INTERVIEW: Dog Days; Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Amores Perros"
by Anthony Kaufman/indieWIRE
(indieWIRE/ 03.30.01) -- "Innocence can be more powerful than experience," says Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. "Too much knowledge and analysis can be paralysis." That's why the first-time feature filmmaker directed "Amores Perros," his Oscar nominated Mexican success, from the gut. Instinct and intuition were his guiding forces -- aspects mirrored in the animals that make up the film's surface connections -- and the result is a lively, visceral debut movie that has received awards and accolades the world over.
Three stories, each involving dogs and the tragic relationships of Mexico City's multiple classes, constitute the film's complex plot -- arrived at after no less than 36 drafts of the screenplay by noted writer Guillermo Arriaga Jordan. Acquired by Lions Gate Films, "Amores Perros" opens in theaters Friday and has already launched the career of a new international auteur: Inarritu, a veteran commercial and video director in Mexico, is now on the roster of the LA-based United Talent Agency and was recently named one of Variety's 10 Directors to Watch.
indieWIRE's Anthony Kaufman spoke with Inarritu after the film's New York Film Festival U.S. Premiere, about style, violence, and sound design.
indieWIRE: How did your work on short films prepare you for "Amores Perros"?
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu: I began to learn about the camera and the actors. That gave me a lot of the skills. At the same time, advertising gives you a lot of vices, for example, an obsession for a superficial look, but at the same time, it gives you the capacity to synthesize the story -- tell a story in one minute.
iW: The film is really almost three short films. Did this come out of your background?
Inarritu: Not necessarily. I think it was the nature of the story. The structure came more from the spirit of the story than a formal decision. We did not talk about this structure -- of three stories, and playing with time -- would be three short films in a film. I always thought of this as a feature film, divided into three segments.
iW: Can you talk about how you shot the three different stories? You used different styles, even different film stocks, yes?
Inarritu: I shot the first and the third story with Vision 800, a very grainy material and the middle one with 500, a little more clean stock, because I thought that's what the story needed. I don't know if it was a good decision. People feel like there's a lot of changes in the second story, not only a change of rhythms, but of social class and tone. I changed the way I shot it, more in an orthodox way -- still handheld, all the movie is handheld -- but the way I shot it was more conservative, as the characters are. I think it works, but when I was editing, I missed the energy of the other segments. I was experimenting, you know. All of this journey has been an experiment to see if things happened the way I conceived them.
iW: Any other stylistic changes?
Inarritu: Basically, they are the same. Personally, I like the third one the best, in terms of how I shot it, because the DP Rodrigo Prieto -- now he is going to shoot the Oliver Stone movie -- began to got used to the handheld language. So I think the third story, which was the last one we shot, since we had the experience of shooting two months, it's the most pure and authentic.
iW: How was it getting the money for "Amores Perros"?
Inarritu: After we got the script finished, a new company called Altavista Films -- they're trying to make 4-5 pictures a year -- they loved the script and they invested immediately. The budget was a little more than they wanted. But it was a bit over budget, so my company put up 25%, so they owned 75%. But the money wasn't a big problem. I was very lucky. There's always money. The problem is to get a good idea, that's more difficult. When there's a good script, everybody circles.
iW: It is a very good script. You went through 36 drafts to get there, though. How long did that take?
Inarritu: Three years. There were a lot of changes. It was like a domino effect. A little change affected everything. Once or twice a week, we had these meetings where I was able to express all my needs and points of view. I was lucky to have this kind of collaboration. And I invited the writer to get involved with the casting, so we made a very good duo. The most difficult thing was to shape it. When you have these three stories, it's very easy to be seduced by the intellectual game. All the time, I wake up and go, ah! Octavio can meet El Chivo here. And then we think, no, this is cheap. So to make it subtle was difficult.
iW: You deal with violence very responsibly in the film. Did you say that you had a personal encounter with some violence?
Inarritu: In the scouting of locations, I was assaulted, with all the crew, outside the house where the dogfights take place. 14 and 15-year-old boys, all drugged out, took out all the crew and forced us on the floor and took all our things. And I wanted to shoot there. If you call the police, you are dead, because they kill the police and they kill you. It's their territory, and you have to negotiate with them. The producer hired security guys who could talk with the gangs, and they said, we want to shoot here, what do you want? And they don't accept money, in this case. It's an animal thing: they put down the line, "this is my territory and if you want to come here, all you have to do is ask me and I will say yes." . . . In the end, they became our security.
It's very scary, there's a lot of vulnerability; it's very fragile. You feel like if you go out for dinner tonight, you don't know if you will return. There's that kind of Civil War going on out there. It's crazy, it's crazy, it's very sad. Because it became that way just eight years ago. Now, I think a lot of drug dealers have come in from Columbia, everything is so corrupted and the policemen are the worst. You see police at night, run!
iW: Can you talk about the music and sound design? That one sequence with the song called "Si Senor" is used very effectively. Is that a popular song in Mexico?
Inarritu: It was a song that was released a year before, by a famous group in Mexico called Control Machete. It was an accident, because I worked with a specific rock group to make a special song for that moment. I cut the film with an Everlast song, so I never thought to use that one. It's an American song and it would have cost a lot of money, so I was working with a rock band to make that beat, but a Mexican song with that same spirit. In the end, it didn't work. That song didn't have the same power. So desperately, with my music supervisor, we began to listen to other music. And then we found the song from Control Machete and that song ended up matching with the same power. I'm not a big fan of the song, but it works very well in the context, the kind of music that they would listen to, and the beat and the power.
iW: How long did the sound design take?
Inarritu: The sound design was a nightmare, because it was made by a partner. We are Seta, so we have Seta Films, Seta Advertising, Seta Audio. So the guy that manages audio Martine, he did the audio for my first short film when I was in school. Then we became DJs and then we opened this studio. So I wanted to share this with him. But he's never made audio for a feature. We made audio for commercials, but never for a feature. So while I was cutting, he was making some tests. So it took seven months, because he was learning. I was like, no, it sounds like a Coca Cola commercial. It's harder to make real audio than special effects audio.
iW: You've said that you're not interested in being compared to Tarantino. What filmmakers would you like to be compared to?
Inarritu: I like so many different directors: Scorsese, Coppola, Cassavettes, Jarmusch, Gus van Sant, Woody Allen and the greats like Fellini, Bergman, Tarkovsky and among current filmmakers von Trier, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-wai.
iW: What do you think of making a next movie within the U.S. system?
Inarritu: In some ways, it's scary. Because for me, it's so demanding, my process is so obsessive and neurotic. It's hard for me to work for somebody else. I can work with someone, but not for someone. If I can find a partner or maybe in a studio with a producer that wants to work with me, as partners, then maybe. Because at the same time, I'm a good partner. I know how to work with people. I've worked with the same people for 10 years. I'm not that kind of auteur. I hear ideas. So maybe, someday I will.