Interview: 'Lovely Molly' & 'Exists' Writer/Director Eduardo Sánchez
by Jeremy Kirk
May 22, 2012
Horror feature Lovely Molly, from writer/director Eduardo Sánchez, is one of those wicked, little, indie horror/thrillers that stick with you days after you see it. The personal hell its lead character, Molly, played with strength and a certain allure of danger by Gretchen Lodge, goes through is ambiguous enough for vast interpretations. The imagery he inflicts on viewers is crafty yet terrifying as the film becomes a twisted, haunted house tale in one woman's mind. With Exists, Sanchez's next film for which he is co-writing with Lovely Molly co-writer Jamie Nash, the once Blair Witch Project wunderkind has returned to indie horror.
We were fortunate enough to speak with Mr. Sanchez just after filming had wrapped on Exists. Lovely Molly is set for release in theaters on May 18th, so it should already be playing (check your local listings). Mr. Sanchez discusses indie filmmaking, working with actors and finding future stars like Lodge, and bringing his childhood nightmares about Bigfoot to found footage life. Let's get right into our discussion below.
First question - how long were you in Texas (filming Exists)?
Eduardo Sanchez: I was in Texas for two month. And it looks good, man. I think we made the Bigfoot movie that I've been waiting for since I was 12 years old.
Eduardo: Yeah, and it looks pretty good. And this is based on kind of a rough trailer using some of the footage, so we're pretty excited about it, man.
Very cool. Well, let's start with Exists, which is your latest movie. Let's touch on that before we get into Lovely Molly.
You recently wrapped filming here in Texas. What can you tell us about Exists?
Eduardo: Exists is a first-person/found footage Bigfoot movie, my first found footage movie since Blair Witch. I've been wanting to make a Bigfoot movie since I was 12 years old, and this is the third Bigfoot script that I've written or I've helped write. It's the basic story about these people who go out into the woods and get attacked by a creature, and then it starts to get a little deeper and deeper and you start to realize why the creature is attacking them. So it brings out the old school, creepy, Bigfoot-in-the-woods feeling, but also injects what I think is really unique about Bigfoot, which is that it's partly human. It's like the missing link.
To me it has human characteristics, and we definitely play with those human characteristics, especially at the end when you realize why all this happened. So there is some characterization to the monster. It's not just this mindless creature who wants to kill, and I'm pretty happy with it. I'm pretty proud of it. We had Weta design a suit and Spectral Motion built the suit and Brian Steele was the creature. It was just crazy. There were some moments where it's hard to believe it's just a guy in a suit. There are some really cool moments, and everything worked out well, man. Shooting in Austin was great. The actors were great. The crew was incredible.
Yeah, with Spiderwood Studios it looked like you had some really great locations.
Eduardo: Yeah, you know, we really lucked out with Spiderwood, because the movie had to take place in the woods. It takes place in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, so you have to be in a remote place, and once you decide that you're gonna do a movie in a remote place, you're kind of stuck in a remote place most of the time, which means you get ridiculous production problems that come up. With Spiderwood, we were able to minimize those, because you have full use of the facilities, and you have offices and an air conditioned lunch room, real bathrooms, which is pretty important when you're out there, and it's hot, and you're stuck in the woods all day. You just want to go back to a building and have a good lunch in an air conditioned building. It's pretty amazing how rejuvenating that is. So it was the perfect situation for us, and everyone at Spiderwood was really cool. They rolled out the red carpet for us, and we took advantage of everything they had to offer. It's a great place to shoot a film.
Just in talking with some of the people who were working on it, the one movie pretty much everybody brought up was The Legend of Boggy Creek.
Eduardo: Yeah. That movie scared the crap out of me when I was younger. I rewatched it before doing this movie, and it's definitely aged like most of the movies from the '70s. It was just a different style, but, if you give the movie a chance and you accept the different age of filmmaking and accept those differences, it's still really effective. My thing with The Legend of Boggy Creek is that it created this pseu-documentary that influenced Dan and me during Blair Witch. That was one of those pivotal movies for Dan and me when we were growing up, so it's definitely been an important movie throughout my career, but especially for this movie. For me it really was the last time that Bigfoot was scary in a movie, and there have been a lot of Bigfoot movies done since then. There have been some good ones and some bad ones, but I like the idea that there's this mysterious creature and that fear that it brought up. To me it was important to introduce this new generation who have grown up thinking Bigfoot is a joke basically, a punchline, to what it felt like for me when I was a kid. What's really cool is we had a lot of young people working on the set on Exists, and we cut a trailer together really quickly with the last three weeks of footage. It wasn't even a trailer. It was just a reel to show investors we were doing a good thing with their money.
A sizzle reel?
