Audience Award in the Midnight Madness section of the prestigious Toronto Festival and brand-new winner of the same award and the awards to the best movie, best new director and for the best effects special at the Sitges Festival 2019. With these precedents, it is more than logical that 'The hole' has earned its label as big covered bombshell of the season, and as one of the best science fiction tapes of recent years.
But this modest Basque-Catalan production and its intelligent metaphor for today's society hides much more among its frames than it may appear at first glance. Therefore, we have met with his director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, its screenwriter David Desola and his leading actor Iván Massagué; to immerse ourselves fully in the film and explore the different phases of its creation during a conversation in which cinema has reigned and an unbeatable atmosphere.
– I told you before starting the interview, but I repeat it again so that it is recorded: I am still amazed with 'The hole'. And since it is such a peculiar movie, I would like you to tell me how the project was born, because it is very interesting to know where you got such an idea.
DAVID: It's an idea that comes from afar and that I had about ten years ago. The germ of the idea, and this is not even known by Galder [the director], occurred to me during the nap after eating a barbecue in my mother's village in Burgos. I imagined this story of a platform in a tower divided into levels, where some eat with opulence and the rest eat leftovers. It was an unspecified image, and over time I shaped it.
The first version was for theater, and I co-wrote it with Pedro Rivero, but we left it parked. We had in mind to adapt it to the cinema, and more or less by that time Galder and Basque Film appeared, and they saw that clearly there was a powerful material to develop.
GALDER: First they passed it to Carlos Juarez, who is the producer. Carlos was fascinated by the idea and he passed it to me. I read it and it seemed wonderful. All the symbology, the metaphor, the analogy with society … I thought they were a text with incredible potential and very directed to the theater on which we would have to work hard to adapt it to a more cinematic audience, more accustomed to other forms .
DAVID: It must be said that I had offered this to another producer [Laugh]. I believed in this story but could not find who produced it. That is why we must praise the courage of Galder and Carlos to get into this story that did not have many supporters. They looked very risky, with a very crude content … Probably these producers who did not want it are now heading their heads against a wall, which I think is very good.
IVAN: That, that!
– Poetic justice, right?
DAVID: [Laugh] More than poetic justice, it is necessary that people look for risky proposals. In the film industry it happens a lot that all you want is the formula that you know works. I think 'The hole' was a high risk bet. Although the idea attracts attention …
GALDER: [Continued] … then we had to see how to develop it. We really liked the original idea, we saw the difficulty it had not only to shape the film, but to see where we got the money for this. Carlos we don't know very well how he did it, but there is the result …
– The magic of the producer.
DAVID: But a lot of magic!
IVAN: Let's not go in there … Better not go in there … [laugh]
– After all this, I guess the next step was to find the leading actor, here present …
IVAN: I entered the project two years later.
DAVID: He did it after fighting a lot with the script, with very good intention, yes. We watched the movie in very different ways.
IVAN: Then I arrived and saw her in a third different way, to finish off.
– Creative differences that ruin blockbusters in Hollywood!
IVAN: [Laugh] As is.
DAVID: It must be said that although I write a super tragic story, I like to work with comedy as a tool. The original script was more frivolous and more comical. I had a lot of fighting with Galder. The only advice I gave him was: "Don't take this movie seriously, Galder." Of course, he took it super seriously. But I must admit, seeing the result, that he was right. Or at least he has achieved balance in his vision.
GALDER: Pedro [the co-writer] did want to dramatize it. Little by little, introducing Ivan into the project, we saw in the essays that those ideas of dramatizing, taking him into the dark and telling jokes with irony and with a more subtle and serious acting treatment, we saw that it worked very well and allowed to keep humor and tone so kafkiano and insane.
IVAN: You had the voice of David in the neck telling you all the time while you were telling me that you had to upload more comedy.
GALDER: If David is not behind, reminding us at all times "comedy, comedy, comedy", we would have made it more dramatic than it is now. We have achieved a balance that works very well.
– It is precisely one of the things that makes the film go like a shot. The tone is an brutal juggling exercise.
IVAN: The good thing is that what is lived in the film is pure reality. A parallel reality. It was very organic. As an actor, I lived it as "Ivan gets stuck in a hole and to see what happens to him". I did not build a character. I remember in the first week that we said: "I think we have taken this movie very high." The comedy was volatilized, but it will appear when it has to appear. As the shooting was chronological, the moments to make comedy and the decision making spontaneously appeared. There is a lot of truth in the movie.
– In addition, the tone and this "truth" helps you make a clear speech but do not rewind on our faces any moralizing lessons. You let the viewer think.
GALDER: That was clear. We did not want pamphlets, nor did we want to indoctrinate, nor did we want to treat the viewer from a pedestal or preach to anyone. We expose a reality, which is very comparable to today's reality and the injustice in the distribution of wealth that is seen in all countries of the world. From here we open a reflection, which is to face the viewer with the limits of their own solidarity. That is, what would you do depending on what level it is.
