Writer-director Sebastian Silva talks Magic, Magic

Writer-director talks about his talented cast and shooting in Chile for Magic, Magic, debuting on DVD August 6

Chilean director Sebastián Silva first made his presence known stateside with the 2009 dramatic comedy The Maid, which he followed up the next year with Old Cats. Three years later, the filmmaker returns with not one, but two movies, both starring Michael Cera. Crystal Fairy was released earlier this summer, and the second, Magic, Magic, debuts on DVD August 6. The story follows a young American named Alicia (Juno Temple) who visits her cousin (Emily Browning) in Chile, and has to deal with her cousin's strange friends (Michael Cera, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Agustín Silva) while trying to maintain her own sanity. I recently had the chance to speak with Sebastián Silva over the phone to discuss shooting in his homeland of Chile, working with the talented cast, and much more. Here's what he had to say.

Was there some story or incident from your upbringing in Chile that gave you the inspiration to write this story?

Sebastián Silva: The story was inspired by a couple of things. One was tapping into horror, and finding that genre romantic and challenging to do something with it. I find myself being really horrified and terrified by The Exorcist, which is the only movie I've ever been scared by. I thought that losing your mental abilities is really scary, let alone, being among people who are completely self-absorbed and oblivious to your suffering and needs. That's combined with this urban myth about a vacation to Rio de Janeiro, and one of them started acting very oddly, and they didn't know what was going on. They found that she was into black magic stuff, and one night she started masturbating in front of everyone where they were staying. They thought she was possessed, but it turns out she just triggered a paranoia schizophrenic episode. That gave me the inspiration for Magic, Magic. Since I was a very young kid, I have been going on vacation to that region of Chile, the lake region. We had a house on the lake just like that.

It seemed like you tried to keep the viewer somewhat bewildered as to what is really going on. A lot of directors would explain what's really happening, but I liked that aspect where you're not really sure what's going on with Alicia. Was that something you thought was important to convey with a story like this?

Sebastián Silva: Yeah, that was the main thing, basically, to keep the audience completely unaware of what is going on, with everything. You really don't know whether they are being complete assholes with Alicia, or if Alicia is being a drag and overreacting to things. So yeah, to keep the audience in a gray area, was a really important element to create a really disturbing atmosphere, where you never really feel safe.

I've always been a fan of Michael Cera's, but it was so cool and refreshing to see him break out of his usual kind of role for Brink. It seemed like he was really just being unleashed for the first time. Did you get that sense in working with him? Was he eager to take on a role so different like this?

Sebastián Silva: The first time I met him, he reached out because he had seen my previous movie The Maid. I hadn't even heard of his name before, and I had only seen one movie of his, Juno. I really didn't known how he was typecast in the States. I came to find out, eventually, that he was being typecast as this shy, nerdy, dorky, adorable creature. I understand why, but when you meet Michael, he's got such a sharp sense of humor and he can be very ironic and he's very good at laughing at his own tragedy. He's a very smart, well-read guy, who could pretty much play whoever he wants. It was kind of a no-brainer. It wasn't intentional to cast him against type, but when he said he wanted to be a part of it, I started thinking how could I have the most fun with Michael, and Brink was the outcome of this.

I read that you actually shot Crystal Fairy with Michael while you were waiting for financing for this. Did you move right from Crystal Fairy onto this, back-to-back?

Sebastián Silva: We were in Chile for over three months, waiting for Magic, Magic to get financing going. It just felt, at some point, that the movie was never going to get made. He was going to go back to L.A., and we said why not just make Crystal Fairy? It was an idea I had sitting on my desk for a long time. He heard it, because we didn't have a screenplay, but then I told him Gaby Hoffmann was going to be in it, and my brothers (Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, and Magic, Magic's Agustín Silva) were going to be in it, and he had been hanging out with them for the past three months. It just seemed really appealing to everyone, to go on this small vacation to shoot this movie. Once we did it, we shot it in 12 days, we edited the movie for like four months, and once we almost had a final cut, then the financing came through for Magic, Magic, and then we started shooting it. It was really a back-to-back experience. It's really a rare thing. It was fun.

Yeah, it's very rare to have two movies with the same star and director come out at around the same time.

