Twitch Talks To The Backwoods Director Koldo Serra
There's something going on in Spain. If you're anything like me you probably had a puzzled expression on your face when you heard that American shock-meister Brian Yuzna was heading for Spain and partnering up with Filmax to set up his production company. Why would an American film maker move to Spain to make English-language films? But then the first Fantastic Factory titles began to roll out and all became clear: these people shoot gorgeous film.
Of the current crop of Filmax productions Koldo Serra's feature debut, The Backwoods, is at the very top of our watch list. The film has an intriguing premise and a brilliant cast with Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine of Dead Man's Shoes and My Summer of Love in the leads. Serra's shorts have met with widespread acclaim and the early rumblings were all good. And then the film's trailer - now strangely removed from the Filmax website - released and we were left in absolute awe. Just smart, taught, tough film making of the highest degree.
With a little bit of help we managed to get in touch with Serra and quickly realized he is one of us: a fanatical film nut absolutely ecstatic to have the chance to make this film. He quickly agreed to answer some questions via email. Many thanks to Nacho Vigalondo for the introduction and The Birthday's Eugenio Mira for translating.
TB: One of your shorts has had some limited exposure over here but most people won’t know anything about you. Can you tell us about yourself?
KS: Well, here I go!! My name is Koldo Serra, I was born 30 years ago in Bilbao (Spain) and, as long as I remember, I always wanted to make movies. To be honest, I started first as comic book artist, but once I made some skateboard videos I realized my handycam was better than the pen to tell the kind of stories I had in mind.
I made several short films, but the jewel of the crown is “El tren de la bruja” (The Spook House). I’m very happy with the response of the audience in and out of the film festival circuit, where I acheived some attention (mainly because of the Golden Melies for the best fantastic short film 2003). And now, here I am with my first long feature, THE BACKWOODS!!!
TB: What’s your background and how did you get involved in film? Were there any key films that made you think ‘This is what I want to do for a living’?
KS: Tons of movies, as you can imagine. I am a child of the 80’s, so I could say you you mainly can put the blame on Amblin Entertainment movies, especially the one and only THE GOONIES (Dick Donner, 1985). I’m not kidding when I say that I saw that glorious flick 15 times!! In a movie theatre!! I still don’t know how I made my mother pay for all those tickets… for the same movie!! That freaks me out!! Outside of the Spielberg legacy, I loved David Lynch’s THE ELEPHANT MAN, and JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN was a movie that truly fucked me up when I saw it on tv. Add Todd Browning’s FREAKS and you’ve already got my own personal BLACK & WHITE perfect trilogy. BACK TO THE FUTURE, GREMLINS, INDIANA JONES & STAR WARS… I suppose all those movies led me to be here right now… answering these questions because I made a movie!! I mean, those are the kind of stories that I like as a moviegoer and those are also the kind of movies I would like to make as a filmmaker. If you want me to be honest, I can tell you that I never enjoyed anything again as much I did watching those amazing movies.
TB: I know that you, Nacho Vigalondo and Nacho Cerda are all working on your first feature films right now. Are we looking at a new wave of Spanish film? Is there anything in particular allowing so many young genre film makers to get started at the same time?
KS: Well, we all grew up watching those fascinating movies crafted by Spielberg and Lucas. All those stories had fantastic elements so, I guess that affected us very deeply… in a good way. On the other hand, It seems that in recent years the Spanish audience and our film producers started to see some good and successful genre movies, so here we are!! Jaume Balagueró, and Paco Plaza did it first, now it’s our turn.
TB: Is there anyone else we should be looking for?
KS: I truly believe that you shouldn’t stop following Eugenio Mira’s steps. Last year he made his first movie. It’s called THE BIRTHDAY, the events occur in real time and the whole story is set in Baltimore in 1987. Hey, and Corey Feldman is the main character. I’m pretty sure you’ve already heard about it.
TB: I first became aware of you because of your connection to Nacho Vigalondo and I know you two are launching a production company together. What sort of films will you be making?
KS: ARSENICO PRODUCCIONES has born to make those weird projects that no one else would produce. At this point we’re producing some short films and so far we have had a very good response from the critics and the audience, so we’re very proud. This is just the beginning, so our idea is to keep on growing and growing… until we are able to produce long feature movies. Check our site here. English versión coming soon!!
TB: I’ve only seen one of your short films but there was a real sense of playfulness in it. The Backwoods seems a much more serious film, was it difficult to find the right tone?
KS: I’ve always felt very comfortable with the black comedy genre, and I think it works pretty well for short films where the audience has to connect much faster because of the length…
At the same time, I always preferred movies like THE OMEN, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, ALIEN or THE EXORCIST rather than the those flicks for a teenager audience like SCREAM or I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. I suppose I fit much better with the movies of the 70’s. I mean, it’s obvious I love the raw violence and the pessimistic vibe of movies like DELIVERANCE, BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCÍA, THE DAY OF THE JACKAL or THE BEGUILED… and you can recognize that influence in THE BACKWOODS, where I intended to find a middle point between Sergio Leone and Peckinpah. But without the humoristic situations. From head to toe, my movie is raw and straight to the point. Even the use of music has been reduced to the minimum.
