Blair Witch director’s chilling vision of China
Filmmaker Eduardo SÃ¡nchez knows a thing or two about the horror genre. Having been the co-creator/director on The Blair Witch Project, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary and is arguably considered the first true internet sensation, he later followed it up with his alien sci-fi/horror thriller Altered. Now he’s back with his third full length feature film Seventh Moon, starring Amy Smart and Tim Chiou.
The pair plays a newlywed couple celebrating their honeymoon in China during the unfortunate time of the hungry ghost festival, where on the seventh month of the lunar calendar, the ghost and spirits of deceased ancestors roam the countryside once more in search of a sacrifice.
We spoke to Sanchez about the origins of the project, designing the look of the ghosts, working with his two lead actors and what the experience was like shooting in a foreign country like China.
Robg: What was the genesis for Seventh Moon? Where’d this idea come from and was it something you had thought about for a while?
Eduardo SÃ¡nchez: I did have this brewing for a couple of years and it was basically a low budget idea that I wanted to shoot around where I live here in rural Maryland. I wanted it to take place in one night and I wanted it to be some kind of chase. Somebody chasing a couple or some kids or something. I wanted to shoot it around here and for a low budget, but I kept getting stuck with who would be chasing them. I didn’t want to do insane asylum escapees or rednecks or zombies. But then, a filmmaker friend of mine, a Chinese-American filmmaker named Ann Lu told me she was trying to make these horror movies in China and she invited me to try to come up with some ideas. As soon as the idea permeated in my skull, I thought “Man, I could take that idea I had to shoot in rural Maryland and shoot it in China” and it totally works because China’s a new slate, it’s a very mysterious country, still relatively isolated and very old and mythical, and a lot more spiritual then the United States. I started researching stuff and I found seven lunar moons, which is kind of the mythical, spiritual month of the year and then I found the hungry ghost festival and thought I’ve got to put these characters in the hungry ghost festival. I just loved that legend. The idea that Buddha opens the gates of hell and let’s all these ghosts out for one night to roam the countryside, I thought that was an amazing setting for a horror movie. The rest was just making things up here and there and exaggerating a bit about the whole offering thing. The rest was sitting down and writing it.
Robg.: Considering most productions take place in Los Angeles or Canada, how different was the experience of shooting this in China?
Sanchez: Well, China was great. It was a tough shoot because it was six weeks of nights and that starts wearing you down. We shot it in Hong Kong. We couldn’t shoot it in the mainland of China because they wouldn’t have approved the script, because it had ghosts in it. They don’t really like the whole ghosts thing in China. Hong Kong was different and they make a ton of films there, so all the production services were there. The problem with Hong Kong is it’s a very populated, developed area. So we had to really go around and find these little bits of fields and woods for the proper locations. So that was a challenge but once we got into it, it was relatively easy except for the night thing and I went through a bout of depression just shooting at night. But China was a lot of fun. My family joined me for almost four months and the time off was great. We went to all the sights; we visited Beijing for a weekend, so it was a great time. I would go back and shoot a film in Hong Kong at anytime. I was very happy with it.
Robg.: Can you talk about the design work on creating the ghosts for Seventh Moon? They were visually one of the coolest aspects of the movie.
Sanchez: The idea came years ago when I was obsessed with putting some kind of ghostly white figure on film. The whole scene where that thing runs across the road, that was something that came really early. The idea of this naked white figure running across the road is creepy. I had this idea of these ghosts just being very pale. I think one of the scariest images ever is from The Exorcist, the flashes of the demon that they have. The white face with the black eyes and the creepy teeth. I found a picture of that and sent it to Mike Elizalde who runs Spectral Motion FX. They worked on my last film Altered, and they’re just great guys to work with. I sent them that picture and said, “Look, I want them to be ghostly, not zombie-ish, because to me these ghosts form physically once a year, so they’re not completely falling apart.” There would be scars but they’re not falling apart like zombies do, plus they’re very fast and agile. So I gave them those instructions and that picture for reference and they sent me drawings and conceptions â the thing about those guys is that they are so good in that they take your idea and elevate it, so as soon as they sent me the first drawing, I said “Yeah, that’s it. We’ll make a few little tweaks, but I think we got it.” The other big challenge was developing the make-up to go on these guys bodies. I didn’t want them to be latex suits, I wanted it to look like skin, but finding the right materials to do that, it took them a while to figure it out. Then, the really big challenge was taking all this technology and technique that Spectrum Motion had developed and then transporting it to a Hong Kong crew. The Hong Kong make up crews are really good, but they’d never done anything like this. In fact, they said on some of those nights this was the biggest make-up department that they had working in the history of Hong Kong cinema. We had three artists for each of the pale figures, so we had 40-50 artists in one night out there. It was a big job and one of the guys that works with Spectrum, Larry Odien, he went to supervise all the FX. He had to leave right before the shoot started, so it was kind of a scary situation for us! But he guided the team very well and the FX woman Michelle Wong really did a great job and knocked it out of the park as far as the pale figures were concerned. A side-note â there’s a special feature on the DVD that goes through the whole making of the pale figure process which is pretty cool.
Robg.: Can you talk a bit about the casting of Amy Smart? I think she’s terrific in just about anything she does, so how difficult was it getting her for this movie?
Sanchez: It was more difficult than anybody else I’ve tried to get, because she’s at a certain level in her career. But I’ve been trying to work with Amy ever since I saw her in The Butterfly Effect. I’ve seen just about everything she’s been in and I just love her, she’s got this natural beauty and a cool style to her which very few actresses have. So, we actually have the same agent, we contacted her, sent her the script and made her an offer. She really liked the script and she wanted to meet with me before she signed on, so I met up with her in LA and we hit it off pretty well. She’s a really down to earth, natural, beautiful woman. My biggest thing and I warned her, look we’re going to be shooting this in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is very cool but it’s not L.A.! There’s no trailers! It’s a very different kind of production there. And she was very cool with it. I told her it’d be rough, it’d be nights, it’ll be cold and demanding. But she knew and wanted to do it. She came to Hong Kong, she had just finished Mirrors, and we got along really well. She found a really nice apartment in a really cool part of town. It took her a little while, just like us to get used to Hong Kong. It’s a completely foreign environment. But once you got used to it, it was a very cool place to shoot a film and I’d love to go back and shoot. Amy to me is somebody that I’m constantly looking for other material for, because she’s very talented and I’d love to work with her again. Hong Kong is very small and very overpopulated. There’s no such thing as star trailers, so the closest thing we could find was a bus with no seats in it and we put a couch and a refrigerator in there with a TV and a DVD player and that was her trailer. [laughs] It wasn’t the most glamorous shoot, but never any complaints.
Robg.: How about the other lead, Tim Chiou?
Sanchez: Tim we cast out of LA and neither of them ever complained. They both brought a really cool energy to the film and to me, they sold the idea that they’re newlyweds. They’re in love but it’s this goofy young love. I think they both really made the love story of the film really work.
Seventh Moon is available from Ghost House Underground on DVD and Blu-Ray October 6!
Source: Robert Galluzzo