On A Global Scale: Spanish Film, Global Stream
BY Felix van Kann, April 30, 2020
On A Global Scale is a bi-weekly series about international co-productions by Columbia filmmakers.
Welcome to another edition of On A Global Scale. This series celebrates the international spirit of the Columbia University film program and the incredible global collaborations coming out of it.
In the modern age of streaming, the international film community has grown more global and vital than ever. This has led to an increase in foreign language films leaving their marks on mainstream movie culture, emphasized particularly with Parasite being the first non-English speaking film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year. Columbia filmmakers are also among the frontrunners in the business of bringing films from their home countries to a broader audience. One of them is alumnus David Pastor ‘04, an award-winning writer and director from Barcelona, Spain. His newest film Hogar had its premiere on Netflix on March 25, 2020. Variety called it the streaming platform’s “highest-profile Spanish original film to date.”
Coming to New York with an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies before shifting into film, Pastor graduated with an MFA in Directing in 2004. Afterwards, he stayed in New York and scored a job at a Spanish production company where he worked in development and took on some writing assignments, allowing him to stay in the US. His career took off when he decided to join forces with his brother, Alex, who studied film in their home country, making the duo a hybrid with influences from both their native and the US cultures. “I was very lucky that my brother is my brother,” Pastor told me. “By the time I lost my job and the company shut down, my brother and I started writing together. The second script we wrote together was a post-apocalyptic thriller called Carriers. I was broke when my brother’s short film that he had made without me in Spain got very successful (it won Best International Short Film at Sundance in 2006). Because of the attention the short got, we were able to get our movie made.”
The two brothers have worked in tandem both in the script room and on set ever since. “Alex and I both write and direct. Sometimes we just write for a job and let other people direct it. But the stuff we are more passionate about we usually direct as well.” Writer/Director pairs are quite unusual in filmmaking which Pastor can’t comprehend. “I’m surprised not more people are doing it. Directing is a very lonely job and a hard job. It’s good to have somebody by your side; somebody who has your back and doesn’t have a hidden agenda. At this point, may it be writing or directing, I’m not sure if I could do it by myself.”
The brothers have developed a specific routine for their writing assignments. They split the scenes up and write sections of the scripts individually. A similar process goes into their directing preparations. “We plan every scene and then discuss it. And then the best idea wins. Or sometimes we combine both ideas. We don’t really have an ego when it comes to that because at the end of the day it’s both of our names on the screen. So if Alex has a better idea than me, I accept it and still get credit for it,” he adds jokingly.
It’s a collaboration that has paid off well for the brothers who now share feature film and TV credits. A fascinating fact about their body of work is that they jump between the Spanish and the English languages, an important aspect of their decision-making process when it comes to finding new projects. “Spanish is our first language, but we’ve been writing in English a long time. Every time one of us has an idea we ask ourselves two questions. One, is this film or television? And two, is this for Spain or the US? In the case of Spain versus the US it’s sometimes very obvious. I couldn’t see Carriers as a Spanish movie, I couldn’t see Incorporated as a Spanish TV show. It boils down to what the story is about. Is it a story about the American society or does it speak to the Spanish reality?” For Pastor, working in both countries can be both a blessing and a curse. “You have twice the doors to knock on, but you’re constantly asking yourself: “Should I write something for Spain or the US?” You are less focused on succeeding in one place. I always say we are successful enough to work in both countries but not successful enough to reject one of them.”
However, the decision between writing a film for the Spanish or US market is not always an easy one. “In the case of Hogar it could’ve been either way,” Pastor said. The film tells the story of Javier, a former executive, who after a year of unemployment, makes the decision to leave the apartment his family can no longer afford. One day, Javier discovers that he still has a set of keys to his old home and starts spying on the young couple that now lives there. Little by little, Javier starts to infiltrate the lives of the new owners, determined to recover the life he has lost… even if it means destroying anyone that comes in his way. The film stars Javier Gutierrez (Foreign-Language Oscar Contender for Champions), Mario Casas (The Skin of the Wolf), Bruna Cusí (Goya Award winner for Best Actress for Verano 1993) and Ruth Díaz (Tarde para la ira), and is produced by Nostromo Pictures (Palmeras en la nieve, El Guardián Invisible, Contratiempo).
