For those of you who think all werewolves look like Taylor Lautner, please stop reading here. Good news for the rest of us: There is hope that the hairy classic horror icon may still be alive in the minds of filmmakers who haven’t forgotten about how scary it is to watch a regular man turn into a bloodthirsty beast whenever there is a full moon. Juan Martinez Moreno is one of those filmmakers and his witty horror-comedy „Lobos de Arga (Game of Werewolves)“ just wowed fans and festivals all around the globe. With us he talked about his love for the genre, American remakes, the status of independent cinema in Spain and why prosthetics are the real thing.
screen/read: First all all let me say how much I enjoyed your film. Very funny, very entertaining and a true relief to see somebody making a werewolf movie again that doesn’t involve romantic vampires.
Juan Martinez Moreno: [laughs] Yeah, no marriage, no children, no falling in love at all!
screen/read: The werewolf genre was pretty much dead for quite a while and overshadowed by „Twilight“ and all those related YA novels. What was it that attracted you to returning to the roots and at the same time chosing a comedic approach?
Juan Martinez Moreno: I’ve always been a fan of horror movies, especially the classics from the 40’s by Universal and then Hammer too. I remember watching them on television when I was a kid. I was really stunned by that gothic stuff. Also I grew up in the 80’s watching „An American Werewolf in London“, „The Howling“, John Carpenter’s „The Thing“, „Gremlins“, all those kinds of movies. So I think that’s the reason that made me go into this. Generally horror moves have become big now in Spain over the last years, but they’re rarely about the classic icons of terror apart from zombies. When I wrote this script I never thought that the movie was going to be actually made. I wrote it as an exercise for myself. I had a bit of free time so I decided to write something I like while waiting for my second movie to happen. And because of that I put everything in the script that I liked. Also I was a little pissed off that the last good werewolf movie to me was maybe „Dog Soldiers“and that was about 6 or 8 years ago. And the „Twilight“ thing really made me mad. Because originally all those horror icons were created to scare people and here they were rather cute and fuckable [laughs]. And about the comedy, that was a bit of a challenge, especially in the writing. When I started to write I decided that I didn’t just want the classic werewolf horror movie with all the clichés in there. And that’s why I mixed it with comedy. Still I didn’t want it to be a parody. That’s why all the comedy comes from the reactions of the characters. The horror was meant to be real though. And that’s what I tried to achieve. Also I like comedy and a good laugh in general. That’s always been with me. My first movie was a plain comedy, and even though my second one was a psychological thriller I couldn’t help to put in some comedy as well.
screen/read: Usually the combination of comedy and horror is pretty difficult to balance and there are only very few examples that work like „Shaun of the Dead“ or recently „Juan of the Dead“ and of course „An American Werewolf in London“ which you already mentioned. Is that a road that you’d like to explore further in the future or do you have different plans?
Juan Martinez Moreno: I really don’t know. All of my three films so far are very very different. What attracts me to a movie is not the genre but finding a good story that’s worth being told and that’s interesting for an audience and a producer too. I’ve shown this movie in the States and I had meetings with producers there for future projects. They all just wanted me to do another horror comedy. I don’t want to do that though. I’m not saying that I won’t do it again somewhen in the future but in general I’m trying to explore different things.
screen/read: Do you expect an American remake to happen or were you even asked for one?
Juan Martinez Moreno: Actually there were discussions about it. Some companies were interested, they offered me to direct it but I said „No, thank you very much but I already did it. I don’t want to do the same movie again.“ For one moment though I was attracted to the idea because in Hollywood I could do all the things I couldn’t do in Spain due to budget restrictions. But then again it’s still the same movie. I don’t know if they’re going to remake it but if so, well, it’s a lot of money. It’s up to them. The reason why they do these things is the language barrier. If this movie was in English people might go to see it. But since it’s in Spanish nobody does. They don’t have this kind of culture to watch foreign language film and that’s why they remake all these European movies.
screen/read: And because these movies have proven to work, so it’s a safe deal.
