Over the many months I’ve been with AndyErupts I’ve reviewed many types of horror, from gross out gore, chilling suspense, comedy to even the damn right messed up. I’ve seen a lot of good and bad flicks over the past 6 months but no doubt the best of the bunch has to be Juan of the Dead.
Juan of the Dead is one of those rare treats. It has everything that makes going to the movies fun. It has the fundamental ingredients that make up any awesome film. Its has the horror, action, drama, comedy and a huge body count. With all the ingredients in the right order and just enough of each without ever over compensating, Juan of the Dead has the perfect balance.
I felt the only right thing to do was to try to get an interview with the writer/director of Juan of the Dead, Alejandro Brugués. Through talking zombie deaths on Twitter, I finally managed to get my chance to ask the director the many questions haunting my hollow head!
I’d like to personally thank Alejandro for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to Andy Erupts.
Can you tell the readers of Andy Erupts a little about yourself and how you got into film making?
I always wanted to be a writer. You know, it was one of those things that came natural to me since I was a kid. So when I grew up, for some crazy reason I thought becoming a screenwriter was the right thing to do. So I studied screenwriting, and after graduating I wrote the scripts of some Cuban films. But there aren’t many filmmakers here, and I realized if I kept working as a screenwriting it would always have been in the stories of those directors, and I had plenty of stories of my own, so I decided to direct them myself. When you’re a writer in someone else’s set directing doesn’t seem so hard. You’re just the guy that tells everyone what’s right or wrong. So I started doing it. And boy was I wrong about the director’s job!
Do you have any hints and tips for up and coming filmmakers?
Yes. Don’t do it! Unless you’re completely useless at anything else, like me, or you can’t live without doing it (also like me). It’s really difficult, it takes a huge toll on you, both physically and mentally, and it’s NOT about red carpets, parties and all that. It’s about working harder than anyone else.
But, if after all this, you insist, always remember, you’re only the director. Filmmaking is collaboration, and you have to respect everyone and make them feel like a family. Or else your life is going to be a living hell! I like to let everyone know that I’m not the smartest guy on the set and that my ideas are not necessarily the best ones. I want everyone to tell me what they think. I couldn’t live with it if I did something one way just because of ego, if someone there had a suggestion about how to make it better.
Also, always try to surround yourself with people that know more than you do.
What attracted you to making a horror film?
Juan is actually a comedy. Only playing in the horror film field. And that’s what was so attractive, both horror and comedy are genres that allow you to do social commentary, and that was one of my main goals. Besides, it’s really fun to do!
Can you tell us a little bit about Juan of the Dead?
What can I say that hasn’t been said before? It’s a Cuban zombie comedy! If that doesn’t make you want to see it, I don’t think I’ll change your mind. Oh, it has male nudity. And it’s really funny.
You are also credited for writing Juan of the Dead, how did you come up with the story?
I’m a writer, I don’t know where ideas come from! I just made a joke to my producer, about someone on the street that looked like a zombie. I said “we could use people like him to make a zombie film and we wouldn’t even need make up and we can call it Juan of the Dead” and that was it. After that, I couldn’t get it out of my head, I knew it was going to be the next one.
I love the relationship between Juan and Lazaro, the chemistry was sublime, did you have Alexis Diaz de Villegas and Jorge Molina in mind from the beginning?
Yes, I wrote the script with both of them in mind. When I first thought about Juan I thought about Alexis, and once I knew he would fight with an oar, you know, it kind of reminded me of Don Quixote, and if I had a Quixote, I needed a Sancho Panza, and that’s when I thought about Jorge Molina.
On a side note, Molina is not really an actor, he’s a film director. He does some acting from time to time, but I can proudly say this is his biggest and best role, and I think he hit a home run. I knew Alexis was going to be good, because he’s an amazing actor.
And the good thing is, Alexis once starred in one of Molina’s short films! (Molina’s Mofo, all his films are called “Molina’s something”), so they had worked together. But when they worked on “Juan” it was amazing, I felt like I had discovered my own Jack Lemmon and Walther Matthau or Newman and Redford. I could make ten films with these guys.
Lets talks Zombie deaths, this film is very innovative with its deaths. How do you come up with these scenes?
That was fun, I just pictured the zombies as someone I hated and just thought about what could be the most terrible thing to do to that person! Of course, I’m not telling any names!
Congratulations on the biggest onscreen death of a zombie mob, what was the final body count?
Haha, thanks! There were 280 zombies, I believe. And it was also the hardest scene to shoot! Actually I didn’t know what we had until the film was almost finished and I saw the final FX. Thank God it turned out well!
I love the sudden changes from dramatic emotional tensions to side splitting comedy. Why did you decide to add an element of comedy?
It was always a comedy, and I knew at some point it would change to something more dramatic. Some people are a bit put off by this, and some critics mention it as a dramaturgic mistake, but it had to be like that. In the end, the film is about a really serious issue for us Cubans, and I had to take that turn to that place at some point. There are a couple of people that have shed a tear at the end, you know? That makes me very proud, to get to that point in a zombie film!
I couldn’t help but pick up on the political undertone in Juan of the Dead, I felt this added a great authenticity to the film. Did you attract any criticism over this?
Some, I guess, but mostly people saw it as it was intended, as a mean to say something deeper about my country. There were moments when I thought about the film as a political comedy with zombies and not the opposite.
Was it difficult making a movie in Cuba? Were there any barriers you had to overcome?
I guess it was just a bit more difficult than what would have been to shoot it somewhere else, because there were things we needed that are impossible to find in Cuba. We had to bring all the make up materials from Mexico (the make up team was mostly Mexican) and things like that, but I think that was it.
What kind of reception did Juan of the Dead get in Cuba?
They love it. The first screening, at the Havana Film Festival, was crazy, there were 15,000 people outside the theatre trying to get in! And now everyone has seen it, and I get comments by people all the time.
Is it true you may be doing a sequel to Juan of the Dead?
Ha, no, it’s not true, it’s just a running joke. Since everyone was asking me about it, including the actors, I came up with one idea, that the underwater zombies arrive to Miami and since they are Cuban they can’t send them back, so they have to call Juan and Company to take care of the situation, but so far it’s only a joke, I don’t want to do a zombie film next. If, at some point, I decide to go with it, it’ll be because I love the world, the characters and I have a great time with the actors. And why not go for a trilogy and make “Juan of the Dead II: Dead by Juan” and “Juan of the Dead III: Army of Juan”?
There are a great deal of nods to the zombie genre in Juan of the Dead, what are your favourite zombie films and why?
Oh, I grew up watching zombie films, and I just stopped after making one. There are many that I love. My favorite actually is not a zombie film per se, it’s Evil Dead and Evil Dead II. I saw those as I kid and have always thought about them as zombie films, although I know they are about possession.
Zombie film favorites: Day of the Dead, Braindead, Shaun of the Dead (duh), Fido, Undead, Dawn of the Dead (both the original and the remake), Zombieland. You know the list, we all love the same ones.
What are you plans for the future?
Probably another horror film. Or adventure. I’m working on both, let’s see what comes up first.
Again, a big thank you to Alejandro for his time.