First time writer/director GONZALO LOPEZ recently premiered his low budget debut, the Spanish flick EMBRION at the Sitges Film Festival. I saw and enjoyed the flick (read my review here) for what it was, a low key, experimental and straight from one's dead beat heart affair. I recently had a sit down with Mr. Lopez about all that is EMBRION and here's what he spat back at me.
Director Lopez happy about EMBRION's Sitges premiere!
This is your first feature film; who would you say have been your more important influences as a filmmaker?
I’m very interested in visual storytelling so my main influences as film director are mainly from directors that have a strong visual style. I would say that the filmmakers that have influenced me the most are Brian De Palma, Dario Argento, Sergio Leone, Max Ophuls, Michael Mann, Bernardo Bertolucci, Jean Luc Godard and Gaspar Noé.
During the filming of Embrion I was very happy that although I have influences from those masters I have developed a style of my own. So during the shooting I was like “shit, it’s not like an Argento movie but like a Gonzalo movie, Good!”. As a producer I thought a lot about Roger Corman’s films and Lynch’s Inland Empire since I made the film with a very low budget. On a human side my friends and day by day life are the things that have influenced me the most. On an intellectual level Roberto Rossellini, John Milius and James Ellroy are my main influences.
Embrion is a remake of Kôji Wakamatsu 1966 The Embryo Hunts in Secret. How much of the original screenplay did you change to make it your own?
A lot. The first version of the script was very close to the original except for the ending and a few things. When I had 9 pages written I stopped to read it and I realized that it was a piece of crap, so I started again from page one and I only used the new ending that it’s now at the beginning of the film!. In the original film, the guy is not a virgin and is the boss of the girl. There are only two characters in the whole film and they never left the room. The ending is totally different form the original one. Many people have told me that it wouldn’t have been necessary to ask for permission since the movie is so different from the original but I think that is the fairest thing to do on my side since I owe a lot to Mr. Wakamatsu.
Sergio Bernal and Mariona Tenal in a scene from EMBRION
What was it about the original film that moved you so much for you to want to do your own take on it?
First it was the admiration and envy that I felt for Mr. Wakamatsu as a director and as a person. He had no money so he shoot a film in his house with only two actors and a minimum story plot. And he achieved to make the film interesting only with his direction. So after having so many difficulties to make a conventional film I remembered the original film, its courage and its simplicity and I thought “can I do the same thing? Am I capable as a filmmaker to do a film of this kind?” since the story was so simple it was open to a lot of variations and at first I thought about a horror film but it always ended as Wyler’s “The collector” and this one is already a great film. So I put together my second interests after pure horror that is sex and politics and I enveloped them in a drama / thriller structure and defy and forced myself to make a film. It was already the time.
How would you describe the auditioning process for your two leads? Smooth or arduous?
I would say that it was very easy. I auditioned 150 persons for the two main roles. From these 150 persons I choose 5 women and 5 men for a second casting. With Mariona it was clear, I would like that everybody could see her first audition, she was so intense and full of energy that it was a clear choice. With Sergio it was interesting; I liked him from day one but he was very calm and subtle not like Mariona that showed her feelings at your face, so I asked a few of my closest friends and collaborators, they all told me that he was great but maybe it was too young and that he had lack of experience on features. My brain told me, they’re right but my heart said there’s something about him, this guy has something so I followed my heart and I was totally right. Carlos is not a role to be played with lots of energy so Sergio was making the audition the way Carlos should be played. Finally it has been one the best working collaborations of my whole life.
Jenny (Tenal) has seen better days...
Once on set, what would you say was the most challenging of obstacles you’ve encountered during shooting?
The main problem was that we shoot on location and a great deal of the film is shoot in long takes without cuts where we show all the flat of Carlos. So we can not move the walls and the steadicam operator had to pass between the actors followed by the boom operator and that was hell. On the funny side a neighbor wanted to call the police since he thought that we were filming a porn movie, now I remember it with a smile but all of this plus other things made of me a very tense filmmaker!
Now the film has some pretty overt sexual scenes in it with graphic nudity. What did you do to get your actors comfortable? Was Tequila involved?
No but it was suggested by me, not Tequila but JD (any excuse is a good excuse). We shoot the sex scenes the next to last day of shooting since I wanted the actors to knew each other, there were only 4 people on the bedroom, the two actors, the DP and myself. We were like a small family doing our little sex movie, yeah, I know that it’s not the usual thing between families but we were very confident with each other and the actors could release the tension of all the shooting or at least to release the tension of their characters faking it. I talked with them after it and they told me that of course those scenes are very intimate but they approached them from an acting point of view. In Mariona’s words “I wanted to kill and kiss Sergio / Carlos at the same time”.
Now Embrion was a low budget film, if you would’ve had more money what would you have done differently?
I would have paid to people, specially actors; this is the first thing of course. The whole post production would have been made in another way, it was the worst part of the whole production I can assure you that. I would have improved the special effects and some other things. I have blow up the film to 35 mm. And there is only one scene that I have shoot differently because it was conceived to be made with a dolly not with a steadicam. The rest would have been the same even shooting in HD; I love film but I felt more comfortable with Digital video and I think that our generation is the one that is going to make the transition from film to video happen.
Me chilling with The Gonz!
The film recently premiered at the Sitges Film festival, how did you feel about the screenings? Were you happy with the overall reaction?
Both screenings were great specially the second one. Neither of them were on a weekend nor the best of hours but I can not complain and I always will be very grateful to the managers of the festival to have trusted in the film. And the more important thing is the audience liked the film some of them didn’t like it but lucky me they were the exception. And of course I’m very conscious that is not a film for everyone. Well as a matter of fact does a film for everybody exist? So yes, I’m very happy with the reaction. The people that the movie was intended for loved the film and that is the best prize for me.
Where is the film distribution wise? Any idea as to when the world will be able to see it?
Not yet. A couple of distributors from the States have showed interest in it, another one from Canada also and another one from Germany. So I think that the film will be showed in theaters only in Spain. If things go well in the Festival circuit maybe next year. Maybe it can also be screened in France. And for the rest of the world, a DVD release will make me a happy man.
What’s next for you, any other projects lined up?
A lot, next thing is going to be a horror film for sure. If I can find a producer maybe I will do a more mainstream production. If not I have started to write a horror film that will deal with some sexual themes and I can guarantee you that the killer will be cool as hell and there will be at least 5 “ritual” murders.
What was the first drink you dark at the Embrion warp party?
Honestly, first drink was just a beer.
Thanks for dropping by the site Gonzalo!
My pleasure, thank you for taking the time!