Eli Roth and his Santiago-based partner Nicolas Lopez talk to Jeremy Kay about how they are reinventing the rules of film-making and turning their energy and ideas into a genre boom in Chile

Eli Roth was not happy about the way things went down after the release of his breakout horror film, Cabin Fever, way back in 2003.

The little-known film-maker had created what would become a phenomenon, a $1.5m-budgeted primal scream that reinvigorated the US horror genre and went on to gross more than $21m through Lionsgate and a lot more on the small screen.

Roth was marked down as one to watch and turned out to be an astute observer himself, resolving early on to exert maximum control over his work as the avalanche of meetings threatened to engulf his life.

“People are stagnant in LA,” Roth says over the phone as he prepares to board another plane. It is mid-September and he and his Santiago-based partner, Nicolas Lopez, are about to receive the inaugural La De Dios award at Fantastic Fest’s Latin American genre co-production market in Austin, Texas.

“In LA, they sit around waiting for the big pay cheque and make a movie once every three years. I want to be like Woody Allen and make movies every year and never stop.” The trip to Austin, will mark a homecoming of sorts, neatly paralleling the sense of belonging Roth has found with Lopez, the wünderkind with whom he has collaborated on the likes of Aftershock and the largely unseen The Green Inferno.

Two years ago Lopez brought Aftershock to the festival, hot on the heels of its Toronto world premiere. Now, the partners are all over Fantastic

Fest: collecting the award, delivering a keynote speech about their self-styled Chilewood venture and attending three sell-out screenings of their new world premiere, The Stranger.

Chilewood is a creative notion that encompasses Spanish-language films made through Lopez’s Sobras International Pictures and English-language titles in association with Roth, who describes the partnership as “creating movies in Chile for the world”. True to their word, the partners are churning out globally minded genre fare at a rate that would make Allen himself begin to feel his age.

Since the 2012 US premiere of Aftershock in Austin, the Chilewood factory has produced The Green Inferno, The Stranger and Knock Knock, the Keanu Reeves starrer and one of the hit international sales titles in Cannes last summer for Voltage Pictures.

During all this, in between shooting days and wrap parties and pitch sessions, Lopez has continued to make Spanish-language fare for Chilean audiences.

These films are only distributed theatrically in Chile before Netflix’s exclusively negotiated international streaming window kicks in three months later.

Roth has been no slouch either, championing the likes of Netflix original series Hemlock Grove and taking regular trips down to Santiago.

Venture south

How the Boston-born genre king came to become a frequent visitor to Chile lies in an origin story suffused with frustration and adulation. Rewind to 2004-05 and an impatient Roth, bristling with ideas, was trying to marry Hollywood’s best practices with his own copious energy in the most cost-effective manner.

“I thought, ‘There has to be a better way to make a movie’,” he says, adding that he is always looking for the next production centre. “So I went to Prague to shoot Hostel and it was a great experience.”

By this time Lopez, a household name in Chile due to his TV work and a long-running witty newspaper column he had written since the age of 12, had just scored a local hit with his feature directorial debut, the comedy fantasy Promedio Rojo.

“Most of the movies people made in Latin America were about poor people with guns,” says Lopez. “All the movies were showing a version of Latin America that had nothing to do with my Latin America [where] everybody had wi-fi and iPods and was watching movies on IMAX.

“My first movie was about that. I wanted to make a movie that had more to do with John Hughes than City Of God.” He wrote to Roth to say how much he admired Cabin Fever. The older film-maker attended a screening of Promedio Rojo at the 2005 Los Angeles Film Festival and invited Lopez to see an early cut of Hostel.

Through Roth, Quentin Tarantino got wind of Promedio Rojo and cited it as one of the funniest films he saw that year. Hollywood came knocking.

“Eli and I liked a lot of the same movies,” says Lopez. “Besides my awful accent we talked the same language; we were very fluent in geek. We kept in touch.

“Then I went through the craziness of having this movie that everybody liked and I got offers to make movies in the US.” There was a reason Roth and Lopez shared cinematic taste and spoke the same language: they are peas in a pod and neither has the patience to play by the old rules.

“I asked myself, ‘Why does everything [in Hollywood] take so long?’,” says Lopez.

“I sold one script and they paid me a lot of money but they never made it.” Lopez was trying to get a rom-com about superheroes off the ground. It was called Santos and captured the attention of several studios. But the process dragged on and he eventually took an offer from Spain’s Telecinco to make it, slashing the budget from $40m to $6m and shooting in Chile.

