Thursday, January 14, 2016

Interview with Filmmaker, Eduardo Sánchez of Haxan Films

Family, friends, good food, great fun and a strong cultural heritage; Eduardo Sánchez is a practical-minded, frank man with strong priorities. Being passionate about his successful film career has not disallowed him from setting limits to focus on what’s truly important: living life, his supportive wife and his three beautiful children. Like Eduardo says, “It’s all about balance.”

Body Count Rising: I see you are executive producing “The Night Watchmen” (now in post-production.) How did you get involved with that project?

Eduardo Sánchez: I was supposed to direct “The Night Watchmen,” but couldn’t because of scheduling conflicts. I’ve known the film’s producers, Ken Arnold and Dan DeLuca, for quite a while and Ken and I collaborated before on “Lovely Molly.” So they had another director came on board, and I stayed on as an executive producer. Executive producing is just basically helping out and lending your name to a film, and this comedy horror was my kind of film.

Body Count Rising: I’m sure many wouldn’t have thought of you as a proponent of comedy. How did you become interested in the horror genre?

Eduardo Sánchez: Actually when I was in film school, I made action films and comedies. When Dan Myrick and I came up with the idea of “Blair Witch,” it was really the only horror idea we had. Neither Dan nor I thought of ourselves as horror filmmakers, ”Blair Witch” just happened to be the cheapest movie we could do with commercial potential of success. Once that blew up, we were suddenly horror filmmakers. I don’t really like being scared, so I use that. I figure if something freaks me out then it would freak other people out too. A lot of inspiration just comes from what scares me.

Note: Sánchez’s film “Altered” has a convincingly excruciating intestinal tug-of-war scene that so well-acted and with such excellent effects the viewer not only empathizes but will feel that throbbing pulse of nausea and fear, so characteristic of truly great horror. 

And no matter how much you may want to do an avant-garde, black-and-white art piece, you have to look at what would be feasible to make money, be pragmatic as possible. You constantly have to juggle the artistic side with the fiscal side.

Body Count Rising: You inferred that you don’t consider yourself a horror filmmaker. Do you feel pigeon-holed at this point?

Eduardo Sánchez: Let’s just say that it’s a lot easier for me to get funding for a horror movie than any other type of movie. You know, there’s a lot of talent in horror though. And horror filmmakers don’t receive the level of recognition that they deserve nor does the genre. It is difficult to create a film that evokes tension and truly scares people. Being a horror filmmaker is amazing because it allows you to experiment within so many sub-genres. You never would need to do the same type of film over again. Fans of the genre are always open to experimentation and something new, and I think that’s what inspires me and other filmmakers to branch out within the genre. 

Body Count Rising: The editing process can make or break a film. How much control do you take with editing?

Eduardo Sánchez: That’s true. It really can. I am always involved to some extent, but then every stage of filmmaking is collaborative. You hire a lot of talented people, and while you do make decisions and are involved in the entire process, it’s your job as the director to bring out the best work in people and really inspire them. Now having said that, I do try to take a back seat, but I get most involved with editing. There is a lot you can do during the editing process not just to change scenes, but the entire structure of the film. I love that kind of creative energy in the editing process. If someone asked me what my true talent was, I would say editing. I wish I could edit more feature films. I would really love to edit someone else’s film one day.

Body Count Rising: Besides editing, what other element would you say is key to the success of a film?

Eduardo Sánchez: There’s really no single component. It’s crucial that they all come together. Cinematography, editing, set decoration, effects, sound, costume design… it’s all integral. For example, you can’t do anything without actors, or have a good film without good actors. And then it all starts with the page. There are very few examples of films that start with a bad script and end up being good films. Even though you can screw up a good script, having a good script is a really solid place to start. Think of craft services and catering. That can affect the mood of all involved. People work really hard and look forward to a good meal, so even that is sometimes crucial to making a good film.

The most important thing is that filming is a fun, positive, productive experience. Part of the job of the director is keeping people happy and energized to do their best, and insure everything works together cohesively. There is no one “more important thing.” It is all important. Everyone working on the film is important. I get great work out of people because I respect their talents.

Body Count Rising: I hear some directors say that they didn’t value film school at all, and others say it was integral. What has film school has taught you that you use regularly?

