Interview: Mariano Baino

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This was another interview that was conducted at the Cinema Wasteland show back in October of 2008. Such a great show that was. We had the chance to sit down with this highly underrated and talented writer/director, Mariano Baino.

Kitley’s Krypt:  You’ve often stated that H.P. Lovecraft was a big influence on you as a child. Who were the biggest cinematic influences on you in your youth?

baino1Mariano Baino:  I grew up watching the Italian stuff, of course, watching Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava’s films. But the reality of it was I watched a lot of American films. People are always surprised when I say that Steven Spielberg always remains one of my favorites. I grew up watching American films. Certain sensibilities and certain influences are very European. But at the same time, for example, it’s only afterwards watching some of my stuff that I think there’s as much Hammer influence in there as there would be Italian films of the 70s. When I watched some of the stuff from Dark Waters, I think, “God, this is like a Hammer film.”

When we’re talking about influences, I think people always misunderstand the way influence works. In a way, they always think it’s a very direct thing. Like you see the use of a red in a shot, then you shoot it in red. You see a painting and you try to recreate the painting. I think the difference is the way the brain processes the information. So we can be watching the same Steven Spielberg film and it would come out in my work in a completely different way than you would expect. But I still think it’s there.

KK:  Was there any particular film as a kid that really made an impact?

MB:  There was definitely Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I remember coming out of the cinema after watching that, and the only way I can describe it was like I’m walking three feet in the air. Like I was walking, but didn’t feel like I was touching the ground. I also remember going to watch Jaws with my parents. And yes, I was definitely scared of the sea and not going there for a long, long time after that. Of course, there was Deep Red was another film that made an impact…and Suspiria.

baino3.jpgKK:  Did you have your interests in horror as a child?

MB:  When I was really, really small, I was more like an adventure/fantasy guy. I loved Tarzan and Sinbad. I loved Harryhausen’s stuff, like the 7th Voyage of Sinbad. I still remember going to watch that with my parents, and coming out and it was like a magical world for me.

My interests in horror didn’t really start until I was about 13. I got to it through science fiction. When I was 11, my parents gave me the book Planet of the Apes. I remember being fascinated by it. So I started reading science fiction, and then from that, I discovered Lovecraft, and then started reading horror.

When it comes to my personal fascination with horror, I think that started much earlier. It was a personal thing. It didn’t have to do with the films, but with the fact that I was scared of a lot of rational things. I was horribly terrified of the church, so that is where one of my feelings of horror came from.

KK:  Were your parents supportive of your interests in horror and science fiction?

MB:  Yes, absolutely. My parents were wonderful. They were always supportive of anything and everything I wanted to do. I remember going to see Zombie Flesh Eaters with my mother. I think I was 14 or something.  In Italy, I think that was only a 14 certificate. At the time, Italy was very lenient. Now, in a weird way, it’s gone the other way around. Before in America, everything was censored and Italy was very liberal. Now, a lot of stuff in Italy cannot be shown on television anymore. Everyone has problems with the censors. Here [in the U.S.], you can see anything you want, but in Italy, they have regressed to a more of a puritanical view of things.

KK:  What can you tell us about your short Caruncula? How did the concept come about and how long did it take to make?

baino10MB:  The concept came from one of my old school diaries, where you’re supposed to write what homework you’re supposed to do. In there, I had some notes and drawings and stuff. But I had this note that said, “Make a film where the person looks like the victim, but in the end is the perpetrator.” Basically that was the concept. By the time I came to Caruncula, I had forgotten that scribble, but basically had this idea where I wanted do a thing where you have a final twist. I wanted to make a very innocent person that would be exactly the way you always see victims in horror films, but in the end turned out not to be exactly what you thought. Also, I loved the idea of the monster being a sympathetic character. If you watch Caruncula, all the human beings are sleazy and horrible. The only real innocent is really the monster.

The rest of it came from circumstances. I was working in a cinema at the time. So I was thinking, “Okay, I’ve got to make a film. What can I use?”  I thought that maybe I could ask them to give the location for free, so I could have a great location. In fact, I convinced them to give me the cinema when it closed. So we shot all the cinema stuff from 11 o’clock at night to 10 o’clock in the morning when the cleaners came in. That’s how it was. The whole story in a way was tailored around what I had. I had the cinema, the corridor, and the basement. I thought, “What can I do with those three locations?”  So I built the story around that.

baino9KK:  It’s interesting how the story came second after you got the locations.

