There are few bigger success stories that have come out of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) than filmmaker Eli Roth, who brought both Cabin Fever and the original Hostel to TIFF in 2002 and 2005 respectively.
This year, Roth was back in Toronto with Chilean filmmaker Nicolás López and a movie they co-wrote called Aftershock in which Eli Roth stars as an American in Santiago, Chile, spending a night on the town with his two friends and three beautiful women. They’re all having fun until an earthquake suddenly hits and they have to find a way to survive both the quake and all the terror that arises after it hits, things like escaped convicts and looters. Oh, and it also has a cameo by Selena Gomez.
Shock Till You Drop sat down with Roth to find out how this connection to Chile, where he’ll be shooting much of his next film The Green Inferno, came about as well as talking briefly about some of his other projects, including a year-round haunted house in Las Vegas called Eli Roth’s Goretorium, which opens later this month.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: “Aftershock” takes place in Chile and you’re going to be shooting your own next movie there as well, so how did this happen? Eli
Roth: Chilewood. We’re going to start Chilewood. You know, Nicolás and I have been friends for a long time, and I love his Spanish language movies—”Promedio rojo,” “Santos.” We’d been talking after he shot “Que pena tu vida,” he shot it in Santiago on a Canon 7D and released it theatrically on 35 screens. In a wide release there’s 100 screens. It opened against “The Social Network” and it beat “The Social Network.” Teenagers loved it and they didn’t care what it was shot on. He was telling me, he’s like, “There’s a whole new way of making movies.” He’s like, “You don’t have to light the way we did before.” He’s like, “We shot 38 locations in 11 days.” They made the movie for 200 grand with sponsors, and there’s really no investors, but sponsors. The movie made a million and a half dollars at the box office in Chile. Then he did the sequel, “Que pena tu boda.” “Que pena tu vida” means “F*ck My Life,” and “Que pena tu boda,” is “F*ck My Wedding.” He just did “F*ck My Family.” So, “F*ck My Wedding” made even more money, but he shot that with a 5D because the technology improved, so he kind of became the test case with Canon in Latin America for shooting these movies and he’d tell them, “Okay, there’s a problem with the motion blur,” and they’d fix it. Here’s the firmware. All the new stuff they gave to him to start shooting, so I went down there, and we were talking about writing a movie together.
Shock: Were those other things he did horror movies?
Roth: No, they’re comedies, romantic comedies. They’re on Netflix. One of the first ones on—I think they’re both on Netflix. They’re like Chilean romantic comedies. They’re very, very funny, and they star Ariel Levy and that’s where I saw Lorenza Izzo, who’s in “Que pena,” she’s in “F*ck My Wedding” as the sexy girl who screws up his engagement. What Nicolás was doing was so smart, it’s like, when you’re that far removed from Hollywood you just figure out new ways of doing things. He’s very smart, very innovative and really knows a lot of visual effects, but just did this movie that was back to basics storytelling. So, we talked about him finally doing an American movie, and I said, “After ‘The Last Exorcism’ on Eli Roth Presents a million and a half dollar budget opening week in mid-20,” I was like, “I have the clout to really get movies done just from my name now in a certain genre, in a certain budget, in a certain space. So let’s do it. Let’s do a movie that’s a high octane movie, something like ‘Wreck,’ that like, doesn’t stop.” We were talking about doing something science fiction, and then he told me about what happened during the earthquake. It was actually after the first day of shooting “Que pena tu vida,” this 8.8, this was February 2010, this 8.8 earthquake hit and shook Chile for three and a half minutes like an amusement park ride. The stories that he told me were so horrific, he said, “We don’t need anything science fiction, this is real and the aftershocks kept hitting.” Every time there was an aftershock, buildings would collapse and it didn’t stop, so people thought another earthquake was coming. But he told me the story of how he said it was like, “We’re the first generation that live on our iPhones, so when the earthquake hit and everyone lost power and their batteries died, they had no cell reception, nobody knew where anything was because everyone goes by GPS. Nobody knew anyone’s phone numbers ‘cause your phone numbers are on your iPad.” People were sitting in their cars using their radios for the first time, listening to what was going on because it was the only thing that worked. It hit in the last weekend of summer, so everyone was partying. It was 3:30 in the morning on a Saturday. Everyone was drunk and in the clubs, and the earthquake hit. Speakers crushed people. There was actually a guy who was a friend of Lorenza Izzo’s whose hands were cut off and he was like, “Find my hands, find my hands,” so everyone was looking for his hands.