Sebastián Silva: Yeah, I know, it's weird timing, but they get financed whenever they do. Crystal Fairy was just something we did out of the blue. I didn't even have a screenplay. It just seemed like the right thing to do, almost as a consolation prize for me and Michael, because we felt that maybe Magic, Magic was never going to get made. We created so many expectations about collaborating together, that we had to do something.

This movie also seemed to compare and contrast the American sensibilities and South American sensibilities, with the South Americans more laid back than the American. Was that something you strived for as well?

Sebastián Silva: You do get a sense that things are going to get real from the very beginning of the movie, that opening sequence of them waiting in the car. You know secrets are going to be kept from you, just by the visuals of that opening scene. When Alicia comes out of the shower, and she's looking at herself in the mirror in a strange way, you know something's off, but we did not want to give it away immediately. Also, it was such a fun game to just make people believe that Alicia was not the crazy one, but that she was just hanging out with retarded asshole people who were constantly harassing her, so you would understand where she's coming from. On top of that, she basically triggered a schizophrenic episode. But yeah, to have all those other characters, it camoflauges what's really going to happen, or what was really happening with our main character.

You said you had actually vacationed in that part of Chile. Was it easy for you to find a house like that? Was that house actually right on the water?

Sebastián Silva: Yeah, it was right on the water like that. I wanted to shoot the movie the same way I shot The Maid. I shot it at my parents house, the house I grew up in. It was such a great thing, because you know it like the palm of your hand. The writing is incredibly organic, and shooting there, you feel like you know every single corner. I thought I'd do it the same way and shoot it in my parents house on the lake, but then my neighbors were so fucking conservative that they did not want an independent movie to be shot there. Yeah, that was bad news. So then, we looked at different houses on different lakes, and we found this one. They're friends of mine, anyway. We do have a rock that we'd jump from, and I remember people being as scared as Alicia and feeling pressure, standing there on that rock for hours, deciding whether or not to jump or not. There are so many things. There are these dogs that I remember were humping everybody too. All of the elements really come from the real location.

Crystal Fairy got a theatrical release, but this is going straight to DVD. Is it bothersome that this won't be shown in theaters?

Sebastián Silva: Yes, it's absolutely bothersome. It's something that I completely disagree with. Sony is a really big corporation and I guess they're not treating directors as independent distributors would, or if you produce a movie with your friends, everybody is so important with the movie, and they feel so passionate about it that it's really a treat for everybody to see it come out in the theater, and go to the premiere. It's such a beautiful thing that, for a corporation like Sony, it's just one more movie they've made, and they felt that, commercially, it might be a little risky, so they decided to not spend money on a campaign or a theatrical release, which I respect. It's a business. They're not necessarily artists. That's what happens when you team up with a big corporation like that. I think times are changing, and going straight to VOD/DVD is not as bad as it was before. I respect their decision, but, ultimately, it made me second-guess my decision to team with corporations like this.

Is there anything you're writing or developing right now that you can talk about?

Sebastián Silva: Yeah, sure. We're going to be shooting a movie in September, here in Brooklyn where I live. My house is going to be the main location again. It's so hard to define it. If Magic, Magic is weird, this one is so much more weirder. It's a very casual story about three friends trying to make a baby, a gay couple with a friend, and then there is this creep that moves into the neighborhood who is mentally ill African-American dude who is squatting down the block, and he's terrorizing the neighborhood. These three mid-30s artists in this beautiful neighborhood, getting in trouble with a homeless crazy person, and the consequences get pretty ugly. It gets pretty scary at the end, but it's played out very casually at the beginning. It's fun. For the first time, I'm going to be starring in it, which is crazy. We're going to shoot it in September.

What would you like to say to anyone who's curious about Magic, Magic, about why they should pick up the DVD this week?

Sebastián Silva: I would say don't get fooled by the trailer. It's a really well-made psychological thriller, and I feel that Juno Temple and Michael Cera really give outstanding performances, especially Juno Temple. If you want to see Michael Cera as the biggest creep ever, go watch Magic, Magic. The trailer might be promising a lot of blood and madness, and there isn't. There is a great deal of disturbance, but there's not necessarily blood or violence in the movie. It's definitely a fun, scary, weird trip.

That's about all I have. Thanks so much, Sebastián. It was great talking to you.

Sebastián Silva: Thank you so much, Brian. Have a good one.

You can pick up writer-director Sebastián Silva's unconventional thriller Magic, Magic on DVD starting August 6.