Eduardo: Yeah like a little sizzle reel, but it slowly turned into a trailer. It came out really nice, and it was exciting to see all these young people looking at this. They've never seen Bigfoot presented in that way. I think it's gonna be really effective. I have no idea what's going to happen to the movie, but it's got a really good chance at striking a chord. And I don't mean just here. I mean worldwide. It really is a worldwide phenomena, this Bigfoot thing.
Can't wait to see it. You have found footage elements in Lovely Molly and obviously Blair Witch. Is there a freedom that you found with that technique in delivering scary movies?
Eduardo: I'm not saying that found footage movies are easy to do. I've seen some bad ones, so the good ones really stand out. There's obviously a lot of talented people involved in those movies. For me it's a much easier way to get to the core, the heart, of fear. There's less stuff to get in the way. It's a much faster, more immediate fear for me. The problem, which is how Lovely Molly came to be, is that you have to find ways to justify the camera being on. It just gets old, especially for a movie that's supposed to be serious like Lovely Molly. In a movie like Exists it gets ridiculous too. Why is he shooting himself being chased by the creature? But it's a monster movie. While it is serious it's not 100% serious. There is a little bit of, "Okay, it's a Bigfoot movie. It's a creature feature."
But, with Lovely Molly, I really found it difficult to justify the camera being on all the time. I thought of how to bring the characteristics of first person or found footage into a regular movie, basically not paint myself into a corner but still get the best of both worlds. So that's what I did with Lovely Molly, and it was just an experiment to see if it would work. It's not like it's something that's completely new. I consider the cliche of looking through binoculars as a first-person/POV thing that the audience has accepted since the beginning of cinema. So I realized going from a regular shot to binoculars doesn't throw people through a loop, so going from regular footage to a video camera, which the character is holding, won't be confusing either. It was just sort of an experiment that I think worked pretty well, and I was excited by its effectiveness.
So was there, at one point, a consideration to make Lovely Molly completely found footage?
Eduardo: It was. The original idea that my writing partner, Jamie Nash, came up with was this idea of somebody videotaping themselves going through a possession, some kind of demonic possession. I took that idea and ran with it in a certain direction. It came out to be that it was mixed. My thing was that I wanted to present a more of a drama. It definitely was a horror movie that I had in my head, but it wasn't just a straight horror. To me, it was more of a psychological horror, more ambiguous than a straight-out horror movie, and I felt the first-person of it would be too much of a crutch and too much of a burden to keep that reality flowing. I decided to use the best of both worlds and do it the way I did it. There wasn't any real struggle. Once you decide on the movie you have in your head, once you start writing or formulating the ideas, the ideas begin to change. It always changes. That's just what I've found, and most of the time it changes for the better. As a filmmaker, as a director, especially, you're kind of the ringmaster for this circus of great people and great ideas and you have to circumvent and direct these energies in the best way possible. That's really what's exciting for me about filmmaking is not knowing exactly what's gonna happen.
Even with Bigfoot, the thing about the Exists script, I've had other Bigfoot scripts out there and gotten pretty close to selling the first two Bigfoot scripts that I wrote or co-wrote. There's something at the studio level where they're like, "No, we're not gonna do a Bigfoot movie. We can't do a Bigfoot movie." Like it's some kind of faux pas or jinx. I realized it's just a difficult thing. It's unproven. Nobody's been able to pull it off. For me, I was like, "I think I can pull this off" but there's a trepidation with how am I going to do this. Am I really trying to do this that's impossible? Is there a really good reason why no Bigfoot movies have been able to pull it off since Boggy Creek? But that's what's really exciting for me. It's definitely stress-inducing for sure, but, at the same time, it's artistically very much what you live for. When something works, it's that much more rewarding.
One of the reasons Lovely Molly works so well is your leading lady: Gretchen Lodge. Damn.
Eduardo: Yeah. Absolutely. She's crazy, man.
She's amazing. What was the audition process like for Lovely Molly, and what attributes were you looking for for that part?
Eduardo: It was a lot like Blair Witch, because we were trying to do the movie non-union and non-SAG. We ended up being SAG later on, because it's very hard to do a movie non-SAG at any budget level. We were looking for basically raw talent. It's a lot like what we did for Blair Witch. We had two days of auditioning, and we'd read about 200 people. What I was looking for was somebody to knock my socks off, to reinvent this idea that I had in my head of this character. Gretchen came in, and I've said it a million times. I had seen this scene performed at least a dozen times before she came in, and I had written the monologue. We were sitting in New York in this rehearsal space with the air conditioning going, and she completely transformed and took me to that place. I was like, "If we'd shot this with a good camera with good lighting that would have been the scene." And she's auditioning, so I knew there was something about her that was special. I couldn't pull the trigger quickly enough on her, because we were auditioning some more people. I'm not gonna say Natalie Portman was interested in our movie, but there were some more established, semi-famous actresses that I had heard of or seen in different things. So I went to LA to a bunch of people, but, at the end, I just felt there was something special about Gretchen.
