Writer-director Dylan Narang came to the film business by way of a stint in military counter-intelligence and an MBA from Georgetown, before attending film school at Chapman University and making his feature debut with the 2016 horror movie All I Need. His latest film is the sci-fi thriller Soundwave, starring Hunter Doohan as Ben Boyles, an amateur scientist who invents a device that can pick up soundwaves from the past, allowing him to hear pretty much any word ever spoken, provided he can pinpoint the date, time and location. Naturally, nefarious forces are after him. We spoke to Narang about Soundwave from his home in Los Angeles, where he’s taking care of a new baby and working on his next project, a comedy influenced by the work of Jared Hess.
Where did the idea for Soundwave first come from?
I have an uncle who is a psychiatrist. I ask him about his patients sometimes, and he can’t tell me anything, of course. He said, “You know, if you could come into the room after someone left and you had a way to hear what they had been saying, I think you would be really, really fascinated.” I was like, that’s an interesting idea. So if we actually had a device where I could come in, and the soundwaves that existed in that room were still bouncing around and we could hear it, I think there’s something really interesting there.
How much research did you do into the actual scientific principles behind it?
I wouldn’t say I wrote a thesis paper, but there was plenty of stuff to read about it online. I think the base principle of soundwaves existing forever is true. Whether you could ever understand what those soundwaves are — I think the clarity of it degrades down to almost zero pretty quickly. I think you could probably make an argument that if we shoot some sort of sound into space and then we have the ability to get on a ship that moves faster than that sound, we could get to the location before that sound gets there, and we could hear that sound that’s already been sent. There is a basis of realism in there, even if we kind of took it in a different direction where he’s hearing it in real time.
There’s a bit of a superhero feel to the main character, Ben. Was that something you were aiming for?
It was. I think having that power, it dawned on us pretty quick. I wrote it, and then my wife’s like, “You know you wrote a superhero movie.” I don’t know if I went into it intending to write a superhero movie, but I think that’s definitely what it ended up being. I think the shooting style that we came up with — I thought about it, and I was like, I really need there to be a distinction between when the device is on and when it’s not. When it comes down to it, it is an independent film, so it’s not like we had millions and millions of dollars, so you’ve got to figure out some way to do that. That’s where I came up with — I really like photography, and I’ve wanted to do a photography movie for a long time. I was like, I wonder if there’s a way to use that motif in here with when the machine is on. The way that the image is, it kind of just feels like a comic book panel.
What other influences did you draw on?
The two references that I went into when I was thinking about it were The Conversation and Blow Out. Both are great movies, and they have an aspect of this. They came out in a time when we were really cynical and not really believing the government. I feel like they were kind of a product of that period where everyone was a little skeptical or paranoid. You feel it in those movies. That gave us something to feel and think about with this movie. I know we thought about Primer because it’s a low-budget indie sci-fi movie, but I think that once we started watching it, we were like, this isn’t really what our movie’s going to look like. It’s not the world that we’re going to be in. There’s always an aspect of, you think about Blade Runner, you think about the world that they’re living in, the colors that they’re living in. Maybe we used a little bit of that to inform some of our shots, some of our design.
With the way the movie ends, are you hoping to set up more adventures for this character?
I can’t say that as I was writing it, I was like, I’m going to set up a sequel. I don’t think that was my intent. I was looking at, what would be a good ending for this character right here in this moment? Him having the knowledge of what’s happened and his ability to move forward was important to me. So that’s why I wanted it to end like that. I think it does set up something else that could happen for Ben. It just kind of depends on if there’s interest in that and if there’s some way to go do it.