Damian Szifron, whose “Wild Tales” is repping Argentina in the Oscar foreign-language race, is no stranger to rousing success. His first project, the darkly comic 2002-03 TV series “Los Simuladores” (The Pretenders), achieved cult status in Argentina, and was remade in Spain, Mexico, Chile and Russia by Sony Pictures TV Intl. He went on to write and helm equally acclaimed feature films, starting with “El Fondo del Mar” (The Bottom of the Sea) in 2003 and police comedy “Tiempo de Valientes” (On Probation) two years later. In 2006, he wrote and directed TV skein “Hermanos y Detectives” (Brothers and Detectives), which has been remade in various countries, including Mexico, Spain, Italy, Turkey and Russia.
Despite his quick rise to success, getting film projects off the ground continued to be a challenge. “Wild Tales” sprang from this frustration. “Like an unwanted child who one ends up loving deeply, ‘Wild Tales’ was an involuntary project,” says Szifron. The result is a collection of six darkly funny shorts sharing themes of catharsis, vengeance, destruction and “the pleasure of losing control,” he adds. For Szifron, “Wild Tales,” made for just $4.5 million, represents a personal evolution in terms of scriptwriting, directing and staging.
Among the shorts, the most expensive were road-rage tale “Road to Hell” and the riotous wedding episode “Til Death Do Us Part.”
“Bombita,” which features Ricardo Darin (“The Secret in Their Eyes”) as a frustrated demolitions expert, used CGI crafted by Spain’s El Ranchito, credited for the tsunami effects in “The Impossible.”
Having Pedro and Agustin Almodovar’s El Deseo as a production partner was a boon. The Almodovars had seen “Tiempo de Valientes” and were keen to board his next project, says Szifron.
“When Agustin, who is a great producer, read my script, he described my film as ‘an emotional roller coaster,’ which helped me understand my own project in terms of energy,” he says.
Steering him on the Argentine production side were Hugo Sigman and Matias Mosteirin of Kramer & Sigman Films, which is credited with a string of hits, including “Tiempo de Valientes,” “Bombon: El Perro” and “Kamchatka.”
In Argentina, “Wild Tales” broke a host of box office records, earning $16.7 million to date and even outpacing “Frozen,” which Szifron admits he took his daughter to see three times. “Wild Tales” lured 3.2 million admissions compared to “Frozen’s” 1.9 million.
After its premiere in Cannes, and showings in Telluride and Toronto, Szifron has been inundated with offers. Mike Simpson and Stuart Manashil of WME eventually signed Szifron. “I’m not sure I’d move to Los Angeles but am certainly considering various projects as a director and writer,” he says.
For now, Szifron has his own projects to develop through his shingle Big Bang, including bilingual sci-fi trilogy “El Extranjero” (The Foreigner), which tracks an Argentinean whose otherworldly sightings lures NASA to investigate. “Its my very own ‘Star Wars,’ ” he says. His other projects are romantic comedy “The Perfect Couple” and an English-language Western, “Little Bee.” “I’d like to shoot this with American actors in locations like Salta, Jujuy and Patagonia in Argentina.”
Sony Pictures Classics releases “Wild Tales” in February.