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Interview: Juan Antonio Bayona & Sergio Sanchez (The Orphanage)

This year, director Juan Antonio Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez are Spain’s most talked about filmmakers. Their feature film debut, The Orphanage, has became in less than three months, the highest grossing movie in the history of Spanish cinema, let alone in the history of Spaniard horror film movies, which was almost nonexistent until a Alejandro Amenábar started the trend with thesis film almost a decade ago.

[Ed's note: They are rare occasions but I love it when our U.S based correspondents get to chill out with fellow countrymen – in this case Barbara had the chance to end the year with a pair of Spaniards that are having one hell of a great year. – Enjoy!]

This year, director Juan Antonio Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez are Spain's most talked about filmmakers. Their feature film debut, The Orphanage, has became in less than three months, the highest grossing  movie in the history of Spanish cinema, let alone in the history of Spaniard horror film movies, which was almost nonexistent until a Alejandro Amenábar started the trend with the film Thesis almost a decade ago.

Selected to represent Spain for the Best foreign picture category at the upcoming Oscars, The Orphanage has one of the better chances to not only be a top 5 finalist but grab top honors especially since Guillermo del Toro presents and produces the movie (yes, we believe in the power of this movie but we also know that contacts are more than important in Hollywood!)

Talking about horror movies these days means films opting for bloody images, never-ending screams and many special effects but with this film there is a complete void of the 'superproduction' and rather a little ghostly movie conceived in a very classical way, where darkness and silences play the most important part in generating ambiance, and atmospherics that  were used by established masters of suspense such as Hitchcock. With a team of first newcomers (every technical department was headed by a first time specialist in its own field) Bayona has crafted one of the scariest and yet, beautiful movies of the year.

The story is set in an old orphanage in the Spanish countryside, where Laura (Spanish star Belen Rueda, who also has played in The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro) plays a mother whose child disappears. The search of the kid drives her into the otherworldly.

I recently met with Juan Antonio Bayona, 32, and Sergio G. Sanchez, 34 (both consummate movie lovers), during press day in New York.

Juan Antonio Bayona

Juan Antonio Bayona

How did you two meet and ended up working together?
Sergio G. Sanchez: We met at a film festival. I had written the script and wanted to direct it but at the time no production company in Spain wanted to do it. They said that it was an impossible mixture of horror and drama and that those two things didn’t work well together. Everything we thought it was special about the movie they hated it. All of the things that made the script so great and so different from the usual horror movie were the things that they were rejecting. So when Juan read the script and he said he liked it I told him, ‘well if you think that you can do something with it you are more than welcome’. It became the highest grossing film ever in the Spanish film history so I guess somebody was wrong.

Juan Bayona: When I met him he was so disappointed about the whole thing and to me the script was really good. The emotional aspect was really interesting, the scary scenes were well written but there was all this emotion that made the movie so original and unique, so different from all the things that we are used to see today. So I went to Rodar y Rodar film production company and I also gave the script to Guillermo del Toro and together we found the money.

How did you know Guillermo del Toro?

Juan Bayona: I met him when I was seventeen years old in Sitges Film Festival in Spain. I met him on a press encounter like this one. He was doing promotion of his movie Cronos and I was one of the journalists. He was so impressed by my questions because I looked so young that we kept in touch over the years. Afterwards I went to film school and then I taught for six years but we talked a lot over time. When I brought him Sergio’s script he loved it and he decided to present the movie. He also became the producer and there is nothing better than a producer that is also a director because he can understand your problems really well. He gave us a few suggestions but he never insisted on anything, he respected our way of looking at this movie.

How did you manage to became a journalist at 17?
Juan Bayona: I wanted to see the movies with subtitles, because in Spain subtitles aren’t used, everything gets dubbed but if you are a journalist you can see the movies in their original language. I also wanted to interview many people that I admired so I managed to get a press credential from a little magazine.

The Orphange

It [The Orphange] is a real classic horror movie and there are other young directors following the same path like Paco Plaza, what’s going on in Spain? Is there a new director’s horror movie generation?
Juan Bayona: It is a sweet moment for movies in Spain, we are the first generation that grew up in a democracy after Franco years (the dictator who run the country for almost four decades). When I was a child there was only a TV station but they would show all these great movies from Bergman, Hitchock, Truffaut… I think is a generation that grow up with a really rich background unlike today’s kids.

Sergio Sanchez: Yeah, I believe today people grow up watching a lot of crap on TV. For me it was really surprising to discover that American film students didn’t know about movies like Bringing Up Baby or Adam's Rib. When I came to study at New York University most of my classmates didn’t know about most of the movies that are considered ‘the classics’.

How important was the sound design in the movie?

Juan Bayona: Today people are too used to excess, a lot of special effects and things like that – but to me it was important to go back to simplicity so silence and darkness became essential. As far as the sound goes we tried many things but we discovered that silence was the most powerful tool.

The Orphange

Is the world that is portrayed in the movie is a real world or is the world imagined by Laura, the main character?
Juan Bayona: What do you think? It is funny because for us the most challenging part in the process of making the movie was the script. We wanted to have this suspenseful thriller that worked like a puzzle in which all the pieces fit in perfectly but at the same time we wanted to have two different levels of reading. One was the real one, the psychological portrait of the downfall of a woman who cannot deal with losing her child and at the same time there was the fantastic and classical ghostly story. It was challenging but also very satisfying. It could be about the cruelty of hope or it could be about a woman who doesn’t loose faith. It makes the movie very exciting for the audience because everybody can have their own interpretation. The first time we sat to talk about the movie with Del Toro we talked about The Turn of the Screw of Henry James, and he told me that the first time he read the book he didn’t understand anything about it but he was so intrigued about the book that he kept reading it every year. When he grew up he understood that there was nothing to understand about it, that is the job of the reader to interpret the story as they like. That was the kind of approach I wanted for this movie.

Why does the child have HIV?
Sergio Sanchez: I thought it would say a lot about the character, someone that is willing to adopt a kid with such a disease is someone that is gonna be really strong. She has a bit of a ‘Wendy syndrome’, she wants to be a good mom and take care of all the children but almost as if she was playing because she is not ready to face those responsibilities, she is not able to see the needs of her own son, she is unable to see that he needs attention. And that’s why the whole thing starts. He is feeling abandoned and that’s why he comes up with that imaginary world.

The Orphange

Was it a dream come through to come to Hollywood with this movie? Are you getting any offers to work in the USA?
Juan Bayona: Yes, both of us are getting offers but not the ones we ever dreamed of. Actually most of them are not good at all, like the leftovers that nobody wants. Tell them what happened to you…

Sergio Sanchez: I got a phone call from someone asking me if I had thought about getting an agent in the USA and I said, ‘well, I haven’t because what I really want to do is to direct’. And he said, ‘well right now there is project that would be perfect for you, it is a remake of Rosemary’s Baby’. And I just said, excuse my language but that is what I really said, ‘I rather fuck my mother’s corpse than do that’, I thought it was blasphemy. Why anybody would like to do a remake of a movie that is already so great?

Do you have any projects right now?

Juan Bayona: I do..but I cannot talk about it.

Sergio Sanchez: Guillermo del Toro is going to direct one of my screenplays. It is a story about the Spanish Civil war. I had all those scripts getting dust in a drawer and now, finally, they are gonna become movies. It is great! But I am still thinking about directing soon.

Picturehouse Films released on The Orphanage in theaters in Friday 28th.

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