Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with an interview I did during Fantastic Fest with Juan Antonio Bayona and Sergio Sanchez, the director and writer, respectfully, of THE ORPHANAGE, a wonderful creepy little flick that sees release this December. I really loved the film and its Fantastic Fest screening went very well, making it one of the most talked about films of the festival. This is a fun one. We do discuss the end and although we don’t explicitly state what happens we dance around it a little more than you’d probably want to read if you’re a stickler for spoilers. Enjoy the interview!!!
Quint: Were you up in Toronto when it played?
Quint: Good reaction?
Juan: The reaction was good, yeah, and it was fun that all the people from the industry knew about the movie there. It was like the people who haven’t seen it have heard a lot about the movie and they were all congratulating us for the movie without seeing it, so…
Quint: I think Guillermo (del Toro) being attached to the project, I think, brings a lot of what you’re talking about with people knowing of it, just because he’s associated with it in any way. How did you guys hook up with Guillermo?
Juan: I knew Guillermo a long time ago in Sitges at the Fantastic Film Festival. He was presenting Cronos and it was like fifty years ago…
Sergio: Fifteen. You’re not that old.
Juan: Fifteen, not fifty yeah, so it was quite weird because I was probably like 17 years old. I was always trying to go there pretending to be a journalist to go get free tickets to see the movies, so I did an interview with Guillermo and he was really fun with me, because he used to tell me that I looked like a ten year old with sideburns. It was really fun and he was very impressed by my questions and I don’t know why, so we kept in touch since then and he came to Spain a couple of times to shoot DEVIL’S (BACKBONE) and PAN’S LABYRINTH and he used to watch my music videos and my short films and all of this stuff, so when he knew that I was going to do THE ORPHANAGE, he wanted to be there immediately and he also read the script and decided to present it, which is a very special commitment to the project.
Quint: Did you guys have it set up already before he came on, or did him putting his name on it help it get funding?
Juan: No, we started the project in Barcelona with a small film company, production company, and I became aware we wouldn’t have the money to make the movie that it was meant to be, so I talked to him and he decided to help me. He creates a space of freedom and creativity to do the movie the way it was in out minds, so that’s it. My god… my English… (laughs)
Quint: Better than my Spanish. (laughs) That must have been an honor, especially if it’s somebody like Guillermo, who has made some fantastic films and he’s also just a great guy himself and just such a personable warm and loving dude, you know?
Juan: I used to tell him that he was like Gandhi, but in a fat way.
Quint: Gandhi without the fasting?
Quint: So how well did you react when he took so well to the script?
Sergio: It was fantastic. Actually, I was really scared, because I was of course really enthusiastic about him coming in to the project and I was really scared, thinking “Oh my God, he’s going to hate the script and say ‘no’ and it’s going to be all my fault…” and actually he had read the script, he liked it a lot and we had lunch with him. He made a bunch of suggestions, some of them we took into consideration, some others were just… “no.”
Actually, when he finally read the final script, we sate with him again and he was like “Well, motherfuckers, you didn’t pay much attention to what I said, but if this is the movie you want to make, then go ahead and do it!” Just like that. He was great. He just gave us total freedom to do whatever we wanted to do and he was very supportive. Whenever there was trouble he would come to the rescue. It was the perfect association and he never imposed anything, but he was always nurturing and taking care of the project.
Quint: I think it was right around the time DEVIL’s BACKBONE came out, Guillermo kept saying in the press that you have nothing to fear from the dead, you only have to fear from the living and I noticed while I was watching the movie, that that was represented in THE ORPHANAGE as well. I guess I was just wondering if that was something that he had brought to it or if that was something you guys just decided on from the very beginning.
Sergio: No, it’s something that’s there actually and in this film it’s not that you have to fear the dead or the living… actually it’s like there’s nothing to fear but fear itself. There’s not a villain in this movie and there’s not a monster. There’s nothing that lurks in the dark. The threat comes from your own fears. The characters of the mother and the son, they each have their own sets of worries and that’s what drives them to the position where they get into at the end of the movie and actually the film can be seen as a ghost story and it can be seen as something that has nothing to do with the supernatural at all. You can also read the film as the decline of a character who doesn’t know how to cope with the loss of a child and then starts imagining all of these things. So no, that’s not something that he brought to the story. That’s probably something that drew him to this project.
Juan: It was quite a surprise when we finally saw PAN’S LABYRINTH, because both films are around the idea of how we need fantasy to face reality, so I suppose Guillermo was really happy to work with us, because we were sharing more or less the same things.
Quint: Can we talk a little bit about your influences? I don’t know if you would call it a direct homage, but there’s definitely that POLTERGIEST feel, whenever they bring in the paranormal experts.
