As mentioned in an earlier news piece about [REC} 4, Dread Central has been on hand in Austin, Texas, for the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, and during our time we had the opportunity to chat with one of our favorite independent filmmakers working today: Paco Plaza.
In 2007 both he and fellow [REC] franchise co-creator Jaume Balagueró reinvigorated the found footage subgenre on a global level with the release of their low budget, high ambition first installment of the series, which followed a group of people trapped inside a building amidst a deadly viral outbreak that left them quarantined away from the outside world.
During our chat with Plaza, we spoke with the director about the latest entry in their franchise – [REC] 3: Genesis (review here) – as well as how the original film changed his and Balagueró’s lives, how important the fans are to the success of these films and more on the challenges and opportunities of leaving found footage filmmaking behind.
Check out the highlights from our exclusive interview with Plaza below, and look for more coverage coming soon from the SXSW Film Festival.
Dread Central: Since you decided to switch things up in terms of shooting style for Part Three, how important was it to you for Genesis to not make the same movie this time around?
Paco Plaza: Oh, very. It was always important to us to not make a film that fans had seen before with this one. As filmmakers, horror fans and fellow audience members, we wanted to do something new and unexpected and take this world to an entirely new level.
Only the first 15 minutes or so are found footage, and then we drop it and switch over to a more conventional, cinematic style of shooting. One thing that is very disturbing to me as a horror fan is that these days, when you go to a theater to see a movie, it’s very hard to be surprised anymore. You seldom find that anymore, and usually the expectations you have going in are met or sometimes they aren’t. We wanted to do the complete opposite of that and make a movie fans wouldn’t be expecting going into the theater.
DC: Were there certain films that influenced your style this time around?
Paco Plaza: The films that inspired me on this one- like Army of Darkness or Big Trouble in Little China- those were films that I remember seeing as a fan and went in not knowing what to expect, and they blew me away with their creativity and energy. It was like I ‘discovered’ them as I watched them and that’s really cool. And I’m so happy that the responses I’ve been getting so far have been just that- that people had no idea what this movie was going to be like and that I surprised them throughout.
DC: Considering horror fans can be fickle at times, were you at all nervous about changing the style for Genesis? Did it give you a lot more freedom as a storyteller?
Paco Plaza: You know, I think the way you shoot a film has to make sense. It has to be the best way to tell the story and portray these characters. For this occasion, as the film evolves into a horror love story with elements of comedy in there, the only way to tell this story was to go back and go the conventional shooting style way. In the most selfish way, I have spent five years now with handheld cameras, and I needed a tripod this time and wanted to be able to change the lenses (laughs). I didn’t want to do 20-minute takes anymore. I wanted this whole experience to be completely different for me and for fans.
That being said, even though this film is different, it still takes place within the universe of the first two so we also wanted to make sure we respected those earlier stories, too. When we were shooting the first one, we had no idea there was even going to be a sequel, let alone three more movies. And once we established this universe, we had to establish rules, and those rules still apply even with the third and fourth movies. We do not break those rules ever. Once you do, there’s no going back, and to fans it’s almost like a betrayal. We’ve never wanted to milk the success of the first one just for the sake of making more movies.
DC: What I’ve always appreciated about your approach to these stories is that character development, no matter how minor or major the character, has seemed to be incredibly important. Since you guys changed things up for Genesis, did you have to change up the way you developed your characters for this movie then?
Paco Plaza: We have always taken establishing our characters very seriously. In the first part of the movie, we wanted to make sure we took some time to make sure audiences would be able connect with our characters and enjoy watching them on their journey. Pretty much once we switch over to the cinematic approach, we’ve already established these characters and made you fall in love with them so you want to keep watching them until the very end.
I think the tricky thing with horror films is that everything hangs on the characters. If you don’t know the characters you are watching, you won’t feel for them when they’re in jeopardy or when they’re trying to survive. Characters have always been important to us.
DC: Since Part Three is tonally different than its predecessors, how hard was it to balance all the horror, comedy and romance elements?
Paco Plaza: Making movies is just like cooking- you have to balance out everything and make sure none of the ingredients ever overwhelms the others. You have to find that subtle balance. I think as a filmmaker that’s the most difficult thing to achieve really, and it was especially hard with such a risky film as this. It was tricky- you have to be able to stretch out everything, almost like a rubber band, but never too much or you might break it then.
DC: It has to be an amazing feeling to have made the initial [REC] with Jaume with a very small budget, and now here you are, two sequels later and prepping for a third.
Paco Plaza: We were so lucky with the first film- it changed my life so much, and it has been an incredible journey for both of us since [REC] came out. Both of us have had so many doors opened because of that first film that I almost still don’t believe it. It’s really touching when you get calls from Japan or other countries and hear about fans loving your movie- you begin to realize that good filmmaking translates in any language. At the end of the day you make films to communicate with an audience, and achieving that on a global scale is something unbelievable to me- even after five years now. In my eyes, I work for the fans so I don’t want to disappoint them.
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