Christopher Alender and Marcos Gabriel are the writer/director duo behind The Old Ways; a fun and richly textured story about a young journalist who ventures into the jungles of Mexico to investigate a story of sorcery and healing, only to get...
Christopher Alender and Marcos Gabriel are the writer/director duo behind The Old Ways; a fun and richly textured story about a young journalist who ventures into the jungles of Mexico to investigate a story of sorcery and healing, only to get kidnapped by a group of locals who claim her to be demonically possessed. Possessions, witchcraft, demons, and snakes, The Old Ways was not only a beautifully told story but a gleefully fun film. The Old Ways is now streaming on Netflix and was one of the top watched movies on the platform the week it came out, which makes sense as it was definitely one of my favorite movies of the year. I had a lot of fun with this conversation, we did the standard interview questions but also geeked out on horror, and I even whipped out my Aztec death whistle at one point. Anyway, please enjoy this fun and informative conversation with Christopher Alender and Marcos Gabriel.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Marcos & Alexander.
- Lead with fresh takes on tired concepts. It is very difficult to do anything truly unique in the horror space; zombies have been done to death, as have vampires, witches, and definitely demonic possession. But what we haven't seen, or at least I haven't seen, is an exorcism movie based on ancient Mexican tradition. That is completely new, and one of the reasons Marcos' script for The Old Ways felt so fresh. Despite the fact that all of these genres have become so exhausted, it doesn't mean fans don't want more of them; they just don't want the same homogenized storylines that have become cliche. If you're approaching a well-trodden path like a zombie/werewolf/vampire movie, make sure you put a completely new and different spin on it, either culturally or socially. For other great examples of this, check out: The Vigil, The Boys of County Hell, His House, and Atlantics, all of which are awesome watches.
- Lean into folk horror. Just about every culture has a treasure trove of supernatural mythology, but sadly, there aren't many folk horror movies out there. When writing The Old Ways, Marcos drew upon a ton of history and mythology from the Mexican culture, all of which culminated in making The Old Ways not only unique but resonant. There's something naturally more believable about mythological archetypes and real folklore; it somehow feels familiar to people. Whether it's because these stories are in the collective unconscious or just really really cool is anybody's guess, but when integrated properly, they have a grounding effect on the movie, which makes it more compelling and believable. Dig into mythology and folklore to discover your own unique concepts.
- Time on set is your most valuable currency; budget accordingly. When it comes to good filmmaking, things take time; getting that great performance, lighting that killer shot, or perfecting that practical effects gag - all of these things take time to do right, which is why it's critical to make sure you have enough time on set. Indie filmmakers are typically in a constant rush against the clock, but budgeting more time on set means you can take the time to do things right because good things always take time. Chris articulated this beautifully when he made the comparison between footage versus cinema; footage can be done instantly and on a strict schedule, but cinema, the real art of film as a language, takes time. One way to save time that Chris recommended is to pre-visualize and literally pre-shoot your scenes through simulations so you can work out the kinks ahead of time. You can do this with something as sophisticated as Maya or Unreal Engine like Chris does or with something as simple as action figures. Doing these shot rehearsals can really help advise what you need to get on the day beyond storyboards and ultimately save you time on set, which, as we discussed, is your greatest currency.
- Your cast and crew need their rest to do their best. Chris recommends 5-day weeks instead of 6-day weeks. According to him, always opt for more days and skimp everywhere else. Consider this when budgeting your movie; do you need trailers? Do you need eight costume changes? Can you sacrifice two characters for an extra three days? Whatever it takes, it's worth it to maximize your production time. Now, admittedly, this runs counter to the Roger Corman hustle ethic of filmmaking, but so be it. There is definitely an over romanticization of hustle culture and shooting till 4 am and your crew hating you, and yes, sometimes that's what you have to do, but if you're in a position to avoid that, avoid it…because rested & happier cast & crews ultimately make better movies.
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