Juan: Yeah! That’s the point, yeah. It was quite an obvious homage to POLTERGEIST, but the thing is that we were looking for a more realistic atmosphere, so that’s why we were avoiding digital effects and things like that. The thing is that we were trying to keep, the whole time, an ambiguous reading on the story. The idea of telling a ghost story and at the same time you could read the story as something real, like the story of a woman losing her mind, so we couldn’t use these kinds of things, because we couldn’t use something that we couldn’t finally justify. That was very challenging for us. It was like a limitation at the beginning, but then it was something very… to try to focus just in the sound or in the point of view, so that made the work more exciting and I think it’s better if you see the sequence, I think it works really well to keep that sense of reality.
Quint: I was going to bring up the way that you shot the movie and that’s one thing I really connected with, because I love horror and I love the genre, but I’m getting really tired of the modern way you tell a horror story… the quick cuts and the jumping and the shaking camera and everything…
Juan: Yeah, we screened the day before we started shooting, I screened to some of the crew CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, which was, for me, the idea of what I was looking for. For me, that’s classic storytelling, like my ideal of storytelling is what Spielberg did on that movie and at that same time THE ORPHANAGE shares this idea of obsession and fantasy. The central character finally gets what he wants with fantasy, so it was like we were sharing these themes and we I really appreciate how Spielberg… Oh my God, my English is terrible… so that’s it. For me CLOSE ENCOUNTERS was like the idea of storytelling and that’s what we wanted to do with THE ORPHANAGE.
Quint: There’s a certain timeless feel to it and I also like that you don’t really go out of your way to set it in any particular time. I guess the video system is probably the only real big piece of technology.
Sergio: But it’s very primitive and so it could be from the eighties, like as far back as you can date it. There’s no more mobile phones or anything like that.
Juan: Yeah, we didn’t like this stuff. We would try to go back to the movies we were scared of when we were children, so we were trying to get this no sense of time.
Sergio: I think it also adds… It’s just a story of a woman who gets lost in time, so you know where she is, but you don’t really know when she is. It just goes back and forth and this is why we decided to avoid technology as much as possible.
Quint: I don’t want to go into too many spoilers, but did you know the ending when you started writing?
Sergio: Actually, we went through like maybe twenty different drafts of the script, because we started writing it like eight or nine years ago and there weren’t many horror movies being made in Spain and suddenly its like all of these movies came out… and there was THE OTHERS and there were all the films from The Fantastic Factory and all of that, so it’s like every week a new horror film would come out, Spanish or not, and all the time we had to push it a bit harder and we were thinking “We have to do something that separates our movie from all these other films.” The one thing that stayed the same throughout all of those twenty drafts was the ending and we always knew that that’s how the movie… The first act and the very ending were the same. What we had to build upon was that psychological motives of the characters to get to that, so we could have an ending that was really moving and it’s something that can be horrifying and uplifting at the same time depending on how you read the story.
Quint: It’s also earned too, because also I think you’ve seen a lot of people in the wake of SIXTH SENSE where they feel like they have to throw in some… and you’re ending not really a twist ending, but it does show you that your expectations were in the wrong place. I’ve seen a lot of people try to do that just for the sake of doing it and there are very few that actually earn their ending and I think you guys did.
Sergio: It couldn’t be just a cheap twist…
Juan: Yeah, we never thought about the ending like the usual twist where everything changes at the end. I think that the resolution is very simple and it’s very current with the story and it gives sense to the story, because sometimes nowadays, the twist takes out the sense of the story and I think that the resolution in THE ORPHANAGE gives a sense to the movie.
Sergio: It was also very important to make a movie that you could watch a second time and still have everything make sense, since there’s other movies where you go back and… especially when you have a movie with a surprise ending, you go back and it’s like “Wait a minute…so… how come….”
Juan: And this guy is completely obsessed with all of these kinds of things. I was trying to put some trick in the story and he was like “No no no… you can’t do that, because if you do that you’d….” Oh my God…
Sergio: He wanted to make a horror movie that the audience would enjoy and jump and scream and stuff… like “How about we do this…” and I’d be like “No way! You’re going to fuck everything up, man!” Then he’d still shoot it, but then he wouldn’t edit it in the final cut, but we had so many fights about that and Belen [Rueda], the actress, was on my side all the time and there were sometimes when he would just walk up to her and be like “Now Belen, we’re going to try something different…” and she was like “No no no…” She was so nice that she ended up doing it all the time and she was always like “God, I hope he doesn’t put it in the movie...”
Juan: Yeah, but you know I think the right balance from the both of us was the final result of the movie.
Sergio: Also, I complain a lot, but he wanted me to write the jump moments and I always thought “No, that’s going to be too cheap,” and then when you see the movie screen with an audience and you see the whole theater go like “WHOA” it’s like “Okay, you were right. I’ll shut up.”
