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Director Sergio G Sánchez talks shooting in Spain, the modern audience, and the future of his fresh, young cast

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The National Student had the opportunity to chat with writer/director Sergio G. Sánchez about his upcoming gothic horror film The Secret of Marrowbone. Featuring a fresh young cast, including George MacKay, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth, Matthew Stagg and Anya Taylor-Joy, the film follows a family of four siblings as they hide the truth of their mother’s death in order to avoid separation.

When speaking to TNS, writer and first-time director Sergio G. Sánchez discussed the unique nature of his film.

“Aesthetically, [the film] feels like something from another time. I tried to shoot it as if it was actually shot in the sixties. Narratively and structurally, it’s very complex.”

The film’s story appears to be the product of various influences in Sánchez’s life, both early and current.

Summarising the muse of Marrowbone, the director spoke of how it was based on "the slow realisation that, in the world we live in, it’s becoming more and more difficult to discern what’s real and what’s not" and how "we have to decide, of everything we are exposed to, what it is that we believe to be true."

From this main theme, Sánchez built a gothic horror storyline; a genre which has been of great inspiration to the writer/director from a young age.

Reminiscing on his childhood years, Sánchez explained how he was a "very sensible kid" who was "always scared" and, because of that, was forbidden to watch any horror movies during his childhood. Naturally, curiosity kicked in, making horror and gothic literature an area of great interest to him.

These interests are clearly reflected in not only Marrowbone, but also Sánchez’s previous writings, in particular The Orphanage (2007), and it was the success of these films that gave him the chance to direct his first feature.

With this new agency over his script, Sánchez attributes much of the film’s tone and style to his "strange background"; one in which his childhood years were spent living in Asturias, Spain before moving to America at the age of sixteen.

“My childhood memories took place in Spain and then my adolescent years happened in the US. My personality has been shaped in between those two different worlds.”

Continuing, Sánchez explains:

“You want your first film to be as personal as possible. I thought it would be an interesting idea to shoot in the landscape of my youth, the story, and world of my adolescence.”

And with that Sánchez took the cast and crew out to his homeland of Asturias to start shooting The Secret of Marrowbone.

This shooting experience, according to Sánchez, mirrored the story in the film.

“In the movie, George, Mia, Charlie, and Matthew are playing this family that are living in a world they don’t know and where they must hide, and when the actors got to Asturias it was pretty much the same thing."

This not only heightened the authenticity of the film, but also enriched the filmmaking experience for all involved in terms of enjoyment as they explored the film’s sets.

“[The actors] all stayed in a hotel together and when they saw the house for the first time, I remember Charlie Heaton asked, ‘can’t we live here?’.”

The experience of filming in a foreign location and sharing a hotel meant that the cast developed a "wonderful friendship" with Sánchez claiming: “they became inseparable from the start and it made things very easy for me.”

Sánchez himself clearly formed a great relationship with the actors, too, as he speaks very fondly of their time on set together and couldn’t praise their ability enough.

“They’re all going to have such amazing careers, when I look back in ten years I’m not going to believe how lucky I was to get them all together in my first movie.”

The director even said that that working with the young actors was "the best thing about making this film." However, at the same time, he explains that it was also his biggest challenge.

This was due to the cast’s varying acting methods.

“George [MacKay] is the one who has more training. He is very disciplined and technical and aware of his body language.”

“Charlie [Heaton] is very intuitive. He just needs to know everything about his character and then lets himself go.”

“Mia [Goth] works from a different place, she becomes the character. When you shoot with her it’s chilling to watch because it feels like she is suddenly possessed by the character and she doesn’t leave the character until ten seconds after you yell cut.”

“Matthew [Stagg] was eight-years-old at the time and I didn’t let him read the script. I didn’t want him to know anything about the story because I wanted to preserve that innocence.”

As Stagg was sheltered from the film’s script, the director spoke to him through a mic or used the other actors in the scene as a way of evoking the desired reaction out of the young actor.

Sánchez expressed particularly high praise for Anya Taylor Joy, stating: “Anya is such a spectacular actress and human being. You have no idea what Anya is capable of, she has only shown us a very small part of what she can do.”

These varying acting styles is where Sánchez’s biggest challenge lay.

“The most complicated thing for me to do as a director was to find a level of communication that would be useful to all of them.”

Much like these acting styles, Sánchez’s writing style was significantly different from his previous processes for The Orphanage and The Impossible.

Sánchez says his different approach to this script was "an experiment, as [he] usually take[s] too long in the writing process.”

According to the writer/director, the writing process had a big effect on the final film, and vice versa.

“The structure of the film is a cause of this process as I’d always give [the producer] three to four pages a day with a little hook at the end so that she would want to read more.”

This time around, he likened writing the script to writing a ‘serialised novel’ and completed the first draft of the script in only twenty days – although the writer/director does reassure that the script was perfected over time, stating: “there were about twenty revisions, so I ended up re-writing for six months.”

This method was adopted not only due to Sánchez’s usual, self-confessed lengthy writing process but also due to the nature of his idea.

“I didn’t know how I was going to get to the ending, but I knew where I wanted to get.”

Sánchez does make clear, however, that this didn’t affect the shooting of the film, saying: “once we started pre-production everyone knew what the script was.”

Well, all except Matthew.

With this new writing process and it being his first plight in a directorial role, Sánchez discussed the importance of keeping his characters on their intended path; especially in a film where the characters’ relationship is so integral.

“It was difficult because in a movie like this, the family is the character. You give each of [the characters] a trait which represents them as a family. When each character has two sides – like Jane being timeless but also hopelessness – you have to stick to those two colours because they’re only part of a greater design.”  

To ensure they fulfilled their purpose in the bigger picture, Sánchez explains how they “built this emotional memory of who they were as a family so each of them could have a specific role in the story.”

On a final note on what he hoped the film would mean to its viewers, Sánchez had a refreshing outlook on approaching the audience in film.

Personally, the director states: “film is like a ghost. It’s something intangible, it’s light and sound coming to you from an unknown place and going back to that unknown place after the apparition.”

Touching on subjectivity and interpretation in film, Sánchez continues:

“It’s a ghost that is meant to carry a message and hopefully emotion, but I also say, when you make a film it is impossible to please everybody or to touch everybody who sees the film. You are sending that signal and there will be people who will be able to tune into it depending on what they have lived, their interests, what they long for.”

And naturally, Sánchez explains that, on the other hand, there will be people that simply don’t (or can’t) connect to your story – but that is okay.

Hence, the director states he doesn’t make films for the audience but rather for himself, stating:

“I never think of the audience when I make a film, I only think of myself because I don’t think there is such a thing as the audience; the audience is made of many different individuals.”

“The only thing you do is try to make it honest and meaningful to you and hope that it’ll connect with somebody else out there.”

With the success and resonance of Sánchez’s previous works, The Secret of Marrowbone will undoubtedly stand out as a fresh, new staple of the horror genre and capture the imaginations of all who see it.

The Secret of Marrowbone is out in cinemas on Friday 13th July, distributed by Entertainment One.

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