TB: On top of the pressures that come with making a first feature film you’ve made yours in a foreign language with a major star in Gary Oldman.
KS: I could’ve never imagined I would have the chance to make a first movie like this. Despite of our reasonable little budget, we had the chance to work with these amazing actors. Gary Oldman, Paddy Considine, Virginie Ledoyen… I’m still astonished!! (lo siento, no sé como meter lo de los idiomas sin que quede lógico)
TB: Was it difficult to work in English?
KS: At the beginning, maybe. Anyway, I practiced for two months in order to remember the little English I learned when I was a teenager. Even if you don’t have a total command of the language, it’s been easier than what I thought. I suppose it was harder for the actors, working in a foreign country where most people could’nt understand them. But they are terrific professionals, and the sum of their and our efforts to understand to each other finally worked.
TB: Did you find Gary intimidating?
KS: The first days, a little bit… I mean, he’s Drácula!!!! No, really. He’s been very helpful and he has been very in the mood for delivering a good performance. I’m so glad… it’s been a great pleasure working with these terrific actors.
TB: Can you tell us the basic story of The Backwoods?
KS: Summer 1978: an English couple Lucy (Virginie Ledoyen) and Norman (Paddy Considine) are going through a difficult patch in their relationship, and so decide to spend the summer in the house that their friends Paul (Gary Oldman) and his wife Isabel (Aitana Sanchez-Gijón) have bought in the north of Spain. Hidden away in the middle of a forest, and very much off the beaten track, the house seems ideal for some peaceful holidays.
The cultural differences with the locals led by Paco (Lluis Homar) and an accidental discovery in an abandoned house in the middle of the fores will start a strong whirpool of violence between them.
But this peace and tranquillity is abruptly shattered when they clash with the villagers because they discover a lost cabin in the woods...
TB: The political problems in the Basque region have gotten some significant attention here in North America, was there any political statement intended in setting the film there?
KS: Not at all!! Actually, the reason why I wanted to set this story in the Basque Country was more based on my fascination for its geographic values and my personal emotional link to the place where I was born. It’s a vast green land with hundreds of forests and mountains. The perfect place for a bunch of tourists … to get lost. On the other hand, the folklore and the culture of the Basque Country is very specific. That gives to the movie a brand new fresh kind of menace. I mean, we’re not in the Texas frontier with México, you know what I mean? Otherwise, I know pretty well that culture, so I suppose that remains in the flavor of the movie. I couldn’t make a movie set in Wellington or Serbia, because I ‘ve never been there.
About the time frame, it has to be with the fact my movie is closer to those movies from the 70’s I told you than, let’s say, the movies nowadays.
Otherwise, I hate to justify elements of the plot just because of the existence of cell phones, or the car’s GPS. Nowadays you have to write stupid things to justify that they can’t make a phone call and get out of wherever they are!!
TB: You obviously have a love of genre film. What frightens you? What makes for a good horror film or thriller in your mind?
KS: I think there’s nothing more frighting than real life. At the beginning, we are scared of the unknown but once you see it one time and another time… the unknown turns into something too known, so scaring the audience is much more complicated nowadays. Even though, it seems that some people still react to the loud orchestra hits...I don’t know.
My point is that now we get scared when we recognize something about us. Something that could happen to us and the people we love. “The Ring” or “Dark Water” are a good example. Despite having unrealistic elements the characters and the cinematography is raw and naturalistic. I mean, we know that Freddy Krugger can’t really kill you during a dream… but when you see a movie like “Blair Witch Project” it works in a different way. That’s really scary. I love to see that kind of movie alone, enjoying the experience of getting scared.
THE SHINING it’s a terrific example. I know, it’s a cliché. But it blew my mind when I was a kid.
TB: Can you tell me about working with Paddy Considine? I think he’s just a huge talent and a fantastic match for Gary but he’s barely known outside of the UK so far.
KS: I think it’s just a matter of time for Paddy to have a worldwide recognition.
At the beginning it was a little hard for him, you know, getting used to being far away from his family and his country… but after the first week of shooting, he started to feel more self confident and he showed us his magic. I think he’s awsome in the movie,
The Oldman/Considine combo is amazing. Two of the best British actors of their respective generations working in a movie of a first time director. What more can I ask for, eh?
TB: How did he come to the film?
KS: Personally, I never wanted a well known six packed blonde teenager star for Norman’s role. I was looking for a regular guy with a regular face .
After seeing his work in IN AMERICA, I made my decisión.. I loved his physique and his skills as an actor at the same time. Then, his work in DEAD MAN SHOES convinced me even more!! We reached his manager and once he accepted, I went to London for a meeting with him. I talked to him about the approach of the story, I started to show him some pics of the locations and some excerpts of the storyboard… and we ended in a big comic book store enjoying a big display of action figures!! Yes, we had a very powerful connection.
TB: Has the film sold outside of Spain at all yet? When can people hope to see it?
KS: As far as I know the sales at the American Film Market went pretty well in November. I hope to have the reels ready to show the movie around March 2006. After that, it’s up to the distributors to choose the right Festival for the world premiere and the date for the theatrical releas. Toronto would be a great place, don’t you think?