Director Marcos Efron Exclusive Interview AND SOON THE DARKNESS

     December 21, 2010

The horror thriller And Soon the Darkness follows two American girls, Stephanie (Amber Heard) and Ellie (Odette Yustman), who decide to take a vacation to an exotic village in Argentina for the perfect girl’s getaway, to bask in the sun, shop and flirt with the handsome locals. While there, they embark on a bike tour through a remote part of the countryside, but after an argument, Stephanie heads out alone and, upon her return, discovers that Ellie has disappeared. Finding signs of a struggle, Stephanie fears the worst and turns to the police for help and learns about a string of unsolved kidnappings targeting young female tourists. Stephanie quickly questions her ability to trust anyone and realizes that she must find her friend before time runs out and her worst fears are realized.

In a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, to promote the film’s release on DVD and Blu-ray on December 28th, writer/director Marcos Efron talked about re-imagining the original 1970 British film, casting Amber Heard and Odette Yustman in the lead roles, selecting locations in more remote parts of Argentina, why vacation gone wrong stories are so popular with viewers, and the deleted scenes, video diary and audio commentary that are included in the special features. He also discussed developing two upcoming projects, one of which is an adaptation of a young adult novel that he described as Logan’s Run meets 1984. Check out what he had to say after the jump:

Question: How did you originally come to this project?

MARCOS EFRON: Some years before my involvement, the producers had optioned the rights from Studio Canal and were going to make it. I think a couple years had gone by, where they were developing various scripts, and then, when they decided that they were going to find a director, my agents put me in touch with the producers and I went through whole process of pitching my take on the film and was brought on board. I wish I could take credit for identifying the movie as remake potential, but I came into it a couple years after the process had begun.

Was it important for you to rework the script yourself and make it your own take on the material?

EFRON: Oh, yeah, for sure. I think any director, especially one like myself who writes, is going to want to put their stamp on a project. We spent about a year or so developing the screenplay, and I went down to Argentina for a month, just to do some research and do my best to capture the texture of the country. So, for me, it was not just a matter of picking up a script and directing it. It was starting from scratch, and going from a movie that stuck close to the original to a story that I wanted to tell.

Even though it’s a different film from the original, were there things in the original that you wanted to make sure that you kept and were there things that you definitely wanted to change?

EFRON: Sure. The first thing that I wanted to keep was the purity of the story. It was a couple of girls in a foreign country who don’t know their way around and one goes missing. There’s no aliens, or gratuitous violence or sex, or anything like that. It was just a simple, clean, well-told story. The other thing that I really liked about the original, that I maintained in the remake, was the lack of subtitles. If you don’t speak Spanish, then you’re going to be just as lost as Stephanie, Amber’s character, is. I thought that was important, to put the audience in her shoes. I fought to keep that and, to the credit of my producers, no one ever said, “No, no, no, we need subtitles.” They got it and thought it was cool.

Did the mood and feel of the film come from the original, or was that something you wanted to bring to it?

EFRON: I think the original had a real good sense of atmosphere, realizing that these girls are separated, not necessarily from civilization, but it was 1970 and nobody had cell phones and there was no internet. It was a challenge to get those off the table, in my film. The atmosphere of actually shooting in Argentina, and not in Buenos Aires, but hours away, in the countryside, up in the northwest, was really important to the DNA of the film.

What can you say about the special features and bonus content on the DVD/Blu-ray? How did you go about deciding what you wanted to include?

EFRON: I think Anchor Bay did a great job with the special features. I know there’s some deleted scenes, as well as a video diary that shows a good look behind the scenes of what it’s like to shoot on location and the challenges that come with shooting in a foreign country. The commentary is a lot of fun because it was a reunion of me, Gabriel Beristain, our cinematographer, and Todd Miller, the editor, who are probably the two people that a director works most closely with on a film. It was a bit of a reunion for us and we had a good time with that. I think you’ll get some good tidbits, learn a little bit about the process and what it was like to shoot the movie in a remote, yet beautiful and exotic location.

Did you know early on that you were going to be doing the video diary?

