Interview with The Wave Screenwriter Carl Lucas

This site is something of a Venus Flytrap. And it’s caught another fantastic screenwriter of another great movie. You guys remember when we discussed the movie The Wave? Wait, please tell me you remember The Wave. I mean, yeah, you watched The Wave, correct? If you haven’t seen it yet, you have to stop… like THIS INSTANT, and head over to one of these links (of which I literally will get three quarters of a penny for sending you there (I swear, I’m not exaggerating, I add the links for your benefit, not mine)) and watch this movie.

Again – there are a few very key spoilers running through this interview. Please make sure you watch the movie before continuing on. Alright! Let’s go to this great little interview with the one and only… ever-brilliant, Carl Lucas!!

THiNC. – This is a crazy movie, crazy script, and fantastic at the same time. Where did the initial kernel of the idea for this movie come from?

Carl Lucas – So, the initial kernel came from Roger Corman.  I was studying his career and looking for ways to expand my library and I stumbled across the film he produced called “The Trip” a story about a straight laced guy who tries LSD for the first time and stumbles around in a psychedelic adventure, filled with hippies and smoke filled rooms.  But it was the thing Corman said about how he was looking for things that people were afraid of, because those are the things that people seek out.  Part of the psychology behind watching horror films is satisfying that art of your brain that the thing you’re seeing on the screen can’t actually hurt you.  And he spoke at length about how drug culture has this effect for a lot of people, especially psychedelics, because people are afraid of this tiny chemical that might reveal some hidden truth that changes everything.  So, we decided to take that idea and REALLY lean into it.

Around this same time I had been introduced to Gille Klabin who had been making some incredible music videos on budgets of almost nothing, and as an independent producer, we both shared a specific viewpoint on Visual FX; a visual effect doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective, especially if it what it is showing you is something you’ve never seen before.  He had an incredible video he made for Steve Aoki that involved a scene where Steve gets hit by a car and as he tumbles into the hood, he splashes into a dark pool of water, and it was so elegantly yet simply staged in a one shot take, that it inspired the central car accident we see in The Wave.

THiNC. – Love that bit about looking for things that people were afraid of, because that is what those people seek out! So so so true.

Carl Lucas – A few years prior to writing the script, my family had suffered a direct tragedy, where one of my closest cousins, a firefighter had passed away under similar circumstances to the one in the movie, and, just like in the film, the insurance company tied itself into knots to deny him his life insurance payout, going so far as to send a letter to his widow claiming he committed suicide by taking himself off the meds years earlier. Initially I wanted to just write a film to punish that person, like Griffin Dunne in Scorcese’s After Hours, but the whole project quickly became therapy for me, because as I dug into the thesis of “what kind of person would do this” I slowly began to realize that the answer was, given the right circumstances, any of us. We are all guilty of turning our eyes away from the wake of our actions, and essentially that’s what The Wave is. It’s a movie about a man becoming aware of his footprint in the universe.

THiNC. – Yes. Yes. That clicks for me. That is so good. It’s a movie about a man becoming aware of his footprint in the universe.

You stated in the comment section of my write up for the movie that Frank was alive for most of the duration of the movie. But chronologically… ?? Frank jumps forwards in time – years? Backwards. What does that comment of yours even mean… “duration of the movie”? Was the ‘duration of the movie’ him flying through the air after being hit by the car?

Carl Lucas – Lol! Yes I’m sorry. I had started writing a much more detailed comment and realized that the whole thing had been addressed in a reddit thread and I quickly rewrote the post into a TLDR, and yeah. That was probably more confusing then helpful. So, what I meant was that there’s a theory floating around (we’ll call it the Jacob’s Ladder theory) that Frank is experiencing the events of the film in his head as he dies on the roof of the car. There was one reviewer who put that theory out in the world, and when he questioned Gille and Justin about it, neither of them were really trying to tell people at the time how to watch the film, because it was the festival premiere and the actual release was months away and honestly the film is abstract in a lot of its intentions which means no one is exactly wrong in their interpretations. That being said, letting that one interviewer slide with that actually came back to bite us in the butts, when almost a year later, we found out our film was getting a beautiful 4k release in Germany along with special features and a book written by a prominent German horror columnist discussing the film. When we were finally able to get a copy of the DVD we were absolutely blown away by the care they put into it, but were saddened to learn that they had decided to adopt that particular reviewers theory on the explanation of the film, and, without contacting us, proceeded to write a thesis on the film using it as their ground point. So, it breaks my heart that so many fans in Germany actually believe that this is the intention of the artists, and not just a single interpretation by an enthusiastic fan who we felt nervous about correcting at the initial launch of the film.

