Eli Roth is no stranger to the Midnight Madness programme of the Toronto International Film Festival. His first film as a writer and director Cabin Fever received its World Premiere in 2002 and instantly became a genre favorite. He would return to Midnight Madness in 2005 leading a new direction in American horror films with the extremely intense, visceral film Hostel. 2012 marks the return of Eli Roth to Toronto’s midnight showcase as the lead actor and producer in Nicolás López’ AFTERSHOCK. I recently had the opportunity to ask Eli some questions on his latest film project.
Exclusive Photo of Eli Roth on set with Director Nicolás López
How did you meet Nicolas Lopez? What did you see in his previous films that made you want to collaborate with him?
In 2004 I was invited to the Los Angeles Film Festival to be on a filmmaker panel, and after the event I was about to leave when the programmer Rich Raddon said "Don't go! There's a movie you HAVE to see. The director loves Cabin Fever - he told me to find you, he's this hilarious 21 year old Chilean kid, he made a crazy teen comedy, you can't miss it." That was Promedio Rojo. I remember Nicolas' introduction was so funny he had the whole audience rolling before the credits even started. 90 minutes later I was a huge Nicolas Lopez fan. We hung out that night and turned out we had a lot more in common than we realized. Specifically, we had made out with the same girl from this one particular film festival in Europe. (Different years of course.) After that we were pretty much bonded for life. The more I got to know Nicolas, the more I realized what a genius he was. At the age of 16 he produced Jorge Olguin's horror film Angel Negro, and then wrote, produced, directed and starred in his own MTV show called Piloto MTV," where he's a director who every week he had to do come up with a new show for MTV. It's totally nuts, and if you speak Spanish I recommend tracking it down on youtube. Piloto was a massive hit in Latin America and aired on MTV after Jackass. Nicolas had accomplished all of this by the age of 17, and by that time had a regular column called Promedio Rojo in the major newspaper of Santiago, where he wrote about what was going on in his high school. This wasn't like writing for the school paper, he was writing for the equivalent of the Los Angeles Times about his high school and exposing all kinds of things, which Que Pena Tu Vida they threw him out for. Nicolas wanted to make Hollywood style movies from the get-go, which was the antithesis of most of the artier festival type government funded films being made in Chile. I was amazed at what he had accomplished by 21, I didn't make my first film until I was 29. And over the years I've seen him grow into an incredible filmmaker. After Promedio Nicolas was the hot shot new director in Hollywood for a minute and everyone was throwing projects at him, but he went off and made this wild VFX comic book-style movie called Santos . It was a complete disaster, it totally tanked in Spain and Chile, and for the first time in his life he felt he had failed. He felt washed up at 23, and then just buckled down and wrote Fuck My Life, a romantic comedy about how difficult it is to break up when everyone is so connected and we're reminded of our exes every time we use twitter or facebook or instagram. He shot Que Pena in 11 days for $100,000 on a 7D and it out-grossed The Social Network in Chile, which was a massive hit there. It was box office smash, taking in fifteen times its budget. We talked about doing a film together, something high octane, in English, something scary and violent. I went down and visited him in Chile and we just started writing and scouting locations. It all came together very fast, but really sprung from our friendship and mutual admiration of each others' work.
You have produced several films before. What unique obstacles did you and the production team face on AFTERSHOCK? How did you overcome them?
I wanted to do AFTERSHOCK in the same way that Nicolas had made his Que Pena Films, which is down and dirty and fast, shooting all in Chile, with a Chilean crew. I had just spent several months in China shooting Man With the Iron Fists, and had nearly an entirely Chinese crew, so I was used to working with foreign crews, especially after the "Hostel" films which I shot in Prague and Iceland with local crews. I love going into another country and figuring it out. It's exciting to me, and with each system you can take something you learned onto the next one with you. I even had that experience on Basterds with the German crew shooting Nation's Pride. One of the major unique obstacles was getting a completion bond, which financiers require. It had never been done before in Chile. AFTERSHOCK is the first bonded film shot in Chile. It took a lot of education and trust and showing them that the team down there knew what they were doing, and the bond company was great and we came in a day ahead of schedule and under budget. I had to put up half my salary as collateral, which I got eventually, but it took me bonding the bond company, if that makes sense. The biggest obstacle was adjusting to the Chilean style of making movies, which I actually prefer in some ways. For example, there are no trailers - you just share a room to change if you need to. There's one make up artist for everyone, not a big makeup trailer with lots of chairs. It's just how it is. Things moved so fast it reminded me of what it was like to make a movie with your friends when you're a kid. There's no unions, so everyone's just picking up helping out. Nicolas and his producing partner Miguel Asensio have assembled a great team there. I also produced it with Brian Oliver and Mac Cappucino and Jim Holt, whose company Vertebra films were financing. We were all there, on the ground, bridging the U.S. system with the bond and the exchange rate and all that kind of stuff, plus I was acting in the film which took up most all my time. I had to go from writer to producer to actor, and then back to producer. It was a lot, but it was so much fun. It felt like we were breaking new ground, kind of re-learning everything we knew at the same time. It was a combination of adjusting the Hollywood culture and the Chile culture to create a new style that accommodates both.
