The Blair Witch Project was the focus of last week’s post where I explained why I found the movie inspirational and how it has influenced me as a writer of horror and dark fantasy. This week, I’m honored and excited to bring you part two. I recently spoke with writer/director Eduardo Sánchez about his films and it became clear to me that we share a similar approach to storytelling. His movies expose the terrifying isolation inherent in the human condition, and yet the characters still illicit feelings of empathy. The stories help us to realize that we all share the same hopes, dreams, and fears which can be one of the redeeming elements of horror and dark fantasy. We can see ourselves in the characters Sánchez creates; our joy and pain originating from the same source as theirs.
He can be found huddled in a home office and surrounded by action figures and movie mementos. Eduardo is a fast-talking, high-octane guy that answered my old questions (about The Blair Witch Project) with the same enthusiasm as my new ones (about V/H/S/2 and Exists). Sánchez loves storytelling and his energy is contagious.
I would like to sincerely thank Eduardo for the opportunity to talk horror and I would also encourage you to watch all of his films, especially if you love psychological terror or found footage features. Links to several of Sánchez’s movies are at the bottom of the post. Although we did not talk about Seventh Moon, those of you that have read Preta’s Realm or Demons Within (books 1 and 2 of The Hidden Evil Trilogy) will recognize the “hungry ghost” mythology in that movie, although in a slightly different context than my novels.
Please allow me to introduce you to storyteller and film maker, Eduardo Sánchez.
*Note: The trailer for V/H/S/2 is at the bottom of the interview. It is intended for mature audiences only. The entire film is available on June 6th, 2013 here.
J: Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
E: I was born in Cuba. My parents got out of there before I turned two. We moved to Spain and then to the United States, the Washington D.C. area, around 1972. Most of my early memories are from Spain but I’ve spent pretty much my whole life in the United States. My parents still don’t speak any English. I am an American citizen now and I consider myself as American as can be but I also have this very Cuban side. So part of me doesn’t really fit in anywhere. I think that feeling kind of drove me to film making; the idea of being able to create another world, creating something else, another reality, and then to populate that reality with characters and control it. With writing and directing you are world-building, you’re choosing what to show the audience, what the audience hears, what the audience sees. There is this kind of God complex that we all have and we all try to control. For me, I think it comes from being a Cuban-American and not really fitting in to either society. So it’s kind of a unique perspective that I’ve brought to my film making in general.
J: I think we’re about the same age, so I’m guessing you grew up in the 70s. Are there film makers or directors that inspired you as a child?
E: There are so many film makers that I love. Those from our generation stand out. Without Star Wars and Spielberg none of us would really be doing this and most of us wouldn’t be interested in films the way that we are. Lucas and Spielberg really did provide the spark for the explosion of independent film making in the late 80s and 90s that continues to this day. In the generation before us, I don’t think many people shared that desire. I think those films made us want to be film makers. Other than the big early inspirations the few pivotal films for me were Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and before that I was always very much in the Speilberg/Lucas camp. Do The Right Thing really opened my eyes to the other possibilities of film making, the social aspect of it. Early in my college career I did a film called Gabriel’s Dream which was kind of like Clerks meets Spike Lee. It was basically a bunch of guys in a warehouse during a particularly hot summer fighting for the boss to turn on the air conditioning system in their warehouse. I was 20 years old when I wrote it and I think it definitely needed a little more age, a little more maturity to be better but it was a feature that I did. It always helps; even failures help you. Failure teaches you more than success. I was very much into that social kind of film making for a while but later in college I really got into Scorsese and Woody Allen and a ton of other filmmakers. My favorite science fiction movie is Blade Runner. I love most of Ridley Scott’s films. I like The Exorcist. That film had a big impact on me and The Amityville Horror really scared the crap out of me. Of course there’s The Shining and The Changeling. For the comedy/action type of horror movie I love Evil Dead 2. I think if I could I would constantly make movies like Evil Dead 2. Jamie Nash and I have so many ideas about these kind of goofy comedy/horror/action movies. My segment in V/H/S/2 that I directed with Gregg Hale is about as close as I’ve gotten to that kind of filmmaking since Blair Witch. It’s the funniest segment in the movie. Jamie wrote it and it’s kind of a twist on the zombie thing. It’s good, pretty funny. It’s a point of view that hasn’t been seen before. That’s the stuff I’d like to do. I get a lot of inspiration from a lot of different film makers and now is such an exciting time because everybody is making films. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there but at least people are doing it. People send me features and they’re like, “Check out this film. I haven’t been able to sell it,” and I see that they’re making a lot of mistakes or maybe they just don’t have the inherent talent, but at least they have the spirit to go out and do it. I’m kind of fascinated by film makers that are constantly making films no matter what the outcome. They just need to do it, like an addiction. I love that energy because that’s the energy I had before I started making a living at it. Not that I don’t have fun making films anymore, but once you start making a living at something it becomes a little different, it becomes your job, and you have to find that energy again.
