Reviews Talks with Director Richard Clabaugh
Interview by Gregg Dumont
Date Posted: July 13, 2010
This interview was based around a fun sci-fi movie that Richard
co-wrote and directed called Eyeborgs, which was recently
released on DVD and Blu-ray. Special thanks to Richard for not
only doing this interview, but for putting up with my stupid questions.
Plot Summary for Eyeborgs: In the wake of a major terrorist
attack, the U.S. government creates an all-seeing network of robotic
cameras to monitor every American. But after some deadly hiccups in the
system, Homeland Security agent Gunner Reynolds (Adrian Paul) gets
suspicious. It isn't long before Reynolds suspects that terrorists have
hacked the system. Danny Trejo also stars in this taut and entertaining
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KR: So Richard, where did you get the idea for Eyeborgs?
RC: The initial idea came from realizing how many cameras were
actually out there in the real world watching us all the time. I read a
report that the average person appears on about 300 surveillance cameras
a day and the question that came to mind was, what if they were all
linked together with an intelligence that could actually "see" you? The
original working title for the story was something like "The Beast with
a Billion Eyes," because I was fascinated with the idea of being
constantly watched by someone, or something, no matter where you went or
what you were doing. Then of course, the traffic cameras that can catch
you running a red light even when no one is around in the middle of the
night, and then mail you a ticket – that seemed very Orwellian.
All that was great for paranoia, but to make an action film it felt
like the cameras had to be able to do more than just watch. Making the
cameras robots allowed the movie to (literally) grow some legs and the
concept became the somewhat stretched, "logical-extension" we built the
movie from. While there are some serious core questions about the
ramifications of all this surveillance technology and where is it taking
us, in the end, we really wanted to make a fun robot movie.
The idea of cameras literally following you everywhere felt like a
good metaphor for the reality of what was going on, but was also
fanciful enough to keep things fun and entertaining.
They're watching you...
KR: I really enjoyed your story and the characters. Everything had
a purpose and seemed well thought out. Was the script your top one
priority when making this movie?
RC: Yes, absolutely, the script was the first priority and we worked
on it for a long time. We wanted everything to make sense, at least
within the world we were creating. The idea was to have a story that
allowed us to do all the fun killer-robot stuff you'd expect from a
movie like this, with lots of action, lots of robots running around, but
hopefully surprise you with some things you weren't expecting and hadn't
KR: Did you have any films in the back of your mind to draw
inspiration from while filming Eyeborgs?
RC: I'm a life-long genre fan and wanted to make a film like the ones
I enjoyed growing up. Intended or unintended, there are touches of
"Jason and the Argonauts," (skeleton fight) "Colossus: The Forbin
Project," "1984," (of course), "Invasion of the Body Snatchers,"
"Forbidden Planet," lots of Gene Roddenbery "Star Trek," and some bits
from "The Incredible Shrinking Man," "Robocop," "Starship Troopers,"
"Terminator," "Star Wars" and many others. All of those films and
stories that have inspired me over the years.
Having said that, we actually tried very hard to NOT copy things! If
we were aware of something similar, we tried, as much as possible, to
either spin away from it or reinvent it for our film. While we tip our
hats to the greats some of the stuff is there just because it belongs in
this story. For example, our story deals a lot with media presentation
and manipulation, so the reporters on TV in this film came from that,
even if it DOES remind one of "RoboCop" and "Starship Troopers." The
basic theme of surveillance may have been visited by George Orwell, but
there is plenty of real world, real life inspiration today to warrant a
fresh look at that theme.
Gene Roddenberry's sense of social commentary in the original "Star
Trek" was very much an influence in the sense that I believe even a
simple action story should still have something to say about the real
Danny Trejo in Eyeborgs (look at those guns!!!)
KR: Did you ever consider naming the picture Danny Trejo Vs. The
RC: I'd have gone for -- "Machete vs. Eyeborgs!" -- "This time, it's
"These robots just messed with the WRONG Mexican!
Can we hold that for a sequel? I'd watch it!
Danny was such a kick to work with! He's a man of great character,
both on and off the screen and the crew just loved him.
KR: I very much enjoyed watching Adrian Paul. I’ve always thought
he was charismatic. How did he become involved with the film?
RC: That part was literally written for Adrian Paul.