How difficult is it to act as well as produce in the same film? Are there moments when you are in a scene and CUT is called and a phone is handed to you in regards to a producing concern? How do you stay in character?
Yes. It's very difficult, way more so than I anticipated. I want to do every job at the best of my abilities, so I tend to go all in and completely immerse myself no matter what it is, if it's writing directing, producing, or acting. I want to give in a great performance, and that takes intense concentration and preparation. But the way I can produce at the same time is to produce the film with good partners who can take over those duties while you're acting. They knew what my acting in the film meant, and we were prepared for it. Miguel, Mac, Jim and Brian were handling producing duties when I was acting, and if something needed to get done we just dealt with it. It's never an ideal situation and they don't want to bother me when they don't have to, but more often than not I was taking phone calls and signing contracts and solving problems completely drenched in fake blood, dust and sweat. It's also hard to shut your brain off, so after a while you just kind of give up on sleep until you wrap. It was like this on Basterds when I was acting and shooting Nation's Pride at the same time, it was really hard and just took all my focus at all times. After we wrapped photography we all got sick - it's like our bodies were fighting it and once we knew we were allowed to shut down we spent a week in bed not moving.
Can you describe what the process was like to write the screenplay with Mr. Lopez and Guillermo Amodeo?
We wrote the script over skype, and a lot of it was like a volleyball game, where we'd just bat it around back and forth. Guillermo had worked closely with Nicolas on his other scripts, and he's great with story and structure. I'll come up with a ton of ideas of ways to kill, as does Nicolas, and Guillermo can help wrangle them into an escalation of events. But really it started with Nicolas describing the earthquake to me and what he went through. He just took me through the events of the night, and the stories that happened to people he knew, and it was all there. It was horrific - the total collapse of society. The whole country shook violently for 3 and a half minutes, it was a notch under the Tokyo earthquake. It hit at 3:30 in the morning on a Saturday on the last weekend of their summer, so most of the young people were out at bars partying, dancing. Thousands of people drunk, girls in heels and tiny dresses, suddenly getting hands chopped off or having pieces of ceiling collapse on them. One of our leads Lorenza Izzo was in a club when it hit, and said when we were shooting the earthquake it was exactly what happened to her. In the very club we filmed at people were killed when the speakers fell on them. One kid lost both his hands and had his friends looking for them, but they couldn't find them and had to leave because the structure was collapsing. The prisons broke up, violent criminals got out, there was looting - and nobody could communicate. No police, no fire - it was chaos. A lot of the country is still destroyed from the earthquake, so we used real locations. The Santiago cemetery let us film in a wing that was too damaged from the earthquake to be usable, so while we were shooting we suddenly realized we were surrounded by broken open tombs with bones falling out. We didn't have to set dress it, I was lying on the ground and all around me were dust and bones that were rattled in the earthquake. It was crazy.
As well as your directing and acting you have been quite prolific as a producer, what do you look for in a story before jumping onboard as a producer?
I generally don't look for something, something grabs me, if that makes sense. It usually sparks from conversations with other filmmakers, or sometimes an idea just pops in your head and you know you have to make it. I hear a story, often based in fact, and then I say "we have to do that!" But one thing in common is I like to put a fresh spin on genres or types of films that people haven't done in a long time. Cabin Fever was my love of 80's horror, really gory R rated kids in the woods horror which had all but evaporated by the 90's, and was way too sanitized and politically correct for my taste. With Hostel I wanted to bring the unflinching brutality I had seen coming out South Korea and Japan to American cinemas. I wanted to push the R rating as far as anyone had ever done. I wanted to make the movie people were afraid to see. With Man with the Iron Fists I just loved RZA's story, his whole conception of how to modernize and do an updated version of the films we loved watching on Saturday Kung Fu theater, and with AFTERSHOCK I realized there hadn't been a good realistic, violent earthquake disaster thriller since the 70's. We wanted something that was real, but a high octane, roller coaster thriller, something that when it hits just doesn't let up. So many disaster films are done with CG, which is fine, but we had the opportunity to do something that was modern and do it real by actually destroying things. Most everything you see we really did. A lot of the takes I closed my eyes because I was terrified someone would get crushed. Thankfully no one got hurt, but the film was made with that kind of energy. Nicolas would look at me after a take and just shake his head and say "Someone's watching over this movie." And you feel it when you see it. There's no substitute for the real thing.