J: Film making and writing today are very different than they were even five years ago. The technology has really leveled the playing field. If you had to make The Blair Witch Project today, how would it be different?
E: The biggest problem with all horror films now is the cell phone. You’ve got to come up with a way people can’t use cell phones. Even in the time period Blair Witch takes place, 1994, we still got that question, “Why didn’t they use their cell phones?” In 1994, not many people had cell phones, especially students. When we were shooting The Blair Witch in 1997 there was no cell phone reception in that park. It was just two square miles of woods and there was no reception at all. Today I think you’d have to figure out the cell phone issue in Blair. Technically (if shooting The Blair Witch today), they would have GoPros, they wouldn’t be lugging around 16mm cameras – that’s for sure, and Mike Williams wouldn’t have that sound rig. It was like a two square foot box he was lugging around, a huge digital audio recorder.
J: The box and the boom microphone.
E: Yes. Nowadays he’d just have an iPhone or a little digital recorder he could put in his pocket. So technologically, I think it would definitely change. We wouldn’t shoot it on Hi8 of course. A lot of people have asked if they’ll ever remake The Blair Witch Project. It was an experiment, almost like capturing a moment, coming together, and building this movie, a kind of magical alchemy that happened out there between the actors and the crew. So I never go back to Blair Witch and think if we should have done this or that. The only thing I think is that I would love to be able to re-edit a two and a half hour version. That was the original version that we had tested on our way to editing it down to eighty five minutes. But we screened it just to see if people could sit through it. I don’t know where that version is. I’d love to show that version of the movie because there’s a lot of really great stuff in there, mostly for the actors because there are a lot of really cool scenes that we had to cut out. The thing about Blair Witch that is so weird is that you really have to be patient with that film. Movies have changed so much just in the last five years. The attention span of the horror audience, especially the young people, is so short. You look at some of those movies from the 70s and you really have to sit yourself down and say, “Okay. I’m here for a while and I’m going to invest myself in this,” because they are really slow, a much slower burn, which I think Blair Witch does as well. You can’t compare Blair Witch to something like Cloverfield or even Paranormal Activity, even though Paranormal Activity followed Blair Witch almost like a formula. It was great – I had breakfast with Oren Peli and that’s what he told me; he studied the movie and came up with Paranormal. He did hell of a job, I’m telling you. But things always change. You can compare Blair to the movie I just finished, my Bigfoot movie, which is found footage. The pacing is completely different.
J: I can’t wait to see that movie.
E: It’s a completely different kind of film than Blair. You have to keep in mind that when we were doing Blair Witch we were trying to make it real, “This is really happening. This is real footage and now were going to take this footage and were going to make a documentary out of it.” Like we were real documentarians. Now, you’re not fooling anybody. I was just trying to make a cool Bigfoot movie.
The technology to capture these films has definitely changed and will continue to change but at the same time good stuff still finds its way out of the crowd. Now it’s so much easier, if you’re extremely talented, to get noticed than it was before. With YouTube you can have your own channel. There are people making a living off of YouTube which is an amazing thing. It’s definitely cool and everybody’s trying to predict what’s going to happen. I just kind of step back and absorb stuff, observe, and just see where the next Kevin Smith, the next Spike Lee is coming from.
J: As a horror novelist and a fan of scary movies, I can trace my influences back to The Blair Witch Project and The Shining because of the element of creepy, unseen evil. There is something very powerful in that. However, Lovely Molly is the kind of frightening story I aspire to tell because it’s character-driven and they are so visceral, so real. Why did you place Molly in her parents’ old house?
E: Well, as you know from writing horror, you have to figure out how to get people into danger, whether that’s psychological danger or physical danger, and how to isolate them. With my Bigfoot movie, it’s easy. You throw them in the woods, in a cabin, and then Bigfoot attacks. In a lot of horror movies the physical isolation is the easy part. The psychological isolation is what is really difficult. For Lovely Molly, I had to figure out how to get this woman back into her house where all these bad things happened. It was the economic reasons of not being able to have enough money, which is what a lot of America is facing right now. The idea of having a bunch of jobs and not being able to make ends meet forces you to go back to this place that you probably don’t want to have to go back to. I also think Molly had unfinished business and at the end of this ride, this horrendous trip into hell, it’s about Molly empowering herself in a really weird way. At the end of the movie she kind of wins, she deals with her shit, which I think was part of the reason she allowed herself to go back to this house.
