Many years ago a short film that was made that was so shocking and over the top, some who saw it were stricken with nightmares for years. Others insisted, because of the quality of the prints available, that it must be real. That film was Nacho Cerda’s “Aftermath”, a study on the treatment of the human body after death at the hands of a very vile man.
Since then Cerda has created the magnificent follow-up, “Genesis” (these two and an earlier are now available on DVD via Unearthed Films), and finally North American audiences will see what he can do with a little more money and a big screenplay when The Abandoned comes out this weekend as part of the After Dark Horrorfest.
I got to chat with Nacho via e-mail recently to discuss his feature length debut and why it’s taken so long for us to finally be able to get a chance to see it. Hope you enjoy the results and be sure to get out there to support the Fest this weekend!
Johnny Butane: Explain where how the idea for The Abandoned came to be…
Nacho Cerda: It all originated on a script that Karim Hussain wrote back in 99 called The Bleeding Compass. Being friends for quite some time, he asked me to read it for feedback because back then he was set to direct it. The script attracted the attention of some people but it eventually fell through and it was shelved for years. In 2003, I was working on a film project called Oblivion that it was set to go at Filmax but unfortunately the budget was running a bit too high and had to be postponed.
That’s when Filmax asked me if I had something else in the back burner and I thought about getting Karim’s script back to life. I had really loved it and found some similarities to my own work, which made sense for me to approach it as director. That excited Karim a lot who was involved with another film at that time so he agreed to sell the property with me attached. The sort of Tarkovsky approach to a horror film was something I though it was very original and it had never been done before. That, along with the doppelganger theme, which is obviously one about identity, were the two elements that convinced me.
JB: Had you wanted to work with Karim for a while?
NC: Yes, ever since we met in Fantasia in 97 we wanted to develop something together. In fact, we co-wrote Oblivion and a documentary called Coffin of Light, which is now in postproduction. We both share similar taste for film and writing together was an exciting ride. And I must say that him being a filmmaker himself always respected my ground when it came to directing, which is something to be said about Richard Stanley too.
JB: Were there any other films you had planned for your feature length debut before this came along?
:NC: Oblivion was the main one. With Karim we worked on that one for three years before I even got into the Filmax deal. It was a very dark futuristic western that also dealt with identity. There were a couple of book adaptations up the air that will someday see the light of day … I hope.
JB: How did Richard Stanley get involved?
NC: As we were approaching preproduction in 2005, the company called for some script polishing which was difficult to fit within our schedules. Karim was then involved in his latest film la Belle Bette and I was hands on set design and casting. We then thought about Richard (being a friend of ours) as the only one who could understand our line of work. So I called him and he came down to Spain where we locked ourselves up in a Barcelona hotel for three weeks turning pages like madmen. Once we finished, I moved to Sofia in Bulgaria to continue prep.
JB: Cinematographer Xavi Gimenez has shot some of the most beautifully dark films in recent memory including The Machinst and Fragile, and I’m sure The Abandoned is no exception. Do you plan on working with him on all you future projects?
NC: He is an absolutely genius and a very dear friend of mine. We met in 95 when he was involved with the short film arena as everyone else was. Back then I was producing a lot and hired him to shoot Dr. Curry and countless commercials. In 98, I offered him to do “Genesis”, which was our first true collaboration together. We understood each other on every level and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding filmmaking experiences of my life.
He likes taking risks, which is something I always try to do in my own work. It’s like being with your twin brother; we just look at each other to know what we want. No words, like my shorts … If time and schedule permit we are definitely going to keep doing movies together.
JB: How did the casting process go?
NC: As most of the films I know, it was quite intense because Filmax wanted a name actor and I insisted on an unknown so we could bring more humanity to the character. There were some executive negotiations with actresses like Nastassia Kinski and Holy Hunter, but they finally went with my choice of Anastasia (Riife) in England, who I picked up after a casting session we had done there.
