SXSW Interview: ‘Evil Dead’ Director Fede Alvarez: “I wanted the actors to witness real things so when they react they have better performances”

fede-alavarez-evil-deadEvil Dead premiered at SXSW and the response the crowd gave at the end was something I’d never seen before. To say the new horror flick was a crowdpleaser is an understatement. Everyone loved the film, including me and I’m not even a horror fan.

Produced by Bruce Campbell, it stars Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore and our friend, the always awesome Shiloh Fernandez. The film is darkly funny, gross and scary as hell and I enjoyed the heck out of it.

Much of the credit goes to writer/director Fede Alvarez and his writing partner Rodo Sayagues. They took the franchise, updated it and made it a blast. Fede and Rodo had been making shorts for a while but when they released, Panic Attack! (a short about giant robots attacking a small town) on YouTube, they gained tons of attention. Fede quickly signed to make his first film, which through a few Hollywood twists and turns turned out to be Evil Dead.

I talked to Fede and Rodo at SXSW about what is was like taking on such a cult classic, shooting the film with practical effects and translating their ideas in the script to film.

Evil Dead comes out this Friday, April 5th.

Congratulations on your feature film debut.

Fede Alvarez: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

The reaction, the crowd reaction to the film was tremendous.

Fede Alvarez: Insane, right? It was just awesome. It was such a bizarre reaction too because, I don’t know, we showed it before, right? Like, the first test screen. It was, you know, very well received. We got such a high score that that’s why you’re gonna see is the director’s cut because usually the first test you do is with the director’s cut and then the audience bashes it to pieces and the producer goes, “Ok, we’ll take over from here,” and they turn it into some weird thing that is a mix of what the director wants to do and the producers want to do.

This time it didn’t happen that way. We showed the director’s cut, everybody loved it, we scored higher than ever for the studio, and, boom, you know, that’s the movie that everybody’s gonna see in the theatres.

The way that you were talking about the test screening and the director’s cut, you know, the producers taking over, it sounds like you’re very familiar with that process.

Fede Alvarez: No, I learn it.

So you learned it on the fly?

Fede Alavrez: I learn it on the fly. Yeah, of course. Like, three years ago we’re in Uruguay doing shorts and, you know, nothing like this, completely away from Hollywood and I would never even dream of making a Hollywood movie. Suddenly that short was done and ended up getting a lot of attention in Hollywood, came here, met these guys, started developing, and we started learning on the fly.

Rodo Sayagues: We didn’t learn through experience because everybody’s been warning us of how hard, and it is hard, but how everything was supposed to be hell and nightmare and developing new scripts will be hell, but it wasn’t. And then, “Oh, the pre-production is gonna be hell,” it wasn’t. “The shooting is gonna be hell.” And nothing’s been hell so far.

Being your feature film debut, like, undertaking a Sam Raimi original, did you feel any sort of pressure going into it or did it influence you in any way?

Fede Alvarez: No, I think it empowered the movie, definitely. It’s an Evil Dead title instead of being something that people doesn’t know about. And so making your first film and having people so eager to watch your film, it’s a blast. Usually your first film you have to raise everything, trying to convince people that it’s good and showing it somewhere, getting distribution. It was a blast having a first film and having people talking about it. For good and for bad. But at the end of the day it was amazing.

I think the biggest challenge was to have my own style and my own voice as a director on the film because so much about the style of Sam Raimi and the way he directs and everything, I wanted to be sure that it didn’t repeat anything. There was a couple of moments in the movie where I was quoting something too literally and I felt bad to my stomach, really, honestly. I was like, “Why am I doing this?” I think there’s one shot that I hate in the movie. It felt so much out of the original, like, 100%. The cabin, the light, the… and then I felt like, “Oh, this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong.” So that was a challenge to keep own voice and my own personality on the movie as a director and not be… and not falling for the trap of, “Oh, let’s just do what he did.”

fede-alvarez-shiloh-fernandez-evil-dead

Is there a particular scene in the script where before you started sort of shooting where you were like, “How are we gonna do this?”

Fede Alvarez: So many.

Really?

Rodo Sayagues: It’s so easy to write on the page.

Fede Alvarez: To write the line, “And then she cut her arm off.” That’s easy to write, but it’s so hard to shoot it the way we wanna shoot it.

Rodo Sayagues: Actually, the last whole sequence where it rains blood?  We were absolutely convince that it wouldn’t happen ever. We just were, “Blood starts raining for 20 minutes.” We’re like, “Forget about it, that’s not gonna happen.” It turned out it was possible and it did happen.

Fede Alvarez: What a great team. What a great team of people working on the movie. And those things you have, you depend on, as a director, you depend on your team. You need to have the right effects team and the practical team. I mean, you need those guys to be on your side and to believe in your crazy ideas because most of all those meetings start with me going, “Ok, this is the way we’re gonna do it. We’re gonna have one shot, it’s a long shot, we’d never cut, we show her from every angle, and we go very close, and then she cut her arm off.” So the guys think, “Where are we gonna hide the this and that? Where am I gonna cut away?” And I go, “No, we’re gonna do it like they never do it. We’re gonna show it 100% from a wide angle so there’s no tricks, no hiding anything, and you do it.” And everything started with, “What? What?” Everybody talking to each other like, “No, no. There’s no way, this guy’s crazy.” But then eventually, you know, we find a way, we find tricks, you know, we evolve it and keep your vision because sometimes, like Rob [Tappert] was saying, with directors you just go like, “You know what? Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s do some green screen arm, green arm or whatever.” And they were cool enough to believe in that idea and those visions and  so every one of those gags were a nightmare to conceive because you see them in movies all the time because everybody goes in the same way because they’ve worked in the past. But we really wanted to push the boundaries there and make it a different way.

So was that the influence? To go practical versus CGI or anything like that?

Fede Alvarez: It was that. I mean, I wanted the actors to witness real things so when they react they have better performances. But, mainly, the reason why we didn’t use CGI was because CGI makes movies dated. They make movie old very fast. Avatar doesn’t look so good anymore, it’s like… CGI, even the best CGI ever, would get old very fast and we would have a responsibility with a movie like this one that’s it’s gonna stand next to 3 original movie classics. They’re classic because they’re timeless, right? You watch them today and it’s a movie that’s super enjoyable and they haven’t… the first one did because it was campy. It was low budget. But the techniques they used, it didn’t. That’s why we wanted to do the same thing. If we put some CGI in it, it may have been great today, it would have sucked in 5 years. So we didn’t want that.

What do you enjoy most, the writing process, directing, editing?

Fede Alvarez: Best part was probably the original creation where it’s just the two of us in the living room doing, “Ok, how are we going to do this?”

Rodo Sayagues: The brainstorming phase. Opening your mind and throwing out ideas.

Fede Alvarez: You come up with an idea and you kind of wait. The way we work, we’re friends since we were kids, so the way we work is one of us will come up with an idea and he knows. There’s an exciting moment where you come up with an idea, 3am in the morning, and you can’t wait for the next day to call the other guy and go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I got one, I got one, I got one.”

Rodo Sayagues: And the other guy goes, “Uh. Ok. Yeah, maybe.”

Fede Alvarez: We have a healthy, creative process where he can pitch me an idea and I can tell him, like, “Oh, man. That sucks big time.” And he goes, “Oh, man. You’re right.” And that’s fine because usually in the creative process the worst part is the, “I think it’s a great idea. I’m gonna think about that a little bit,” and all that bullshit. We don’t do that. So I think that, you know, it turned out to be a more honest movie.

 

Here’s the audio of the interview:

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