Gigi Saul Guerrero and her Luchagore-team may be the hottest and fastest rising newcomers in horror today. Last year they collected award after award for their stomach-churning beat-them-and-eat-them short „El Gigante“. Famous horror icons like Eli Roth and the Soska sisters are among their fans and supporters. 2016 could be remembered as the year that brought the Vancouver-based filmmakers right where they belong – to the top of their game. Director Gigi, cinematographer Luke Bramley and producer Raynor Shima spoke with us about their specific approach, dealing with low budgets and the fun of grossing people out.
screen/read: Let’s start off with that pretty strange name you chose for your production company. Where does „Luchagore“ come from and what does it mean?
Gigi: What we do is mainly Tex/Mex influenced horror as you could call it, so the name was meant to represent that. Obviously, gore is for horror and the Mexican part comes from Lucha Libre wrestling. Luke came up with the name and we’re proud of him for that, he’s a honorary Mexican now [they all laugh]. The two of us went to the same film school, Raynor joined later. At one point we decided to form a production company because we loved working together and we all had a thing for horror and the super raw, super gritty type of filmmaking that you find in movies like the original „The Hills have Eyes“ or „The Devil’s Rejects“.
screen/read: How did that specific Mexican style come about?
Gigi: It started out with a small short about a Zombie border patrol that kills Mexicans who cross the border. It was our first film. Luke and I made it just for ourselves in filmschool. I was born in Mexico so I carry all these influences with me and we just kept putting them in every film we did. It got stuck with us and became our thing since we all really liked it. We can take all those legends or traditions from Mexico and give them a different twist to make them our own. I don’t think it’s been done before too much, so it’s pretty cool that we were able to form a team around that kind of stuff.
Luke: It also separates ourselves from other filmmakers in our country. Being in Canada and having the Mexican influence helped us target a fairly huge market in the Southern states and in Mexico. So we’ve been able to grow our audience a lot. With filmmaking, you can start anywhere, but your audience is international, so that’s been really cool for us.
screen/read: Your multiple-award-winning short „El Gigante“ is based on a book by Shane McKenzie, who is also part of Luchagore. You adapted only the first chapter, which seems like a rather unusual approach. What was the idea behind that decision?
Raynor: Shane’s book really plays off so well as a story. When we read it we all felt it could easily work as a full length feature. But with no budget attached we knew that we couldn’t just make the whole thing. So we decided to make a short film instead and use it as a proof of concept to convince investors or possible partners. So that’s how „El Gigante“ was born, the first chapter of the book. We tweaked it a little bit so it could also stand on its own, but we didn’t expect it to kick off as well on festivals as it actually did.
screen/read: So how did audiences react to the film?
Gigi: I think everybody that has seen it at festivals really appreciated it, especially the ones in Mexico. People there went crazy over it, they absolutely loved the Lucha Libra mask in it and the social commentary on border crossing. But I also love how we’ve had a couple of incidents where people got mad. I remember a festival in a very religious town called Puebla and I think the people there weren’t really expecting to see a lot of horror films being screened and when ours came on, people got pretty disgusted at what we had to offer. I really like to gross out people, I must say [laughs].
screen/read: You even have fans among established horror filmmakers, like the Soska sisters. How did they become aware of your work?
Gigi: It was totally random. They were judges at a festival in Vancouver. „Gigante“ was competing and they absolutely loved it and approached us. They saw the potential in our group and they’ve been supporting us ever since.
screen/read: Like so many filmmakers today, you collected the budget via crowdfunding and were pretty successful there.
Raynor: Yeah, we raised eight thousand dollars, three thousand over our original funding goal, which later went towards the production value of the film. Shane had so many fans backing him and then some money came from our little group of fans as well, but also people that had never seen our work got aware of the project on Kickstarter and donated to it. So we’re very grateful because if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have made the film.
screen/read: What kind of budget are you aiming at for the feature?