It is very easy to distribute when you have left over and you can give a couple of coins, but would you be equally supportive if that solidarity puts your physical integrity at risk? From there, we talk about economic and economic management systems such as capitalism or socialism, but from a point of view focused on the individual responsibility of each one. That's why, and I don't know if you agree, the movie has so many readings and is so acceptable to so many.
DAVID: Also, the metaphor is very simple. It can be understood by everyone. It is diaphanous and very simple. The idea is that the metaphor was like a large closet in which you start to open drawers and you begin to find subtexts much deeper than the wrapper. We also deal with communism, religion, social classes … And the lack of solidarity among disadvantaged people, which is also there.
The good thing about 'The hole' is that, in real life, if you are born at level five, you stay at level five, and your children will belong to level five. But inside the hole, the level varies randomly periodically, and makes the characters not empathize with those who were before in their position.
– This makes it very, very accessible. I have talked to people who have already seen it, of different political tendencies and of different "levels", and it has worked for everyone. And this is difficult today, that everything tends to get to the extreme … You have weathered the storm with something very risky at the conceptual level.
GALDER: The good thing is that it is not a movie against anyone. Basically it is, because if you are in favor of something, you have to be against the opposite, but we do not want to blame anyone directly, but that everyone participates in a collective reflection on how we should share wealth and how solidarity we have That be with the rest.
What David said is very important. If you are supportive, in the hole, it does not mean that next month they will put you on a better level. By removing the reward, it makes you show yourself how you really are. You see how people really are based on how they treat people who don't have to treat well.
The conclusion we draw, and I think I speak for everyone, is that we are all very selfish; and then there are others who are much more selfish. And we use them as an excuse to be us. There will always be a more corrupt politician, a millionaire who wastes and pollutes more, a corporation that respects less the labor rights … with the excuse of "those above", we avoid taking the paths we should take and have responsibilities.
This, in the movie, is expressed with a phrase from Trimagasi. When he has you tied [to Ivan's character] and you tell him that he is the only one responsible for your death, he answers no, that there are 340 before him. There is always going to be someone more responsible than you.
DAVID: You are absolutely right. It's like when they tell you: "you don't recycle enough" and you answer by saying that there are multinationals that pollute much more than what you can do to fix anything.
IVAN: There will always be some son of a bitch who cuts your way.
– It's a really fucked up speech, but very real …
GALDER: In the end, the movie is not going to change the world. The message they send probably changes absolutely nothing. In the end, the one who changes is Goren, who has finally done what he had to do; what he thinks is fair and what he has to do. That is the victory, change yourself and take the initiative of what you have to do.
– After all, every good movie reflects the change of a character between the first and the last act.
IVAN: At least it should be like that.
– By the way, I am going around the origin of the script, because the dialogues seemed to me at times much more theatrical cinematographic, and still work perfectly. When this happens, they usually squeak a lot …
IVAN: I think it's a matter of tone. In tone, direction, content … Without a good story you do nothing.
GALDER: The dialogues are very good …
DAVID: I have a problem with the cinema and the directors. [Laugh] It's coming from so many years doing theater. In the theater you can always expand with the dialogues, but in cinema there is the obsession of the directors to cut and repeat that what you can show in an image, do not do it through dialogues.
– The mythical "show, don't tell".
IVAN: Marlon Brando said why we talked so much, if it's a cinematic language.
DAVID: With Galder I have not had that problem. You have it with everyone, but he thinks he has quite respected the base …
IVAN: Because you weren't on the shoot, you were on the phone … You were telling him your moves, then you hung up and Galdar said: "Hey, you think my idea for this scene is fantastic, go ahead". [Laugh]
GALDER: What has been is a hybrid. There were the dialogues written on the one hand, which are fantastic, but then in the rehearsals, we adapted them to fit each actor.
IVAN: It was much more comfortable to give them truth. Not all dialogues suit all actors. You have to make them yours.
– Since we are getting into more practical and shooting issues, let's talk about the production design of the film, because it's brilliant …
GALDER: The film has been made very, very handmade and very spoiled. From the script, all the preparation, all the work with the actors, the costumes, the set design, the photography, the music … This shows. We have functioned as a big family, with very serious discussions, as in all families, but all working together.
DAVID: I had never seen a storyboard as worked as Galder did. Nine hundred pages where everything was very studied.
– The good thing is that, although it is noted that it is not a millionaire blockbuster, thanks to this it appears to be much larger than it is. How is all this managed at the logistic level when filming?
GALDER: The movie has very little budget. In this case I did not make an approach to pass it on to a producer with the story to produce it. I thought about what we could build with the money we had, and how to optimize the planning so that the money would yield. I sat down with the production designer and we put ourselves in the shoes of the architect of the society in which the hole would be built. We knew that the structure had to be cheap, it had to be efficient, impregnable and durable. We conclude the modular reinforced concrete, made in blocks.
