Festival Daily

A Round with... Marcel Sarmiento

By Neil Karassik

Who: Marcel Sarmiento
What: Monsoon Martinis
Where: Monsoon, 100 Simcoe Street
When: September 5, 5:00pm

It’s nearly 5:00pm on the second night of the Festival as I make my way to Monsoon, a stylishly swanked-out Asian restaurant that makes a killer (excuse the play on words) signature martini. I walk in and spot Sarmiento, one of the directors of the “horrific” coming-of-age film Deadgirl, in the lobby with his publicist. Though his co-director Gadi Harel has been held up in Los Angeles and is unable to join us, Sarmiento and I begin our epic conversation about zombies, film technology, non-titillating nudity, and even Brett Ratner and Miley Cyrus (but we’ll leave that story for another issue).

Q: Were there any cinematic influences that you had in mind before or during the making the film? There seem to be a lot of tactfully inserted references.

SM: Our references were films like Stand by Me and River’s Edge. Our approach to it was that we were never making a horror film; we were just making a coming-of-age story that happened to have horrifying things in it. And that was sort of our tone. I don’t think we ever talked about other horror films. When you’re in your teens, everything is kind of horrific, because everything’s magnified and your sense of what’s real and what’s not real is whacked.

Q: What’s with the dodging of specific terms in the film (i.e. the z-word)? Was it
always your intention to dance around these terms, but never explicitly refer to them? 

MS: Even with all the press we’ve been doing, we try really hard to avoid certain terms. As soon as you hear the word “zombie,” it kind of becomes silly, and we just never wanted to go there. Everyone knows what she is, and you get it. 

Q: Before Deadgirl, you made a romantic comedy called Heavy Petting. How do you go from comedy to horror (granted there is plenty of both in Deadgirl)?

MS: Everybody tells me Heavy Petting is a chick flick. It’s really sweet and playful. But to me it’s as extreme as Deadgirl, just moving in another direction.

Q: How did you and Gadi meet? How does your collaborative process work? 

MS: We are your typical guys who were in seventh or eighth grade making home movies. We’ve always just done things together. We wrote a book that came out this year called The Modern Con Man. We’ve been working on a lot of projects together. A couple of years ago we formed a company and started to develop a bunch of different ideas, and Deadgirl was one of them. We wanted to make a movie that, if you pulled it off, would be interesting and people would be like, “Oh, you did that! I know who you are now.” We wanted it to stand out. 

Q: What was it like working with the “deadgirl” (Jenny Spain) and having her do all these controversial things with the guys in the film? How did everyone react to this on set?

MS: The guys were more uncomfortable and scared than she was. We couldn’t have made the movie without her. Jenny was really cool. It’s kind of a thankless part with no lines, and it’s also very demanding. But she read the script and really loved it. She was comfortable from the very first day, and made everyone feel extremely relaxed about the whole thing. She was naked on a table for 22 days and no one blinked an eye.  

Q: I loved the film’s gradually decaying look and bruised-hued colour scheme. Can you tell me about that, and also about the new “Codex” technique that you used, which is similar to what was used for last year’s Zodiac, right?
MS: Our movie has a low-light look. There’s a lot of grayish murkiness, which was intended. Zodiac used the Viper FilmStream camera, which is also what we used. The camera then goes into this capture device called the “Codex,” which we were the first to use. It looks like two Mac Pros, but with a touch screen. It was cheap, high-quality and completely removed the post-lab process. I could just go home at night and edit our scenes on Final Cut Pro.