MB:  Yes, part of it could have been done anywhere. He could have worked in a garage, he could have worked anywhere. At that point, I thought, “I’ve got production value right here, why not make it look much more expensive than it was?” Two of the locations were actually a garage that was attached to the house we used. So the maniac’s lair was all built in there, and the basement where she hides in the cinema at the end was built in there as well.

KK:  Dark Waters seems to be commenting on the duality of a person with the two sisters (one good, one evil). In the end, good prevails but at a price. Is this a philosophy you feel in real life?

baino2MB:  I think Dark Waters is actually much more ambiguous than that.  There’s the duality in the one person. In a way, Elizabeth is not the good one. She doesn’t want to accept that she’s a monster. Her sister is actually very comfortable with the way she is, so she’s a monster and proud of it, and she wants the mother, the monster, to come back. Elizabeth is not; she feels that something is wrong with her, and she’s trying to suppress this monster side. So in a way, the whole thing is basically is more about discovering, “Oh my God, that is what my mother is, and this is my family.” It’s almost like those films where someone goes back for Thanksgiving and finds that their family has dark secrets. “My father is an alcoholic, my mother is a heroin addict. Oh my God, how am I going to deal with this?” I’m not interested in making films about people in those settings.  So for me, that was my version of it.

Actually, I never noticed this, but it was actually Coralina (Cataldi-Tassoni) who recently pointed out one thing. She said, “Look at it. It’s actually about you going back to Naples.” I was born in Naples and always thought the stork had dropped me in the wrong place, although I loved my parents and they’re the best parents in the world, so I was lucky there. But in terms of locations, I always thought, “Why was I born in Naples?” I had never noticed that before until Coralina pointed it out and she’s absolutely right. That is me going back to Naples and having to deal with that – I come from there and part of that is me. Even when I go back to Naples and tell everyone, “Oh my God, Naples, how horrible it is,” part of Naples is inside me forever. I cannot escape. I can live in London for 20 years all I want, but part of Naples will always be there. So it was fascinating to me to realize that the film was much more about that than good and evil. It’s about going back to your roots and not wanting to accept that those are your roots, and how you deal with it.  In fact, even at the end of Dark Waters, Elizabeth is still affected by it because she’s become blind. She keeps a part of the amulet. You don’t know if she’s keeping it to protect the amulet from ever being put together again, or she’s keeping it so she has control. At any moment, she could put the amulet together and finally accept that she’s a monster.

baino8KK:  Following the success of Dark Waters at festivals, did you get offers to do any other films?

MB:  I went about trying to sell the film. I felt responsible for the people who put up the money and such. So instead of setting myself up immediately with another project, I spent my time on a personal labor of love. Ever since I read the book, Ritual, I had always wanted to make it into a movie. I tried to set that one up, and that one was so close to becoming a reality so many times, than in a way it became a cycle of life.  “Ritual is happening.” I would get very close, and then the financing would collapse. So I thought I would start something else and do Ritual later. But it seemed like I missed the right moment.

And the fact that Dark Waters is that type of film that does really well at festivals. Some people couldn’t deal with the fact or couldn’t understand that it was a horror film. Some considered it an art movie. Suddenly it went into sort of a hold between an art movie and a horror film. At that point, it became very hard to set other things up. Then Ritual didn’t happen, but a lot of people liked the script. I started getting script writing jobs. So I started writing for other people, which in a way was very good because it paid the rent. At the time, it was frustrating in the beginning, but then I thought, “Actually, this is going to make me become a much better screenwriter.” By the time I made Never Ever After, I had already spent a few years writing for other people.

That’s another process that a lot of people don’t really understand. You write scripts; they pay you to write it, and then the film never happens.  So in a way you can have a career as a screenwriter but no one ever knows. Because you keep writing, keep getting paid, and then they don’t make it. In fact, of all the scripts I wrote, one of them was made last year. It was called Thy Kingdom Come, made by an Italian production company, but it was filmed in Argentina with an American cast. It still hasn’t come out, but it should come out at the end of 2008 or beginning of 2009.

At a certain point, I thought, “I’m writing all of this stuff, and I’ve become a much better screenwriter now, maybe it’s time now to do something. What can I do that I don’t have to wait.  I’ve got to do something that I can control, something I know I can finish.” That’s why I went back to the short films.

Another thing. My big mistake was for years thinking that once you make a feature, making a short film is a step backwards. That’s a big mistake.  Just make something! Doesn’t matter if it’s a short film. Just make something. I missed out on. Maybe I could have made other things that would have led me to another feature much quicker than waiting for another feature.

baino4KK:  With Dark Waters, you did a lot of different jobs, besides directing. What part of the film making process do you enjoy the most?