I felt a lot the same way Dan and I felt about Heather in Blair Witch. There was just something about Heather and the same thing with Gretchen where this person was going to take me to a place that I can't direct her to. There are certain things that, as a director, you can do to help certain actors, but most of it is here's your character. You have to go an run with it. I just trusted her from the very beginning, and once she got to Maryland and once we started talking about the character... and I never told her, "Look, you're crazy. This has nothing to do with demon possession". And I never told her, "This is a possession. You are haunted by a demon." I never told her anything, because I don't even really know what happened.
For me there is probably something supernatural happening, but I think Molly is definitely suffering from something, some kind of psychosis. Even for me, I kind of wanted to keep that side of it a mystery. For me that's how reality is. You know what I mean? That's what makes the ending of Blair Witch work for the people that love it, that there's an ambiguity of real mysteries, real UFO encounters, real Bigfoot encounters all have unanswered questions. There are always unanswered questions. That's what makes it creepy, because the audience and the observer always have to fill in the gaps. No matter what the hell monster we create, the gaps that you create in your head are always going to be scarier than what I can show you. Finding Gretchen and finding someone I could trust with the role was 99% of the movie, and she totally knocked it out of the park.
It's an amazing performance. Have you found in the industry, probably since Blair Witch and with the rise of genre film festivals like Fantastic Fest and FrightFest and VOD even, have you found independent filmmaking has become easier or more accepted?
Eduardo: It really is a double-edged sword with the rise of film festivals and the rise of digital media. It's so easier to make a movie now, and it's so much cheaper than it was even 10 years ago, not to mention 20 years ago. At the same time, because of that, the money has definitely dried up for certain kind of independent films, even horror films. It's very hard to make a living making movies right now. It's never been easier to make movies, but it's never been harder to make a living making movies. You have to make a living to have successful filmmakers out there. What's happening is, even with me, I'm a pretty established filmmaker, people want to wait.
Even with Exists. We shopped it around, and a lot of people were really interested. Big studios were like, "We love it. Whatever. But, you know what, we'll wait. We'll wait to see it." And that's what they're doing. There's a guy I know from Sony, and he was the same thing. Sony, at this level, isn't making movies. They're picking them up at film festivals. So I understand business-wise that makes sense, but, as far as helping filmmakers get out of the rut, and it's not a rut, but making movies for $50,000, because you can't make a living at that level, it's more difficult than ever right now. And the video market has dried up. It's half of what it used to be when DVDs and even VHS were at their prime. I knew a lot of filmmakers here in Maryland who used to make a living doing straight-to-video horror movies, like a lower budget Roger Corman model, and that doesn't exist any more. It's really hard to make a living. You have to have a hit.
The problem is, when you make a movie for so cheap, unless it's exceptional, unless it's a huge hit, by the time piracy comes around and you get your movie up on the web, it takes such a huge amount of your market, and you lose a ton of money. I know a lot of really talented filmmakers here in the DC area who, they should be making movies full-time, but they're working at Target and working as nurses and working day jobs, because that's just the way it is. It's unfortunate. They made good films, but, by the time the piracy takes over and the distributors take their fees, they end up with nothing. While I like the idea that more people are making films, it is more difficult to make something that's substantial in budget unless you're really well established.
Part of the reason why I think there hasn't been a decent, found footage Bigfoot movie or even an alien movie is because you need a certain amount of money to pull that off. Our suit in Exists cost a lot of money. It cost almost 20% of the budget, and, in low budget movies, if you're spending $50,000, you can't spend that kind of money on a creature suit, and it ends up looking like most Bigfoot movies with a guy in a bad suit. It's kind of a difficult situation where there are more film festivals, and it's never been easier to make a movie, but, at the same time, the video market has really hurt the indie filmmakers in all genres. I don't know what's gonna happen with it, and, eventually, everything will be fine. They'll find a new model, but it's just a difficult thing right now. I know a lot of people who should be making movies and cant.
Well, Lovely Molly comes out May 18th, correct?
And I can't wait to see that again, and I can't wait to see what comes from Exists.
Well, we appreciate all the support. Eduardo Sánchez's Lovely Molly is truly a psychological horror film worthy of its praises, a very adult drama with just enough supernatural elements and plenty of ambiguity to keep it reeling in your head. While Exists sounds more like a straight-forward creature feature, we can't wait to see what Sanchez has in store for us with some crazy Bigfoot horror. A huge thank you to Mr. Sanchez and Hagan Films for giving us the time to talk with him. Lovely Molly is already playing in limited theaters now.