Shock: So he put a lot of real stuff in the movie?
Roth: It’s all real. The prisons broke open, and there was a town where there was a tsunami warning and the town [UNINTEL 03:50] were panicked and everyone started running for the hills. They were actually talking with Japan, because the Japanese and Chile, they’re on the same lines. Anytime there’s an earthquake in either country, they warn each other for tsunamis. They called up the tsunami warning, and it took out a town of 1,000 people. They were just wiped out, so it just washed the town away. The prisons broke open. Everything was reduced to rubble, and suddenly the prisoners were out. There was looting, rioting. They were taking civilian clothes, people raping. He told me when he finally got cell service and called his girlfriend, and she’s like, “I’m okay, but they just said there’s a tsunami warning.” Chhh…and then the phone went dead, so nobody knew if anyone was alive or dead, and you couldn’t get to the police. They had helicopters there were looters and they were shooting rioters. There was a curfew in effect. It turned into martial law. Chile’s a very modern society. I mean, really, it’s Starbucks, it’s a W Hotel. Like, we could be in Chile right now. It’s a very, very modern place, and it basically got—not reduced to the Stone Ages, but it descended into anarchy for a few hours. It was crazy. It was so powerful and such an incredible magnitude, no one knew what was going on. Everyone was just trying to survive, and the aftershocks kept hitting, so a lot of people that weren’t initially killed in the earthquake were killed in the aftershocks ‘cause the aftershocks were as powerful as a massive earthquake. A lot of the areas in Chile were very poor, and they didn’t fix it, so we went to the cemetery in Valparaiso and in Santiago and the place we shot at was the section that was destroyed by the earthquake. So there’s a sequence where I’m there with a huge chunk of concrete on me and I’m pinned down, and I looked around and said, “Wow, the art department is amazing. All these graves broken open and all these bones and skeletons.” They’re like, “We didn’t dress any of this. This is real. This is from the earthquake.” I was like, “Are you kidding me?” So we were apologizing to the bones around us. Like, it was real.
Shock: It’s crazy because most people who watch this movie will think it’s a genre movie and that it’s all made up, but it sounds like a lot of the horrifying things really happened.
Roth: That’s the thing. Do you want to make it a heavy drama or do you want to make it a genre movie? That’s why we thought, “Do we put, ‘based on true events’”? which we were debating, but we’ll see. That’s still up for grabs. We can change that. We can have that if we want to. The truth is that we took all the true events and put them into one story that’s a fictional story, but he had an American friend who was down there staying with him who had just come to Santiago to work on “Que pena tu vida” with Nicolás and the earthquake hit. He was just like, “What the hell is this? What’s going on?” He was completely disconnected from his whole family in America.
Shock: You started out by making these really low budget movies and this one has production values that make it seem huge. The six friends attend a big party and then you destroy the whole party for instance.
Roth: Which is great, and that’s what we wanted. That’s what’s great about Nicolás, a very smart director, and he’s amazing at making deals. When we shot in Chile, his movies are so successful there that a lot of people really… even though it was an earthquake movie, they’re happy to let us shoot there. We did all of it real. Almost everything was practical, and that was the fun of it, was we wanted to do a ‘70s style movie where it isn’t CG. I remember when they were dropping the chunks of plaster and doing that sequence in the club and destroying it, it was terrifying. I remember thinking, “Those are stunt people, right?” because it’s 19 year old girls in heels and skirts. It’s a club scene, kids in clubs, but drunk, you know, young people dressed like they’re going out on a Saturday night partying. He said, “Well, yeah, they’re stunt people.” Then he’s like, “No, well, they worked with our stunt guy. Just don’t look.” They were all teasing me, “Oh, Gringo’s so worried about safety,” but we really rehearsed it carefully, but then we really did it and you just kinda close your eyes and thank God nobody got hurt. But we watched a take and Nicolás would look at me and go, “We’re blessed. This production is blessed.” But we made it through, and we shot that riot scene in one night and we’re really throwing Molotov cocktails and burning things. It’s incredible. The stuff we got to do in Chile, we could never do in America. They have 100 different fire marshals and safety laws. In Chile, it’s just a much different attitude. There’s no unions. It’s a different way. It’s not that it’s not safe, but it’s not constricted by the same rules there are in America. It actually was much more conducive to shooting a disaster movie, and a lot of the stuff is already dressed. We went to areas that were already destroyed and that was our post-earthquake area.
