by Jason Whyte
THE SIMILARS - At VIFF 2015
"THE SIMILARS is a psychological science fiction film that pays a big homage to the sci-fi of the 1950s and 60s, those amazing stories that came from TV Series like THE TWIIGHT ZONE or THE OUTER LIMITS and sci-fi literature of that period overall. The story actually takes place in the 60s and the film itself is to be meant as a time machine that takes us back to that period from the first frame. We are in a bus station in the 60s, in the middle of the nowhere. Eight characters are stranded there, trying desperately to get to Mexico City, but there's a big thunderstorm and the characters cannot get out because of the rain, and all busses are delayed. It's the classic setup of characters locked by the rain, kind of like that movie IDENTITY, with John Cusack, and then a big paranoia starts invading them and then, suddenly, they start to discover they are becoming physically similar one to another." Director Isaac Ezban on THE SIMILARS which plays at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival
So I definitely know this is not your first time at VIFF, as you were here with a movie last year too!
This is my second feature film and the second time I have had a film at VIFF. Last year, in 2014, my first feature THE INCIDENT also played at VIFF, also in the Altered States Section. I couldn't be present there, and unfortunately I won't be present this year either, because its always at the same time then Sitges, but I hope I can be there one day. I have heard amazing things about VIFF and about the screenings of my films so far.
We have met before, but for our readers tell me a bit about yourself, your background and how you got to this point!
I always knew I wanted to make films, ever since I can recall. And I always knew I wanted to be a storyteller. I used to do oral storytelling as a child and I wrote four short novels in high school. Stories have always been my thing. More so stories on film. I specialize in genres like science fiction or horror or thriller, anything out of the ordinary, out of this world, but I like to tell stories that involve a paranormal or sci-fi element BUT using it as a metaphor to something very real or human, and something very much from this world. With this style in mind, I have made nine short films! The most known one is NASTY STUFF from 2010 that played in almost 40 festivals. Then I made my first feature film THE INCIDENT last year which was a psychological science fiction drama about characters trapped in illogical endless spaces; two brothers and a detective locked on an infinite staircase, and a family locked on an infinite road. And now THE SIMILARS is my second feature film. I am currently writing the third one.
I loved every second of THE INCIDENT and its inception, so how did you follow it up with THE SIMILARS?
Actually it's quite funny to note that, although this is my second feature, I wrote this screenplay first before THE INCIDENT. I wrote THE SIMILARS in the summer of 2011; great TWILIGHT ZONE episodes and many rainy nights inspired me to build this story, and also I really wanted to work on something related to our physical bodies and the way they shape our identities. While we were developing it and applying for funds, I developed THE INCIDENT in a faster way and then this ended up being my second feature. It is a film that lives in a genre not so explored in Mexico and therefore it was a different film from my country. It was an ambitious production with a great cast, and building sets and using special makeup effects never before done in Mexico.
You're always so passionate and "on" as a filmmaker so I must ask; while you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you? How much coffee?
I actually don't drink coffee because when I am shooting a film I am so excited that I can barely sleep at night out of the excitement, and sometimes if we start shooting at 6am I can drink coffee and still sleep later that night, but if I take coffee after 7am I won't sleep that night. People tell me it's all in my mind but whatever, the point is that, being in my mind or not, I cannot sleep if I take it, so I don't take it. While shooting a film I usually don't eat a lot, I am very focused and not very hungry, and on lunch break I tend to eat very little as opposite to my daily life. A professor once told me a director always needs to have something in his hands while working on the set so I have a special lucky amulet I always keep on the set with me, always on my hand; a small paperback of Stephen King's CARRIE, which I have never read. Sometimes crew members get confused and believe oddly enough that I'm just reading on the set.
What was your biggest challenge with making THE SIMILARS, and how did you over-come it?
There were many challenges. One was that this was a genre not so much done in Mexico and sometimes it was hard to make my team visualize it. Other was the fact that it is a period film so we made it all period, building the set, the costumes and so forth. It was also hard that we used make up techniques, effects and prosthetics never before done in Mexico. It was also hard that this was practically a huge character film, so it is basically a film about actors, a film about working with my actors, and I had a great cast, but it was hard to deal with everyone at the same time. The blocking with the camera and actors and setting all the tension mostly in one location was also quite a challenge, as well as working with a child actor in a very compelling role. It was, overall, a hard ambitious movie, with hard set design, cinematography rules and restriction, casting, special effects, dummies, cars, children, animals and pretty much everything. I believe we pretty much put there in the plate everything that makes filmmaking hard; not intentionally of course. I never thought of that while writing the screenplay, and I was lucky enough to have an amazing experience team and I am really very happy with the result.
If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?
Hard to pick just one. I guess it was an awesome moment when I first say the build-in set, one I first visited it, and I was like "Wow, this is not just like the bus station I had in my mind, this is even better! Now I have a huge responsibility to go and shoot this set properly!" Also, making a film is like building a world, but when within that building of the world there are actually builders putting together doors, walls and lights to create your world, you feel amazing and very responsible. I am now very happy with the way I shot and showed that set while also always focusing on the story. It was also great to see all the actors in their costumes and roles for the first time. The music was a big department in the film and it was awesome when I first saw it with music. And simply it was also a great moment when I finally got to see the full finished film, with all its elements, just a couple of weeks ago. So much hard work all together finally for a big result and it really was amazing.
The young boy, Santiago Torres, was quite remarkable in the film. Could you talk about working with him and the process of working with child actors, and how did he collaborate with the rest of the cast?
