Mexican writer-director Isaac Ezban comes to Ventana Sur with two films, “The Incident” and Blood Window’s “The Similars.” Making both films in one year was a whirlwind for Ezban, particularly since these are his first feature-length pieces — he cut his teeth as a maker of short films. Ezban’s signature lo-fi sci-fi aesthetic shines through in both outings, channeling the work of H.P. Lovecraft and episodes of “The Twilight Zone” as inspiration. Shoreline Entertainment acquired “The Incident” on Nov. 30 in a deal reported by Variety. Ezban is represented by Benderspink.
Your impressive short film “Nasty Stuff” gloriously bathed in Lovecraftian horror. Now your debut feature “The Incident” delves into intellectual/metaphysical science fiction. And right now you just finished your second feature film “The Similars,” which, by the look of the first teaser trailer, looks like it could have some horror again. So, are you more of a horror fan, or more of a science fiction fan?
Something in between, a little bit of both, with a foot in both worlds. Science fiction and horror movies are the two kinds of movies that I enjoy the most and that inspire me the most. On the horror side, Lovecraftian-Cronenbergian-Buddy-Mutant horror is I guess my favorite (and that was my biggest inspiration for my short film “Nasty Stuff,” as you mentioned), and on the science fiction side, I really enjoy intellectual/metaphysical sci-fi, and also psychological sci-fi, kind of like the one you got to see in “The Twilight Zone,” in the works of writers like Philip K. Dick, Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and more, or in the early films (I said early films) of filmmakers like M. Night Shyamalan or Alejandro Amemabar.
I’m interested in the science fiction that is more like character sci-fi, more focused on the characters and on seeing everything through their perspective, then on big-high budget special effects. So that is the sci-fi that inspired me to do “The Incident.” I love both kinds of films (sci-fi and horror). I also like it when sci-fi combines with horror on the same movie and it is definitely something I would like to work on in the near future. And yes, you are completely right: my second future film, “The Similars,” which I just finished shooting on August and is currently in post-production, has some kind of combination of weird buddy-horror sci-fi… hopefully you’ll be able to see it soon and tell me what you though on it.
I understand you’re currently at Ventana Sur with both films. How did you manage to shoot two films in one year?
Yes, I’m very happy to be here at Ventana Sur presenting my first two feature films in such a different situations: “The Incident,” a complete and finished film, after a successful festival tour and nine awards, had a market screening for buyers, distributors, etc planned by our sales agent, Shoreline Entertainment, while “The Similars” is just screening a work in progress – as I said, we still need to do some post-production – at the Bloody Work In Progress of Blood Window – Ventana Sur, Thursday. It has been one hell of a crazy year, I can tell you that. A year I’m really thankful about. A year where I could finally work full time in what I love and what I believe I’m good at.
This is your second time directing a feature-length film. What did you learn while completing your first film that carried over to production on “The Similars”?
Both were very low budget independent feature films. Although, “The Similars” was much bigger-budget, in scale, in weeks of shooting, in crew, in structure. However, strangely enough, although we had more resources in “The Similars,” it was a much harder film for me as a director. I had to deal, for most of the movie, with eight characters at the same time, in the same place, talking, fighting, etc. Everything at the same time. Also I had the challenge of making an interesting, captivating and believable story inside one location. Those are hard challenges.
Without revealing too much, I can tell you the film itself takes place in a chaotic atmosphere that begins on minute one and doesn’t end until the credits roll. When I wrote the screenplay, I just put everything in there. I learned a lot from my first feature film. I learned to try and plan a lot, but also be opened to the spontaneity and magic that happens in everyday life and in everyday set-life. I learned to trust my actors and my crew, to not only direct, but also listen do them a lot (I love a quote that says: “Directing is listening”), I learned to work faster, to know what I wanted faster, and to be able to communicate it faster, with the same or better results.. I was also very lucky to work with a hugely talented crew and cast. The producer Elsa Reyes and all her crew have a lot of experience.
You say that “The Similars” pays tribute to the great sci-fi films of the 1950s and ’60s. Which of those films did you draw upon for inspiration? How does it differ from other films in the genre?
I believe the best kind of science fiction is the one that takes places within a social/political context, because then, the fantastic element on the film is a metaphor for important real human important issues. As Stephen King once said, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” “The Twilight Zone” and many sci-fi stories from the ‘50s and ‘60s used to do this a lot: for example a story in which we were invaded by aliens, but it was actually a metaphor for the cold war paranoia.
The difference with “The Similars” is that I tried to replicate this kind of concept, these kind of metaphors, but in Mexico, in the Mexican society and with the Mexican culture, something that has not been done so much in my country. That is why the story takes place on the eve of October 2, 1968, because on that exact date there was a big student revolt that became a government slaughter and it’s a red point in our history. This is simply a science fiction story, but it has that context as a back wall, it is set against that, it uses metaphors to refer to that.
My biggest influences on that genre, well, there’s obviously “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits.” I even took specific references from some specific episodes, as I did with “Lost” for “The Incident.” Hopefully any “Twilight Zone” fan will be able to spot them in the film, also from writers like Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Michael Crichton and Stephen King, and I also got some influence in other films like “Body Snatchers” and “The Blob” as well as a big influences from Cronenberg´s earliest films and from John Carpenter´s earliest films (specially “The Thing”).
I was also influenced by some more modern films, like Richard Kelly’s “The Box” (2009, extremely underrated and one of my favorites) or “Identity” (2002), that uses a kind of similar set up for the characters, also from the films of Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo, and some films that are not particularly sci-fi but deal with fantasy and magical realism elements, like the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
What are you drawn to in a character? Which traits do you find most compelling?
When creating a character for any story, I’m always more drawn to his failures, his negative aspects, the problems on his personality.
Are you working on any upcoming projects? What are your plans for the future?
I’m currently focusing all my energy on selling my first feature film, finishing post for my second feature film and planning my third feature films, I would love to eventually make some short films again: Nacho Vigalondo is one of my favorite directors and biggest inspirations and he does it all the time. Actually, in this crazy year I did a short film too, because I’m a part of “Mexico Barbaro,” the first Mexican horror anthology to come out in ages. “We Are What We Are’s” Jorge Michel Grau is there , and Edgar Nito, Lex Ortega, Laurete Flores, Aaron Soto, Ulises Guzman and Gigi Saul Guerrero). It premiered at Sitges and Raven Banner Entertainment picked on it for world sales.
I currently have three projects in development as a director, two of them are in Spanish and to be shot in Mexico, while one of them, if it happens, would be my first English spoken film, to be done in the US.
When not making movies, what do you like to do?
When not making movies, I spend my time watching movies. I have some other business to attend to: my production company Yellow Films, and our drive-in theater, the Autocinema Coyote. Me and four other partners are the founders of the first and only drive-in theater in Mexico City in over 30 years. We open from Wednesday to Sunday and plays classic films, and its all decorated to make you feel in the ‘60s. Here´s the website: www.autocinemacoyote.com.