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Interview with Gabriela Amaral, writer and director of Friendly Beast
By James Whittington, Sunday 25th February 2018
As we get ready for the trip to Scotland for this year's Horror Channel FrightFest Glasgow I've been lucky enough to chat to Gabriela Amaral about her powerful movie Friendly Beast which is getting its UK Premiere at the event.
HC: Was there a certain piece of work or person that inspired you to work in the industry?
GA: Yes, there was. I am a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock and I decided to study cinema because of him. In the beginning, I didn't know what would I do with movies. Would I be an academic? A film critic? A director? I just knew I had to live doing something that had to do with movies. I graduated in Communication Studies in Brazil where I studied horror movies and literature (specifically Stephen King) I got an M.A. studying Stephen King films adapted from their novels. And then I discovered I wanted to make my own movies. I studied at Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV from Cuba (a famous cinema school founded by Literature Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and since then I never stopped writing and directing films.
HC: Was Friendly Beast a difficult film to write and where did the idea come from?
GA: Surprisingly it was not a difficult piece of text to write. Long story short: I was about to direct my first feature film (which had become the second one - and it's ready to premier) when politics in Brazil went crazy (we faced the unfair impeachment of our legitimate elected president Dilma Rousseff in 2015, the same year I wrote and directed Friendly Beast). I was pretty angry with the whole political situation and my first film was going to be postponed. I wanted so hard to work on something that expressed my feelings - anger ruled my world back then. So I paired with a friend (a long-time collaborator and the art director of all my shorts, Luana Demange) and we thought about a plot which dealt with both Brazilian reality and our feelings. Restaurant robberies had become a common thing in the city of Sao Paulo, and back then a friend of us had gone through this situation. So, we began to imagine the scenario you see at Friendly Beast. And the other layers of the story came into the screenplay naturally.
HC: Was it written with a cast in mind?
GA: The main characters were written with the two main actors in mind: Murilo Benicio (who plays Inacio) and Luciana Paes (who plays Sara). Benicio is a wonderful actor best known from his work on Brazilian TV; he came as a suggestion from my producer (Rodrigo Teixeira, from RT Features) and it totally made sense. Luciana Paes is an amazing theatre actress, a genius with whom I had work before. She inspires me a lot. The rest of the cast came together as the several drafts from the screenplay were coming to life. It was a beautiful collaboration between director/writer and producer.
HC: Murilo Benicio and Luciana Paes are outstanding together, did they rehearse much?
GA: Yes, they rehearsed a lot. I mean A LOT really (laughs). They are amazing. If only I had recorded the whole process... will do it next time.
HC: It's a strong film, often uncomfortable to watch, what was the atmosphere like on set?
GA: We shot the movie in just 20 days. But I had rehearsed with the cast for a month, everyday, before start the shooting. So, it was like having everyone together for a long time. Besides, I filmed chronologically (which is a luxury, when you think about the cinema logistic). That gave us the opportunity to really experience the scenes day after day - which was more than great for the actors. The atmosphere on set: pretty calm, I must confess. I knew I had to maintain everyone as calm as possible because it's so easy to make a circus of everything when you think about a whole story developing in a single (and all closed!) set. Think about a brain surgery (laughs) that's what it was - quiet and focused. But we also had a lot of fun as we reached our goals, day after day. And all that sticky blood (made of honey) on those actors... we have a lot to laugh and a lot to say "Oh, these were the days we were young and crazy, my friend".
HC: You've used subtle amounts of pale colours that are in contrast with the red of the blood, was this hard to achieve?
GA: Extremely hard. I worked with a very collaborative and talented production designer (Denis Netto) alongside with my favorite DP (director of photography) in the world, Uruguayan Barbara Alvarez ("Whiskey", "The Headless Woman" etc.). We worked together to give life and flesh to every corner of that scenario (which was entirely built in order to fulfill the dramatic needs of the story - when a story is set just in one place you have to create different landscapes within this structure. It's a very delicate and challenging thing to do). The film took one year in post-production where we researched and found the exact tone of our main color palette. A lot of rotoscopy work after, we reached the final look.
HC: The soundtrack is superb (especially during the end scene), did you have a clearance issues getting the pieces you wanted?
GA: Turns out I am married to the film's composer, Rafael Cavalcanti, who is attached to all my films from the first drafts of the final screenplay. The way we think soundtrack together is pretty organic (and not common) He thinks music dramatically and I usually film knowing his early thoughts on music and soundtrack. He also is attached to the editing process, which is pretty much influenced by his work.
HC: This is your first full length feature, what did you learn about the art of directing during the shoot?
GA: Sleep and eat well. Love your actors and crew members. When everything seems out of control, focus only on what you see through the camera, "shrink" the world around you and you'll be OK.
HC: Do you have a favourite shot or moment in the movie?
GA: I love so many moments of it. When chef Djair tells Bruno her grandmother's stew recipe - that used to be my grandmother's best dish. I also love the interrogation scene, where the thief is slaughtered and Inacio reveals himself as a true monster. There are so many lines of tension on that scene - and developing them with cast and photography and visual effects (which were made on set; old fashion style!) brings me wonderful memories.
HC: There has been a lot of press recently about how the industry treats women, do you think now we're entering an age where women are treated with equality or do you think there's still a long way to go?
GA: I think both ways. Yes, we are beginning to recognize women were (and are) treated like s**t when it comes to leadership. We have to keep on showing the world we kick-ass. But we still have a long, long, long way to go. I will be doing it till I die, I suppose.
HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?
GA: I just finished my second feature film "The Father's Shadow" (it's the story of a girl who tries to bring her mother back from the dead). And I am writing my next project, which is sort of a contemporary exorcism tale... Devil, love and friendship.
HC: Gabriela Amaral, thank you very much.
GA: You are more than welcome!
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