EFRON: To be perfectly honest, I was aware that there was a video camera rolling at all times, but in the day-to-day of shooting a movie on a really tight schedule, in a far away location, once I would get to set in the morning, all I was thinking about was, “Okay, what are we going to shoot today? How are we going to get it all done? Is the weather going to cooperate?” And then, every now and then, I would get called aside to answer some questions, but I wasn’t really thinking about what it was going to be used for. I was like, “Okay, let me just get this done, so I can go and prep my day.” But, I’m really glad that they did it because I think it’s kind of cool and it gives some good insight into a first-time director’s journey.

Was it difficult to find two lead actresses who complemented each other and had the necessary vulnerability, sexiness and toughness that they needed for these roles?

EFRON: It wasn’t impossible, but it wasn’t extraordinarily easy either. There are lots of wonderful, very attractive actresses in Hollywood. We all know that. But, finding two that gelled, that you could believe were best friends, and that had a chemistry was the tricky part. I think so much of it has to do with luck. I got very lucky, or fortunate, that we had those two actresses – Amber Heard and Odette Yustman – along with Karl [Urban] and Adriana [Barraza], and amazing Argentinian actors who definitely deserve a lot of credit.

Did you audition Amber and Odette, or had you seen their previous work?

EFRON: No, we didn’t audition them. They were the girls that we wanted. Amber was the first person to come on board the project. Because she is just so smart and is one of the most informed actresses that I know, having her play Stephanie was a great thing for us. Once we had Amber, it was just a matter of, “Well, who do we think will go really well with Amber?” Odette’s name came up and that was it. She had just come out in The Unborn, and I had been a fan of Odette since seeing her in Cloverfield.

Did you want them to spend time together and get to know each other, so that their friendship seemed natural in the film?

EFRON: Yeah. We spent a good amount of time in Argentina, prior to shooting. Pre-production took awhile. Having Amber and Odette come, a couple weeks before production, helped. Plus, they had known each other in Los Angeles. The three of us had hung out in L.A. and done some rehearsals. But, the time we spent in Buenos Aires, going out to restaurants, going to bars and trying new wines was great. All three of us are big fans of wine, and Argentina has got great wine. Those days of just rehearsing and hanging out and everybody getting to know each other really helped cement that kind of friendship. What was cool was that Karl didn’t come until a little bit later, so he was kind of the outsider, which really fit his character, who was somebody who was a bit of an outsider.

Was it challenging to cast actors in the roles of Calvo and Chucho, since they have to be charming and trustworthy while also being questionable?

EFRON: It was really challenging because I wasn’t familiar with local talent in Argentina. That was the first time I had worked down there. But, I was really happy to get Cesar [Vianco], who plays Calvo, and Michel [Noher], who plays Chucho. It was tough to find the right actors for those characters, but they were experienced actors who are pretty well known in Argentina. I thought they brought really amazing things to the character that I hadn’t envisioned, in the first place, especially Cesar. That was a tough process. There were a lot of auditions and a lot of readings and a lot of taping of auditions. It was a tough call, but we made the right decision.

Do you like to be really hands-on with your actors?

EFRON: Yeah. This was my first feature, but I’d directed quite a bit before this. With the actors, we spent a lot of time working on the dialogue and rehearsing, so when it came to the day of, I tried not to micro-manage. If I saw something going in a direction that I didn’t think was right, of course, I would step in. But, we had a really tight schedule. We didn’t really have the luxury of doing five or six takes for everything, so planning beforehand and then trusting the actors with their characters brought us a long way to getting the performances.

When you’re shooting a film that’s so emotionally draining for the actors, were you still able to unwind and have fun?

EFRON: We unwound, for sure. That goes back to the wine. We definitely unwound. The days were tough. We shot long days, in sometimes uncomfortable conditions. We did not have the comfort or luxury of Buenos Aires. But, since we all pretty much stayed at the same hotel and there were limited options of what to do at night, we all found ways of having some fun and, especially on the weekends, letting off some steam. It was fun. Whatever stresses were on set were left, once we got back to the hotel.

Was it important to you to make this film more about the suspense and the fear, and less about outright gore?

EFRON: Oh, absolutely, yeah. One of the major things about the original film that I really liked was that there wasn’t the reliance on gore. And I’ve got no problem with gore. I think horror films and slasher films and some of the best films are horror films that are gory. But, in this movie, I didn’t think that was really the way to go with it. Nowadays, I think you have to go all or none. You have to go full-on, like Saw or Hostel, and show somebody being dismembered. But, I think we have some good moments in there, and enough blood and guts that got us our R-rating, that hopefully we’ll please the fans of the genre.