Finding Santiago was a big challenge and it was also one of the greatest things that could have ever happened to the film or to my career. As you can see by watching the film, it is a compelling role for a child actor. I usually stumble into that kind of difficulties because when I write my films and I don't think a lot about production or about how can they be made like other directors that maybe think "Oh, ok, I will put less dialogue into this child character because he is a child actor." I just write whatever is in my mind and THEN I see how the hell we make it to make that happen in film, like with THE INCIDENT. I suddenly wrote that we have an infinite staircase and an infinite road, not an easy thing to find and then we set up to find it, and then for THE SIMILARS I wrote about people becoming similar, and THEN we check on how to do that. Just like that, I wrote the role of Ignacio as a challenging role, a very personal one as well obviously, only to then discover it was a really hard role to find an actor for that. I auditioned almost 50 childen! When I found Santiago I knew for the first minute he was the right choice for the role. He is very smart and mature for his age and he understood perfectly not only his role and its importance on the film but the whole story, and he worked very well with other actors as well.
So with such a unique look for a film, I would love to ask how it was filmed and what kind of behind the scenes work you did.
The movie takes place in the 60s and we really wanted it to look like a movie out of the 60s, however although we were first shooting on film, then decided to go digital. We were going to shoot with Alexa but in the end for other reasons we picked the RED camera and we actually shot with the newest one, the Red Epic Dragon, that gets up to 6K, but we shot in 5K. It was I believe the first movie in all Latin America to shoot with that camera. Still, it might appear as an odd choice as that camera and quality appeal to very sharp looking footage, but we use all our tools to use this great camera for the kind of look we wanted. The director of photography, the very talented Isi Sarfati, came up with the idea of using a filter called white promist and we actually used a very thick one, to give the film a more blurry look and even some grain to make it look as if it was shot on film, and used the lights in a special way that sometimes it is a little dark and that naturally ads even more grain. The lighting was all done like they used to do it in the 60s, with very hard light. A style that might look way too stylized for a film from the 60s but that works perfectly for what we wanted to do for that period look. Also, in the 60s, all camera movements were pretty much controlled; Dollys, cranes and the like with no handheld camera ever. We built an aesthetic based on those controlled movements as well, which was quite a challenge, but working in a soundstage with a build set helped to achieve that. Additionally to the grain and film look that the film already had naturally from its raw material after using those filters and lighting, we used then in post-production, desaturated the look and some inserted film look and film grain. Our main goal was to imitate the esthetic of a movie I really love, Richard Kelly's THE BOX (2009), which has a very otherworldly and retro look.
I noticed that you added some film scratches, changeover cues and some dirt. What was the reasoning behind making it look like an old film print?
Like I said, we really wanted this to feel like a complete throwback to the 60s, like a time machine that takes you to a film from that period from the first frame, and therefore, we needed it to look like a film from that period. We tried to do it subtle so that it looked really good, but not huge scratches like crazy every minute like I did in my short film NASTY STUFF. This is more like suddenly some scratches or little circles marking the change reel and so forth.
This movie gets pretty wacky in the second half but overall it's very visually arresting. I was wondering if you could talk about some of your creative influences!
Some influences where TV Series like mostly THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE OUTER LIMITS, but also some stuff from LOST or FRINGE, the sci-fi and the "amazing stories" of the 50s and 60s overall, the films of Alfred Hitchcock and his use of camera and music, and other more B-Movies kind of like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHER as well as John Carpenter and THE THING. There are also some more modern movies like James Mangold's IDENTITY or Richard Kelly's THE BOX.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at VIFF?
I am really looking forward to everything on it; to hear about how it went, read the tweets, even if I'm not going. Oh I wish I could go!
This movie is also screening at Austin's Fantastic Fest which just happened. What are some of the reactions the movie is having there as well?
It went amazing! I love the audience at Fantastic Fest; they are really the perfect audience for the kind of films I do. I'm sure the audience at VIFF are the same too, I really need to be able to go there next time. We had two screenings completely sold out and great reviews from people in person and in tweets and from critics all over and the movie made a good impact there. Q&A lasted almost an hour in both screenings, with people really understanding the influences and references, mentioning some of the twilight zone references they could think of, and even making connections within LOST or my previous film THE INCIDENT. People really dug it. Also, I loved to see I have an audience there that were waiting for the film since they saw THE INCIDENT last year and I believe it is the same with VIFF, now let's see how it plays at VIFF and Sitges!
Where is this movie going to show next? Any theatrical release?
It world premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, then Sitges and VIFF, many more fests to come, hopefully some theatrical distribution soon as well, we are still evaluating options for the US, Mexico and world distribution.
What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?
I would literally kill him. And I would add that if you text, talk, get in late, leave early or go to the bathroom on my film, even if it is just for a minute, you might missed two or three twists!
There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews on efilmcritic.com. If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?
I would tell them to film a lot, watch many movies, work and get close to a great crew. The secret behind every great film, besides from a great story, is to have a great crew, and I would also encourage them to follow their dreams and ideas, even more so if they are original and daring and crazy. Just like a fellow film director I really admire told me once; if a lot of people tell you that you are too stubborn or that your idea is too crazy and it's not gonna work, it is most likely that you are in the correct way.
And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?
That's a hard question because luckily enough I have been to many film festivals recently. Perhaps IT FOLLOWS at Fantastic Fest 2014? WHIPLASH at Busan 2015? I don't know.
Be sure to follow THE SIMILARS online by following the movie on Twitter at @Los_Parecidos and you can follow Isaac Ezban on Twitter at @IsaacEzban and Instagram!
This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 24th to October 9th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to www.viff.org or use the VIFF app for Android and iOS.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3853
originally posted: 10/07/15 20:18:51
last updated: 10/07/15 20:25:29