Shock: I have to imagine Nicolás has a lot of pull down there so is that why you decided to make a movie down there yourself?
Roth: Yeah, Nicolás has really built… you know, his father was a commercial director since the ‘70s and his father really pioneered the commercial industry, but Nicolás could never get money from the government for his movies. “Promedio rojo” is a teen comedy and they call it “Latin American Pie.” It’s on Netflix. It’s very, very funny. He did it for nothing and it was a huge hit. He did it when he was 19. Nicolás had his own show at MTV when he was 17 years old called “Piloto MTV.” He dropped out of school. He was writing for the main newspaper in Santiago at 15 and he got thrown out of school because he was exposing all the things that teachers were doing. Then he pitched a show at MTV. He had his own show and it aired after “Jackass” in Latin America, it was that big and he was 17, so then he made his first feature at 19, so he’s like super genius. We want to start a whole studio down there where we make movies for the world, but we shoot them in Chile. What I’ve seen is that Chile’s actually an amazing double for America I couldn’t believe it. It’s a lot of locations, a lot of the architecture, the signage, the roads and stuff that I couldn’t find in Prague when I had to shoot America that was very, very hard. There was maybe one street that looks American. There’s like a New York street, but it looks like Santa Barbara. It looks like coastal California. It’s incredible.
Shock: It’s also interesting that you took on a bigger role in this movie.
Roth: This is the first lead role, yeah.
Shock: You’re obviously very busy so was it hard to commit to doing something like that?
Roth: It was very hard. It’s one of those things you don’t realize how hard it’s going to be until you’re doing it because Nicolás and I, we have a very high level of expectation of everything we do. The script is never finished writing. We’re continually going over it and going over it with our co-writer Guillermo Amodeo. We’re looking every night, every scene is just the best it can be. “Is this working? Is there a flaw?” Because you know you’re going to run into those problems later in editing anyways. Luckily, I had a good team of producers. We had great partners in the company, Vertebra Films, and Nicolás’ partner Miguel Asensio’s a terrific producer. I’m going to do my next movie and Nicolás and Miguel were going to produce it with this company Worldview. I was so impressed with the crew down there, I’m going to go and shoot my next movie with all of them and we’re like, “Let’s just keep the ‘Aftershock’ model going.” The way you do it is you surround yourself with good people, so you’re writing and the script’s done and then you have your producer hat on. At a certain point, I said to everyone, I said, “I’m now handing this off. I have to focus on acting now. That’s a fulltime job.” It was very difficult because you want to be fully committed in the character in the role, focusing on your scenes, but then you’re dealing also with distribution of the film and cutting together a teaser and making sure that the budget’s on track and all this stuff that you try to avoid. At the end, there were a lot of days where I’m sitting there covered head to toe in the blood and the plaster for almost every night, 30 nights nonstop, at the end of the night, seven in the morning, signing contracts, making phone calls, doing emails. I had to do it.
Shock: When you went back to L.A. to work on other stuff, did he just stay there and do post on his own?
Roth: Yeah, he did all the post in Chile. He’s really very savvy and he would send me cuts and we did a lot of stuff over Skype and he would just upload a file, I’d watch it, I’d make notes on the cuts. I would actually play the cut with my iPhone and shoot videos and talk about edits or cut there, cut, or we’d Skype and we’d play stuff. Basically, we set up a virtual editing room where I was in Los Angeles and he was in Chile and I could go through the cut. Nicolás is a very talented filmmaker himself. He’s done all these other movies. This is his sixth movie, so it’s not like he needs any handholding. It was great to be able to have a partner like that where I could just weigh in creatively where I needed to.
Shock: It’s amazing you can do that kind of stuff now.