She’s a very established stage actress and had made some films before, but The Abandoned meant a first starring role for her. I’m extremely happy with her intense and down to the heart performance, absolutely brilliant. I still get mesmerized looking at her on the screen. She’s got an amazing range of emotions that come across by just looking at her eyes. Since my filmmaking style is pretty much wordless, she fitted right in. Karel was my first choice to play Nikolai and I was very lucky that he agreed. I had seen him in “15 minutes” and he blew me away.
NC: That’s a very good question. I believe that a character calls for a specific kind of actor. I don’t believe in this idea that every one can do any role; that’s simply not true. So my first approach is usually from a physical standpoint, I mean, I try to fit my physical idea of the character into the actual candidate. Then, at the casting readings, it’s almost immediate to realize if that someone will carry the role successfully. It’s just a gut feeling. I believe that Milos Forman once said that 90% of directing actors successfully depends on the casting process. So for me, that is a very intense one in order to find the right choice. On set, there’s virtually no time to direct actors as much as to redefine the performance. And yes, there’s also a very important issue when it comes to the personal chemistry between them and you, other ways, your life during production could be miserable, let me tell you.
JB: Discuss the numerous title changes over the years.
NC: I really could not find one that would fit the story in the right way. When I wrote “Aftermath”, the title came to me a while later; same thing happened with “Genesis”. It is only when I find the themes within the movie that the title just clicks. The Abandoned refers to the main characters, of course, but it also means the loneliness that you must face to move on in life, which is something that Marie is unable to do. That will be the start point of her emotional destruction. I always try to find titles that define both the action and the overall theme.
JB: Did the delay in release allow you any time for re-shoots, to pick up what you missed the first time?
NC: Actually, we did only one day of re-shoots as per the norm in any low budget movie. Once you assemble the cut, sometimes a scene needs an edge that can only be delivered by a specific shot you don’t have. That was the case of my shorts as well.
JB: So how did you get involved with the After Dark Horrorfest?
NC: Well, once I locked picture and finished the mix, we showed the film to Colin Geddes who’s a programmer in the Midnight Madness at the Toronto Film Festival. The film was selected (God save Colin!!!!) and after that successful world premiere, an American distributor approached Filmax wanting to buy the rights for the American release. He had just closed a deal with Lionsgate and they both were putting together the After Dark event. There are things you just can’t predict, certainly not in the film business and this one just blew me away. I am very happy that the film will now be seen on the big screen as it was always meant to be.
JB: Does it still seem strange to you that your feature length debut will be released on hundreds of screens here in the states?
NC: Yes, absolutely. This is a dream come true. When you make a movie, you try to reach to as many people as possible. Film is a means of communication, a social event, and for me, it only makes sense if the audience participates. It still amazes me of how many interpretations your own movie can arise from every single individual. It is the most enriching experiences of this job.
NC: Have no idea about the US DVD release. Right now, the movie will open theatrically across America on January 12th, so the ball will start rolling by then. Regarding Spain, it is quite interesting that our release will be on March 2nd, making it the second Spanish film ever to open before its country of production since The Others. France, England and Italy will follow but I have no exact dates yet.
JB: What do you have planned for next?
NC: Hard to say. There are a couple of book adaptations I’d like to do. One of them is actually a very obscure thriller but it will ultimately depend on availability of rights. There are some scripts coming my way from the States as well. In any case, whatever I do, it’s going to be another emotional trip for the audience and me. Film is my passion and that feeling is a must when it comes to choose any story.
JB: And finally, Nacho Cerda … what scares you?
NC: This interview!!!! Well, reflecting on your own work is sometimes not so healthy (laughs). I would never want to loose the spontaneity when making films, your instinct is the most valuable good in this job and I’d like to keep it alive to the very last day.
Thanks go out to the After Dark promotions team for making the interview happen, and of course to Nacho himself for taking the time to get it done on such short notice! The Abandoned is set to play Saturday night in most markets, so be sure not to miss it! Click here for all the info you could need on Horrorfest!