CS Interview: Zach Wechter Talks Quibi’s Wireless
To celebrate the release of Quibi’s thriller Wireless, series director Zach Wechter sat down with ComingSoon.net to discuss everything from the difficulties presented by the show’s premise to the nature of technology and cell phones in general. Read!
In Wireless, on a sparsely traveled road deep in the Colorado mountains, college student Andy Braddock (Sheridan) drives to a New Year’s Eve party to try to rekindle a relationship with his ex-girlfriend. Distracted by his phone, Andy collides with a snowbank and hurtles into a ravine. Wounded and alone, Andy turns to his quickly dying cell for rescue, but help is far from a phone call away.
From executive producer Steven Soderbergh comes a suspense thriller like no other, as the viewer takes the story into their own hands. Two narratives play out simultaneously: watch horizontally for a cinematic view; twist vertically to experience Andy’s phone as your own, as he fights to stay alive.
The series also stars Golden Globe nominee Andie MacDowell (Four Weddings and a Funeral), Lukas Gage (Euphoria), Francesca Reale (Stranger Things Season 2), and Mace Coronel (Nicky Ricky Dicky and Dawn.
The series is created by newcomers Zach Wechter and Jack Seidman, who will also serve as executive producers with Wechter also set to direct. Michael Sugar, Cathy Konrad, and Danny Sherman will executive produce along with Propagate’s Ben Silverman, Howard Owens, Rodney Ferrell, and Greg Lipstone. Wireless is a co-production by Pickpocket, Treeline Film, and Propagate with Christian Heuer and Isabel San Vargas to produce.
ComingSoon.net: Where did this project or idea come from?
Zach Wechter: So the idea from Wireless was birthed several years ago. Jack Seidman, with whom I wrote the script and I had been talking about wanting to write what was originally going to be a feature. And we started to think about just what was sort of an idea that we both felt like we connected to for a long time, that felt relevant to us then and we knew we’d be able to commit to for some time to come. And so, we wanted to tell the story that essentially was a survival movie, where the character used his iPhone as a Swiss Army knife. I think what was relevant to us five years ago has only become more relevant. And so, we both started writing the script after college and just really looked sort of at what a transformative experience it was in our day-to-day lives and in interpersonal communication, once we all started using our iPhones all day long. So it was really birthed from an interest in that. And yeah, that was sort of the impetus of the idea.
CS: How did you develop the character played by Tye Sheridan?
Wechter: Yeah, so when we started to – I don’t want to give too much away. But when we started approaching the idea for this character, we started with the idea of phone addiction and addiction. And this is a guy who I think in a lot of ways, our character has a lot of sort of healthy yearnings for a young person, but I think that nowadays, the way that we all use our phones, I think that there’s a really healthy aspect to it in the way that people are able to connect. And I think that we also wanted to explore a side of the way people use their devices that isn’t healthy all the time.
So when it comes to the characters drinking and the other sort of forms of behavior that he exhibits that aren’t healthy for himself, it was really an extension of that idea, of the compulsiveness and just sort of like, in this day and age, where there’s so much opportunity afforded to us, where you can just kind of reach out on the internet and grab anything and touch anything. And there’s social pressure and binge drinking going on in colleges. We wanted to just acknowledge how hard we think it is growing up sort of in the digital age.
CS: It is fascinating because there are moments where he’s not paying attention to his outside world because he’s so focused on his phone. Do you think that’s a problem we’re facing right now?
Wechter: You know, my personal feeling is that this change in the way that we communicate and the amount of time we spend on our phones, it happened really fast. It happened really fast, and before I think we had time to pause and reflect on what this relationship – how it impacted our lives, what a healthy usage of it might be? And so, I do hope that in some way, with this project, the medium is sort of the message, and I hope people do consider the relationship to their devices. Do I think that the phone is like a problem for the future of people and they’re sort of personal and interpersonal interactions? Not necessarily. I think it’s a piece of technology that is evolving very quickly, and I think it’s important we all pause to consider what it needs.
CS: How difficult was it to execute the story as its structured in the film — i.e., both cinematically and on a cell phone?
Wechter: It wasn’t difficult at all. This was really the core competency, the core of the idea of the story that we wanted to tell. You know, I think that we spend so much time on a daily basis in the digital world. And so, this story was always founded in both the Rocky Mountains, where the physical setting of our story takes place, but more so in the digital world on Facetime and iMessage, on TikTok, on Instagram. And so, it was fundamental for the idea. It feels like the setting for which we live so much of our lives. So it really felt like the right expression for our setting in this story.