Santos languished in post for three years and flopped when it finally opened in Spain in 2008. “I was 25 and thought my career was over,” says Lopez. “My company invested in the movie and we had to pay off debt and we had to lay off people. It was a nightmare.”

Costly lessons

Roth too had faced challenges. On his return to the Czech Republic to make Hostel: Part II, which would come out in 2007, the strong euro meant it was no longer cost-effective to build sets that resembled the US.

Several years later he would find himself producing The Man With The Iron Fists in China, another locale that required considerable production outlay.

“Nicolas had been telling me to get out to Chile,” says Roth. “I went down to Santiago and couldn’t believe how similar it was to LA in terms of geography and architecture. It looks unbelievably American and has the same coast and foliage and streets. It looks like Santa Barbara.”

By this time, around 2011, Lopez had reconfigured his approach following the Santos debacle. “I knew I wanted to make movies but in the new economy I had to do it in a different way. So I went from making one of the most expensive movies in Latin America to one of the cheapest.”

He bought new equipment and with funding via product placement from brand sponsor Lopez raised $200,000 in a month. He embarked on a 15-day Santiago shoot on Fuck My Life (Que Pena Tu Vida), a comedy inspired by what was at the time his shambolic private life.

The film beat The Social Network to number one at the local box office and stayed there for three weeks, eventually spawning a hit trilogy. “Because we owned the movie and didn’t have to pay anybody back, suddenly I made more money than if I’d had a big movie in the US.”

Roth loved the look of the trailer.

“We started talking about it and I said, ‘Eli, fuck Hollywood. Let’s make a movie like this.’ He asked me if I was interested in horror and I said of course I was.” The inspiration for their first collaboration was at hand. On the first day of production on Fuck My Life an 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of central Chile.

“I told Eli about the quake and he thought it would be an amazing movie and I said I already had the name, Aftershock. He flew to Chile and we partied for a week. He fell in love with the country and the people.”

Shaking things up

Roth, Lopez and his regular writing partner, the Uruguay-born Guillermo Amoedo, co-wrote Aftershock in early 2011 as a vehicle for Lopez to direct.

While they waited for financing to come together, the Chilean wrote Fuck My Wedding (Que Pena Tu Boda), the sequel to his comedy hit.

With private investment secured and FilmNation on board to pre-sell international rights at Berlin’s EFM in February 2012, production on the sub-$2m Aftershock began in Chile in January 2012 starring rising local talent Lorenza Izzo from Fuck My Wedding.

“Aftershock became our experiment to see if we could make a movie for the world,” says Roth. “We didn’t want it to be a Latin American movie. We wanted to make a straight-down-the-middle genre movie that looked great and was for audiences worldwide.” The film premiered in Toronto later that year and Dimension acquired US rights, eventually releasing in May 2013.

The touchpaper had been lit. “I bullied Eli to stop producing movies for other people and make his movie [The Green Inferno],” says Lopez. “We wrote the script in one month before we shot Aftershock and in May 2012 I was shooting the third part of the trilogy, Fuck My Family (Que Pena Tu Familia) and in October we started shooting The Green Inferno.” The US-Chilean Amazon-set cannibal film marked Roth’s return to the director’s chair for the first time since Hostel: Part II five years earlier. “There was nothing like it,” he says of the experience.

Even the unresolved postponement of the scheduled September 5 US release through Open Road - sparked by an issue with the film’s financier Worldview Entertainment over the P&A commitment - cannot dampen Roth’s passion for Chilewood.

“We went on a trip to Peru with Miguel [Asensio Llamas, producer],” says Roth. “We found a village that was completely cut off from society. But we found a team of Chileans and Peruvians and went and shot in the Amazon.” The Green Inferno stars Izzo and filmed from October to December 2012.

“Every day, to get to the village, we had to drive one hour along a dangerous mountain road and take motorboats for one-and-a-half hours.

“Filming with the villagers, there was nothing like it. And there’s nothing that looks like the place. The last person [to go near the area] was Werner Herzog on Aguirre, The Wrath Of God and we went even further up the Amazon.” The experience was revelatory. “I knew I’d found this incredible team of creators [on Aftershock],” says Roth, referring to Lopez, Amoedo and Llamas.

After The Green Inferno the quartet would also collaborate on Knock Knock.