We had worked together briefly on a film called "Little Chicago," and
he's such a pro, such a great actor with such a wonderful screen
presence, we just wanted to work with him again. (Aside from being major
"Highlander" fans.) In writing the script Fran Clabaugh (my wife,
co-writer and the film's editor) and I just visualized him the whole
time. In the end, we were lucky enough to be able to get him -- and
there was much rejoicing! Our partner, and the film's producer, John
Rushton, plays his partner. John personally picked Adrian up at the
airport when he arrived and they immediately hit it off, started talking
through their characters, their interactions, their histories, just
right off the bat and they have remained in touch ever since.
During filming, every night after wrap, we would all go exhausted
back to Adrian's hotel room and talk through the next day's scenes.
Adrian was so proactive in crafting the character, defining
relationships with the other actors, it was just the most wonderful part
of the filmmaking process, the most enjoyable, most collaborative way it
Adrian was, in every sense, the best man for the job and we were so
fortunate to have him.
KR: One of the scarier thoughts I have is the world someday being
run by pissed off self minded robots, very much like in your film. In
your opinion, what are the chances of this becoming a reality?
RC: When Roombas rule, the world may be a lot cleaner, but at what
My real world concerns are less with the technology itself getting a
mind of its own than with the way people can exploit technology for
their own self-serving needs. Guns don't kill people, guns mounted on
the turrets of mechanized, killer-robots run by video-game crazed
techies following orders, kill people.
Technology itself is not the danger, we don't all need to revert to a
bunch of crazed Luddites to be safe – but how those who have access to
technology are allowed to use it should concern us. Our ability to do
things evolves faster than our laws or ethics. By the time we notice
what's happened, it's too late.
Right now, today, an unseen person at the airport is looking at
pictures of you naked. Also pictures of your spouse and your little
kids, looking under their clothes with a special camera, to see what you
may be carrying as you walk onto a plane. Maybe it's for a good cause,
but just when, exactly, did we all decide we were okay with letting
strangers take naked pictures of our kids? That wasn't machines deciding
that. Technology just got ahead of our ethics.
KR: If one of your Eyeborgs gets pink eye, do you have to throw
out the whole batch?
RC: I'm sorry, Dave, these robots are too important for me to allow
you to jeopardize them.
Grab the eye, rip it out, throw it in the recycle bin and plug in a
If that doesn't work re-program the eyelight setting to "Paul Newman
KR: One of the stronger elements of your film is the CG, which is
a rarity these days. What’s the trick to making this stuff look
RC: We're a very small film but our mandate from the beginning was
that the robots had to look as real as cars for this movie to work.
We're not in a galaxy far, far away, so when our guy walks down the
street, you have to believe these things are really there and that they
are part of our world.
One thing we did was hand-hold the camera, even though it meant
virtually every single shot in the movie had to be painstakingly
match-moved before we could put in the robots. There is just something
about seeing robots in hand-held shots that makes them feel more like
they're really there. We also spent a lot of time putting in reflections
of the environment on their metal surfaces and in the glass eyes and
adjusting the qualities of the shadows they cast (hard or soft, dark or
light). The main thing was that Chris Watson, our Visual Effects
Supervisor, just had a great eye for all these details. He and our other
effects artists just kept working with the robots, tweaking and
adjusting, until they looked 100% real (or we ran out of time). Chris
got really great at making them look really good, really fast.
It's been very satisfying, after screenings, to have so many people
sincerely ask, "How many of the robots were actually real?" The answer
is, basically, none. All were the product of some very talented CG
artists but they sure did a great job of it.
Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino
KR: Have you watched anything on DVD lately that you’d recommend
to my readers?
RC: Sadly, my local DVD stores have all closed lately, in spite of my
family's heavy spending there. I very much enjoyed the new Star Trek and
Clint Eastwood's wonderful films, Gran Torino and Invictus. I'd love to
see more original genre pictures, like "Splinter," but the market makes
it really hard to make and sell non-studio, non-sequel, non-remake,
non-famous-actor starring movies.
KR: What’s the number one movie to see this summer?
RC: Well, if you see only one killer-robot movie this summer, then
you should definitely see EYEBORGS! I assure you with confidence, there
will be no better killer-robot movie from Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Beyond that, I'm personally looking forward with great excitement to
"Inception," having never yet been disappointed with a film from
Christopher Nolan, and as a genre fan I still have a burning spark of
hope for the new "Predators." I will be in line to see both of those on
their opening days.
KR: Thanks for the interview Richard! Do you have any upcoming
projects that you’d like to mention?
RC: As they say, "We have numerous projects in various states of
development." We are working on a couple projects I'm very excited about
and that I think your readers will really enjoy, but I can't say which
will be first out of the gate just yet. Stay tuned.
Thanks for enjoying the movie!