CS: Tye Sheridan is fantastic in this movie. How did he come aboard the production and what made you choose him for this particular project?
Wechter: Tye is just a phenomenal actor, and I’ve seen a lot of his work. And you know, the first place we started looking for our character was looking at actors who were legitimately in their very early 20’s. I think that sort of the stakes of the story were meant to feel meaningful for this actually being a young person whose life is in jeopardy. And I also knew that it’s a single character, a single location thriller and drama. And so, we just had to find an actor that we knew would be able to really carry the series on his shoulders, and I felt we had that with Tye. And without giving too much away, the Andy character becomes sort of – our understanding of him evolves, and what we’ve come to realize is that it’s essential that everything Andy is conveying to his family and friends in the story, they believe, that they believe he’s telling the truth. And with Tye, I felt that he’s an actor who always reads truthfully on screen without exception. And I felt confident that we’d believe him telling the truth from start to finish.
CS: What kind of challenges did you face with the style and structure of the story during production?
Wechter: Yeah, so when it comes to sort of the single character, single location limitations of the story, I didn’t feel limited because we really opened up the world by seeing our characters through Facetime and all of the different apps through which Andy communicates with these people on his phone. So it never really felt like it was a problem. The challenges really came in with the technical side of shooting with phones and in this format designed specifically to be watched on phones. We shot both simultaneously with a cinema camera and with some proprietary technology called a Triphone rig, which allowed us to capture the characters forward facing and rear facing cameras on his phone, as well as what was going on on his phone screen. So it was a very complex and technical shoot, making sure to account for both of those perspectives. It started really with you, a conversation with Tye about how he’d be holding his phone, where he’d be positioned, and really founding our blocking and our actions based in the truthfulness of how he’d be interacting in any given scene. But it definitely was a technical process, making sure any shot worked for both perspectives sort of at all times.
CS: It is interesting how you mentioned how it is very cinematic, but it’s also catered to a smartphone. Do you think a future of cinema and/or TV lies in the smartphone?
Wechter: You know, I’m not sure what the future of cinema and TV holds exactly. But I certainly do think that our mobile phones, they’re going to be a part of it. And I think that we see it already. Consumption habits are changing. People often ask me when I go into meetings what I spend my time watching. And I do watch a good amount of TV and films. A big part of the answer is TikToks. And Snapchat and Quibi and all of these new phone driven storytelling apps that you might not think about right now as sort of a traditional show. But it certainly is a medium that is intimate, that is really different than walking into a movie theater or sitting down on your couch to watch a TV screen. And I think it affords a really new and exciting amount of creative opportunity for filmmakers. And so, I’m personally excited to keep developing products in this space, and I hope that our project inspires other filmmakers to think about different opportunities that our phones as a new storytelling canvas affords us.
CS: How do you see this evolving, this process of using your phone as part of a storytelling device?
Wechter: Well, I think I see it in two different ways. You know, one is that the phones that we all have have very high quality cameras built into it. And so, I think we’re seeing a new generation of filmmakers immersed because everybody or almost everybody, many, many young people growing up have access to cameras and it’s ubiquitous. And I think the language of shooting for video and social media borrows from a lot of the tools of traditional filmmaking. So I definitely see a larger number of people who are fundamentally understanding how to shoot a scene. And I think that with the phone as our medium, I see all sorts of sort of practical and creative applications. I think that it feels to me that it’s really a new frontier for storytelling. And I see all sorts of applications of different genres and different kinds of stories, similarly to how we saw years ago a lot of the film being applied to TV, being applied to our mobile storytelling. And you know, I don’t know exactly what that looks like. I certainly have ideas that I’m developing. But I get excited just thinking about the different multitude of voices that I hope are going to continue cracking this medium and exploring its possibilities. And using all sorts of different applications of the phone, because beyond just video and audio projection, the phone holds all sorts of unique built-in pieces of technology that I think can be tapped into and create some really interesting storytelling possibilities.
CS: Absolutely. When you were talking about you’re developing some ideas, are there any future projects that you can talk to us about that you’re working on right now?
Wechter: Nothing that I can talk about so specifically yet. But I can tell you that I’m excited to be able to do so. And that largely they are phone driven and that my team and I are excited to continue pushing the boundaries in this new medium.