AFTERSHOCK was shot in Chile, what were some of the unique aspects to making a film there as opposed to Los Angeles?
In Los Angeles, everything is union. It's much more expensive, and the departments are segregated into very specific jobs, and no one crosses over and does the other person's job. In Chile, it's non-union so everyone just pitches in and does everything. Also there's no agents, no managers, none of that. None of the Chilean actors are in SAG, so you're not dealing with overtime and turnaround issues, which is after an actor wraps you can't bring them in the next day until 12 hours later. People just do it for a flat weekly rate and that's it. It was really like a family, but that comes from Nicolas and Miguel Asensio his producing partner. They've all made so many movies together they're all friends and everyone gets along great. I was lucky to be able to just plug into their system, that was always the idea. And they are fantastic, we're planning to shoot a bunch of movies now. We call them Chilewood movies.
Why should folks check out AFTERSHOCK at Midnight Madness?
Nicolas Lopez is one of the most exciting talents out there, mostly unknown to English speaking audiences. His movies are very, very fun, I think people are going to be shocked and thrilled by what we did. There's nothing like AFTERSHOCK. You're discovering a new talent for the first time, and after I think people will track down his Spanish movies on Netflix. He's going to be a major force in genre cinema, and you can be there to be part of that moment when he crosses over and help support him. He deserves it. Also if you're a fan of my acting, you see me covered in blood for a lot of the movie. This is the first film I've starred in, and I wouldn't just do that with any director. I was offered lead roles in movies after Basterds and turned them all down because none of the projects excited me. Nicolas is one of the few directors I really trust as an actor, and I hope people will be surprised by what they see me do on screen. Plus the other cast members are superb - Ariel Levy, Lorenza Izzo, Andrea Osvart, Nicolas Martinez, Natasha Yarovenko - they're incredible. The audience who sees this will really be discovering exciting new talent.
Midnight Madness and the Festival have marked crucial points in your career having launched the world premieres of both CABIN FEVER and HOSTEL. Can you talk about your relationship to the Festival and Toronto?
Toronto is the place where I was officially born as a director. I had a made a movie but somehow it wasn't official until I saw it in a theater with a paying audience. That first premiere at the Uptown 1 is one of the greatest memories of my life. When the doors opened it was like being at the center at the buffalo stampede from Dances with Wolves except with rabid horror geeks. My whole life I had dreamed of that moment and for the first time I really felt like everything I had envisioned since I was 8 years old was coming true. I had heard so many stories about being the hot film at the festival, I had always wanted that to happen. And the fans were so receptive, they went crazy, and the bidding war ensued and the rest is history. I feel like Cabin Fever helped buyers realize what a goldmine Midnight Madness is. There were many great films at the festival, but when Cabin Fever played a lot of buyers would leave halfway through the festival. After Cabin Fever sold and Lionsgate's biggest hit of the year for them, people got fired for not bidding on movies at midnight madness. The whole psychology shifted - especially when Saw played the next year. And now it's where people look to find the next big thing in horror or genre. Colin Geddes has such great taste in selecting an exciting, diverse program that give attention to films that really need it and deserve it. So my career is forever tied to Toronto, and I love that, that's why I wanted to bring Hostel there. Even when I shot Hemlock Grove in Toronto I moved into the TIFF Lightbox building because it felt like home for me. The Toronto fans welcomed me before they had seen a frame of my film - they gave me a chance and welcomed me with open arms. Many film festivals the audience is somewhat hostile, they want you to impress them, but the Toronto fans are genuinely appreciative you brought the movie there and they want to see it in the theater with a wild crowd, which is why we make them in the first place. And that's why it was important to premiere AFTERSHOCK here as well. I want Nicolas to feel the same reception I felt. I can't wait to show this to the Toronto Midnight Madness audience. It's one of the best audiences you can show a movie to.
Tue., Sept. 11th, 11:59 PM RYERSON
Thurs., Sept. 13th, 6:15 PM CINEPLEX YONGE & DUNDAS 3
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