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There is no question that Nacho Vigalondo is doing the kind of filmmaking that many of his peers wish they could do.
His film TIME CRIMES, which took home the gold at last year’s Fantastic Fest as “Best Feature,” is a mix of horror, comedy and drama. The blend sounds like a haphazard cohesion of elements but it works so well that you can’t believe the film is able to clock in at a swift 88 minutes. And why not? Nacho was nominated for an Oscar for the directorial work he did on the short 7:35 IN THE MORNING and he seems effortlessly able to know where to cut, trim and tighten; a Godsend in this age of bloated run times and critics who constantly crow that some directors could have cut 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there. Nacho has his eye comfortably on the whole picture and knows what seems like overkill. Never mind the fact that the subject matter in TIME CRIMES, a man travels back in time, accidentally, and sets into motion a series of events that seem to be pulled from the episodes of the Twilight Zone, is all but engrossing. The film is wide sweeping, as I mentioned, as it goes from genuine thrill to comedic moment without ever seeming false.
This was an interview I did not want to pass up and I am glad to have been able to talk to Nacho after seeing the film.
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Nacho. How are you doing?
NACHO VIGALONDO: Great.
CS: I’ve just seen the film last night and loved it.
VIGALONDO: Oh, thank you. Great.
CS: I’m blown away that it is one of those films you don’t see a lot nowadays.
VIGALONDO: Yeah. When I found this opportunity of making my first feature film, I felt the need to make the very first feature film in terms of making this wild crazy films that maybe you can only make once in your life so I decided to make this kind of crazy film – first time.
CS: Of all the ideas that you’ve had, and I’ve read in other interviews that you’ve had oodles of ideas as you prepared to jump into feature films, why was this story the one to jump out at you?
VIGALONDO: I like science fiction and I love the complexity of these stories and at the same time I love how funny they are and I wanted to take that kind of stuff into the movies. Sometimes when science fiction goes into movies you feel that there’s a fear to challenge the audience to some level and I really wanted to make a story that really challenges the audience in the same way this kind of story, this kind of novelist challenges the reader.
CS: And you make a very good point. Karra Elejalde, you mentioned he’s a well known comedian in Spain.
VIGALONDO: Yes, he’s a well known comedian and at the same time he’s an actor who has made a whole lot of characters. I like that quality that one minute he can be a clown and two frames later he’s a psycho killer. I like the quality of his work. He can be an average man and at the same time he’s an extraterrestrial. I love when an actor can transform himself but without you noticing. Close to magic.
CS: The film speaks to the idea of what would happen if this happened to normal people. It’s that normalcy.
VIGALONDO: Yes. I like to work with those roles instead of trying to work with specific heroes or specific villains. Love to work with this outrageous stuff.
CS: I was actually reading up on some of my own favorite short stories – the thriller, Richard Mattheson’s Button came to mind, the idea of that short story. These little snapshots. TWILIGHT ZONE as a film did very, very well. When you were making this, this is obviously your first feature length film, did you have any reservations that you wanted to hit 88 minutes? Or did you say to yourself as you were writing it, “Do I have 88 minutes of material here?”
VIGALONDO: Something very personal, I love short feature films. I love when a feature film instead of going two hours fits into the 80 minutes. I love that kind of energy. That’s what I love about that mini franchise. Those films are pretty short. I wanted to make a short story but at the same time I wanted to make a story that felt not like a short story but like a feature film. We had characters, we had locations, we had a few situations, it was pretty hard to make a movie contain in time but at the same time felt like a real feature. Did I answer the question?
CS: Yes, you did. Absolutely. You’ve also mentioned that horror can be high art while it can also make money. What do you think about the idea of marrying both high art and money when it comes to making a film like this? A feature film like this is very commercial but it can bridge the gap. People can either turn their nose up if something makes them think too hard. Our horror here in America is largely been brain dead, blondes going out and slipping…..
VIGALONDO: I understand. My first concern as a filmmaker is – I don’t believe in the frontier between the arts and the commercial stuff. My favorite directors of all time destroyed that frontier which is the art and the funny thing. Those are the directors I really like. For example now, if you check the films of Alfred Hitchcock – today we don’t separate both dimensions of the same picture. For us Hitchcock is art and at the same time is general. The same with Don Siegel or early works of William Friedkin or in the modern days, Valentino was the one that destroyed that too, he makes art films but pretends to reach a large audience. From my point of view all the time I wanted to make an interesting and clever film but I never forget that the most important thing is to make a funny thing. I hope to manage to do this my whole career.
CS: You made the film completely without having a distributor in Spain. How did this whole process come from making it without a distributor in Spain whereas now you have a guy here in Arizona who has seen your film…
VIGALONDO: Laughs. Yes, it’s like jumping off a plane. Once you jump off the plane you have to discover if you have a parachute. That is what happened with the film. We put the money in the film and from that point it was worry. Are we going to find a distributor? And at last, we found it. It took a years. 2007 was the worst year of my life because nobody wanted to get involved with the film but finally we went to Austin and went to the Fantastic Fest at the Alamo Drafthouse and we won, we sold the rights so things went much better from this point. I spent a horrible time trying to find a distributor.
CS: How did you get through that? How did you get through the period where you made the film, you did something you really wanted to do and then once you had it you said, “Now I have a finished film. How am I going to share this with everyone else?” What is that process like?
VIGALONDO: Oh, it is something left up to the production company. I just made the film and crossed my fingers and I joined my producer at film festivals. The worst part was trying to sell the film. It wasn’t complete. As you can imagine Time Crimes is a movie that if you put the music out and no special effects it is a really naked film. I had to sell the film with that naked copy. Without the music, without the sound and it was really horrible. It is not easy for me to remember those times.
CS: And if I can speak a little bit about, you mentioned different directors who are primarily American, Hitchcock, Tarantino, and I’ve seen interviews where you dropped the names of very famous Italian directors. What is it that you think about film in general that has such international crossover appeal? I mean you look at books, books can be hit or miss because they don’t often translate well but movies seem to transcend that.
VIGALONDO: For me, when I was a teenager, the situation I live in now was impossible. If we wanted to make a film like this in Spain, you are lucky if one American festival shows your film in one country. But now all of the reels are falling down and in that case with our film we first have this little hype in United States, Italy and then we went to Spain. It’s a Spanish film in Spanish language so that’s our situation. Now that barriers are broken and thanks to internet it’s easier to know films from foreign countries. We, the filmmakers we are more free than in the past. We have more opportunities to work with different languages, different cultures and not so fixed in one place. Stephen Soderberg shows us that you don’t need to be so fixed in one place or one film. You can jump from one kind of feature to another – even different countries.
CS: I guess if I had one more question for you, Nacho, it would be what is it about Spain, Spanish language pockets around the world and even Mexican directors who gravitate so well to the horror genre, to ghost stories and the like?
VIGALONDO: We are pretty much the same age and we are a bunch of filmmakers who can make this genre of films. It’s like a response to the lack of this stuff in our country. It is so complicated to make. What I like about this is we make such different films. If you check films like The Orphanage, TimeCrimes, films like this, you can say we are pretty different from each other so we are trying to make different films but each one in a different way.
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