Fantasia 2018: Tilman Singer and Dario Mendez Acosta Reveal the Production of LUZ
LUZ rocked at Fantasia Film Festival as a sensory-teasing horror film. Check out the interview below to see what influenced director Tilman Singer and producer/production designer Dario Mendez Acosta.
“A rainy night. A dazed and numb young cabdriver, Luz, drags herself into the brightly lit entrance of a rundown police station. Across town in a nightspot, Nora seductively engages police psychiatrist Dr. Rossini in a conversation. Nora is possessed by a demonic entity, longing for the woman it loves – Luz. She tells the Doctor about her old schoolmate Luz’s rebellious past at a Chilean school for girls. Increasingly drunk on her story, Rossini turns into an easy prey in Nora’s hands, but he’s soon called away to the police station to examine Luz. Supervised by his colleagues, the doctor puts Luz in a state of hypnosis that initiates a series of flashbacks, unfolding the events leading to her arrival. But the entity that has taken control of the doctor wants something more. Bit by bit it slips into Luz’ reenactment and makes old memories come to light.”
Dread Central: Thank you so much for coming.
Tillman Singer: Thank you for having us.
DC: I’m pretty sure that you already know that your movie Luz rocks! To be honest, I tried to pinpoint what your favorite movies were, like what other films influenced you to make this one. But Luz is so unique that I couldn’t pinpoint much. So… what are your favorite films?
TS: I think I have to create a definition of a favorite movie because I cannot pin it down. If you ask for very important movies in my life that came at a certain point… I would say… (thinking) One of the most important ones is Jurassic Park for me. When I was a child, that was very important for me. I watched it over and over again because of the wonder in it. Then it dawned on me over the years that this is actually very, very good filmmaking. But if you’re looking at Luz stylistically, a lot of what was in the movie came naturally by writing a supernatural story or finding a supernatural story. One of my favorite movies and one of the biggest inspirations for this, even though it was probably subconsciously, is The Thing by John Carpenter. Those I think are my favorite movies.
DC: Great choices. Your turn, Dario.
Dario Mendez Acosta: So, I think a lot influences I got as a child… movies I watched as a child were really important. It’s like a weird mixture. Everything I got I just re-watched it and re-watched it. I think nowadays it is really punctuated. Its just like maybe smaller parts of a movie where I think, “This is just a lovely solution.” I can’t take a movie as a whole anymore because I’m just too much into the subject now that…
TS: Then let it out. What’s your favorite movie? (laughs)
DA: (laughs) My favorite movie. I can’t say. It’s like what’s your favorite food. It depends. You don’t want to listen to one song. Maybe at the end of the interview, it will pop up.
DC: I know that can be a hard question.
TS: I think it gets much more easier if you ask what’s your favorite horror film. Then I would say The Thing, without a doubt. That’s my favorite horror film. I think that’s the best horror film. That’s why I was giving a definition of like films that really move me at a certain time. What’s your favorite horror film, Dario?
DA: My favorite horror film? I’m thinking right now. It popped up. The Babadook. The Thing is also really good, but The Babadook just moved me… like a lot. I was really fooled, and I was biting the whole fist of a friend of ours that’s now the wife of Tilman. I had her hand in my hand at first and then I started to just bite it because I was under so much pressure. But it was really relieving at the end. I didn’t go out of the movie with fear. This was something that was completely new and beautiful. It was like coming out directly… you know… the stuff in the eye. I actually don’t like those but I was just so thrilled and I like this idea of the pain of the mother.
TS: It’s a super interesting topic because there’s a lot of anxiety in getting children. I wouldn’t know, but I think it was a very interesting portrayal of it.
DC: Which part in that movie did you find the creepiest?
DA: The creepiest? This is a good question. There is one with a car ride where he’s just starting to scream. But it’s daylight, and it’s in a car. To make this really intense is just like… I’m getting…. WOOFF! It’s starting again.
DC: Well, you guys seem to have a really good connection. How did you start working together?
TS: We went to the same art school. We met at the beginning of our studies. We became friends. He was doing sculptural art… still is. And I was doing animation and all kinds of video stuff. Then, I got into serious filmmaking. For my first project I asked him if he wanted to do the production design and art direction for it.
DA: Well, I actually did that for the one before. It wasn’t a project. It was from one course.
TS: Which one?
DA: For the credits from the western.
TS: (laughs) That was actually a seminar on film. We could do whatever we want. And yeah, he did the credit design for a super short piece. But that was when we started working together. Yeah. We became friends over it.
DC: I did check out your Vimeo and website, so I noticed that you guys would often work together. I checked out the music video Woman Fever, and randomly saw Vending Machine. That was pretty cool.
TS: Yeah. That was a tiny installation we had. Also, the vending machine is in Luz – at the beginning. (laughs)
DC: Yes! I noticed. I recognized it.
TS: We bought it for 500 euros, then we sold it recently.
DC: Ah, I would’ve loved to have that. Okay. Let me get back on track. Luz. For those who haven’t seen it, how would you describe it?