“When the three of us [writers] combine on a script, we can do it in under three weeks. Writing on my own takes me three months.”

Beyond horror

Next, Lopez filmed Best Worst Friends, the sequel to Promedio Rojo. Then in 2013, with backing from the Chilean government, they shot The Stranger, Amoedo’s passion project and feature directorial debut.

“I wanted to get The Green Inferno sequel going,” says Lopez. “Eli went to Los Angeles to write it. We watched this movie called Death Game, this lost movie from the ‘70s that was never released, so I told Eli we had to remake it.

“In January [2014] Eli came to Chile and we spent two weeks with Guillermo and wrote the movie, and that movie is Knock Knock.” They cast Keanu Reeves as the lead in the psychosexual thriller alongside Izzo and filmed in April, with Chile standing in for the LA county enclave of Calabasas.

The project is in post and Roth declares himself excited by his latest directorial effort. “It’s my first non-horror movie. I wanted to make something like an early Polanski movie or a Verhoeven movie. All the majors are sniffing around it now.” The post-production is taking place in a mansion that Lopez purchased in Santiago, which operates as the Sobras International Pictures headquarters. Lopez inhabits a top-floor apartment and the building often serves as a haven for visiting friends and collaborators.

“This year we will have done five movies,” says Lopez. “If we make four a year, one is in Spanish for the local market and three are for international audiences.

“It’s like a monkey throwing darts - to hit the target you need a lot of darts. Budgets will range from $400,000 to $10m. We don’t want to go higher. With more money comes more problems and more people making decisions.”

Coming up next are The Hive, Chilewood’s biggest project to date based on a sci-fi screenplay they wrote with none other than David O Russell, as well as found-footage horror Lake Mead directed by and starring Jessica Chandler. “The idea is to make these movies at a price,” says Roth.

“The industry is so risk-averse but you need to find ways to make them at a price so they look like theatrical films and can compete with Guardians Of The Galaxy.

“We always want to make a profit and if one turns out to be a hit that’s great but if not, you’re always making money.” He chuckles. “This is only the beginning. The audience is turning global.

We’re very excited to be at the beginning of this.”

Chilewood Highlights

Spanish-language titles

Promedio Rojo 2004
Director/writer Nicolas Lopez
Producer Miguel Asensio Llamas

Santos 2008
Director/writer Nicolas Lopez
Producer Miguel Asensio Llamas

Fuck My Life (Que Pena Tu Vida) 2010
Director Nicolas Lopez
Writers Nicolas Lopez, Guillermo Amoedo
Producer Miguel Asensio Llamas

Fuck My Wedding (Que Pena Tu Boda) 2011
Director Nicolas Lopez
Writers Nicolas Lopez, Guillermo Amoedo
Producer Miguel Asensio Llamas

El Crack TV movie, 2011
Directors Nicolas Lopez, Guillermo Amoedo
Writers Nicolas Lopez, Guillermo Amoedo
Producer Miguel Asensio Llamas

Nicolas Lopez Presents Special Forces (Nicolas Lopez Presenta Fuerzas Especiales) 2014
Director Jose Zuniga
Writers Nicolas Lopez, Sergio Freire, Rodrigo Salinas,  Diego Ayala Producers Miguel Asensio Llamas, Nicolas Lopez

Best Worst Friends (Mis Peores Amigos: Promedio Rojo 2) 2013
Director Nicolas Lopez
Writers Nicolas Lopez, Guillermo Amoedo
Producer Miguel Asensio Llamas

Fuck My Family (Que Pena Tu Familia) 2012
Director Nicolas Lopez
Writers Nicolas Lopez, Guillermo Amoedo
Producer Miguel Asensio Llamas

English-language titles

Aftershock 2012
Director Nicolas Lopez
Writers Nicolas Lopez, Guillermo Amoedo, Eli Roth
Producer Miguel Asensio Llamas

The Green Inferno 2012
Director Eli Roth
Writers Eli Roth, Nicolas Lopez, Guillermo Amoedo Producer Miguel Asensio Llamas

The Stranger 2013
Director Guillermo Amoedo
Writer Guillermo Amoedo
Producers Miguel Asensio Llamas, Nicolas Lopez, Eli Roth

Knock Knock 2014
Director Eli Roth
Writers Eli Roth, Nicolas Lopez, Guillermo Amoedo Producer Miguel Asensio Llamas