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