TS: There’s a young woman that’s been followed by a demonic entity that is thinking it is in love with that woman. But the expression of that love is like the most toxic thing ever. It wants to possess that woman. If it manages to or not is a little ambiguous, but I think that’s just it. It’s one night. It follows her into a police station and tries to get into her.
DC: I really loved that the movie wasn’t blatantly in your face. There were things you didn’t tell us.
TS: I think ambiguity or not knowing makes a part very convoluted. I hope you get a sense of… okay… the movie kind of takes my hand and leads me through the whole story. I’m getting confused along the way, but I’m recognizing certain patterns. I mean, she speaks so much about Luz at the beginning. The whole set up for us is just like, “What’s the deal with her? Is she flirting with him?” Also, basically the whole thing happens three times. You hear about it in the beginning, then you see it. It’s the opposite of an exorcism… a demon going into somebody. The flashback of being told at the beginning, in the toilet scene, and then again in the police station. It’s very hard to really understand everything in the backstory all at once. You kind of get a sense of her. Eventually, somehow it’s all connected. Somehow it all makes sense. In the end, I wanted to create a mood where the audience itself gets hypnotized a little bit.
DC: I definitely felt that way.
DA: And a big part of it is disorienting to the audience.
DC: Absolutely. I wanted to talk about the production design. I’m loving the late 90s feel. Also, I feel that there were layers and history to the design. Did you know you wanted that vibe?
DA: There was this information from Tilman on the first page. It stated that the story is in a German-speaking country.
TS: It was important that it wasn’t Germany for us. I wanted to make that clear.
DA: It’s like somewhere in the 90s. I thought, “It’s fine.” I’ll take it as an idea of it. I didn’t see a point in making it super concrete. I think there was no point in it because I think there are a lot of things where you are like, “Oh. I think I remember this. I think I know this from somewhere. Maybe I was there, or maybe I saw it in another movie.” So, I kind of wanted to play way more with that than like saying, “This is this bar in this country.” Like making it super precise.
TS: Also, I think it was very interesting what you said earlier. He layered times, so the architecture is like the oldest. Then the interior or the props in it are a little newer. Then the clothes they wear are a little newer. And the technology they use is like from this era. So you always get a look of what has been before that. It creates a sense of historic surroundings, which is nice.
DA: Yeah. I think also what it brings to life is what is realistic. If I would have made something from the 90s and take a 90s building and put like people in there with 90s clothes and 90s furniture, this always looks fake. Even if, I don’t know, you try to make it used.
TS: I mean, you studied production design as a thesis of Blade Runner.
DA: Yeah. Well, the guy wasn’t the production designer but he was a big deal for them.
TS: He designed everything and then…
DA: We designed it.
TS: Then we designed everything and it feels like Blade Runner because objects have been used for many decades. We thought that this was a very cool approach. Trying to make something realistic unrealistic.
DC: You guys definitely achieved that authentic look. I’ve realized that’s not easy to do.
TS: Yeah. Sometimes the realistic choice looks the most unrealistic in film. If you just go to an office and take in the office space… okay, everything is there. But if you don’t have a sense of the history of the place, to me, I get distracted if I just see the now.
DC: How long did it take to complete this project?
TS: I think I wrote it for maybe 5 months… not sketching out ideas… but sitting down and writing it. Yeah, took about 4 or 5 months. I don’t know how long pre-production was, but we had 18 shooting days. We worked really fast actually. We were really prepared before we went into shooting. We just got through our schedule from day to day. It’s hard to say, but I edited for quite a long time because I’m a very slow editor. Then, it was laying on the hard drive for a long time because there is so much sound design in it. We have great sound designers. Nobody got paid for this so they had to take off work. Of course, they needed a deadline in order to say, “Okay, we’re going to take 2 weeks to 3 weeks off to just work on this.” And then the film company invited us half a year later with a rough sound mix. The sound designers were like, “That’s a good deadline. Let’s do it now.” We actually finished it one day before we sent it off. Sound mixing… those guys were in the studio doing the credit roll, while I was in the studio with the final mix. We mixed it. Next day, DCP… and off.
DC: This is such a great film and I know that I should talk solely about this film. But since I love it so much and you masterfully toy with the audience’s senses, I need to ensure that I have something else to look forward to from you guys soon. What’s the next project for you guys?
TS: Well, he’s going to work on many more movies than I am because he’s the production designer. He’s working on one right now for a different director. I’m writing our next project because we are definitely going to work together for the next one. I’m in the very early stages before script writing, but what I can tell you is that it is definitely going to have those horror, supernatural elements. We’re going to have much more of a connection to the protagonist. We’ll have more of an emotional impact. And what you said about the sensory, we will involve confusion of sound and image. I would like to have a little bit more on an emotional level. I don’t know yet how that might look like, but I want to twist and turn how we feel about the characters, while maintaining that very audio and visual important approach to the sensory experience.
DC: Thank you guys so much. This made my day.
TS and DA: Thank you