Issa López burst onto the horror scene with the dark fantasy Tigers Are Not Afraid earlier this year, and genre legends like Stephen King and Guillermo Del Toro helped amplify López’s singular voice leading to a wide release of the film along with an exclusive premiere on AMC’s Shudder. A brutal Mexican drug war led by narco satanic thugs barrels into a little girl’s life after her mother is murdered, leading her and a group of downtrodden kids on a mission of hope fueled only by the power of imagination. The magical elements that are interwoven with real-life moments of terror make López’s film a unique blend of horror and social commentary. A special Blu-ray SteelBook is available May 5, featuring a revealing 43-minute behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film showcasing López’s incredible ability to work with child actors who all give explosive performances. The Blu-ray also includes a director’s commentary and a 63-minute interview with López and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro following the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival screening of the film.
Dread Central spoke to Issa López to talk about the upcoming DVD/Blu-ray release of Tigers Are Not Afraid and get some updates on her upcoming projects consisting of a werewolf western with Guillermo Del Toro and an adaptation of Matthew Baker’s short story Lost Souls. López also provided some insight on what it’s like to be a screenwriter in quarantine when you’ve had a breakout success and, now, your next film is in a sort of suspended animation.
Dread Central: I would guess you’re writing constantly during this time. Are you finding quarantine productive?
Issa Lopez: You have too, right? For me, it was very clear that if I was going to Mexico, in the end I would have to stay in my apartment. So I stayed in LA. I had already been enclosed writing for the last three months before this exploded, so my personal life didn’t change that much. I’ve had a self-imposed quarantine not related to coronavirus. That said, what is challenging about writing during this period is that you have no excuse to not write. It’s still a struggle to force myself to forget about what’s going on out there for a certain number of hours a day and concentrate on an imaginary world.
DC: You jumped from writing romantic comedies and directing comedy to writing and directing horror fantasy. Did you grow up loving the horror genre?
IL: Horror, sci-fi, comic books, good video games with good stories have always been an escape for me and, I think, for a lot of people. I had a complicated childhood, I lost my Mom when I was very young. Horror lovers and genre lovers many times are different kids and the more different we are, the more we go into genre and the more different we become. At the time it’s complicated but it turns out it can give you a perspective on the world where you can take the actual horrors of reality and turn them into a metaphor or a poem or a movie.
DC: And that’s what happens in Tigers Are Not Afraid. You have that random sense of horror. There’s that surprise of horrific moments in the movie that aren’t the typical jump scare that you grew up watching or reading. Was it challenging to write abrupt, sudden scenes of horror that are more true to life in Mexico instead of sticking to a formula for a typical screenplay?
IL: Because I had been in love with the genre for so long, it was a fun challenge and it became very natural because I’ve been feeding myself with this my entire life and it’s sort of what I’m made of. To create a really scary scene, I need to play atmosphere music and get myself into a scared place myself so I can put it to the page. So then, you get to the set and what feels scary on the paper might feel incredibly stupid in the 3D real world and you have to try something different. It has to be there visually or it will never happen and that’s a completely different animal.
DC: Speaking of the visuals and animals, the tiger in the film and Estrella, the main little girl, are very much connected. Can you talk about how the tiger came to be in the film and how having that particular exotic animal changed the film and the title? I think originally, you were looking for a zebra.
IL: Even before writing the script, when I conceived of the idea I started making a collection of visual references. When I understood that Tigers was going to take place in a ghost town, but a magical one, I started to collect images of gorgeous backgrounds that were ghost towns. I found this incredible image of this gorgeous deer standing in the middle of rubble in an abandoned building. It made me remember movies like 12 Monkeys which I absolutely loved and the wild animals roaming in an abandoned street. You know drug lords keep exotic animals as pets and now everyone’s kind of aware of that as they’re watching Tiger King which I could only bear to watch an episode or so. When they fall, what happens with those animals? So, it was very easy to create the mythology of wild animals roaming the empty streets of a Mexican town. My first image was a zebra, I had never seen a zebra doing that. We have amazing animal handlers and they have a range of animals but they couldn’t find a zebra. They came back to me and said we didn’t find a zebra but we found a hippo. I had this moment of seeing Shine finishing the graffiti on the wall and turning around and seeing a hippo? That would have killed the moment!
DC: Wouldn’t have had the same impact. You were talking about how much you’ve been writing for a few months. I know there’s the under wraps project with you and Del Toro. Are there any updates on that?
IL: At this point, I delivered the second draft which I was doing for months prior to the lockdown. It was a tough second draft. For me, personally, writing is easier than re-writing. So I delivered the second draft and sent it his way. Guillermo, of course, got his own shooting stopped by COVID-19. It was one of the first productions to stop, the big ones. He’s dealing with his own things around this but we’re very much on and it’s going ahead, supposedly. No production right now has a certainty of when are we going to see the set…but that’s going well. I also delivered the second draft for Noah Hawley producing Book of Souls which is a book about the end of the world so that was tough to write in the middle of all of this! Right now, I’m writing the first draft for another producer that hasn’t been announced but this is a fun, fun movie based on a real story. Horror, too.
Tigers Are Not Afraid is available on DVD and Blu-ray SteelBook on May 5, 2020.