Fede Alvarez came out of nowhere. No, really though, he just showed up in town a few years ago and here he is grossing nearly $50 million with his first studio production, Evil Dead.
Plucked from seeming obscurity by the producers at Ghost House Pictures, Fede was lucky enough to get noticed by an animated short he created in 2009, called Panic Attack. The short went viral on YouTube. A few weeks later Fede’s phone rang. Ghost House was on the line. The next day he was flying to Hollywood to discuss a contract for his first feature.
People can point a frustrated finger at Fede’s fairytale rise to fame. But for Fede, his journey did not begin with Panic Attack as his first project. Fede had been making films his whole life. More importantly, before he was taken on by a studio, Fede was making films simply because he wanted to; a career in Hollywood was never the end goal.
Fede was no more than your average film nerd growing up. In his hometown of Montevideo, Uruguay, he passed the time by watching movies, discussing movies, and once he got his hands on a camera, making movies. It was the most fun that he could have with his days off, and the result: some surprisingly quality cinema. Just look to his first short, available on YouTube, with subtitles. It’s a comedy called El Cojonudo, and for a bored Uruguayan kid with a few friends and a camera, the movie is pretty impressive.
Fede’s perspective is interesting because he is at the beginning of a long, exciting road. He is overflowing with inspiration and theories on the craft. He’s the perfect example of rising director that is just coming in to his own. He has wide eyes, big ideas, and passionate ideals. For him, this is so much more than a paycheck. This is what Fede loves to do, and with a little boost of credibility from YouTube, he’s doing it full time now. In an exclusive interview with Dread Central, Fede Alvarez spills his guts about his first big project, and the strategy that it takes to make a good film that’s both entrancing, and more importantly, horrifying.
Dread Central: So here you are stepping up to your first big budget film, and it happens to be something in the Horror genre. When you were making films back home, for fun, in your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine that you would make it out here? And even then, did you think your first project would be a horror project?
Fede Alvarez: I never had the goal to work in this industry because it was something so surreal. Being all the way from Uruguay, I never thought it would happen. My only goal was to make a movie, one day I had to make a movie. I love genre, I love sci fi, I love horror, I love action movies. I’m a kid from the 80s so whatever was great in the 80s really defined my life. I grew up watching older horror movies. I don’t find it as a surprise, my friends, everybody that knows me, they don’t find it as a surprise, they know I love this stuff.
DC: How did you prepare for Evil Dead knowing that you were going to have to make something that would scare people?
FA: Well, I watched a lot of Horror movies. We started with a blank page and all we had was the original film. But we knew that wasn’t going to be enough. I promised Sam was that we were going to try and write the scariest movie ever. So when you set that bar, the first thing you have to do is book a lot of research… We did our homework. We watched a lot of movies and read a lot of theory on horror movies.
DC: How do you go about creating an image on screen that is both visually and audibly disturbing?
FA: For a director, usually what you are doing is ripping off everything that you saw before, right? Some people will put it in a fancier way than I, but what we always do is we just rip off everything we’ve seen in the past that we love and we re-create it.
I was always kind of embarrassed to say that, but I think it’s the truth. The movies is a mix of all ideas from all this stuff that we’ve seen in the past, all mixed together and that creates an original and new and fresh thing usually. Even though it’s a mix of a lot of things it’s always going to turn out to be something fresh because every creative process is like that. You combine things from the past into something new.
One of my favorite moments in Evil Dead is when Natalie is just beating the hell out of David with a crowbar on the floor, and I don’t remember where I’d seen that, I know that I had seen that somewhere, I still don’t remember till this day… I think I saw it in some Korean film, I don’t remember. But that’s how I do it. I just naturally quote stuff that I remember from other movies.
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DC: How do you structure your ideas when you’re faced with a blank page? Where do you start when you’re writing a movie?
FA: I wrote this first Evil Dead movie with Rodo Sayagues, we’ve been friends since we were 12. And we’re movie buffs, we watched so many movies growing up. When we were teenagers we watched movies all the time.
I’m part of a big group of friends where we used to not go out at night on Friday nights, when everyone was going out and meeting girls. We would just rent three, four movies and have discussions. So that’s where I’m coming from. We were movie geeks, like big time. We’re always discussing movies; we’re always discussing stories. Every time we watch a movie, we talk and talk about it, and we can go on for hours.
So every new movie will start just the same way, it’s just Rodo and I discussing [things like] ‘ok what will be the scariest thing we can do with five friends in a cabin.’ The first thing we do is just spot everything we hate about these movies and get rid of those things. So basically we start with the things that we don’t like, because we want to make sure that we don’t include any of those.
DC: What practical elements do you keep in mind when you’re writing a script? Do you think about camera angles, budget, or any other logistics at all?
FA: When we’re writing? None. We wrote Evil Dead being almost 100% sure that we were never going to do it. For some reason that made us write from the best possible place, which is just for the sake of writing the best movie you could. We were completely detached from the movie-making itself. We’re just thinking about the magic story. What’s going to happen to these five characters that we just created? Where are they going to go? What is going to be the scariest story to witness in that setting? …We wrote it just as a script and not as a movie; we wrote it as a story. And I think that helped us a lot.
DC: Even though you have a great deal of experience with digital effects, as I understand it, all of the effects in Evil Dead were practical. How do you go about deciding whether an effect should be created digitally or practically?
FA: CGI works when you are creating something that doesn’t already exist in real life. If I show you a CG dog it f-ing sucks because you know how a dog looks for real, it doesn’t look like that, so it sucks usually. But if you create a blue tall alien, like in Avatar, I cannot complain about it because I don’t know how that guy looks in real life.
DC: What are some of the more practical things that you have learned working on your first big budget picture?
FA: This is the biggest challenge for everybody, is making your first film. You’re on set, it’s your first film, and probably everybody on that set made more films than you did, that’s a fact. The script supervisor made 10 films, your DP made 15 films, even the guy from the art department, even the PA has been involved in more films that you have because it’s your first film. When you’re a first time filmmaker, and you’re on a set, where you’re the boss but everyone has made more films than you, it’s a very, very tricky thing because what you have to strike there is a balance between how much do I listen to everybody and how much do I say ‘no this is the way we have to do it.’
You have to trust your voice a lot. You have to be convinced that about the way you want to do things. There is a reason why you are a director and you have to believe in that and believe in yourself and go for it. Otherwise you will crumble pretty fast.
Read our Evil Dead review here!
A core cast of young, fresh talent includes Jane Levy (“Suburgatory”) as Mia; Shiloh Fernandez (Deadgirl, Red Riding Hood) as David; Lou Taylor Pucci (Carriers) as Eric; Jessica Lucas (Cloverfield) as Olivia; and Elizabeth Blackmore (Legend of the Seeker) as Natalie.
In the much anticipated remake of the 1981 cult-hit horror film, five twenty-something friends become holed up in a remote cabin. When they discover a Book of the Dead, they unwittingly summon up dormant demons living in the nearby woods, which possess the youngsters in succession until only one is left intact to fight for survival.
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