Quint: During the preproduction, how much work went into design with the home itself? Did you find it or did you have to build it?
Juan: We had a very small budget, so we had to storyboard the whole movie. We had so many meetings and we were like rehearsing for three months with the actors, so we did a lot of our work before we were shooting. The thing is that you have to keep alive the story all the time, so we worked so much on the story before the shooting, that what we were trying to do in the shooting was change everything and improving a lot, because that’s how we kept the story and the creativity the whole time and the actors were very sensitive with that. They were very happy to perform the same sequences in different ways. It was like a way of being creative the whole time.
Quint: And keeping the spark.
Juan: If you shoot a movie, like shooting the storyboard, then everybody could be a film director, so I don’t think that’s the way it works.
Quint: What about the scarecrow mask? If you have the horror image from the movie, that’s it, but how much more went into the design?
Juan: We were working a lot with the guys from DDT. They also worked on PAN’S LABYRINTH and the thing is that the main indications were that it was something that had to be made with love and with a mother not very well… maybe like a very disturbed mother…
Sergio: It is the product of a very disturbed mind, because it’s meant to be something that will protect the child, but something went horribly wrong in the process. (laughs) It’s something that’s even more horrifying than what’s hiding underneath.
Juan: And yeah it’s very creepy, because it’s a mix of something very nice and something terrible.
Quint: The character is probably the character that people are going to walk away from the movie with…
Sergio: It’s funny, because the assistant director… there were a lot of things that he just could not understand in the movie and it was very funny, because Bayona was very scrupulous and he… There’s two kid actors and he never cheated on who was under the mask, so at some times we would have to fly a kid we were shooting all of the outside in Estudias and the inside of the house was constructed on set in Barcelona, so for the first appearances… I don’t want to spoil anything, but anyways the thing is that they had to fly a kid for 800 miles, because Bayona would not want the other kid, like “No no no, we have to be truthful to the story and that’s the kid that goes under the mask.” Everyone working on the production was like “What the fuck?” It was fun and it’s a minor detail, but I think that it tells you a lot of the care that was put into this story, like we’re not going to cheat anyone on this film and I hope we made it. I hope nobody walks out of the theater thinking “Hmm, wait….” One is taller than the other if you look closely.
Quint: How was working with the kids? Were they easy to deal with or difficult?
Juan: Well I’m used to working with kids. I did a couple of shorts from before and both were with kids and kids… if they are good, they are the best. It’s like working with old people, like if they are good then they are the best. It’s about finding a good kid and Roger [Princep] was the first guy that I thought about and had seen a test for like a TV commercial and I was impressed. He was the first kid I was testing and he was amazing, but then I decided to look for maybe four or five hundred children more and as many children as we were watching, the more I was sure about Roger. He was very good and at the same time it was very easy to work with, Roger. You know you have to find not the actor, but the character and Roger was the character. He was so smart and sometimes disturbing. It was really good to work with Roger and with the other kids we did a lot of tests, like testing children for two or three months.
Sergio: Since this movie was subtitled, I’m going to put subtitles to his answer and the subtitles say “It was total nightmare! It was the hardest thing ever, to work with all of those children.”
Juan: Yeah, but I said like two or three months… We worked like six months looking for children for the movie. And that’s it. I did a short film called “SPONGEMAN” before that and I was working with fourteen children at the same time inside of a bus, so it was like a master for me… how do you say that?
Juan: No no no…
[The translator retells what he just said.]
Sergio: Oh, he was doing his master thesis on the bus.
Juan: On the bus with that short film, so it’s about patience and the need to be patient.
Quint: So what are you guys up to next? This comes out in December…
Juan: The 28th. We are closer to our next project, but probably we’ll be together again and it’s a wonderful story, but I couldn’t tell you about that, but the only thing I could tell you is probably we could go to Fantastic film festivals with that story…
Sergio: Or not.
Juan: That’s a good thing, “Or not.” We are waiting to close a deal finally, but it’s a wonderful story and we are very passionate about that, so it’s perfect to release the movie THE ORPHANAGE with something totally different in our minds.
Sergio: And I’m writing something for Guillermo, 3993, which is supposed to close his Spanish Civil War Trilogy and I’m also finishing up my, what I hope will be my first feature film, next year, but I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that nothing goes wrong this year.
Quint: I saw on your page that you had directed a short, right?
Sergio: I directed a few of them. I’ve directed quite a bunch and yeah it’s funny, because the first short film I made was called 7337 and it’s the short film that actually made me meet Bayona on one side and Guillermo on the other, like the origin of everything. Some parts of THE ORPHANAGE are very linked to that short film and parts of Guillermo’s movie are also in there, so it’s like the seed of a lot of things. It’s sprouting around.
Quint: Are you interested in genre stuff too?