The entire structure obeys the rectangular proportions of each floor of the hole. The hole has the same proportions as the plant. Wall plates have the same proportion. The wall sconces are double that proportion. The toilet is that proportion. The sink is double that proportion. Everything is mathematically calculated, to the millimeter, as if it had been calculated by a computer twenty years ago.
– I'm getting checked. How did you put it into practice?
GALDER: We could not build the two kilometers measured by the hole in fiction, so we built two levels. 80% of the movie was shot at the low level, and when the characters look down, we would go up to level two and throw the counterplane down. From that level down, it is digitally generated. But digital treatment is much easier when you have a plant made and the rest is out of focus and you see in perspective through a hole. The key is to merge something tangible with the digital. Then there is the platform, which is a scissor crane …
IVAN: Of those that the town hall has to change the lights of the street lamps! [Laugh]
GALDER: Of those! It was made of wood, and what we did was erase the scissors in post-production.
DAVID: I the first cut I saw was with the crane yet! [Laugh]
GALDER: The rest is poliexpán with a concrete treatment. You can imagine the time we spent thinking about this, because the money is not precisely left over. The production designer is also the stylist, then we work very hand in hand with the cinematographer …
– I suppose that the work with him would be especially intense in the case of a single location, and also so peculiar … It is a very invisible work.
GALDER: The shooting had to be very agile, because there were so many planes and we needed resources to have room for maneuver in assembly. And because of this, almost all the light is made with the location's own wall lights.
GALDER: We measure the height at which they had to be. We measured the time that the characters were standing, we measured the time that the characters were lying … 60% of the film, more or less, is shot with the appliqués of the location, with a small reinforcement, some Falcon. In addition, the entire hole was covered with scaffolding to work from outside. I was all very rethought.
– From 'Cube' I saw nothing so lucid in terms of design and economy of resources.
DAVID: In 'Cube' they had it much easier, because they only changed the light and the site door.
IVAN: We changed the number!
– On an interpretative level, did you take advantage of the fact that the story was bottled?
IVAN: I took advantage of everything! Everything was very much in favor. Roll chronologically, lose weight …
GALDER: Twelve kilos went down! Twelve kilos in six weeks while we were shooting!
IVAN: You love to highlight that! [Laugh] The fucking thing is that the only way to lose weight is to go hungry. I was fasting for twenty hours, then those crises of bad host that accompanied me according to the scene I had to shoot. If they didn't accompany me, I had to eat them. Also, seeing the hole was very impressive; You knew it was wood, but it looked like concrete. There is also the loneliness of being alone with other characters and that there were so many general plans helped a lot, not seeing any technician helps you get into the role a lot.
– I suppose that chronological shooting would also help a lot to maintain the emotional character of the character.
IVAN: Of course, but I never considered building a super complex character … It was really "Ivan in the hole" and the sequels were happening. We improvise a lot and discuss a lot. It is the only way for things to go well. Discussing a lot.
– Well, it went well, because the intensity is very high throughout the footage.
IVAN: I had many doubts all the time. I did not know if I was correct in terms of voice level, exhaustion, intensity … Luckily that Galder, besides tricking me into making me say phrases that I did not want later, was there addressing me.
DAVID: And in the meantime I was on the phone: "Galder, are you respecting comedy?" [Laugh]
IVAN: "Yes yes, we are having a great time … We descojonamos, David! We have to stop the filming of laughter!"
GALDER: Ivan telling me "hey, I don't want to say this phrase, what does a joke paint here!" with David on the phone wondering if we were respecting desperate comedy. [Laugh]
IVAN: That's why there has to be a director. And luckily we had it. In the end it seemed more the shooting of a short film, we were all going to one … it was wonderful. It is normal to comment after a scene, stop, discuss whether it went well … Here one scene was made and the next, there was full confidence. It was all so delicate that you didn't want to touch it, you didn't want to distort the emotion of the moment. You wanted to continue the trip even if you didn't know where it was going to end. We felt like we were in Hollywood but not really.
– Now that you have flooded the room in a good mood, we are going to annoy the environment, because I think the answer is not going to be too positive. What is the key to raising a project of this nature in our industry?
GALDER: When I went to Toronto they told me: "Hey, how wonderful this golden age of Spanish fantastic cinema!", And I thought, "but what a golden age, if four times a year are made." Four of them arrive and they think that there is a huge factory here. Hopefully now with the streaming platforms and the thematic diversification that will require this change.
But so far the cinema, who financed it? The four shift chains that need movies that they can put at ten at night, and these movies at ten in those chains, cannot be put on. Hopefully end that … I will not say dictatorship …
IVAN: Say it, say it …
GALDER: The thing is to end with that filter or funnel that only allows this type of movie to be made. Maybe now with the platforms and with the new investment in more risky movies or for niches, it ends up creating a "meganicho" in which we have room.
IVAN: THE NICHE!
DAVID: Oops! I get out of here a movie of niches … [laugh]