go­ing vi­ral

Di­rec­tor Tod Wil­liams tells us about de­stroy­ing the world on a bud­get in Cell

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Red Alert - Cell opens on 1 Septem­ber in the UK.

Tod Wil­liams on the task of adapt­ing Stephen King’s sort-of-zom­bie thriller Cell.

We live in an “al­ways on” world. We get up, check our Twit­ter and email. We text our friends. We take self­ies and share ev­ery in­ti­mate de­tail. For Cell di­rec­tor Tod Wil­liams, it’s all a bit of a night­mare.

“Cell was sent to me with John Cu­sack al­ready at­tached and that was some­thing that re­ally at­tracted me,” says the di­rec­tor, pre­vi­ously best known for di­rect­ing Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity 2. “And I be­gan to feel more and more strongly about the con­cept, more per­son­ally con­nected to it and the think­ing around con­nec­tiv­ity and how it’s kind of a hor­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble thing in many ways… There seems to be a be­lief that con­nec­tiv­ity is au­to­mat­i­cally good. I’m not sure that’s what we’re put on Earth for.”

Based on the 2006 novel by Stephen King, Cell is the story of Clay Riddell (Cu­sack), a graphic nov­el­ist who touches down at Bos­ton air­port when a mys­te­ri­ous pulse is trig­gered that turns ev­ery­one around him with a mo­bile phone into a blood-crazed psy­chopath. He joins forces with two other sur­vivors, Tom (Sa­muel L Jack­son) and Alice (Is­abelle Fuhrman), and to­gether the trio search for sanc­tu­ary. Yes, it’s a zom­bie film, al­beit one with mur­der­ous “Phon­ers”, rather than hordes of sham­bling un­dead.

Shot in At­lanta in 24 days, and “very, very Romero in spirit”, Wil­liams says it was a chal­lenge to avoid stray­ing into ter­ri­tory cov­ered by a cer­tain pop­u­lar TV show that also films there: The Walk­ing Dead. “We were aware of them,” he nods. “You can’t point a cam­era any­where in At­lanta that hasn’t been filmed. You can’t even find ex­tras who don’t know how to do the zom­bie walk! If any­thing we had to un-train them to make them be Phon­ers. So we were try­ing to avoid that stuff as much as we were try­ing to find the language of it.”

Con­nec­tiv­ity is kind of a hor­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble thing in many ways…

But what of Stephen King? The hor­ror mas­ter him­self co-wrote the script, “and he’s got ap­proval over ev­ery el­e­ment of [the film],” re­veals Wil­liams. “He’s earned that and you’d want him to have it.” And while the di­rec­tor is adamant that it wouldn’t be pos­si­ble to film “95 per cent of an 800-page novel”, Wil­liams be­lieves that the film re­mains true to the orig­i­nal.

“Stephen wrote this in 2006 and set the open­ing scene in a park,” he ex­plains. “At the time it was about how phones are in­vad­ing even the most pas­toral mo­ments. By the time we made this, the world had gone way be­yond that.” Hence the spec­tac­u­lar air­port se­quence teased in the trailer that re­places the novel’s orig­i­nal open­ing ram­page.

“The things de­scribed in the book’s open­ing scene were well be­yond the realms of the pos­si­ble for our film,” Wil­liams ad­mits, “but there was a promi­nently fea­tured ice cream truck in that scene and we bring that back in a dif­fer­ent way. The ice cream truck is kind of a King-ism, and as we’re fin­ish­ing the movie I see his new book comes out and there’s a killer in an ice cream truck in it… [laughs]. So I feel like we iden­ti­fied the right ob­ject!”

Guns don’t kill peo­ple, cell­phones do.

“And Si­mon says… stand up!”

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