Roth collaborates to boost South American films

SITGES, SPAIN — “The Green Inferno,” which begins lensing in New York on Nov. 4, isn’t just Eli Roth’s first film as a director since 2007′s “Hostel: Part II.”

It also marks an attempt to establish Chilewood, an ambitious project from Roth and indefatigable Chilean helmer Nicolas Lopez, to create films from Chile for mainstream U.S. audiences and the world at large.

Chilean earthquake pic “Aftershock,” which Roth co-wrote with Lopez and stars in, was acquired by Dimension in one of the Toronto Film Fest’s biggest deals. Along with “Green Inferno,” a cannibal horror-thriller, the two rep the first of a planned wave of Chile-based projects, including a Chilean miners-meet-”Alien” film; an untitled romantic comedy translating the spirit of Lopez’s hit “Fuck My Life” trilogy into English; and the directorial debut of Guillermo Amoedo, who co-penned “Inferno” with Roth.

Using profits from 2011′s “Fuck My Wedding,” Sobras Intl. Pictures, the shingle Lopez runs with partner Miguel Asensio Llamas, has refurbished offices in central Santiago de Chile. Lopez and Roth are also converting an aircraft hanger into a studio.

More than a physical production center, however, Chilewood is a concept — an “alternative filmmaking model,”

as Lopez puts it, which prioritizes far lower-budget productions, but still delivers auds polished storytelling and production values , while empowering filmmakers to put movies into production and retain more profits if the film hits at the box office. Lopez would not be drawn on specifics of the splits.

No Chilewood pic’s budget will be above $10 million, says Lopez, who nevertheless promises “a spectacular plane crash … that will traumatize audiences” of “Green Inferno.”

The pic’s shoot segues from New York to the Amazon jungle for three weeks, then four in Santiago de Chile as it follows an idealistic student and a group of naive do-gooders captured by cannibals after their plane crash-lands in the jungle, according to a May 30 report by Variety.

“Aftershock” features a nightclub collapse, a cable car plunging down a hillside, an underground labyrinth of sewers and, of course, a tsunami. Yet Lopez, using five Canon 5D cameras, a cast and crew mixing Roth as a preppy gringo tourist, and regulars from his microbudget Chilean romantic comedies, brought the pic in for less than $4 million.

At Spain’s Sitges Film Festival on Oct. 6, where “Aftershock” had its European premiere, Roth says he and Lopez had been planning to make a sci-fi film when Lopez began to tell him about Chile’s 2010 earthquake, the sixth-biggest ever recorded. The pic braids true post-quake events — vandalism and a mass jailbreak of violent criminals — into a splatfest/disaster movie.

“We wanted to tell a story in a novel

environment, Roth said at Sitges. “There hadn’t really been an earthquake movie in 40 years. We thought we could make it low-budget and make it feel very real.”

Unlike Bollywood, Chilewood does not represent a national film industry: Chile’s pic biz is largely a variety of arthouse movies driven by government support and burgeoning international co-productions. Rather, the concept reps a close-knit band of mavericks, led by Roth and Lopez, along with screenwriter Amoedo and Lopez’s producer-partner Asensio Llamas.

Some of the U.S.’ leading indies have already latched onto the project’s early output. Equity fund Cross Creek Pictures, which backed “Black Swan,” “Rush” and “The Woman in Black,” invested in “Aftershock,” which is sold by Glen Basner’s FilmNation; Worldview Entertainment, a producer on Guillaume Canet’s “Blood Ties,” is co-financing and co-producing “Inferno,” which is sold by Exclusive Media.

Reasons for such support are all about investment to potential return. To say that Roth’s low-budget mainstream horror track record is impressive is an understatement. “Hostel” had a $3 million negative cost, but grossed $80.6 million worldwide; “Hostel: Part II” did less, $35.6 million worldwide, but established the multihyphenate as the leader of the U.S. splatpack.

Financed by Studiocanal, “The Last Exorcism,” Roth’s first Eli Roth Presents title, which he produced with Strike Entertainment, cost $1.5 million to make, but brought in $67.7 million around the world.

Chilewood’s low-budget pricing concept was born out of a post-economic-crisis mentality. Living out of a friend’s garage in Hollywood in 2009, as the studios cut back on production levels and development deals, Lopez had an epiphany: that even films that recouped failed to earn much money. Microbudget, he felt, was the answer. .

“Aftershock,” for which Dimension paid a reported $2 million against gross, will receive a wide U.S. release, Roth said at Sitges.

Whether it pays off in the manner of the “Hostel” model is yet to be seen. But Chilewood’s philosophy has already won many early adopters.

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