Juan Martinez Moreno: Yeah, absolutely, they’ve seen a movie that’s good in German so let’s make it in English [laughs].
screen/read: I loved the fact that you chose to put people in costumes instead of using CGI for the werewolves. Was that a decision due to budget or for artistic reasons?
Juan Martinez Moreno: That was an artistic decision. I love CGI and I think it’s great when you have lots of money, lots of talent and especially when you have something that can’t be done any other way. Like recreating Mordor in „Lord of the Rings“ or the planet of „Avatar“, things like that. But I have the feeling that many people are using CGI just for budget reasons. They have to make the movie cheaper. I don’t want to name any examples but there are some horror movies where the transformation scenes are all CGI and it looks like a cartoon. It’s like Bugs Bunny and as a member of the audience I don’t buy it. But if you’ve seen the transformation in „The Howling“ or „An American Werewolf in London“, I mean, that’s the real thing and still unbeatable. And that’s why we decided to do it the way it was done in the 40’s and 80’s with all the prosthetics and the makeup. And actually it’s not cheaper. The schedule was like eight weeks and we already spent three weeks filming the scenes with all the werewolves. We had 35 makeup artists and that was quite expensive for us. But that’s what we decided for and I actually think it worked for our kind of movie.
screen/read: It added up to the comedy effect and generally worked much better than, say, the remake of „The Wolfman“ which mixed prosthetics with CGI to no effect at all.
Juan Martinez Moreno: And it was the combination of both that killed it. But actually I kind of defend this movie a little bit. Because I’ve heard that Joe Johnston, the director, had a cut that was really really good. But apparently Universal had different interests and made a mess in the editing room. So the movie the audience saw was not the real one. That’s a typical studio thing. I’d love to see a Director’s Cut at one point.
screen/read: That might be interesting. But let’s return to your movie. There’s a pretty large website on it with a massive amount of material and behind-the-scenes stuff etc. Was that installed for the marketing when the film got released or did it accompany the whole production process?
Juan Martinez Moreno: To be honest is was not the production company who did that. As you probably know, to make a movie in Spain and every country in Europe you have to knock on a lot of doors. So the official Spanish television channel RTVE was involved, which is somehow the equivalent of the BBC. And I have to say they did a lot of support for the marketing of the movie before, meanwhile and after the filming. It was their idea actually to make this website and to cover the whole thing. They started about two weeks before the filming and every week they were updating etc. I know it’s silly to say but right now the internet is a very important tool in marketing. I think they did a very good job.
screen/read: You also have a comic book version of the movie which I found very interesting. Did that evolve from the animated title sequence?
Juan Martinez Moreno: It was the opposite actually. Bizarrely, this is not a movie based on a comic, it’s a comic based on a movie, which is great for me. Before we started filming I thought this might be a great comic, so maybe we could find some company being interested. And we found one with Glénat which is the most important comic publisher in Spain. So they read the script and they wanted to do it. Once we were finished and I was in the editing room the comic artist started to work. And then there’s this first scene. We were supposed to film that regularly. I wanted to do my Francis Fort Coppola scene with it. Remember the beginning of „Bram Stoker’s Dracula“? Well, I wanted to do something like that. It was a different sequence and it had nothing to do with the rest of the story, it was a flashback. So I thought, let’s do something different with special light and things like that. We decided to shoot it after the main filming. But then we ran out of money. And I was really upset about it because we were very much in need of that scene. So at the same time I was working with the comic artist and I loved what they were doing. And then suddenly I thought why don’t we use this for the opening sequence? So that’s what we did. It was really an accident [laughs]. But sometimes these things happen and I think that scene works very well.
screen/read: You also have a pretty impressive score with a classic approach. Other medium to low budget horror films still use rather small ensembles or even electronics while you have a full-blown orchestral score which is rare when there is not too much money around.
