The Noise of "Everything": A Q&A w/ SOUNDWAVE Director Dylan Narang and Actor Vince Nappo

The following is a series of questions that I sent to Dylan K. Narang and Vince Nappo - Director and Actor respectively - about their film Soundwave.

Their movie was an absolute darling; a surprising thriller that I recommend for indie escapism, and with recent domestic events ever-evolving and devolving, we should grant ourselves some mild relief, even if just here and there.

Find Soundwave available for VOD rental on Prime Video and Youtube:

Q (for Dylan): The first reference points that came to my mind when watching Soundwave were Frequency and Looper. Please take us through the development of your film, from premise conception to final cut.

Dylan Narang: 
My favorite Uncle is a psychiatrist, and one day we were talking about his work. I asked him about his patients, and although he couldn’t tell me anything specific, he did muse, “If there was a way to hear what they’ve said after the fact, if their voices hung in the air, you’d hear some… fascinating stuff.” 

I took that idea a step further and thought about how all sound travels in waves. This is basic learning channel stuff, but the idea that sound from Earth would stretch out into space is also applied to sound locally. It wasn’t too much more from there that got me to Soundwave

I’ve found that anything creatively fulfilling is going to be dependent on several factors – one of the main ones being building a team of trusted partners. So I was fortunate to have some really talented people along for the ride with Soundwave. I went to film school with the other producer, Jeff Robinson, and the DP, Ian Coad. So, our partnership was already built on a solid foundation. And Jacob Yoffee is an amazing composer and one of my closest friends – so I had a trusted group to bounce ideas off of all with the same goal of making Soundwave the best we could. 

What I’m getting at is having good creative partners allowed me to utilize some really interesting and experimental ideas to make Soundwave

Final Cut
The final cut was a real challenge because of the photo sequences. I like to storyboard and draw overheads for the entire film because I like to know ahead of time where my cuts are. I’ve found what works for me is to think about every cut and see the entire movie before we ever get to production. The photos were particularly challenging because we used the ‘sweet lens baby’ to get the narrow focal point effect. So, it was difficult to get the exact spot I wanted in focus which led to taking thousands of photos and really building those sequences in post with eyes on the emotional heft or the energy I wanted at that moment. 

Q's (for Vince): What attracted you to the role of Macy? 

Vince: Macy seemed caught. Lost in this extremely dangerous place, this labyrinth. 

I instantly thought of comedy actor Jon Glaser when being introduced to your character and his attitude, demeanor, and sense of humor amidst dangerous scenarios. How did you pull in ideas that informed you on who Macy is and how he should carry himself?

Vince: Jon Glaser is wonderful. I really like him. Yeah, Jon's characters strike me as characters who won't really be surprised when they open their eyes and see the Boogeyman standing next to the bed. I felt like Macy knew, in the end, that it wasn't going to end well for him. That it was just down the road, but coming. My initial thought about Macy was that he seemed to be dancing and clowning his way across a minefield. Also, his casualness, his humor, seemed to me something that was for someone else's benefit as well. He was, essentially, trying to take care of others, and Ben. 

The way you play Macy gave me an older brother feel, but not necessarily of one that is terribly wise. He may look out for the protagonist Ben (Hunter Doohan), but the degree to just how in over his head he’s gone isn’t known until it’s too late. Were any personal experiences from your life or career used to provide insight into the motivations and conflicts that Macy feels?

Vince Nappo: I tried to keep Macy human. I tried to keep his feet planted on the ground.  The minefield metaphor that I mentioned: I tried to keep him always a step away from ruin.  In the end, we sort of always are aren't we. I should say, in the end, it's easy to feel like we always are.  Especially now.  I live in Brooklyn. I leave the apartment wearing a mask and two pairs of gloves. I step outside the apartment now, and sadly, everything, everything is a risk. Every way I look. You make a decision though, and move. The pandemic wasn't happening when we filmed this though. When I encounter an obstacle, rather quickly, I try to step back 50 or 60 yards, or get to an elevated ground, to get a better perspective. Honestly, I try to do this with a lot of important decisions in life. Macy doesn't have that in him. It's just not there. 
Q (for Dylan): Whether it’s the device at the center of the story or the cramped “economical”-lite apartments, the city of Soundwave feels very lived-in and worn-out. How difficult was it to find such locations and props that so appropriate and tangible?

Dylan: It was important to make the world feel as real as we could (especially on our budget). So we definitely welcomed on-location shooting – which can bring so much to the table if we’ve done our job right. I’ll also say Ian has a strong visual eye – so we were able to add lighting concepts as needed to fill out the world the way we wanted. 

Regarding the device specifically, it was a priority to make sure it was believable, but also something that could be built by a kid from cannibalized parts available from old electronics. 

