Alex and David Pastor Talk CARRIERS
[Our thanks to Desirée de Fez for the following interview.]
Spanish director Àlex Pastor - the man behind the amazing and very awarded short movie LARUTANATURAL - and his brother, David Pastor, pervert the rules of zombie movies in their feature-film, CARRIERS. The movie, which will be released on September 4 in US (September 11 in Spain) begins with pandemic outbreak of a rare strain of flu to go into the reaction of men in extreme situations. We recently had the chance to talk with them.
Four kids are driving through the desert on the way to the beach, their faces anything but cheery: this isn’t Spring Break. They’re trying to outrun the end of the world – and each other. Determined to elude the deadly virus, Danny (LOU TAYLOR PUCCI), his brother Brian (CHRIS PINE), his girlfriend Bobby (PIPER PERABO) and Danny’s school friend Kate (EMILY VANCAMP) speed across the Southwestern U.S. to reach a place of possible safety. Over the course of four days, the group is faced with moral decisions that no human should ever be forced to face. They discover that their greatest enemy is not the microbe attacking humanity, but the darkness within themselves.
Desirée de Fez - Is it true the origin of CARRIERS is an article about avian flu? In that case, what about the article specifically inspire the film?
David and Àlex - A few years ago we read an article in THE NEW YORKER about avian flu, before it really hit the mainstream media. What we found disturbing is that it described the possibility of a major catastrophe in the first world, something both terrible and random that could throw this very safe world we live in (in Europe and the US) into total disarray. We were interested in the moral consequences of such an event: how would people react when law and civilization broke down? How would that affect family and friendship ties? But it was never our intention to make a movie "about avian flu". For us, the disease was always a device to talk about the characters. Actually, never once in the script or the finished film is the word flu mentioned. We didn't want to make a topical movie, but something more abstract, without an "expiration date".
Ddf – CARRIERS has the atmosphere of a horror movie and adopts common places of genre movies (the idea of infection, the physical mutation, the lonely and desolate places…), but I don’t feel it as a pure horror movie. For the meticulous description of characters and the way they evolve, CARRIERS is closer to dramas about personal survival than to zombie movies.
D & A – Yes. Totally. We definitely wanted to stay away from the zombie genre, and even if many people who've seen the trailer will think that there are zombies in the movie, there really aren't. In CARRIERS, when you catch the virus, you get sick and eventually die. They don't chase you down hallways! We wanted to make a film where the enemy was not something alien and external (zombies, vampires, etc. even if we love these genres), but something much closer: other people and, eventually, our own worst instincts. The virus is what turns people against each other, in their struggle to survive. That's not to say that there aren't scary moments in the movie. There are!
Our favorite horror movies are those where you care about the characters and where the horror premise is an entry point to explore interesting issues, such as in THE FLY, ROSEMARY'S BABY and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.
Ddf – CARRIERS has the synopsis of a mainstream teenage horror movie, but we notice soon that your intentions and objectives are not precisely to do this kind of film. In some way, your movie is a risky proposal. It was difficult to find funding in US, above all because it was the first feature-film for two Spanish directors? Were you tempted to do something more commercial?
D & A – Actually, it was surprisingly easy to get the movie made (probably easier than it's ever going to be again!). Paramount Vantage was looking for a genre movie and our script landed on their desk: a relatively inexpensive virus movie! But that's the beauty of the genre: if you have enough commercial elements in the project, you can get away with inserting more personal elements. In a way it works like a Trojan horse. We definitely got away with the darker elements in the story and we're happy for it.
We really never considered making something more commercial, because at some point we realized that the only way we can write good material is when we believe in it, when we write stuff that we would want to buy a ticket to see in the theater. When we try to force ourselves to write more conventional stuff, it doesn't work.
DdF – One of the most interesting things of CARRIERS is how it keeps the tense and terrifying situations in broad daylight. How did you work with French cinematographer Benoît Debie? I really love his work for INNOCENCE, CALVAIRE, VINYAN or CARRIERS.
D & A – Yes, the idea was to try to subvert one of the biggest conventions of the genre (bad things only happen in the dark). We were always looking for that bright, sunbaked look, also because heat seems to work well when you want to put your characters under pressure. Benoit was a personal choice of ours. It took some convincing, but Paramount was OK with the choice once we showed them his work. We wanted to work with somebody we admired and who would bring something special to the movie. Somebody who wouldn't turn on the "horror movie automatic pilot" and say "OK, horror, so let's have some thunderstorms". Benoit did a fantastic job. One of the biggest challenges, that may go unappreciated if you don't think about it, was to light all the night sequences in a world where there's no electricity, and therefore no sources of light. How do you light the scenes in a way that's realistic but allows you to actually see something?
DdF – Talking about the evolution of the story… It is interesting the way you play with audience expectations breaking the logical evolution of characters.
