Aftershock - Nicolas Lopez interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
DIRECTOR Nicolas Lopez talks about his own experiences of surviving the Chilean earthquake that formed part of the inspiration for his horror movie Aftershock.
He also discusses his relationship with producer and leading man Eli Roth and why he isn’t afraid of offending anyone with a film that is so closely related to real-life events.
Q. Aftershock offers an interesting new look at disaster movies. Where did the idea originate?
Nicolas Lopez: Well, the movie is actually loosely based on the earthquake that actually happened in Chile in 2010… the big earthquake that was 8.8. At that time, it was one of the most hardcore earthquakes ever but then Japan had one and beat us… f**kers! With Eli [Roth], we had been talking for a long time about doing a movie together and in Chile they know me because all my movies are really weird romantic comedies, but they are romantic comedies at the end of the day. And we always talked about doing a movie that would start like one of my comedies and had something that would change everything and turn the movie into a horror film. We had some alien ideas and some haunted house ideas and we had been talking about doing something like that. And then the earthquake happened and I was like: “This is perfect!” Well, first I had to survive the earthquake. When I survived and I was alive, I was like: “Yeah, we should do a movie about this.” And many of the things that happen in the movie are based on everything that happened during the earthquake. It was really hardcore to see how fragile society is – that suddenly there is this new generation that without their iPhones they don’t know what to do.
So, what happened to me was like… suddenly there was no Internet, no Twitter, no Facebook, nothing, not even radio. And you’re so used to having information right away but suddenly it was impossible to get information. The only thing that was kind of working was AM radio, so I was in my car listening to AM radio. It was a radio from Argentina and my girlfriend was in Valparaiso, which was where we shot part of the movie, and that’s a town that is like 2 hours from Santiago, the capital of Chile, and everybody was talking about a tsunami. There was a tsunami alert. And when I called her, I was like: “How are you?” And she said: “I’m OK, I’m running…” And I was like: “Why are you running?” And she said: “I’m running to a hill?” And I said: “Why?” And she said: “Because there is a tsunami coming.” And I was like: “What the f**k!” And she replied: “But don’t worry, I’m… [makes the sound of static]” And radio silence for five hours.
The only thing that was working were the landline phones and I was trying to call my mum and my battery died and I realised that I didn’t know my mum’s phone number. I then thought: “What the f**k? This is a trap! It’s a trap!” All the cell-phones and social media… we’re so used to that, we take it for granted, but suddenly I’m 29 years old now, but my generation and the one that’s younger than me, the 14-year-olds, don’t know how to interact with the world without that. I thought it was really interesting. We’re not doing 2012 with Aftershock. It’s not a porn movie where you only enjoy it when things are being destroyed. It’s a movie that shows what happens to people when suddenly all their cell-phones turn into really expensive flash-lights.
Q. Given the proximity of the film to those real events, did you have to be at all sensitive in how you depicted it?
Nicolas Lopez: No! Well, because first of all it’s not a documentary and second of all it’s not a movie about the earthquake… or rather that earthquake in particular. It’s a movie that takes place in Chile where there is an earthquake. But it’s not like The Impossible. We wanted to have some miners’ jokes, so the movie takes place in 2012. And we also wanted to joke about the end of the world, which in a way it is. We wanted to have a sense of humour about it. Of course, I don’t know what’s going to happen when the movie opens in Chile but people know that I’m not very sensitive, so it’s not going to be a surprise. Basically, my biggest problem with horror is that you need to believe that a ghost exists or that… it’s very hard to be in the situation that the character is living in a horror film. But in this movie it’s something that could happen.
This is a movie that talks about the randomness of life. It’s something that Hitchcock said when he was doing The Birds. And it’s like we could be here doing an interview and then suddenly a fire alarm goes off… whatever! I love that! And that’s why the movies starts like a comedy and they have problems such as who’s getting the girl – all those tiny problems. One guy is obsessed because his ex has stopped following him on Twitter. It’s like all that bullshit that’s so ‘important’ and suddenly all that doesn’t matter anymore. I love that. I love when things that seem to be really important cease to become important because you have to survive.
I was shooting a movie at the time when the movie happened and I had to wake up really early the next day. Suddenly, the tremors started. Chile, in a way, is like LA – we’re used to tremors. So, it’s not a big deal. It’s a tremor, whatever. But then it’s like, ‘it didn’t stop, it didn’t stop, it didn’t stop’, and suddenly there’s this sound… the ground makes a sound that is so powerful, it’s like Godzilla and Cloverfield having sex. It’s like a [mimics sound]. It’s something I’ve never heard. For Aftershock, we spent a lot of time designing that sound because it’s really f**king creepy. My Nintendo Wii flew across the room. And I was like: “OK, this is serious. I need to wake up!” I live in a duplex, so I went down to the first floor and my books were flying around like Ghostbusters. All my books were there and I opened the door, so I could see the whole skyline of Santiago and suddenly everything turned white because of all the explosions. So, suddenly, for one second everything was white. The thing is, in your head, you’ve seen so many sci-fi films that at first I was like: “I’m going to die!” But my second thought was: “This could be a great movie.”
But I remembered the advice they give you, which is to run to the door-frame, and I looked at my neighbour and my neighbour was hugging his eight months pregnant wife. Their faces were so terrified. And I was like: “This is something that people can relate to anywhere in the world!” It’s Mother Nature. And then human nature because people escape from prison, suddenly no one had lights, it was impossible to call people, so we were back in the third world. It was really weird to feel that we weren’t connected anymore. And that’s a big part of the movie.
Q. How did you first become involved with Eli Roth and how much have you enjoyed working with him?
Nicolas Lopez: Eli saw my first movie, Promedio Rojo, which is a very dark high school comedy. I showed the movie at the LA Film Festival and I invited Eli. I didn’t know him but I knew that he premiered Cabin Fever at that festival in the US. So, I asked the festival director if I could invite him. He was in the middle of Hostel but they sent me his email. So, I sent him a very long email saying that I loved his movies and he came to the screening. He was very humble. And I realised that we spoke the same language… that we were fluent in geek. So, besides my awful accent and my limited English, we were speaking about the same things – the same movies and we had the same references. It’s weird when suddenly you meet somebody and you know that they could be your brother. And that was before the screening.
So, we talked for 20 minutes, and then he saw the movie, he loved the movie and he showed the movie to Quentin Tarantino and Quentin said that Promedio was the funniest movie of the year. And suddenly everybody from around the world wanted to buy the movie and from that moment we were talking about doing something together. But then we had failures. He did the sequel to Hostel that wasn’t a big hit, I directed my second feature, Santos, that was a big co-production with Spain, which was produced by the guys who did Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage. The movie was a sci-fi romantic comedy about the end of the world but it was a huge flop. So, after that I needed to re-invent my career. I was 25-years-old when that movie came out, so I decided to try and start again and directed a very small film for less than half a million dollars, which was F**k My Life, and it was a comedy about love in the time of Facebook. It ended up being a hit, Eli saw it and loved it and he was like: “Why don’t we make a movie using that technology but instead of a comedy we’ll make a horror film?”
Now, Lorenza is the lead of The Green Inferno, the next movie that we’ve produced. We ended up producing that movie with the same crew and almost the same cast. We’re creating something in Chile that we like to call ‘Chile-wood’… basically, we’re making movies in Chile for the world and Eli is a big part of that. We did Aftershock in January and then we did The Green Inferno in October. Eli has a small part in F**k My Family and acts in Spanish! So, look where we are.