Overcoming obstacles and challenges
by Alfonso Rivera
- At 37 and with just one other feature under his belt – The Contestant – Rodrigo Cortés is considered a name to watch thanks to Buried
Cineuropa: Where did the idea for Buried [+see also:
interview: Rodrigo Cortés
film profile] come from? How did you get hold of Chris Sparling’s screenplay and what appealed to you about it?
Rodrigo Cortés: I’d been filming for a year in Hollywood because everyone thought it was impossible to produce and film; that was what appealed to me about it, its crazy aspect, being able to jump into the void with nothing to hold onto. I thank all those who thought the film couldn’t be made, because that was how the screenplay ended up crossing the Atlantic and could be shot in Spain with total creative freedom.
Was it easy selling such an unusual storyline to producers, with just one actor playing a man shut in a coffin, no exterior shots and a real-time narrative…?
No, but if you want to do such a crazy project the first thing you have to do is surround yourself with producers who are just as crazy and also have the full confidence to leap into the void with you and hold your hand. I had a lot of support and encouragement, even in the most complex and risky choices.
In a situation like the one described in the film, sounds acquire special significance. How did you deal with this technical aspect?
That’s true, it’s essential in a film like this which explores a subjective physical experience: from the point of view of Paul Conroy, the protagonist. That’s why we often see a completely black screen, and I’m not talking about that false darkness where we imagine we can see things that the character can’t see. I’m talking about total, impenetrable blackness.
Sometimes Conroy can’t see anything, he can only hear and therefore it’s the same for us: these scenes have to be told through sound. As for the sound design, we avoided the stylisation that allows you to create particular sound atmospheres and ambiences, which would have taken away the raw realism that Buried revels in.
How do you shoot an action film like this one in such a small space?
By not using your common sense, by abandoning reason. As soon as you use your common sense, you realise the film is impossible to make, so it’s a good idea to distance yourself from it and concentrate solely on the story, on the emotional impact you want to have on viewers and not on the setting. Afterwards, you have to look for the right cinematic tools to achieve this, without thinking about whether or not it’s possible to use them inside a box, because if not you’ll only focus on the limitations, and the film mustn’t have any.
It has to be filmed and planned as if it were set in New York, in a tropical jungle or on a huge planet. If you need to do a circular tracking shot around the actor, film with a shoulder-held camera and do crane shots in order to produce the right emotion in viewers, you don’t give up on any of this, but you look for a way to apply all this inside a box.
That’s why we built seven coffins for different technical needs: one with movable walls, an especially long one, another with perspective effects, another revolving one, another that enabled the camera to move around it, and so forth. In this way we achieved impossible shots, making possible a film that, on the face of it, seemed unrealizable.
Was the editing more complicated than the actual shoot?
No, it was the same, and done at the same speed too. If you have to make a film of this complexity, with a runtime of 94 minutes, inside a box and in 17 days, it’s better to shoot with an editor’s mindset. You’re going to have to compile the exact raw material you need in order to put the jigsaw puzzle back together afterwards. I don’t see any difference between filming and editing, but I consider them as different stages of the same creative process.
The film is not only daring in its approach, but also in its development and ending. Shouldn’t we always give audiences what they expect or want?
You mustn’t give audiences what they want, but what they need.