D & A – We wanted to keep peeling layers of the characters' backstories and personalities, so when you think you know a character because he or she seems to fit a certain stereotype, then we reveal something about them that makes you see him in a new light. The guy you've pinned as an asshole turns out to be more complicated than that: he has given himself the role of the guy who makes the tough decisions, because someone has to do it, and that responsibility is taking a heavy toll on him. Likewise, the nice guy may not be that nice after all.
DdF – Benoît Debie is not your only high-class collaborator. Could your talk about your work with the prestigious editor Craig McKay and the make-up artists Stephan Dupuis and Todd McIntosh?
D & A – Working with Craig McKay was a pleasure. Here you have two newbie directors sitting in an editing room with the guy who cut REDS, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, COPLAND, MAD DOG AND GLORY, etc. It's intimidating, but you soon develop a rapport. Craig is so experienced that you learn many tricks of the trade. Plus he has a great eye for story. The two of us don't always agree about every editing choice, so it was great to have a master editor like Craig to sort of break the tie.
Todd and Stephan were also people we admired and it was an honor having them aboard. Todd had done the makeup for the BUFFY series and Stephan won an Oscar for THE FLY. Sometime we would act like total fanboys, asking them about this or that creature they created. Our main goal working with them on the make-up of the film was to achieve something both gruesome and realistic. We did a lot of research on the subject, and realized that one think doesn't exclude the other. We looked into the effects of the flu in the 1918 pandemic, we saw that they could be devastating. So the makeup effects that you see in the movie can seem very extreme, but they are, unfortunately, very real.
DdF – I’m fascinated with one moment in CARRIERS. Can you comment the sequence where main characters discover the doctor and the kids?
D & A – The idea behind the sequence was to show not only that all hope for a cure was an illusion (that remaining uninfected is the only way to survive), but also to show that our traditional sense of morality is not valid anymore. A doctor, who's supposed to care for his patients, is instead killing them. You've gone through the rabbit hole. You're in a world upside down. From that moment on, you know that any decisions the characters make take place in a moral "twilight zone".
DdF – What movie genres will you try in a near future?
D & A – We like all kinds of genres and, actually, the three films we're working on right now could not be more different. STRANGE BUT TRUE is a family drama wrapped in a mystery, based on the bestselling novel by John Searles. We didn't write it. The script is by the amazing Eric Garcia and it's pure genius: great story, great characters, great dialogue... We fell in love with the project the moment we read the script. VURDALAK is a fantasy movie: the origin story of a vampire-like character set in the 16th century Balkans. And last but not least, the adaptation of Miguelanxo Prado's graphic novel STREAK OF CHALK, which is a love story with a supernatural element. It's a project that's very dear to us, because we've been fans of the comic book since it was published in 1993. We chased the rights for a long time and now we have a script that we're very happy with. As you can see, they are very different movies. What they have in common is that they're great stories that combine genre elements with interesting characters.
DdF – Do you have the perception that Spanish fantastic and horror cinema is living a golden age?
D & A – We've been living in the US for a few years now, so unfortunately we haven't been able to follow the new films coming out of Spain as closely as we would've liked. It's true that in the last few years, there's been an increase in the production of horror movies in Spain, a boom for which Amenabar and Balagueró should take credit as pioneers. That shows that Spanish audiences were hungry for a different kind of cinema and were looking for a wider range of genres that Spanish cinema wasn't providing at the time. We're not sure that it's a wave or movement, though. There are some great movies like THE ORPHANAGE or REC, but they're wildly different from one another. Other than their willingness to entertain and frighten the audience, those two films couldn't be more different.
DdF – Do you recognize in CARRIERS the influence of concrete movies and directors? It reminds me sometimes 28 DAYS LATER… and Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD.
D & A – We're big fans of Danny Boyle (whom we admire for his ambitious approach to genre filmmaking and with whom we share a love for DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS) and sure, we've seen these movies you mention, so I'm sure that they were somewhere in the back of our heads when we were working, as were many other movies, books, etc. But they were never our main source of inspiration. We talked more about other post-apocalyptic stories that we liked, from Michael Haneke's TIME OF THE WOLF to Geoff Murphy's THE QUIET EARTH, from Stephen King's short stories to José Saramago's BLINDNESS, even a lesser-known Ingmar Bergman film like THE HOUR OF THE WOLF. Also a movie that's not horror/sci-fi at all was a big inspiration for us: A SIMPLE PLAN, which is our favorite Sam Raimi movie.
DdF – Gossip says you have had to change the release dates of CARRIERS because of the swine flu… I suppose it is not true…
D & A – We can see why people would think that, and it would make for a good story, but unfortunately it's not true. We got the news from Paramount about the release date a couple of weeks before the swine flu thing hit the news. By the time the release date was announced, the swine flu thing was everywhere, so everybody assumed that they were connected, but they were not. Of course, we know that no matter what we say, some people will still believe it, so...
Interview by Desirée de Fez