But if you want to understand the actual intent of the film, I highly recommend scrolling around on that reddit feed, because I go into some pretty great detail. But specifically to your question, I mean that the entire film takes place entirely from the perspective of Frank as he experiences it. He takes a mysterious drug that shows him what happens when he dies (an event that happens two days later). By being handed this revelation, Frank realizes that his entire life has been about trying to be someone the world expects him to be, when really he just wants to be a good guy. And time is running out to do that. In the grand scheme of the universe, we all die tomorrow. If your soul/ life energy/ stardust/ whatever was suddenly released back into the cosmos to experience the void as a conscious being, are you ready to spend eternity with the person you are today? It’s a sci-fi morality tale.

(THiNC. Editorial Comment: Here is the Reddit thread that he is referring to that he posted in the comment section of my original post:

THiNC. – WHAT?!??! We are ALL GOING TO DIE?? There literally isn’t a big enough spoiler warning for that one!!! hahaha. So good. For the curious screenplay writers among us – can you walk us through how you took the screenplay for The Wave from idea, to outline, to screenplay, then on to being purchased? 

Car Lucas – Well, The Wave is unlike most of the features I wrote because it’s one of the very few that did not include an outline. I knew what I wanted it to be and I knew some of the events I wanted to work in, but this was a film where I just let the characters run with it. Their choices drove the narrative. If the characters make any wild choices in the movie, it’s because in that moment, while I was writing the script, that choice seemed like the most logical choice. Once we had the initial draft down on the page, Gille and I made the decision to seal it up and make it a time-travel film, but a fixed-loop time-travel film, meaning everything he changes when he goes back in time has already happened. That’s why his bank accounts are empty. That’s why the bum already knows him and is laughing about needing a dollar (he has a bag with hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting on his shopping cart that was handed to him by the guy bumming a smoke.). It all had to tie together seamlessly. A rule we were incredibly fastidious about and something we chuckle about when critics say the movie seems scattered. We’re just like “maybe watch it again and this time, pay attention to every clock that breaks.”

THiNC. – How would you encourage the writers out there to write and get that screenplay idea on paper?

Carl Lucas – So, this is silly, but this is literally how I beat my ADHD and found the ability to sit and write a 90-110 page screenplay. It was 2001, and I was desperately looking for a way to find the discipline to sit long enough to type out the number of pages required to be a screenplay, much less make them make sense. Weirdly that part wasn’t the part I was worried about. And then one day, I was watching an episode of Friends (as one did in 2001) and there was this episode where Joey was heartbroken about not getting roles and so Ross came over to support him as a friend and he said “Here, write your own screenplay. But don’t think of it like a whole screen play. Just write five pages a day and you’ll have a whole script in no time.” I remember thinking, “That’s the writer of this episode sharing with us his writing process.” And I laughed because I didn’t think it could actually be that easy. Cut to twenty one years and 47 scripts later…

It’s literally the best advice I can give anyone. Five pages a day. Get it on the page. Don’t edit until its done. At five pages a day, you have a rough draft in less than a month.

I would also say to be light and nonspecific when writing your outlines and don’t spend too much time talking about your ideas until you get them on the page. The human brain releases the same chemical for action or drama. If you talk about something too much, your brain thinks its already done it. And then the task of actually doing it feels repetitive and can be exhausting.

But honestly? That’s just me. I’m kind of a weirdo.

THiNC. – Weirdo nothing – that is bad ass. Just saying. Love the details and the really tactile advice you are espousing here. Maybe you need to craft a Master Class… just saying. This has been really fantastic. Thanks so much for taking time out with use to chat. And you know what everyone? I think we are all due for a re-watch of The Wave. I know I am.

Edited by: CY