Gigi: Even though more would always be better, half a milion dollar is what we pitch. It’s the bare minimum that we need to do justice to the book and still getting by. As first time film makers you have to know that your chances in getting more funding than you expect are pretty low, because no-one is willing to take risks on newcomers.
Luke: But working with lower budgets is kind of our specialty. All our shorts were made with less to nothing so we really know how to push any amount that we get and do the best we can with what we got.
screen/read: That is clearly visible. None of your films look cheap or as if you had to struggle with a lack of money. How do you manage that?
Raynor: It all comes down to locations. When we did a short called „M is for Matador“ which was intended for „The ABCs of Death 2“, I found the location before we even started writing the script. So in a sense we wrote the story based on this barn where the villain keeps these women captive. And that’s from where we went to shoot the whole thing. We shot smart and effectively and didn’t keep it super wide because it wasn’t a massive set.
Luke: I think what we do is we think a lot about the mise-en-scene when we shoot. We keep the frame in mind that the audience will get to see and ask ourselves, how can we fill that to make it look as good as it can? „El Gigante“ was actually the first short for which we had to consider a 360 vision of what the whole place looked like. So that was a new challenge.
screen/read: With that experience in mind, do you feel ready and prepared for moving on to bigger projects?
Gigi: So far we haven’t got that big of a scale with that many crew, with that many cast at once. When we made „Dia de los muertos“ for an anthology called „México Bárbaro“ that was our biggest crew yet, around 55 people. Other than that we’ve been working with the same team since early 2012 when we all gathered. That was six to eight people. And every single project that we’ve done together since then, it’s always been the same key departments. But we’ve had so much practice as a team that I’m actually very excited to try a feature now. None of us has done one as a Luchagore member yet, but I think our team is fully ready for it.
screen/read: Many filmmakers are starting out in horror these days. What would you say makes it easier for newcomers in the community?
Luke: I find most people who are drawn to horror are kind of outcasts in society, and horror itself is an outcast to the mainstream genre, even though it is widely popular. I think that is what draws people together a lot. You go to horror conventions and everyone’s like family. And the horror audience really supports independent horror filmmaking, the lower budget stuff. It’s really the only genre where that happens. And what draws filmmakers, especially newcomers to the genre I guess is that you can keep the budget down. You don’t need A-list actors, you just need good actors who do great performances, because horror itself is the selling point. People will go to a horror movie to see horror. So you’re able to experiment a lot more than if you’re doing an action film or a scifi movie.
screen/read: When you think about distribution, what are your hopes and fears for the future? Is theatrical distribution dead for low budget films?
Luke: I think every filmmaker wants their film to be seen on a big screen, and it is a different feeling, a better experience overall. But unfortunately getting a theatrical release is so expensive. Everyone is watching films on their smart tv or their phone or their laptop now, so the medium is changing a lot. And especially for lower budget stuff where they just don’t have the advertising budget for a big theatrical release I think the VOD industry is going to be a big player in the future. Distributors look at it from a standpoint of, is this going to be marketable, is it going to make money, will we recoup the marketing cost of the film? It basically comes down to dollars and cents. We don’t expect to make a lot of money of our first film, but we want lots of people to see it.
screen/read: But isn’t making money something you should think about as young filmmakers in general? How do you get along?
Gigi: Right now we don’t make any money of our work, we just do it for the love of making films. So our rule as Luchagore team is that we only shoot weekends. Because in the middle of the week we all have to go to work, we all have to pay our rent, our car and all that. I teach kids how to skate, Raynor fixes tires and cars, Luke works at the University for different classes. We keep our lives busy, we keep the money coming, but we make sure we have the time to make our gory films [laughs].
Since our conversation, three things happened: 1. Luchagore teamed up with Raven Banner („Wolfcop“) as a production and worldwide sales partner for the „El Gigante“-feature; 2. got a manager in L.A. and 3. a big secret project offered and greenlit that they cannot talk about at the moment. We think that is quite something. Good luck, guys.
[Read the translated German version of this interview here]
[Abbildungen: Luchagore Productions]