like with physical media, and VHS tapes in particular?
Both Tim and I have an extremely unhealthy relationship with physical media. We covet and collect obsessively, it’s part of who we are. VHS tapes and video cover art feel like they are in my DNA. My earliest memories are of going to the video shop, being too small to see right up to the highest shelves, being transfixed by the promises the cases held. But there was also something unsettling about video tape in particular. The sense that anything could be captured on there. The fear and excitement of seeing something you shouldn’t. I think that found it’s way into Broadcast too.
Without spoiling anything, the final act makes some bold choices. Was the finale always locked in, or something which emerged for you guys in the writing?
Yeah, that finale was always where we were heading. To do anything else felt like it would be a betrayal of all the things we wanted to explore. I fully understand that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea; ambiguity can frustrate and anger audiences, especially when it comes at the end of a film whose entire driving force is the urge to solve something. But if we’d wrapped everything up in a bow, tied up all those inconvenient lose ends, explained away every character, every disappearance, every narrative jolt – then the integrity of the entire piece would be threatened. We had something to say, and this was the only way to say it.
What’s next for you both?
Well, we’re currently in two separate countries, so working together is harder at the moment, but we’re still managing it. We have feature scripts ready to go, but we need producers and we need money. We’d love to direct a feature together too. Additionally, we are working on some TV ideas, as well as some individual stuff. I’m currently about to start post-production on a documentary called Nonna Annina, a film about my Grandmother; an immigrant from Italy who married a Ukrainian because he couldn’t go back home after the war. Kind of timely, and hopefully a testament to the joy of family and food. So lot’s of exciting stuff, but primarily we want to write and direct movies, so our heads are down, writing, walking, talking and trying to hustle up the means to make that happen.