Interview: Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and Marko Zaror for Redeemer (Redentor)

image  Written by: Benimage

When it comes to Fantastic Fest there is one duo who have always satisfied the crowd’s cravings for action. That duo is Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and Marko Zaror who have brought their Martial Arts movies  to Fantastic Fest since 2007’s Mirageman. As such, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to sit down and talk to them about their newest film, Redeemer. Here’s our chat for you’re enjoyment!

In case you don’t know these guys already, here’s a bit of a quick rundown of their history for you:

Ernesto is the writer and director of the pair who has directed all 4 of their films together as well as Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman and the “C is for Cycle” segment of ABCs of Death 1.

Marko on the other hand is the star and been doing Martial Arts his whole life. Marko’s career in action truly took off after playing The Rock’s stunt double in The Rundown  as he started making movies with Ernesto shortly after that and besides their movies together he has also appeared in Undisputed 3 and Machete Kills.

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So with this being their 4th film together and the 3rd film they brought to Fantastic Fest, I first was wondering how the way they approach their filmmaking has changed.

Ernesto: We have more experience and I think its key to shoot better fight scenes, specifically. Kiltro [our first film together] for us was like our film school for shooting fight scenes. We studied every single style of shooting, like the Kung-Fu Movies that have a really specific way of shooting a fight scene. Also the American Action Movies, Japanese and Anime style and techniques and there we found kind of how we wanted to do it. Then we just kept using that formula, but understanding the timing, and how long it takes to do one kind of fight and another kind of shot of acrobatic stuff. So for this movie we really took care about the schedule of how to shoot the fights and the rehearsals. Because we still have a short time just like with the first movie. That hasn’t changed, but now with experience we know how to use that time better. 

Speaking about those influences and their early movies we talked a bit more about the action movies of the 1970’s that were clearly an influence on their filmmaking.

E: From the 70’s, Bruce Lee is the main reference. The simple way of shooting and just taking what the martial artist has. From that we took like the simplicity of closing when you need to see a punch and opening when you need to see a kick. All the other responsibilities are with Marko. Then there’s other kinds of choreography and tricks that we took from other stuff like Jet Li’s movies from the 90’s. They had a little more complicated way of putting the camera.

As I had actually been thinking a lot about one of Li’s collaborators in the 90’s (Corey Yuen) while watching Redeemer, I asked Ernesto to talk a but more about his shooting style for the film as it was quite different from his previous work.

E: I think I have always had ideas of different camera movements, its just a matter of budget and time. At the end of the day, the problem of having a low budget is the time you have to shoot something and to write a good script. It’s money and its always that if you have more money, you have more months of salary to write something good and to shoot something better. Instead of shooting a fight scene in two days, we could have two weeks or three weeks to shoot that same fight scene.So I think I always had ideas like that for long shots and different shots, but as I said before the experience made us use the same time that we have to organize ourselves to be able to do some little of those stuff.

Some footage of the Q&A after the premier

I next turned to Marko to ask about the fight choreography as he had mentioned in an earlier Q&A (seen above) that he brought in some MMA training he was doing prior to starting the film. I was curious about his thoughts on taking on different styles and how they effect the final look and feel of the film.

Marko: That is all about me being a student from Bruce Lee who is the greatest. Its about being honest with who you are as a martial artist, and especially yourself as a martial artist. That’s the whole point for me of making movies, and he’s been a big inspiration for me my whole life. Not just in the movies and martial arts, but as a life philosophy. Same thing here applies, I’ve been training martial arts my whole life, and every movie you see that I’ve done. I try to perform and do the best I can on the martial arts level that I am at in that moment; my ideas or what I want to express, or what I believe as a martial artist movements wise as well as style of fighting. This was a time where I was really going into MMA and stuff like that, then it happens that the movie, The Prey, had come out I said “I gotta share this, I gotta put this on film so I can share with the people.” That’s the whole thing as I don’t see it and ask which of these is going to work better. I’m not thinking if it’s going to work or not, I’m just thinking I need to make it as honest as I can.

With us already on the subject of the production and fight choreography, I next asked the pair how much things change from first choreographing a fight to finally shooting it and ensuring it looks good on screen.