MB:  In terms of enjoying, for me, there’s the old saying that the script is written three times: when you write it, when you shoot it, and when you edit it. So for me to actually be not part of one of those three steps always seems weird. Of course, to me it seems like painting where you do the pencil drawing and someone puts the color. I could never understand that about comic books, for example. You do the pencil work, then someone inks it and then someone colors it. For me, I’ve always felt like if this film is written three times, I want to be involved those three times.

If it’s about enjoyment, I think I enjoy the sets. Definitely. I never understand people that don’t like being on set. I’m very happy when I’m on the set.  I love making the film. I love working with all the other people, I love the whole circus atmosphere, I love seeing stuff happening in front of my eyes. I love the moment when you’re doing a shot and suddenly it works. I actually quite enjoy editing as well. I enjoy the whole thing, but if I had to choose it would be directing on set.

KK:  What would be the least favorite?

MB:  There is no least favorite. Maybe the solitude of writing sometimes, only because it’s just you and your brain, and in a way, all you do is second-guess yourself all the time. That’s the trap. The blessing and the curse of becoming better. When you are completely naive about script writing, you don’t second-guess yourself that much. The more you know about it, the more you start thinking, “Is this stuff good? Is this stuff okay?”, and then you lose the spontaneity. Sometimes I wish that I could go back to when I was 8 years old and could write these things that I think is brilliant. Of course, that would be wrong in a way, but only if you could do that first and then go back and censor yourself. But now you’re second-guessing yourself when you’re doing it and that’s the problem. That’s what makes you agonize about it, because it stops you and makes you slower. You have an idea and have that first rush. Then the next day you look at it and think that maybe it’s a piece of shit. That’s the thing that I don’t enjoy, so if I get past that, then I would enjoy the writing as much as all the other parts.

KK:  In an interview with Sight and Sound, you stated that people often make a horror movie with the assumption that it will be easy. Do you think that mindset is still prevalent today?

baino6MB:  Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s why they want to give the first project to a guy that directs music videos; they never give them a drama, do they?  They always give them a horror film. Why? Because they think it is something that’s easy to do. The problem is that with horror you see the surface very easily. So a lot of people only see the surface – they see the mechanics and they think you can recreate the mechanics and make a horror film. Of course, we know it doesn’t work because 99% of horror films are crap. Unfortunately, they are made by people that don’t care. You don’t get that many directors making dramas as a first job when they really want to make comedies. People who make dramas really care about them. People who make comedies in a way really care about them. People who make horror films, most of them, do it as a step to something else. They really want to make a “real” film, but in the meantime they think they’ll make a horror film [because] it makes money and it’s easy.

KK:  We’re tickled to hear you feel that way, since we are always complaining about filmmakers who start out in the horror genre, but then leave because they want to make “real films”.

MB:  Of course. Unfortunately, then it becomes a vicious circle. In a way, the fans feed the same machine by supporting certain types of films. When you go to discuss your film, they tell you, “No, people want Hostel.  So make another Hostel.”  Then you find yourself having to justify yourself why you want to make certain types of film because when you say, “I love making a horror film,” first thing that goes through people’s minds is five idiots in the woods with someone and a knife. You have to explain that you’re making a classic horror film, and you have to go through all that again.

baino7KK:  Can you tell us how the situation with Dark Waters getting a special edition DVD from NoShame Films came about?

MB:  NoShame wanted to do that from the beginning. Miguel DeAngelis, who is the head of NoShame, was always a huge fan of Dark Waters from the first time he saw it at the Fanta-Festival in Rome in 1994 or 1995. So when they started NoShame, that was always one of the things that they wanted to do. But at the beginning, since everything had to re-mastered and stuff, he waited until the distribution company was going. Then at a certain point, he said they could now do Dark Waters, so let’s do it properly. We always wanted to do a double disc set, but I think they got carried away with it the more we were discussing it. It was one of the rare cases where the director was involved in the project so they could get a lot of stuff out of me, and I could get a lot of stuff out of them. They could get a lot of things from other people like interviews – I think the “making of” they did for us was definitely one of the most extensive they had done. I gave them access to the behind-the-scene photographs, my storyboards, everything. I think they did a brilliant job. Not just because it’s mine; even if I was looking at it from the outside and seeing that box set, it would still be one of the best I’ve seen around.

