Eduardo Sanchez has been dabbling in the "found footage" a lot lately. Horror fans saw The Blair Witch Project co-director applying the narrative technique to zombies with "A Ride in the Park," a segment featured in V/H/S/2. But that was just a short tale. On the feature film side, he opted to follow up 2011's Lovely Molly with Exists.
Scripted by Jamie Nash (Lovely Molly, Seventh Moon), Exists is a found footage Bigfoot story that finds Sanchez introducing us to brothers Brian and Matt Tover. The siblings secretly sneak out to their Uncle's long abandoned cabin in East Texas for a party weekend with their friends only to find themselves stalked by the legendary Sasquatch. Cut off from the world, and knowing help isn’t coming, the kids must try to make it out of the woods alive while hunted by a creature that’s smarter, stronger, and more terrifying than they would have ever believed exists.
Sanchez, calling in to Shock from the set of a BBC series in Vancouver this morning, spoke with us about the project, what sets this apart from his shooting experience on Blair Witch, his approach to the creature, and, he talks a bit about his time on From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series.
Exists begins its screenings tonight at SXSW – for details, click here.
Ryan Turek: How long had you and Jamie been tinkering around with this one and what made it a good film to tackle after Lovely Molly?
Eduardo Sanchez: I've been trying to do a Bigfoot movie for so long. This is like the third version of a Bigfoot story. Each time we scaled the budget back and made it realistic and reasonable to shoot. After Molly we were trying to figure out how to do this movie. Our Court Five partners, they were Bigfoot fans as well, and we had been talking about Boggy Creek and In Search of… and when we came together for Lovely Molly – which they produced – it was immediately after that it was like, what's up with that Bigfoot movie? We made it a goal to do it. Let's just get the creature on film and find the right story.
Turek: Story-wise, what made it click?
Sanchez: For me, Bigfoot it the main character. The character of Bigfoot, to me, has always been this missing link to humanity, this ancestor. While we were definitely going to make a monster movie with all the scary beats and thrills, I knew I didn't want to make the creature this heartless killing machine. It was about finding the character of what Bigfoot means to me. Very few exist and they're just holding onto survival and barely surviving. There are very few reports of hostile Bigfoot sightings. They just want to stay away from people. For me, it's this idea of why would this creature attack humans? There had to be a good reason? And the nature of Bigfoot is that he's half creature and half human, so I wanted to breathe some life into the human side of that and not make it this total mindless killing machine. That was the most important thing.
Turek: This sounds like a change of pace from the heaviness of Lovely Molly…
Sanchez: Yeah, look, after we decided to scale back the idea of the Bigfoot and make reasonably budgeted. We said, let's make it found footage so we could take advantage of the style we helped popularize with The Blair Witch Project. Let's dive into the Bigfoot mythos and embrace the previous sightings which look like found footage. We could skirt around the budgetary issues by making it found footage. How do you get the creature onto film and make it believable? We didn't want any CGI in the movie. So, we've got a guy in a suit. How do we make it look good to an audience who has pretty much seen everything? That was the number one goal. We hired Spectral Motion and they brought the creature to life. The first time I saw Brian Steele, who plays the creature, in the outfit…for me it was a test to see how much I'd have to hide him? And we shot this test with Spectral Motion and it blew our minds how good their suit looked and at that point I knew we could get right up close with him and it would be convincing.
Turek: From Blair Witch to Exists, how has your approach to "found footage" changed?
Sanchez: The big thing about doing it again is that it has evolved. Fifteen years later, it has evolved. Putting your actors out there and giving them directions with a camera in their hand was not an option at this point. That's what it was back then, staying away from our actors as much as possible and giving them an immersive experience. Here, I took Jamie's script and it was important to hit all of the same beats, but making it seem fresh. I had to develop a new technique as far as how I was doing it. I had the actors memorize the scenes and lines and if I had to go back to the material, I went back, but I let them improvise their way through scenes as far as dialogue was concerned. We had to adhere to some blocking and more conventional scenes of filmmaking. So, we had rules and limitations, but in that we gave the actors freedom. You never knew what you were going to get. Each take we would get something new and fresh. That was a new thing for us as far as keeping it real. But at the same time, it's a found footage movie, the audience has to realize this is not real. It's pretending to be real but it's still a film. Blair Witch we were trying to acehive 100% reality. No lighting. Real sound. We were trying to make it a documentary. With this, you have to go in with a certain amount of fun. It's a rollercoaster. So, if the question is – which is what all found footage movies have – why are they still shooting, well, it's a movie. [laughs] This is a ride. We're giving a cinematic experience here. There's music and the sound is much more robust. The guy who did the sound design for Lovely Molly did the sound design on this. But audiences are so much more savvy than they were when they saw Blair Witch. They've evolved and you have to go with that.
Turek: Before I wrap up here, have you already shot your episode of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series?
Sanchez: Yeah, I did the third episode. I got real lucky and met up with Robert [Rodriguez] earlier last year. He told me about [El Rey] and I said I'd be game for anything. I got to work with the crew Robert's been working for years and I was the next director in line on that series after him. I felt like I was living in somebody else's house. The crew and the guy running the show was great. They made me feel at home and the material's great. They invited me back to do more episodes, but I got this BBC gig up in Vancouver. If they do season 2 and I think they will, I'd love to come back and shoot more episodes. Maybe do some more original shows with them, too.