Roth: It’s all changed. Your office is a phone. You can shoot wherever you want to shoot. You can edit on your laptop, and that’s the beauty. We’re taking advantage of that. It’s hard for people to wrap their head around it. They’re like, “But how are you going to edit it if he’s in Chile?” It’s interesting, but Nicolás is 10 years younger than me. He’s a different generation, so he’s going to think like a 19-year-old about this stuff (Note: Nicolás is 29) and he knows the latest tech. Like, I would think, “Oh, you have to be in the room with them,” but no, it’s like, we don’t. We just did it and it worked out great. That’s one of the great things about him, is he’s a very, very smart, savvy guy who’s obviously very connected and on Twitter and Instagram and everything. He always knows what the new thing is, the new software and the new way of doing it. We do it so that we can be mobile.
Shock: Do you know when you’re going to start “The Green Inferno”?
Roth: Yeah, we have a couple of days in New York in mid-October, and then beginning of November we start shooting in Peru and then December, Chile, wrap at Christmas.
Shock: You also have a lot of things you’ve been working on, producing…
Roth: Well, this is a busy month because obviously “Aftershock” is premiering tomorrow night. Then we have the Goretorium opening on September 27th in Las Vegas. It’s right on Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon, right next to the Hard Rock Café. It’s going to be massive and we’ve got a 15,000 square foot space that we have converted into this full year-round haunted house with the best, most high tech people involved. It’s incredible. It’s going to be terrifying. People are going to lose their mind when they go through it because I think a lot of people—unless you go to Universal Halloween Horror Nights, that’s the biggest night in the world. So we’re going to have a grand opening on the 27th.
Shock: I go to Vegas every year.
Roth: Go there. It’s going to be amazing, but my feeling is like with horror movies, I don’t only watch horror movies in October. I watch them year round. People used to think, “Oh, you can’t release a horror movie in February,” but of course they can. People love this stuff year round. You don’t stop loving horror just because it’s April. Also, Europeans, there’s a whole generation now of Italian kids that want to celebrate Halloween. Kids in Europe are having Halloween parties, but the country isn’t celebrating Halloween. It’s become the number two holiday next to Christmas in terms of what Americans spend on it. I wanted to build Disneyland for horror, so yeah, that’s going to open the 27th. I’ll be open year round and it’s going to be terrifying. We have a bar downstairs where there’s a half-girl in a glass of blood and you drink from her blood, drink the martini. Then, we’re going to have a cage with zombies in it. So, it’ll be really fun.
Shock: But basically it’s not kid-friendly at all.
Roth: It’s going to be terrifying, but there’s no restrictions. If you want to bring your kid, you can, but your kid’s going to freak out. We say “suggested admission 14 and over,” but really anyone can go. That’s the fun of it. We’re going to have it open all night, and you can rent it. You can pay for something called “Alone.” Like, one of these high rollers can pay to walk through the whole thing entirely by themselves so they’re the only one in it. We might do a topless night… then we have “The Man with the Iron Fists” coming out November 2nd.
Shock: That’s right. I remember when we spoke for “Inglourious Basterds,” you mentioned that but it was really just starting.
Roth: Yeah, “Iron Fists,” November 2nd is coming out. RZA did an amazing job with that. He got Kanye West to do music, Russell Crowe is fantastic. Then I’m shooting the Netflix series “Hemlock Road,” directed the first episode. It went great, and we’re right in the middle of the series right now. That’ll be on… well, we have to deliver it in March, so anytime probably from April on. I haven’t picked the exact release date yet, but that’s been a really great experience, shooting that. I’ve got “The Green Inferno” shooting November and December.
Shock: Yeah, maybe we’ll see you back here next year then.
Roth: I would love that.
Shock: This TIFF marks the 10th anniversary of “Cabin Fever”
Roth: It is, I know. Isn’t it amazing? 10 years ago, “Midnight Madness,” and here we are 10 years later still with the midnight movies going on. It’s really terrific. I’m excited, but I’m happy that I can be here now to introduce Nicolás Lopez too, you know, as the new filmmaker.
Aftershock is still looking for distribution for North America but look for our interview with director this film’s director Nicolás López soon.
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