KK:  Whose idea was it to do the amulet reproductions?

MB:  My original thing when we were discussing it was to make the box the shape of the amulet. I wanted the box to be round basically – the amulet would be the box. I think I got the idea from the Anchor Bay Evil Dead edition. The only problem was that if we made a round box, it wouldn’t fit in the shops. So at that point, they said, “Why don’t we make a model of the amulet?”, which I thought was brilliant. I’ve got to say that the best thing was that I expected it to be a plastic model, so when I first saw it, I thought, “What have they done…its real stone!” I don’t think there are that many DVDs around with a model like that around. 

baino5KK:  Do you still have the big amulet from the movie?

MB:  Yes, I do. That’s what we used for reference work. I took photos of it and sent them to the people who would be doing the model. I also have a really big amulet, which we were going to use in the film to do a shot – we never used it, but I kept the huge amulet. I wanted to have a moment where the blood was flowing down from Elizabeth’s mouth, with the blood going onto the amulet to put the amulet together. We wanted to shoot inside one of the channels of the amulet and follow the blood, so we made a big amulet in order that we could actually go into it, but we didn’t have the equipment to do it. But I ended up with a nice amulet that can sit on the wall, so that’s okay.

KK:  Did you design the amulet?

MB:  Yes. You can see the original sketches I did on the DVD. But then they modified it because when you’re making it three-dimensional, it doesn’t work as well as when you draw it.

KK:  Why did you decide to trim down the existing version of Dark Waters for this new DVD release?

MB:  Well, hindsight is always good, but I think very soon after watching Dark Waters it bothered me. By the time we did the special edition of the DVD, I had already gone into an editing room about three or four years before, making a different version of the film to show around because I always thought, “That was not the version I wanted.”  I think the advent of computer editing helps, because we edited on film, which I’m glad we did. If you started editing on film, its great training for once you start editing on computer. Not that I would like to go back to that way, because I love the flexibility of having the computer, but it gives you great discipline.

KK:  Is Ritual still a project on the side?

baino11MB:  Yes, absolutely. Once again, in 2005, it was almost happening again, with NoShame Films. I kept optioning the book by myself. Then with NoShame films, we actually bought the rights to the book. I thought, “That’s it, now we’re finally going to make it.” Of course, now it’s stuck again, and in the meantime I’ve gone onto other things. But I’m definitely going to make that film.

KK:  Do you have any other projects that you are working on?

MB:  There’s another film with the same producers that I wrote Thy Kingdom Come for. I wrote a film for this production company called The Red Dark Pictures. Now I’m writing a film for the same producer, and this one I’m going to direct as well. At this point, I’ve had so many things collapse; I don’t really want to say much more than that.

But the more immediate project is a trailer for Coralina’s book. There’s an Italian journalist, a very talented man named Filippo Brunamonti, who has written some articles on Coralina. He came to her with an idea of writing her biography, but in a very interesting way. It’s going to be a great book, and we decided to make the trailer now together and that’s the most immediate project. Coralina wrote the trailer and it’s brilliant. It’s going to be fun – no big pressure to make a million dollars when it comes out. Also, it’s going to be a great project to start doing thing together. I’m sure it’s going to be the first one of a lot interesting stuff.

KK:  Are there any filmmakers today that have impressed you?

MB:  I’m a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro. The Devil’s Backbone was one of the best films ever. Pan’s Labyrinth was absolutely incredible. I loved The Orphanage, which was one of my favorite films of the last couple of years. I actually really liked Inside. Also, Let the Right One In… Oh my God! It’s Swedish and is great. There are great things being made.

I’ve also rediscovered some Italian stuff. I was always a fan of Giuseppe Tornatore, who made Cinema Paradiso and the Legend of 1900 with Tim Roth. There’s also an Italian director called Gabriele Muccino who made an American film with Will Smith called The Pursuit of Happyness, which I thought was a great film.  He’s a great director as well.

So there are a lot of good ones out there, and I’m sure there’s a lot that I’m forgetting, a lot of people that I’ve been enthusiastic about. There’s still a lot of stuff that’s exciting – maybe the only difference now is you have to wade through more crap to get to it. Where before it was easier to identify, now you have to suffer through a lot more stuff before you find the gems. I think there’s probably more gems now than there were years ago, except the gems stood out more. If you go back to the 60s, the 70s, and 80s, there was the same amount crap that there is now, except it wasn’t as visible.

KK:  Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. It’s been a real pleasure.

MB:  Thank you.

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