Winner of two Goyas for ‘Cell 211’ and ‘The Laws of the Border’, an accomplice of Álex de la Iglesia from the beginning, the screenwriter will chat this Sunday with Diego San José at the Festival Ja! from Bilbao
The Hostal Sil on Fuencarral street brings back good memories for Jorge Guerricaechevarría (Avilés, 1965). There he landed at the beginning of the 90s with his schoolmate Álex de la Iglesia when they arrived in Madrid on the Alsa. «The pension of ‘El día de la Bestia’ owes a lot to Sil», he confesses. «The Galician woman who wore it was not like Terele Pávez, but for a while she was in construction as in the film and you had to go to the room dodging workers. Those were the early years, we arrived in Madrid and we had a vision of the city that was reflected in ‘El día de la Bestia’. The people of Madrid look at the ground so as not to fall, but we looked at the sky, at the statues of the buildings on Gran Vía and the neon of Schweppes».
The two friends had the script for a short film to show it to Pedro Almodóvar, who suggested turning ‘Pirates of Space’ into a feature film that changed many things in Spanish cinema: ‘Mutant Action’. Guerricaechevarría continues to write Álex de la Iglesia’s films and series, but he has also been unfaithful to him with directors such as Daniel Monzón and Daniel Calparsoro. Holder of two Goyas for his work in ‘Cell 211’ and ‘The Laws of the Border’, the Vitoria-based screenwriter will talk this afternoon at the Festival Ja! with Diego San José, co-author of ‘8 Basque surnames’ and ‘Fe de ETA’ with Borja Cobeaga.
Is writing something funny easier with four hands?
–When you write with someone you have a pediment, you check the immediate reaction to what you propose. Also, more things come up because you have the need to entertain the other, to hold their attention. There is an exchange of ideas and it is easier for the spark to arise. It is necessary to have a great confidence and total sincerity, you cannot work if you have to be careful not to offend. And if something works, we trust that there is a sufficient group of people in the world that makes them feel the same way.
–And when you write together with the director, do you feel at a disadvantage? Maybe he has the last word.
I don’t feel that feeling of being subservient. If something seems incredible to you and the director does not, you have to take into account that he is going to convert it into images.
Is writing comedy more difficult than other genres?
-I think so. In a drama, the tools are there, but humor is something so intangible and that changes so much from one person to another… I haven’t done pure comedies. Humor is important in my stories, sometimes I have had to defend it in front of the producers. Because life is like that, ridiculous situations happen to us at the most unexpected moments. In ‘Cell 211’ they told me that the prisoners had too much humor. It’s just that a prison is like that, people have a spark and things come to mind.
Álex de la Iglesia and Jorge Guerricaechevarría prepare ‘Mutant Action’ in 1991. /
-Today you cut yourself more when writing comedy? Do you have more conditions?
–You cannot avoid being conditioned by the cultural environment in which you live. And there are also commercial conditions. I think a lot about the cinema of the 70s, about ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Grupo Salvaje’, which could not be made today. Not because of a cultural issue, but an industrial one. How do you convince a platform or private television that something like this can hook the audience? I miss that thematic freedom. In humor you always have to move on that edge between right and wrong, comedy has to be that paradox.
– ‘Mutant Action’ was originally going to be a short film, ‘Space Pirates’.
–After ‘Mirindas assassinas’ we wanted to make a more expensive short film. A friend suggested that we send it to El Deseo, because they only received scripts with copies of Almodóvar’s films. At that time I was doing a doctorate in Medieval History in Madrid and in the summers I worked as a tour guide in Europe, showing countries I did not know.
-Did you have the dream of being able to dedicate yourself to the cinema?
– No. I had always liked the cinema a lot. Álex and I on our vacations went to the San Sebastián Festival. We slept in sacks on the floor of an empty apartment that a friend had left us. For me it was the dream vacation. But I didn’t have the vocation to dedicate myself to it, Álex dragged me. We did a screening of ‘Mirindas assassinas’ in an industrial warehouse in Deusto. We invented a festival of 16mm shorts. in black and white about refreshing drinks, to which only our film could be presented. We even designed the poster and the award. Seeing the reaction of people laughing that day made me think that this was what I wanted to do.
–What do you remember from the filming of ‘Mirindas Assasins’?
–I did the production together with Álex’s sister, Mati. We pretended to be a theater company and performed at a party for the consulting firm Arthur Andersen at the Villa de Bilbao hotel. We needed 100,000 pesetas to buy a toy machine gun and pay for the movie and meals. I very much remember the generosity of Álex Angulo, whom we subjected to all kinds of dirty tricks. In one shot, it can be seen that under his raincoat he is wearing a Zaragoza suit. Álex didn’t ask anything, he knew far better than us the theater of the absurd. At the end of the shoot he stayed to pick up.
Jorge Guerricaechevarría and Daniel Monzón with the Goya for best adapted screenplay for ‘The Laws of the Border’, based on the novel by Javier Cercas. /
–Are you still a friend of Álex de la Iglesia?
– Yes, ha, ha. More than friends we are already like brothers. He is someone who is in my life always. I don’t keep count of how many times we’ve worked together.
–The work rhythm of Álex de la Iglesia is brutal, he chains one shoot with another.
– lex is very happy shooting. And writing too, when we lock ourselves in a room for months. Sometimes a project stalls, and when it sees the light you never say no and take advantage of the streak. In addition, he has set up a production company and has to get it off the ground.
«Humor is important in my stories, sometimes I have had to defend it in front of the producers»
“The exhibitors do not understand why the rooms do not finish recovering, it is as if the habit had been lost, especially among the older public”
– Why have you never dared to direct?
– It seems that when you don’t want to direct is when you get the most offers. I have had many for a long time. But I have never had that calling. My experience in filming and the qualities necessary to be a director make me not want. Also, I’ve been lucky with directors and I’ve never thought ‘for me to do this with my story, I’ll roll up my sleeves’.
Who has made you laugh more in a movie theater?
-There are very different laughs. Woody Allen has made me laugh a lot. And Louis de Funès as a child, Rafael Azcona, the anarchic and surreal world of the Marx brothers, except when they played the harp…
–Is this going to the movies over?
–I trust not. But what I get from the exhibitors is not at all optimistic. They have gone through other crises and have always had the spirit of overcoming. Now they don’t understand why theaters don’t finish recovering, it’s as if the habit had been lost, especially among the older audience, who were very loyal and never came back. The collections prove it, only superhero event movies work. I believe that we are not going to stay where we are now and the cinemas will recover.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.