Jaume Balagueró: interview

We talk to Jaume Balagueró, director of the excellent new Spanish horror film, '[Rec]'

How did you arrive at the idea for ‘[Rec]’?
'I was having a conversation with Paco Plaza and we were discussing what we liked and disliked, what we thought was scary and not in horror films… and we concluded that one of the key elements of fear is credibility. So, we thought of shooting a conventional horror film but using the live TV idiom, just like a news report filmed in real time with one single camera integrated into the story. This would allow the audience to be very involved in the story, to partake in the plot, to participate in something very interactive. More than just a mere movie, we wanted to provide a complete experience.'

How did you achieve the film’s realist aesthetic?
'In order to achieve maximum credibility and reach the highest level of realism possible, it became necessary to shoot the film in the closest way to a live news report recording. We found actors who were unknown to the wider audiences and we based the work on improvisation; actor improvisation, as no actor ever had a full script, and camera improvisation. We wanted to find reactions that were as natural as possible, and that reality, the authentic, became integrated into the shoot. If an actor tripped and fell down the stairs, he would get up and continue, which is what would happen in reality. But we would never cut.'

The apartment block in which the action occurs is scary in a mundane way. How did you find the location?
'It’s an apartment building in downtown Barcelona and curiously, every apartment is vacant, completely empty. But it’s not an abandoned building. In reality, the textile workshop that appears in the film does exist, and in fact, is in use.'

You collaborated with co-director Paco Plaza on the film – was it an amicable process?
'Completely. We both came up with the idea to do this film; it’s the enthusiastic project of two friends who faced a challenge. So, we decided to stick together until the very end because the special particularities of this film allowed for that. We did everything together including the decision-making. And I must say we had a very fun time.'

Can the film be read as a condemnation of trash/daytime TV? Do you think that a lot of TV is empty ‘filler’ (like ‘When You’re Asleep’)?
'Without a doubt, the film is a statement on how TV and mass media can become reality generators. We believe reality doesn’t exist anymore. The only thing that is real is what’s on TV. It is communication media that decides what happens in the world, what should worry us and for how long, what should interest us, what is good and what is bad. It can also be interpreted as a reflection on the moral and ethical boundaries of TV and how far we should be going with the camera, how much can we and should we really show.'

'[Rec]' suggests you have a very good understanding of the dynamics of the horror genre: what films did you watch (if any) in preparation for making the film? Are there any directors (horror or non-horror) who have influenced your work?
'During the preparation of the film, we obviously took the chance to see many films that had used a similar language – "Cannibal Holocaust", ‘La Mort en Direct", "Man Bites Dog", "The Blair Witch Project"), but we saw more TV than anything else. We saw shows that are vey much like the one portrayed in the film, and then we also saw some episodes of “Cops”. I think every single movie I’ve ever seen has had some influence on me. I believe one is everything he or she has seen, heard and sensed, the good and the bad. There are hundreds of directors that have left their mark on me. The list is endless: Spielberg, Wim Wenders, David Lynch, Cronenberg, Cameron, Kieslowsky…'

The film has been a hit in festivals all over Europe – do you think these festivals are important for bringing a film like ‘[Rec]’ to a wider audience?
'I’m not sure, but I certainly hope it helps. The honest truth is that the reaction of the audience is always unpredictable. It’s a mystery.'

What is Spanish cinema’s relation to the horror genre? Is there a rich history of Spanish horror films?
'Until very few years ago, there was no genre film in Spain. There was a certain sense of shame or shyness when it came to horror, thriller and fantastic filmmaking. Things started to change when a new generation of young film directors came around. This new breed was more interested in telling stories like the ones they grew up with, the ones they loved. These are the video club generation who dared to tell genre stories with no shame or shyness. In 2007, the highest grossing films in Spain by far were two horror films. Something is definitely changing.'

I see you have been involved in writing a US remake of ‘[Rec]’ – would you have ever considered directing?
'No. The offer was never there either. And we haven’t been involved in the writing of the new script either, we only wrote the original.'

Without considering your own film, do you think there have ever been any good US remakes of foreign language horror films?
'I haven’t seen too many. I really enjoyed Gore Verbinsky’s "The Ring", perhaps even more than the excellent original.'

Author: Time Out





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