Saturday, January 21, 2012

An Interview With Director José Pedro Lopes

José Pedro Lopes is a journalist, writer, cartoonist and filmmaker. He's also a John Carpenter fanatic like myself. Double points.

Hailing from Portugal, Mr. Lopes wrote the short film 'A Noiva', a slasher flick, in 2007. The short was shown in over 35 film festivals across the globe and received two awards.

José cut his teeth as a director on 'O Risco', a splatter comedy that hit the film festival circuit in 2011. Critically acclaimed (4 nominations at Killer Film Festival here in the states, 2nd place at the International Cycling Film Festival in Germany), the film was shown at 15 festivals.

His latest short, 'Survivalismo', is downright awesome. Having had the pleasure of viewing and reviewing the film, I can honestly say it is one of my favorite shorts I've ever seen. It's a thinking game a la 'Saw', without all the gore. Psychological terror at it's most basic. At it's best.

With a true passion for the art of filmmaking, José founded his production company, Anexo 82, and is a real up and comer in the indie horror community.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Lopes recently and was able to pick his brain a bit on a number of subjects.

1. How did you think up the storyline for 'Survivalismo'?

I was attending a European co-production forum in Strasbourg (France) with my producer Ana Almeida. She was there to present her new short film project, so I saw all the presentations and the rehearsals by everyone there.
Inevitably, I started to think of a "pitch" of my own. How could I present a short film that would impress on a stage, speaking. And that's where this cenographic idea of a man stuck in a trap who must talk his way out came. That and the "twist ending" I idea, which I had from the start and help me to create all the story.
The Five Stage of Grief, even though have become a big part of the film, where not in the genesis of 'Survivalismo' - it was a way of creating a more dense, realistic emotional reaction to the situation.
2. Was this your first venture into psychological horror as a director?
I've always made films, ever since I was a teenager, with friends. Even then, I was very much into fantasy, sci-fi and horror.
But only in 2007 was that I started making more professional short films. I wrote and produced Ana Almeida's "A Noiva" which is a european take on the slasher genre - it picks up a lot of its imaginary to the Giallo cinema and mixes it with an asian
Last year I directed two short films that played strongly in the fantasy film circuit. One was 'Survivalismo', the other was 'O Risco' (The Line) - a 2 minute splatter comedy that plays homage to John Carpenter.
I don't see myself as much of a horror filmmaker for neither 'Survivalismo' or 'O Risco' are horror films - they're inside that vague concept of fantastic films, but they're not actually scary. 

3. What attracted you to film making?

I began watching films at a very young age for my brother was a film buff. So I was watching horror movies growing up. Early on, I was watching denser, complex films. I always wanted to be a filmmaker but I was never too sure I was able of making a film. That took me actually a long time.
Every time I meet someone knew who loves films and film making (not necessarily the same thing) I feel more inspired and driven to make new films.
4. Admittedly, 'Survivalismo' hasn't fared as well in 'regular' festivals as opposed to film fests dedicated to fantasy or suspense. This surprises me. Why do you think that is?
I'm never too comfortable judging festival selections for I'm a festival programmer too and I'm always conscious that my films are not perfect and are not for all tastes.
I was expecting that 'Survivalismo' would perform better in non-fantasy festivals than it did - but at some point, submitting films becomes expensive and I end up betting on the fantasy festivals. I know them better, and I like the fan-base they bring.
When I look at festivals I can think that if 'Survivalismo' plays on a standard festival, it will reach one or two people who will like it a lot. But if it plays in horror festivals it will reach people like you who are into this kind of films.
But I would like to make a film with a broader appeal. 'Survivalismo' tried not to be a fantasy-oriented film and more a art-driven experimental film. It ended up kind of in between, I guess.

I usually like most films I see and I get very involved while watching them. If something is suspenseful and terrifying, I'll be really hit by it. For this, I dislike unjustified, tasteless violence. I'm more into horror films that don't need violence - and the so-called 'torture porn' genre isn't for my taste at all. 'Saw' is actually a very clever, well written film. But 'Survivalismo' was kind of a art-house, experimental, non-violent approach to the 'torture porn' subject - consciously.


5. This being a 'thinking man's 'Saw' ', where the terror and suspense is all psychological, are you more a fan of in-your-face violence or what's-behind-the-closed-door terror?
6. What are a few of your favorite horror films?
'Halloween' by John Carpenter is my favourite - for all of its suspense. I love 'A Nightmare on Elm Street', 'The Innocents', 'Ringu', ''Audition'... too many films. Recently, I really enjoyed 'Insidious' by James Wan and even more recently I was very surprised with 'The Innkeepers'.
7. Who are some directors you admire?
I'm a die-hard fan of John Carpenter in all of his eras. But I love lots of directors in all genres.  
8. Can you update us on how many film festivals 'Survivalismo' has been in?

It has been in 16 film festivals. It's upcoming screenings with be at Jennifer's Bodies Film Festival (part of the Women in Horror Celebration Month in Scotland), Yubari Fanta International Film Festival (Japan) and Landshut International Short Film Festival (Germany) on the Deadline award competition. I'm planning of distribute it in festival along 2012. 
9. What is the horror film landscape like in Portugal?
Up until 2005, there were very few features and shorts on the horror genre. In recent year, the horror genre woke up - but mostly in short films. One of our main festivals is Motelx: Lisbon's Horror Film Festival and dozen of films are made thinking to its short film competition. I fear, though, that this "boom" can go away as suddenly as it came.
10. What projects are you currently working on?
Since making shorts is not a business, at least not for me (I accept advices on this issue haha) ,sometimes I don't have the time I want to make more films.
I'm producing "Videoclub" by Ana Almeida, the short film that was presented in Strasbourg. It's a drama set in the 90s and its a project that's very dream to me. I'm also producing a mystery short film called 'Auguste' and an horror thriller called 'Pacient EV-136'.
I've some ideas for short films but only after these projects. And I would prefer to do a feature rather than a short - I guess that's the main goal of film making.
I sincerely thank José for all of his time and enthusiasm. I look forward to more great things from Mr. Lopes and Portugal for a very long time!

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