Eduardo Sánchez: All of the guys I worked with on “Blair Witch” were the “guinea pigs” with me at our film school in central Florida. We called ourselves the “guinea pigs” because it was the first year that the school had a film program. The greatest thing is that we had a lot of freedom and a lot of nice equipment to work with. I learned collaboration. Filmmaking is the ultimate collaborative art form. You learn to work with people and how to work with others to achieve the best efforts from everyone. You make connections that will give you moral and financial support. If I didn’t go to film school there would be no “Blair Witch Project” and who knows, maybe I’d be somewhere selling cars or something. You certainly don’t need to go to film school, but for me it was pretty crucial.

Body Count Rising: When you were a kid were you always fascinated with film?

Eduardo Sánchez:
I was but I wasn’t aware of what being a filmmaker meant. I loved Star Wars and making a film was really just like a dream. I was thinking of becoming an architect until high school when I took some classes and realized I hated drawing screws and shit like that. But then my junior year I took a tv class taught by this teacher Mr. Baron, and he showed us careers and opportunities in the tv and film industry. It opened my eyes and gave me a pass to really follow that path. It was the first time anyone really ever talked to me like that. I decided that was what I was going to do. I was going to make films. Gary Dorr, Media Specialist for the high school, gave me a lot of freedom and time to explore filming because he knew I was serious. I was going to be the next Steven Speilberg. That didn’t quite work out as planned, but I do consider myself fortunate that I am still a working filmmaker to this day.

Body Count Rising: As a dad, how do you keep the family close while balancing a film career?

Eduardo Sánchez: When you have kids your priorities change. My wife and I decided we wanted to stay in Maryland for the sake of the kids rather than move to LA. My career actually allows me to be home when the kids get out of school and stay home on most days. It’s difficult sometimes, like when I need to be away on work or business trips. When the kids are little they really notice if you’re there or not. When they get older, they don’t care quite as much (laughing). I’ve been fortunate that my first film did well, so I could really set my own time and determine when I wanted to work.

Note: Sánchez is being modest. “Well” doesn’t even begin to describe it. The "Blair Witch Project” had a box office gross of $248,639,099.That’s the equivalent of $3,069,618 per minute of film, or $31,071,887 per shooting day! The film has been lauded as one of the most successful indie films of all time for good reason. The budget was less than $60,000.

It’s really a balancing act. Maybe after the kids are out of the house, we’ll consider moving to the west coast so I can work more, but I do truly love my life here. You can’t spend all your time working and expect to have a relationship with your kids. Even if they’re young, they know what’s up. I like where I am and I feel like I’ve made pretty good decisions. I would never sacrifice my family for work.

Body Count Rising: What advice would you have for an aspiring filmmaker?

Eduardo Sánchez: It really does help to be cool. People will do so much more if you get along with them and believe in them. Don’t think you’re more important than anyone else. You’re not. Don’t think of yourself as being special. Everyone has the same problems and frustrations. You always just have to work on being a better human and just keep on staying calm and being positive. Be professional. There is always an opportunity to learn from others. Artistically - take chances. This is your time to go out and do something original. Don’t copy someone or try to compete with Hollywood.

When I was in my early 20’s I did a film called “Gabriel’s Dream” inspired mostly by Spike Lee. I really loved “Do the Right Thing,” so I wanted my film to be like that. I was trying to be just like him with my social commentary on the working class and religion or whatever else my 20-year-old brain was thinking was important at the time. It went to a couple of festivals, but didn’t generate the excitement of something that was completely original or that involved taking a true artistic risk. So, just make sure you create a film that will set you apart. 

There are also so many other careers out there besides just directing that are creative and rewarding, such as cinematography, editing, set design, costume design, sound... and the list goes on. Most of the people I work with are having a blast. They’re professionals that love what they’re doing. If you love film and want to be a part of that world, there are so many different opportunities to get in on the action. Keep that in mind and have fun in your journeys!

Eduardo Sánchez is currently developing a Cuban-based series for Starz called “Santaria” with his partner, Gregg Hale and filmmaker, Alejandro Brugués. Both Sánchez and Brugués directed episodes of “From Dusk till Dawn: The Series” in 2015. Sánchez also has a feature film in the works that is planned to be revealed this spring. Watch out for upcoming project announcements on IMDb or visit his Haxan Films Facebook page.
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