In about a week or so I’m going to be doing some major traveling, and I have to say I’m a tad nervous as to what I’ll have to deal with when traveling overseas. It’s been a while, and the last time I flew across the ocean, the world was a very different place. So the concept behind Turistas is hitting even closer to home than usual, and of course it’s now that I choose to sit down and transcribe my chat with the film’s writer, Michael Ross.
Ross got his start as an editor, cutting films like Wrong Turn and Tim Sullivan’s 2001 Maniacs, and it was his exposure to all that talent that convinced him to try his hand at a script himself. ”I was pondering what was really scary and wanted to write something that would tap into popular imagination,” he explained to me in a recent exclusive chat. ”The idea that there are some places you can go in the world where being an American can be a dangerous thing for some people had a lot of potential to me for a horror film.”
As you may know, Turistas is the story of a group of backpackers who run into some very nasty locals during their trip to the wilds of Brazil. Though there are other places the film could have taken place, Brazil seemed the most appealing to Ross. ”Originally it took place in Guatemala, but when I thought about Brazil, it just seemed to enrich it a bit more,” he explained. ”There’s not a lot that comes to mind when people picture Guatemala, whereas Brazil is a very exotic, tempting location for people. So I thought putting it Brazil could really help the movie.”
For most screenwriters in Hollywood, seeing that first script made into a film can take years to finally happen, but such was not the case for Ross. ”It all happened ridiculously fast, actually; I think it was less than a year from when I sent out the first draft to when we went into production.” 2929 Productions, which is also behind another Christmas release, Black Christmas, fronted the money to make the film happen, and the final product was eventually picked by Fox Atomic, marking the studio offshoot’s first acquisition.
”I felt we got really lucky with Fox Atomic because they had so many good ideas as to how to market it and really get it out there,” Ross enthused. ”I feel like so many people on the studio side have only a passing interest in horror because it’s doing well, and there’s a big misunderstanding as to what actually makes a terrifying movie, but Fox Atomic seems like they get it; they know what works.”
So what does make a scary movie for Ross? ”There’s not really a model for what makes something scary. I think it’s just how involving it is for the viewer. Just because there’s a ghost and creepy images doesn’t meant it’s going to be scary. There are so many elements labeled as being responsible for all the good scary movies instead of actual quality filmmaking.” Ross insists that Turistas works not just because it treats its audience with respect but also because they’ve kept it very real.
”[Director] John [Stockwell] brought a lot to it; he had a firm commitment to keep it very raw and real, and he was able to bring that to every aspect of the film — from the angles to the locations he picked. It’s basically an adrenaline movie, but because John was so good with the actors, letting them get to a particular place so they could really be in the moment, you end up really caring for them. He set it up so you get into the heads of these characters and identify with them, and that’s what always makes for a memorable horror film.”
Also unlike most writers, Ross wasn’t excluded from the making of the movie as soon as he turned in the script. ”I was on-set for about 8 weeks during the shoot. It was amazing, but it was a working vacation too. It wasn’t all just having a good time; there was a lot of work to be done,” he told me. ”It was good I was there, too, because once we had a location and we were on-set, we were able to change things around in the script to work with what we found. I think John’s flexibility for that sort of thing really made the film a lot richer. So many directors are just focused on the production and getting the job done, but he really knew what was going to come across on camera, too.”
Though I wish I could give you guys the exclusive scoop on just what does befall the young backpackers, the specifics are being kept under wraps, and likely for good reason. We’ll all be able to find out come December 1st when Fox Atomic releases it in theaters. Until then be sure to keep an eye on Dread Central and Fox Atomic’s official site for more goodies on Turistas!
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