Talking Witches, Grief, and Magical Realism: An Interview with Baghead Director Alberto Corredor
Alberto Corredor's short film Baghead has made its rounds on the festival circuit. The 15-minute short features a wrinkled, decrepit witch who can manifest the dead and bring them back into our world for a short period. Haunted by grief, Kevin (Oliver Walker) walks into a bar, determined to schedule a one-on-one with Baghead in order to commune with the recently deceased. The short was acquired by StudioCanal and will be turned into a feature-length film. Corredor spoke with us about his filmmaking process, Baghead, and his love of the horror genre.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into filmmaking?
I did film school in Spain. When I finished, I moved to Germany. In film school, my specialization was screen writing and directing. When I moved to Germany, I didn’t speak the language, at least not at first. I decided to look for something a bit more technical, so I started doing editing. It was a time when editing was getting into the mainstream. I trained as an editor, and I worked for a few years in Germany doing any job I could find freelancing. Then I decided to move to London. I’ve spent the last 16 years here. In the beginning, I started doing editing. Then I started freelancing, and slowly, I started getting into film production. I helped with shorts and documentaries. Then, in 2017, I made the jump. That’s when I started looking for a project. My first idea was to do low-budget horror. At first, I didn’t find a story I was convinced was doable with a low budget. Then, suddenly, the writer of Baghead, Lorcan Reilly, sent me the script. The moment I read it, I thought I could do it. I could see a way to expand it into a feature. I saw there was a lot going on in terms of the witch and the gatekeeper. I decided to meet Lorca, and we agreed to go down that road. Then, I produced and directed the short. The story is very good. I also thought I could sell it to producers and a studio, like a proof of concept for something a bit bigger.
Which horror films do you turn to for inspiration as a filmmaker?
In terms of references, Guillermo del Toro has been a big influence of mine. I think you can see it in my film, in the way I visually saw the witch, which is a bit different than how it is portrayed in the script. I think you can also see influences from Japanese and Korean horror movies. That’s probably my weakness. I love everything coming from that corner of the world.
Why did you decide to dive into horror first?
Anything that you do in horror always has a market. I know there are loads of people who watch it. If you are starting out, you want to have a career. By doing genre movies, you might have it easier because there is a big market. There are festivals. You can find thousands of them in terms of horror. You might find something with comedy, but at the end of the day, there are not as many festivals. That was my starting point. I also love horror. I have to say it was the right decision. It brought me to where I am now.
I absolutely love the scene where we're first introduced to the witch. Can you talk about filming that scene and the slow, gradual reveal of her character?
I think that’s one of the advantages and skills I learned through editing for over 20 years. You get angry when something is rushed...and no one pays attention to rhythm. Rhythm is what makes or breaks any movie. The way you pace yourself is very important. That’s what makes the atmosphere. We shot in two days, and we had to get the rhythm right. For me, it was about creating that tension and subverting the expectations of the audience. We went a bit over the top in the way she walks to the chair and her mannerisms. We wanted to throw the audience off balance. We wanted them to ask, what is going on? I have to say that during the premiere in London, I was a bit scared about that moment in the film. The audience is waiting and waiting for something to happen, but it worked fine. You have to trust yourself. You have to trust your instincts. At the end of the day, people like what you do, or they don’t. The most important thing to develop is a style. It’s not only about the shooting or color palates or developing characters, it’s also about the rhythm. For me, rhythm is paramount. That’s what I wanted to have in the short. I had a story where people are mostly talking. There isn’t much action going on. It’s a constrained space, so everything is about the timing.
So many horror films recently, not only Baghead, but also Hereditary, The Babadook, Midsommar, to an extent, among others, deal with grief. Why do you think the horror genre is the right medium to explore that type of emotion in film?
With horror, you can go into themes that are normally difficult to explore in, say, a drama without being corny or over the top. With horror, you can expand upon these themes further. I’m very curious about death, not in a morbid way. I think that’s something that attracted me to the story of Baghead. It’s the idea of something else existing when you pass on, but also not taking it too seriously. At the end of the day, people would still be people and still have problems. I think grief is one of the main motivators for all stories, including horror. We’re mortal and we’re all, at some point, asking ourselves what happens after life. In Baghead, everything is based on grief but from a different angle. That’s something else I liked about the story and what pulled me into it. It turns the tables.
Baghead is going to become a full-length feature now that StudioCanal acquired the rights. Congrats! Can you tell us what we can expect? Will you use the same cast?
The reality is that I can’t talk a lot about this. I can say it’s going to be darker than the short. It’s going to be different. When you do a short, you want something punchy that goes straight to the audience. When you translate that short to a feature, it has to be different. The story has to have more depth. At the moment, we’re still working on the script. The story is not 100 percent there, but we know the direction we want to take it.
Baghead has such a creative take on the concept of a witch. In this case, she presents the opportunity for the protagonist to talk to the one he's lost. Can you tell us anything about the witch's role in the full-length? Will we learn more about her, I hope?
That was the starting point when I decided to take the story forward. It was the character of the witch. When I first came across the story, the witch was different in design. I like elements of magical realism in movies, like Guillermo Del Toro’s work, where you can put something odd into reality. That was something interesting for the character, having her in the basement of a pub. When you take it to a feature, you have to develop this mythology and backstory. That’s something that’s been brewing for a year. I’m now polishing some of those elements as we finish the script for the feature.
What has the process been like taking what's essentially a 15-minute short and fleshing it out into a feature?
That’s something I didn’t even think about when I started this process. I had to learn it in the past 18 months. It turned out it wasn’t that easy. To flesh it out, you have to figure out the themes. The first theme for me was grief. The witch is about grief. What I found out is that you have to find your theme, and then you have to find your monster. In this case, we had our witch. Now it’s about finding out how grief can connect the characters to the witch. At the end of the day, you start with a story, find your themes, and then develop your characters. Obviously, we wanted to keep as much as possible from the short. We thought the setting, a pub, is weird enough to make it attractive. We also have to go with what works in the short. We saw people were really, really convinced it’s a good story. I will say that all of the characters will be touched by grief. The rest is just trial and error.
In this process, you also have a lot of people involved who give you their notes. You might start going in one direction, but after a few weeks, you have to try to bring everything into the equation. People invest a lot of money. I want to make a film and put out my vision, but at the end of the day, if the studio says, we don’t like this, you have to try to find a compromise. It’s a lengthy process. That’s why it takes very long to do this. I admit that I underestimated the time it would take to develop a full script from the short.
What projects are you hoping to work on once you're done with Baghead?
There are a few ideas that I have. I definitely want to stay in the horror genre but would like at some point to try my hand at sci-fi. For me, sci-fi and genre movies go together. I would like the next story to come from me, maybe in collaboration with a writer. I like stories with strong central characters. I would like to do some kind of revenge movie, but like Baghead, where all expectations are subverted. I also want to be able to introduce a comedy aspect. If you manage to find the right balance, it’s something that works well, not necessarily horror-comedy, but more like cynical horror.
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Brian Fanelli fell in love with horror movies the first time he watched Night of the Living Dead as a kid. His writing on the genre has been published by Horror Homeroom, The Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Signal Horizon Magazine. He is also the author of two books of poems, Waiting for the Dead to Speak (NYQ Books), winner of the Devil's Kitchen Poetry Prize, and All That Remains (Unbound Content). His non-horror writing has been published in The Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, Paterson Literary Review, Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. Brian has an M.F.A. from Wilkes University and a Ph.D. from Binghamton University. Currently, he teaches at Lackawanna College. www.brianfanelli.com.
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