Q's (for both): Everyone has a wonderfully personal origin story. What sparked that initial interest in filmmaking and performance for you both, and how did you get from then to now?

Dylan: I always loved movies.  Not only for the way they could make you feel and the way they could open your mind or leave you in wonder – but also because it’s something my family did together when I was growing up.  Since my parents both worked a lot, my brother and I were latch-key kids.  It was a special occasion when we’d all be together – and that usually meant a movie.  

I also loved telling stories. A lot. Some good, some excruciatingly bad. But, that carried over through when I was a kid to high school where I started making ridiculous short films with friends.

Vince: I had always loved film. They are a mystery.  I can never quite put my finger on what it is, their magic. But somehow, the really special ones leave a brand on the brain and heart.  Film started happening for me, fortunately, at a time when I need a change. Up to that point I had only ever done theatre. Film showed up and offered a whole new way of working, a way I really didn't understand, and a way that terrified me. It was thrilling! It shoved me out of my comfort zone and left me learning, learning, and learning. Soundwave was a wonderful experience for me, in so many ways. Most importantly though, it was maybe the first time that I had felt truly comfortable on set. Dylan was great. You know, we hadn't met each other till I showed up on set. I sent an audition tape from New York. We hit it off immediately though. I felt instant trust form him. And so, things felt easy. Nothing felt forced. I felt myself open up in a way that I don't think I had before.   

Q's (for Dylan): Returning to Rian Johnson’s Looper for a moment: Both that film and Soundwave feature moments that visually and audibly express the abstract effects that advanced technology and shifts in time, memory, and perspective can have on a human - from the physical to the emotional. Was there a particular piece of existing art (across any/all mediums) that you used as a template for these sequences? Can you describe the collaborative process of shooting and editing the film and its more inventive moments?

Dylan: It was very important to me that we distinguish between when the device is on and off. With that in mind, I wanted to create some sort of visual cue (in addition to the audio cue) that was a shortcut for the audience to know the device was on.  

Additionally, I had been thinking about a narrative project that used photos or still frames for a while, with the reference being La Jete. When we started visual prep for Soundwave, it seemed like the perfect fit to use photos to tell that portion of the story where the device is on. An outcome of using photos in the story is a style reminiscent of comic book panels. 

List three movies that would give readers an impression of what to expect from Soundwave, and why you chose them.

Dylan: The Conversation – the idea of hearing something you’re not supposed to and the ensuing chase by people you don’t know. 

Blow Out – again hearing something that thrusts you into a dangerous world where you’re looking over your shoulder all the time. 

La Jete – telling a complex sci-fi story built on strong relationships entirely through still frames (and one short live-action scene). 

Q (for Vince): List three actors and their respective performances that you take the most inspiration from (film, tv, stage, street, etc).

Vince: Mosts and favorites overwhelm me. Here are three actors and their respective performances that have had a hold on me for quite some time though. They are:  

Claire Foy as Elizabeth in The Crown
Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne in The Favourite
Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel

All three performances are bold, unafraid, full of risk, daring, daring, daring. They made it look easy. Their performances looked like something that just burst out of them and took over. Fearless performances. It had to have been a thrill for them to perform and live in. Just had to. And so, for me, I found every second of their performances an absolute thrill. They shook me. 

Q (for both): What advice would you give to anyone interested in becoming a storyteller, especially during such pressing times in world history? Are there any famous or infamous quotes from influential people that you’d like readers to consider?

Dylan: Figure out what you want to say. And then figure out how to say it. 

Vince: It's all risk. Live to risk. We risk because we need to. Because some of the most important learning happens because we've risked. Put your ass on the line. Risk failure.  Attempt to do the things people tell you you can't do. Whether you fail or succeed, you will have learned. Now, as for creating right now. These are very trying times. Like I said, I've been in Brooklyn throughout this entire shut down. My creativity has felt nonexistent for quite a bit of the pandemic. I think that's quite natural. I'm not beating myself up over it.  I've tried to focus on processing what's happening. I'm trying to learn from it all. And oddly, as I've stepped away from "creating" to focus on what's happening in my heart and mind, I've started to feel creative. I'm writing. And I think I'm finding some healing in that. It's at least soothing me a bit. I'll leave you with a few quotes that have stuck with me. A very wise teacher, Rob Clare, once told me that "Theatre ( And I believe this applies to film and television as well) should always be an Event and a Celebration." Another extremely wise teacher, the late Archie Smith, "Figure out what you want your audience to learn about you through the role and about the role through you."

I just had the absolute honor of working on Alice Birch's play Anatomy of a Suicide.  Alice is also one of the writers on the television show Normal People, which is an absolutely gorgeous show.  Alice's advice right before we set sail to rehearse her play, "This play should cost you."  And a quote from that play, "Live Big."  So yeah.