Director Fede Alvarez and Co-Writer Rodo Sayagues talk reimagining “EVIL DEAD,” in theaters tomorrow
After his short film “Panic Attack!” received praise and recognition in the Hollywood arena, Alvarez and his childhood friend, co-writer Rodo Sayagues, penned a brand-new script under the supervision of co-producers Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert.
More than three decades after the original, small budget “Evil Dead” was released, Alvarez and Sayagues spoke with myself and two other reporters at a round table at SXSW 2013. They talk about the advantages of taking on a horror movie classic, working with practical effects, and what their creative process is like having been best friends for so many years.
Q stands for a question posed by another reporter, and AG stands for a question asked by me.
Q: The reaction to this film was tremendous. What was it like sitting in with that audience?
FA: It was such a bizarre reaction to it, because we’ve shown it before, when you do test screenings. It was just once, because it was very well-received. We got such a high score that you got to see the director’s cut. Usually, the first test you do is with the director’s cut, and the audience bashes it to pieces. Then the producers say, “We’ll go and take over from here,” and they turn it into some weird thing that is a mix of what the director wants and what the producers want. This time, it didn’t happen that way. We showed the director’s cut, and there were scores higher than ever for the studio. That’s the movie that everyone is going to see in theaters. That was a crowd that didn’t know what they were going to see. Half of them were EVIL DEAD fans; they’ve seen the original. Half of them didn’t know what it was. It was awesome, but it was way scary. There were some walk-outs and people that said, “I cannot handle this.” I heard that. In general, it was more on the fun and comedy side that is definitely there. I loved that. For me, when I watch it, I laugh all the time. I enjoy it in a different way. For other people, it’s super scary. I don’t know what it was for you guys, but I think that’s the beauty of EVIL DEAD. That’s why some people say EVIL DEAD is a comedy, and others are like, “What? It’s a scary movie!” It’s up to you.
Q: The way that you were talking about the test screening and the director’s cut versus the producers’ cut and all that, sounds like you’re very familiar with the process.
FA: No, I learned it (laughs). I learned a lot, of course. Three years ago, we’re in Uruguay doing shorts and nothing like this, completely away from Hollywood. I would never even have dreamed of making a Hollywood movie, but suddenly that short was done and ended up getting a lot of attention in Hollywood. We started learning on the fly.
RS: We did learn through experience, because everyone was warning us how hard it was going to be. It was hard, but everything was supposed to be hell. “Developing your script is going to be hell,” but it wasn’t. “Oh, production is going to be hell,” but it wasn’t. “The shoot is going to be hell,” but it wasn’t. Nothing has been hell so far.
FA: Hopefully it’ll make money (laughs).
AG: For it being your feature film debut, undertaking a Sam Raimi original, did you feel any sort of pressure going into it? Did it influence you in any way?
FA: No, I think it empowered the movie, though, definitely. There’s an EVIL DEAD title instead of being something people don’t know about. Making your first film and having people so eager to watch your film, it’s a blessing. Usually, when it’s your first film, you have to raise everything uphill, try to convince people everywhere that it’s good, showing it somewhere and getting distribution. It was a blessing for it being my first film and having people talk about it, for good and for bad. The previous stage was a process, but at the end of the day, it was amazing. The biggest challenge was to have my own style and my own voice as a director on the film, because the original people knew so much about the style of Sam Raimi and everything. I wanted to make sure I didn’t repeat anything. There were a couple of moments in the movie where I was quoting something truly, and it made me feel bad to my stomach, really and honestly. I was like, “Oh, why did I do this?” I think there is one shot that I hate in the movie, when Jane shoots David and we cut outside the cabin and there’s a camera running towards the door. It felt so much out of the original, like 100 percent. The cabin, the light, and I just felt like, “This is wrong, this is wrong.” That was a challenge, to keep my own voice and my own personality in the movie as a director, not falling for the track of “Let’s just do what he did.” I don’t know if I succeeded or not (laughs).
Q: Were there any moments when you were shooting and looking at the script and thinking, “How am I going to do this?”
FA: Many (laughs).
RS: It’s so easy to write on a page. I mean, it’s not easy, but when writing the line, “And then she cut her arm off. Period.”
FA: That’s easy to write, but so hard to shoot it the way we wanted to shoot it.
Q: Especially with practical effects.
RS: Yes, especially the last sequence where it rains blood. We were absolutely convinced it wouldn’t happen, ever. We just wrote, “It starts raining blood for 20 minutes.” We were like, “Forget about it, it’s not going to happen.” It turned out it was possible.
FA: We had a great team. We had a great team of people working on the movie. As a director, you depend on your team. You need to have a great effects team and the practical team. You need those guys to be on your side and to believe in your ideas. Most of all those meetings start with me saying, “Okay, this is the way we’re going to do it. We’re going to have one shot, and it’s a long shot. We never cut, and we see her from every angle, go very close, and then she’s going to cut her arm off. We’re going to do it how they never do it. We’re going to show 100 percent, from a wide angle, so there’s no tricks. We’re not hiding anything.” Everything starts with, “What?” Everybody is like, “No, no, there’s no way, this guy is crazy.” Then, we find a way, evolve, if you keep your vision. Some directors would be like, “You know what, let’s do some green screens, a green arm or whatever.” They were cool enough to believe in that idea and those visions. Every one of those gags were a nightmare to conceive. You’ve seen movies hundreds of times and they are all done in the same way. They worked in the past, but we really wanted to push the boundaries there and make it a different way.
Q: So was that the influence to go practical versus CGI?
FA: I wanted the actors to witness real things, so when they react, they have better performances. Mainly, the reason why we didn’t use CGI was because CGI makes movies dated. They make movies old very fast. Avatar doesn’t look so good anymore. Even the best CGI ever will get old very fast. We have a responsibility with a movie like this one, that is not going to stand alone but stand next to three original movie classics. They are classics, because they are timeless. You watch them today, and it’s a movie that is super enjoyable. The first one dated, because it was campy and low budget, but the techniques they used didn’t. That’s why we wanted to do the same thing. If we put some CGI, it may have been great today. It would have sucked in five years. We didn’t want that.
AG: Since this is your first film, what kind of message do you want to give audiences everywhere? What kind of director do you want to be known as?
FA: No message. It’s just a movie. People will get what they get. It’s just… we don’t make movies to send a message. We make a movie to have fun making it, and we enjoy the writing process. I don’t think we ever do that. Hopefully, though, the message will be a good one.
Q: What do you enjoy more, the writing process or filming?
FA: The best part was probably the original creation, when it was just the two of us in the living room going, “How are we going to do this?
RS: The brainstorming. That’s probably the best part. It’s very exciting. Over a month throwing out ideas. You come up with one idea and you kind of wait. We’ve been friends since we were kids, so the way we work is, one of us will come up with an idea, and who knows. It’s an exciting moment where we come up with an idea at 3 a.m. and you can’t wait until the next day to call the other guy.
FA: The other one is like, “Ummm, I don’t know about that one (laughs). That’s the good thing, I guess. We have a healthy creative process where he can pitch me an idea and I can tell him, “Oh, no, that sucks big time,” and he’s like, “Oh man, you’re right.” (laughs) That’s fine, because usually, that’s the creative process that works instead of “That is a great idea, I didn’t think about that,” and all that bullshit. We don’t do that. I think that helped it turn out to be a more honest movie.