Are there things that you discovered about Argentina, from living and shooting there, that people should be aware of or look out for, if they ever get the chance to go?

EFRON: There’s a lot more to Argentina than just Buenos Aires. Clearly, that’s a given, but Buenos Aires is a very cosmopolitan, very European city. Once you get outside of Buenos Aires, the food changes a little bit and the weather certainly changes. When you get up to where we were shooting, or to the northeast province, it’s a completely different world and it’s really beautiful. Of course, Patagonia with the glaciers is amazing. If you’re going to go to Argentina, definitely spend time in Buenos Aires, but also try to explore outside of the city.

How did you find the ruins that you shot in? Did you find that location and then develop the big climatic scene around that?

EFRON: It’s fantastic, and it’s a real place called Lago Epecuén. It was a town that had been a saltwater resort that people would go to for therapy. It flooded in the ‘80s and something happened, having to do with canal locks breaking, so the water never receded. My father was born and raised in Argentina, which is totally a coincidence. But, as I was working on the screenplay, I always had imagined that they would go to something like the Salton Sea, or some sort of abandoned resort area. So, I remember telling my dad, “This is kind of what I want to do. Can you think of anything in Argentina that’s like the Salton Sea?” And, he told me about Epecuén. Interestingly, nobody in Argentina, and none of the people working on the film or the location managers, knew about this place. And then, when I went there to do the research, I went and spent the day in Epecuén and said, “Okay, we have to shoot here. This is just unlike anything I’ve ever seen.” And, that’s all there. If you go there right now, that’s exactly how it looks. There was no set design.

What were the most difficult aspects of making this film? Were any of the scenes particularly tough?

EFRON: Yeah, scenes in the water are always tough. And, the scenes where Chucho, Michel Noher’s character, has Odette chained up were tough to do. They’re really dramatic and draining for the actors and you just want to get them done as quickly as possible, so you can alleviate that stress, but then you also want to get it done right. Those were tough scenes. And then, that final scene with the showdown on that road was a tough scene because there was a lot of story that had to get across.

Why do you think these vacation gone wrong stories are so popular with movie fans and have such a resonance with people?

EFRON: I think it’s because we can all picture ourselves possibly being in that situation. We’ve all been on vacations in a foreign place, where maybe we’re lost for a minute, or maybe we’re with that taxi driver where you don’t know why he’s going down a certain road. I can imagine it’s probably even more pointed for women who travel because they might be considered more vulnerable, but I think it’s a universal fear that we’re going to be someplace where nobody understands us, nobody can help us and we don’t know what to do. That’s what makes it interesting.

Do you have any idea what you’re going to do next? Are you looking to continue to direct projects that you write, or are you also open to directing projects from other writers as well?

EFRON: Both, actually. I’m working on a couple of projects now. One is an adaptation of a book, but unfortunately I can’t say what it is because it’s not set up yet. It’s a young adult thriller, in the vein of Logan’s Run meets 1984. It’s a really interesting trilogy. That one, I’ve written the adaptation and I’m going to be directing. And then, there’s another project that one of my agent’s other clients has been writing, that I’m attached to direct. I’m developing it with the writer, but I’m not writing it. I think that, if it’s just a good story, regardless of the genre and regardless of whether I’ve written it or not, is something that will appeal to me.

What was it that originally made you decide to be a filmmaker? Did something or someone inspire you, or did you just always want to be a storyteller?

EFRON: I’ve always liked storytelling, but I worked on Wall Street for a couple of years, after college. I had no desire or even an inkling that I’d be a filmmaker, until I moved to L.A. to get away from a job that I wasn’t too happy with. I wanted to try something new in my life. It wasn’t until I had directed some music videos that I caught the bug. And then, with the downsizing of the music video industry, in the mid-2000’s, I focused more on storytelling and started writing and doing short films. It was just a really organic process. I didn’t just sit down one day and say, “Okay, I’m going to be a filmmaker.” It rarely happens that way. I envy the directors who knew, from the age of 10, that they wanted to be a director. That was not me.

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