E: I think there has always been a difficulty or a challenge to mix what Marko wants and the really specific techniques of how you shoot. Its keeping in mind what is the perfect angle for this kick and what is the narrative option that I took for the movie. But also the experience has made us know how to work together and to mix that as best as we can to make the best take of that fight for the audience. Marko choreographs and shoots the whole fight scene with his cell phone or a small camera in advance and gives me that material and then from that I make that better, but its all already there. What I put into the fights is a structure and the highlights in the right point. But all the other stuff is already there, I just have to put the camera and my knowledge as a director, but its there because he does that.

M: Also, I trust and I believe a lot in Ernesto’s intuition, like sometimes you get too crazy with a technique and he’s like “Man, we gotta change the ending. The ending is not right, I want to try a more dramatic ending.” or “I want to try a more flashy ending.” So then we analyze it together and then I come back with a different proposal because I believe in his intuition of the story in the fight and how you make the dramatic points. So that’s very important to me that we go through that process together. We try because sometimes with these low budgets we don’t have much time to really test it. We just go more with intuition.

E: Something what happens is also that it is really technical and sometimes what Marko asks is really specific and maybe people will not understand what is happening because it’s too technical and too much martial artist fun, basically. So we try to get that to the normal audience, by still doing that but trying to show it as best you can for the audience to understand it. 

M: The best example was for the whole new wrestling and MMA techniques because if you’re not a fan of MMA, if you’re a regular audience watching this wrestling stuff, you don’t understand where [they are] supposed to feel the pain. So Ernesto at the time of shooting was like “OK, Marko, explain to me: this technique, what is the danger of this technique?” 

E: Yeah, because I’m watching this situation on the ground and I don’t understand watching that there. Where is the pain, you know? He’s got your arm, and he’s got your leg with another lock…I don’t know if he’s grabbing the arm or the leg is feeling pain, or the neck. I need to know that to show, you know.

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The movie I was also reminded of some of the Spaghetti Western characters and style in general so I asked if that was actually one of the influences on the film.

E: I think the Spaghetti Western is actually an influence for all of our movies. I think its the perfect structure to make a low budget genre film. I think that there is a similarity between the Spaghetti Westerns and what we’re trying to do in Chile. We have a kind of style or signature to all our movies like Mandrill has the flashbacks, and Kiltro too. It works for us, and for sure in Redeemer…actually it is a Western, it is a modern Western.

In line with those Spaghetti Westerns, many of Marko’s characters, including The Redeemer, are very cold and detached, which is in contrast to his normal warm personality, so I asked him about what drew him to those characters.

M: You know for me I like that kind of character. I like that character that’s more inside and all the time with a challenge, with an emotion that’s something he needs to overcome. What I liked about this movie and this opportunity was to show about how you are the only one that can forgive yourself. Its starts from there, and I like to have that opportunity to be someone that is totally inside this box, you know, and that is hiding behind this belief that God is going to save him and the bullet and the trigger are the symbol of that. Then he starts to literally understand because of the girl [Loreto Aravena as Antonia] is like the wire to the Earth, and then he starts to understand that maybe this doesn’t have anything to do with being really redeemed. I like that, to be able to have that opportunity with our movies to communicate something like that that I think is very powerful. So for me that’s something that I like about doing our movies in Chile, there’s always a way when I work with Ernesto because I think we are really similar on our beliefs and how we are as a human being. So everything that I want to communicate as a person, he also feels really comfortable with and he makes it work as a director with the lines. For me its awesome to have that opportunity because in other movies I just have to play a character and that’s it, but in this movie we can co-create together and that’s an awesome opportunity you know.

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The film also features Fantastic Fest regular Noah Segan who was also the first American Actor to appear in one of their films. So naturally I wondered what challenges that posed for Ernesto.

E: I was concerned when I realized that I was going to direct an American actor for the first time because of the language thing. You know, sometimes you really need to be very specific in some instructions, but when you have a good conversation with the actor about what you want and how you imagine this movie and the references, like a friend conversation about how the movie has to be, the actor usually gets that. Noah got it right away and he even had a lot of ideas and was a big piece of it and the success of his scenes. A lot of his scenes are his ideas, he brought a lot of those ideas to it. He almost wrote his scenes because I had the structure of those but he almost wrote all of his dialogue so it was really easy to work with him and we got it right away and started having fun doing it. So something that looked like a challenge ended up being fun the same as I do with Marko. 

Noah was a big source of comedic scenes in Redeemer which is a big part of many of their past films. With the amped up violence, I was interested to know if there was any concern about those comedic elements.