J: She gets closure, one way or another.
E: She gets closure. She kind of rights these wrongs, whether it’s in her head or whether it’s real, she figures it out. At the end of it she’s like, “Alright. I’m fine. I’m going to walk into these woods and I’m good.” She’s taken care of business. There’s always a question of how much she remembers. Did she block it out? She tells the cop she doesn’t remember any of that stuff and he’s like, you’re lucky you don’t remember any of it. Gretchen Lodge [Molly] and I talked about this a lot. What is she doing going back? She knows she’s going to get into trouble by going back there but she has to get this part of her life behind her or she’ll never be normal.
J: Can you give us an update on the Bigfoot movie and V/H/S/2?
E: V/H/S/2 is playing festivals. It last played the Maryland Film Festival in May and is coming out on VOD on June 6. It’s got one of those VOD and then limited theatrical releases – on July 12. It was a really fun film to work on. All the film makers were at least ten years younger than Gregg (co-director) and I so it was kind of humbling. It was cool and they all had such great energy and their films are fantastic. It was cool to come back and be a part of something Dan Myrick and I popularized fifteen years ago. It was cool to be on the cutting edge of found footage again; even in the very little way that Gregg and I are involved in this movie. I really liked the first one and I think V/H/S/2 is much better than the first one. It’s more cohesive, it makes more sense, and it’s shorter; about a half hour shorter which helps in the found footage genre. I’m really proud of it and now there are a lot of people who want me to be part of other anthologies. I haven’t done a short film since film school and I discovered it’s a really great way to put an idea down and to work but not kill yourself. You can literally be done in a couple of months whereas a feature film usually takes at least a year if not two our of your life.
J: And the Bigfoot movie?
E: Exists is finished. It’s my first found footage feature since Blair Witch. I’ve wanted to make a Bigfoot movie since I was a little kid. It’s literally the third Bigfoot story I’ve been involved with. But we finally got this one done. I’m really proud of it. We shot it near Austin, Texas. The creature was designed by Weta and built by Mike Elizalde and the guys at Spectral Motion who have done tons of stuff and were nominated for an Oscar for Hellboy 2. They’ve done all the effects for my films after Blair Witch. The creature looks amazing. It’s played by Brian Steele who’s the dude in the creature suit. The creature came out so much better than I thought it was going to come out. For me it’s always been about Bigfoot being real, something that lives in the woods. Bigfoot is not CG. That was kind of the big thing. Can we pull this off with a guy in a suit and make it look cool and make it look threatening and make it look scary? I think we did it. The audiences that have seen it so far, especially the young audiences, are reacting really enthusiastically to it because they’ve never seen Bigfoot like this. I always thought of Bigfoot as being a scary monster but after Harry and the Hendersons he became a punch line. Even though I like Harry and the Hendersons and I love the beef jerky ads, I always thought Bigfoot deserved to be scary again. So hopefully I did it and hopefully people will be seeing it, maybe later this year or early next year. I’m really proud of it and we hope to get it out as wide as possible and see what happens. Then we have other Bigfoot stories we’d like to tell so we’ll see how that develops. I would love nothing more than to spend the next three or four years making two or three more Bigfoot movies.
J: There’s definitely an audience for it. People our age grew up fearing the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot and unless you’re in Scotland you don’t have to worry too much about the Loch Ness Monster. But anywhere there are woods…
E: Anywhere there are woods, there are reports of Bigfoot. It was really important for me to be respectful of the real Bigfoot enthusiasts who respect it like a religion, and I understand that. They have a particular dislike of Harry and the Hendersons because it made Bigfoot a joke. So my whole thing, coming from that generation, is that you have to be respectful to them. I think Bigfoot enthusiasts from all over the world are going to love this movie, or at least they’re going to love the creature. It’s not just a monster; it’s Bigfoot. He has human characteristics and Brian does an amazing job showing that human side of the creature. We go in close and you get the money shot at the end of the movie; you see the creature. There’s this human element to it that I haven’t seen in a long time without CG. I think it’s going to be popular in those circles and I can’t wait to show people.