“For Hogar we decided to make it in Spanish because we wanted to make a dark, kind of slow movie with a very deliberate pace following what would traditionally be ‘the bad guy.’ We wanted to make him our protagonist rather than the antagonist and we figured that would probably be a problem in the US. We knew the first note to get from US studios would be: ‘We like the concept but can we make it from the point of view of the couple that moves into an apartment and is being stalked by this creepy guy.’ That would be the traditional structure of an American stalker movie. We didn’t want to get that note, so we stuck with Spanish.” Another deciding factor was the concept of genre. “We had to ask ourselves, is this going to be too hard to make in the US? I feel like Spain is more open to movies that are not as clear-cut. They have a wider conception of what a thriller is. If you want to do something darker or a little more off beat you do it in Europe.”
Pastor adds the script for Hogar is very much about life in Spain in the past ten years and about how the country struggled to overcome the recession of 2008 when the economy took a hit and many companies couldn’t afford the salaries of experienced employees. This is the situation Javier, the anti-hero protagonist of Hogar, find himself in. In fact, there are a lot of references and little jokes hidden in the film an international audience might have trouble picking up. As an example, Pastor mentions: “In the opening sequence, our protagonist talks about having made a commercial about Telefónica and the interviewer says: ‘You mean Movistar’ and he responds: ‘No, Telefónica.’ Telefónica doesn’t exist anymore, it became Movistar at some point. It implies this campaign was a few years old and that’s something probably only a Spanish audience will understand.”
But the brothers decided not to adjust little specificities like this when their deal with Netflix became a reality. “We didn’t take out that line just because we would be on Netflix and wanted Americans to understand it. The script was also written and shot before we knew Netflix was involved. So we didn’t write it with that in mind. We believe in making a movie as specific as we can. The line adds authenticity.”
It is exactly this authenticity that makes Netflix such an interesting contender in the modern world of film distribution to Pastor. "What Netflix adds is the ability to be all over the world at the same time. Millions of people are watching this tiny Spanish movie all over the world. In Spain, the actors are well-known unlike in the US. A movie of this kind without international stars in the Spanish language and with subtitles can travel everywhere on this globe is what’s most appealing to me about streaming services. For a movie like this, which would probably never get a theatrical release in a country like the US, I believe Netflix is great.”
The Columbia community is full of international filmmakers, many aspiring to work in both their home country and the US, a road Pastor has tread successfully. His advice is to keep relationships in both places, never allowing the network to go cold. “It’s out of sight out of mind – when you’re in the US, people in Spain will forget that you exist or think you’re not interested. And if I live in Spain, it’s the other way around. It’s important to travel front and back every now and then and keep contact going. Make time to reconnect with producers and remind them you’re interested in working in their specific country also.” But nothing goes forward without a finished script, Pastor insists as one of his main take-aways from his film school days. “At Columbia, I found a lot of people couldn’t make it to page 110, they were too perfectionistic and never got past page 20. Sometimes it’s better to get to the end of the script even if it’s not perfect – even if it’s not good. And then you rewrite it and make it better or you move on to something else. The first script I wrote at Columbia was 150 pages and now if I ever make it 120 pages, I ask myself: 'What’s wrong with you?' It’s practice.”
Practice that has paid off for Pastor and his brother as they continue to make waves in the industry, may it be in Spain or the US.
David Pastor is a writer and director. He made his feature debut with Carriers, which he co-wrote and co-directed with his brother Àlex Pastor. The horror film starred Chris Pine, Piper Perabo, Lou Taylor Pucci, and Emily VanCamp as four friends facing difficult choices as they flee a deadly pandemic. He also wrote and directed The Last Days (Los últimos días) (2013) and wrote Self/less (2015), directed by Tarsem Singh and starring Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez and Matthew Goode. Pastor wrote Out of the Dark (2014), starring Julia Stiles, Scott Speedman, Stephen Rea. He has also written for the Spanish television show At the Edge of the Law, and created the American series Incorporated (2016-2017) Pastor has written and directed three short films: Orson, Movie (Theater) Hero and Entre la multitude. His newest film Hogar, which he co-wrote and co-directed with his brother, is available on Netflix. Pastor is a winner of the Gaudí Award for Best Non-Catalan Language Film, and was nominated for the Gaudí Award for Best Director and the Gaudí Award for Best Original Screenplay.
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On A Global Scale: A Conversation with Shrihari Sathe
Shrihari Sathe ’09 is an Independent Spirit Award-winning producer who has worked on six international co-productions in the last decade.read more