M: I think we were very convinced that we wanted to take another direction on this film. We knew that Mandrill and Mirageman were very humorous, so we said could try now a character that is not clumsy. All my other characters like Kiltro and Mirageman, people look at them and people laugh at them and that is the funny thing, that’s the humor. You have a really kickass guy beating the shit out of everybody, but then you have that he doesn’t know how to talk to a girl or he has to change his look. We wanted to this time make it more like that guy that, when we were 15 years old, we all wanted to be like him. You know the badass guy, the guy that is all tough. So Ernesto is like “OK, but we need to balance that out with Noah’s character” so that we can remind the audience that we are having fun with this, that we’re not taking it that serious.

E: I also think that this ultra-violence that is in the movie, I think works very well as the contrast between that and him being really religious. Like, man what is happening with this guy? He is ultra violent but he believes in God? 

M: Actually, I was very surprised that people really enjoy that [in one of the fights] after I grab the hook in the face [of one of the bad guys] and then I turn on the boat engine then I stop and go “Ask for forgiveness”, everybody starts laughing. That was great because that’s the effect we want because its like this doesn’t make too much sense, this guy is kinda crazy

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Along with writing in those comedic elements, I was wondering about the writing of the idea itself as I knew Marko had mentioned in the Q&A that he had come up wit making another movie at Fantastic Fest last year.

E: Well Marko arrived to with the idea of coming here [back to Fantastic Fest] and obviously I always want to come here, but we didn’t have any concept. We were looking for something better than the other three movies, and its really, really difficult to have a martial arts movie idea because we are in South America. You know, to justify this kind of fighting was very difficult because its not like in China where you can do whatever and you know that just about everybody fights; its different in Asia. But in Chile, how can we create a story again with martial arts? Its very difficult to get to something good. Then suddenly appeared this two line concept that I showed to Marko in an email and I was like “Man this could be it” and Marko was like “MAN! This is it!” Then we had a lot of help from Andrea, Marko’s girlfriend, who is a Psychologist and a Spirit Counselor. She was key to making this character not just someone who is an action hero. But it goes farther and its different from the Spaghetti Western as we are in another era and getting revenge is not how you’re going to win here.

Its clear that Fantastic Fest is big for them and for the film so I was wondering about their specific thoughts and connections to the festival.

E: I think in this movie almost everything.

M: More like my whole career I think, like everything started at Fantastic Fest.

E: Noah being in this movie is because of Fantastic Fest. Us being with XYZ [Films] was because of Todd Brown and our friendship with him because of this festival. Tim League supports us every fucking time…because of him also these kinds of things happen where we’re able to make one movie after another. Harry Knowles-

M: Yeah, I mean we can talk about only this movie, but that’s not enough! Everything that happened in my career is because of this festival because after Harry Knowles talked about seeing us in Mirageman and Mandrill, it happened that I was able to get the part in Undisputed 3 as a really bad guy. That made me learn a lot from Issac Florentine and a different fighting style. Then we kept doing our movies and then Robert Rodriguez heard about me because of Harry Knowles, that he saw me at Fantastic Fest and he’s a fan. Then I came for the first screening of Machete Kills here at Fantastic Fest and that’s here where it started for this movie, Redeemer. I just knew we had to do another movie.

E: Also,its the audience here. I think when we made Kiltro and Mirageman as our first films, we knew that there was something there that wasn’t for a world wide audience, we didn’t know if the audience was going to catch it. It was an action movie and a comedy also, but there was another side to the movie that we didn’t know if people were going to get. Then when we saw the guide here [at Fantastic Fest] we thought “Man, this is our place, we want to be here.” You know, we are doing things right [for the crowd at Fantastic Fest] so we gotta keep doing that, we cannot stop doing that, because that’s part of our passion and movies that we cannot leave because other people don’t get that. So also the audience is a key for our work because when we think about our audience and what we want to show, we think of us sitting down in the Alamo Drafthouse watching a movie. When we were doing that scene with the hook, we were thinking “Oh, this they’re gonna love!”

It was a great pleasure talking with the guys and getting so deep into their work, but I couldn’t leave without checking if they are planning another film for us soon.

E: We are thinking of a concept to come back!

Redeemer doesn’t have a release date yet, but we will keep you posted!

For now though, you can read our Fantastic Fest review of the film here.

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