Juan Martinez Moreno: Well, first of all Sergio Moure, the composer, he is fucking talented. It’s my second movie with him and he’s one of the best we have in Spain today. He’s really really brilliant. And from the beginning I knew, like I told you before, that I didn’t want to make a parody. I wanted the horror scenes to work as horror scenes. So to me the score was very important since it had to support the horror and not the comedy. When we decided for that we had a bit of a fight because there wasn’t too much money and this was a big score and we needed a big orchestra. But I think we did the right thing because that’s what the movie needed. And above that I’m really proud of the sound editing. We spent about six months on that alone. And I think they did a great great job. The movie is in 6.1 now and it makes things visible that are not even on the screen!
screen/read: Let’s talk a little bit about how you got into filmmaking. How did you start out, what were the movies that made you do what you’re doing today?
Juan Martinez Moreno: I always was a big movie fan since I was a kid. I was watching movies all the time. But I never thought I was going to be a filmmaker, I just enjoyed watching, that was all. Probably the first time I felt interest in the people behind the camera was when I saw „The Godfather“ part one and two in a cinema in Madrid. I was 15 or 16 and I remember thinking, who the fuck is doing this, who is behind this, who wrote this, who directed this? That’s where it really started. I never went to filmschool though, I just wanted to be involved in movies, so I started working as a runner, as a production assistant, as a director’s assistant. Later I wrote and directed some short films and so on. I learned by working on movies. So that was my filmschool. That and the movie theatres around the corner.
screen/read: With being an established filmmaker now working for years in the industry, what is your view on the current state of cinema in Spain today?
Juan Martinez Moreno: In Spain the film industry is in a really really terrible situation at the moment. Because of the recession the government cut 60 percent of the funds. Four or five years ago we used to make about 80 films a year, and now it’s 20. The other problem is the audience. People in Spain don’t want to go to the theatre anymore. We have a big big big level of illegal downloads. So the state of the industry is not very good right now. In the states interviewers often asked me why there are so many horror films coming from Spain right now. And I replied that I don’t know why but what I do know is that there probably won’t be too many in the future. Even a director like Alejandro de la Iglesia has problems to get funding for his next movie. And that is really sad.
screen/read: I guess it’s pretty much the same everywhere in Europe except for France.
Juan Martinez Moreno: You are right, the French are the only ones who really make it work. Right now I’m writing a script in France in some friend’s house and whenever I walk through Paris I see about 100 cinemas in the centre of the city. And they not only screen modern movies, they also screen classics. Yesterday I talked to a theatre owner and they were preparing a Lubitsch festival! But not only that, they are also proud of their own movies. They go to see the movies, they love the movies and that is fantastic. We don’t have that in Spain.
screen/read: We don’t have that here either, it’s a totally different culture.
Juan Martinez Moreno: Absolutely.
screen/read: Speaking of trouble to get the money for movies, do you think that crowdfunding is an alternative spproach to classic feature financing?
Juan Martinez Moreno: No. I think crowdfunding is great for young filmmakers who don’t have the chance to find a producer or a distributor: I really think it’s outrageous that some big production companies and studios are using crowdfunding to make movies. I mean, they’re big studios, they have dollars! It’s the same problem with found footage. I loved it when it started with „Blair Witch Project“ and I loved it in „[Rec]“ and all those kinds of movies. But now the big studios in Hollywood are making found footage movies too as if it was a style. It’s not a style though, it’s something that works for young filmmakers with lots of talent and not much money. But the big studios have money enough to use more than one proper camera. And the same is true for crowdfunding. It’s for young independent filmmakers, not for big studios.
screen/read: David Fincher just crowdfunded a project, did you hear that?
Juan Martinez Moreno: Unbelievable, man! David Fucking Fincher who’s probably on the list of the 10 richest people in Hollywood, he’s asking his fans for money? Are you serious? I mean, I’m not David Fincher but I made three movies and if I can’t find money to make my next movie then fuck me! Then it’s maybe because I don’t deserve it. But to ask fans for money? That’s outrageous! Again, if you’re young and have no other way, totally go for it. But giving your money to David Fincher? Fuck off!
[Thanks to Juan Martinez Moreno for taking the time to do this. It was great fun.]
[Photo Credits: Senator (Photos) | Glénat (Comic) | Telespan 2000 (Artwork)]