There are films that, regardless if you feel you'd be interested in the subject matter, demand attention based solely on their technical merits. 'Buried' is one such film. Directed by Spanish filmmaker Rodrigo Cortes, written by Chris Sparling, and starring Ryan Reynolds, 'Buried' is one of the most unique films you're likely to see in a theater all year long. Why? It's 95 minutes of Reynolds trapped in a coffin. Sure, he talks to people on the surface via a cell phone, but the camera never actually leaves the coffin.
Such ridiculous spatial constraints aren't just bold, they're insane; which is precisely why Sparling's script floated around Hollywood for years while being met with a consistent refrain of, "You can't make a 95-minute movie in a box. It's impossible. People will get bored." That impossibility, however, is precisely what attracted Cortes to the project. Oddly enough, though, the daunting prospect of doing the script justice is actually what made Reynolds initially turn it down.
To hear about how it all came together, Cinematical was recently given the opportunity to chat with Reynolds and Cortes at Fantastic Fest, where 'Buried' played just a few days ago to wild audience reactions.
What genre would you categorize 'Buried' under? Horror? Thriller? Drama?
Rodrigo Cortes: It's a romantic comedy. No, no, it's a high tension thriller. It's not a Hitchcock film – I wouldn't compare myself with the master ever – but the goal was Hitchcockian.
Ryan Reynolds: I would [make the comparison]. I've got no problem with that. ... I see horror as having a component of splatter that this doesn't really have. I feel like horror movies are jump scares, whereas thrillers infect your mind with a viral kind of fear.
Cortes: I'd say it's a thriller that crosses genres. There's some drama, some comedy, some action, there's even adventure there. There is horror there as well, but not always.
How did each of you come to the project originally? It seems like a wonderful, rare alignment of the universe.
Cortes: I was sent the script because it had been around Hollywood for a year, and everyone loved it but they thought it was impossible to shoot and produce so no one intended to do a movie with it. I was sent it just to consult because they didn't think it could be done.
I asked what it was about and they said, "A guy in a box for 94 minutes," and I was instantly interested. I told them to send it right away. Immediately when I read it I thought of Ryan. It was a one-man show so you need the perfect actor with endless runs of emotions.
When I saw 'The Nines' three years ago I discovered an actor that was able to do the most comedic and sensitive and emotional things with the smallest of details --
Reynolds: He and my mom saw that movie.
Cortes: [laughs] Well I thought he had the perfect sense of timing. It's alien. So when you intend to do a movie with such few elements you need that. It's about nuance and pace and rhythm. It has to be music, like a symphony, it cannot be linear. It's more like a roller coaster, so you need that control.
So I sent it to him ready for the "No!", which I immediately received.
Reynolds: That's sort of true. I was sent the script and was told that this was something ... I hate to bring up the business end of all of this crazy sh*t wheel merry-go-round we all work in to the table, but I, like most actors, have an agent and he had to read it first. And he loved it and he doesn't like anything. He absolutely loved it so he sent it over and I read it. It was a pretty brisk script, a scant 79 pages or something like that, so I read through it and thought it was the most amazing, terrifying piece of writing I had ever read and it got into me in ways that I didn't expect.
So I said no, I don't want to do this. I don't want to ruin the great thing I just read by jumping into a movie that's impossible to shoot. It's impossible. No one can make this film!
So that's the feedback that got back to Rodrigo, and the next thing I got in the mail was just a letter a couple of pages longer than the script. And that letter was the most passionate, committed letter I'd ever read, and the most convincing. I think after reading it in the back of my mind I was already in, but he flew out and we had a lunch that lasted all of 40-minutes and then we just shook hands and said, "Let's go get 'Buried.'"
I think it's a great story just because that is not how sh*t gets done in Hollywood. Stuff gets done through a very elaborate, bureaucratic system that you wouldn't believe – much like Paul's dilemma in this movie. So I just like that this all happened over a handshake in a cafe in L.A. No one discussed anything about anything, we just wanted to do the movie together and two months later we were 'Buried.'
And how long was your actual shoot?
Reynolds: Seventeen days.
Cortes: Yes, 17 brutal days, because you cannot do this in 17 days. We had enough problems already and yet still we had more problems. You need at least five weeks to do something like this, so we did five weeks worth of work in three. So instead of doing 8 to 10 shots a day, we did 30 to 35. One day we even did 52.
Reynolds: I think we said maybe 12 words together socially in the entire shooting process. We're the best of friends now, but when we were shooting there was no time for anything. It was just come down, get in the box, go.
This man never slept. Right up to the editing process, he shot the film, cut the film, had the music done, edited it all himself. It was a nonstop ride 'til Sundance for him.
Cortes: We only had five weeks for the editing if we wanted to go to Sundance, and we wanted to go but we didn't know if they would want us. But we wanted them so we had to do the job. I basically haven't slept since ... I don't know, 1982. I saw 'E.T.' and then ...
Since everything was a logistical nightmare, was there one particular thing you were dreading to do and then you got to it and realized, "Oh, well that was easy"? Or was the entire shoot a nightmare?
Reynolds: Some of the most impossible feats of engineering that Rodrigo had come up with worked rather smoothly, I gotta say. The 360 dolly shot around the coffin ... I think we only did a couple of takes of that. Maybe three?
Cortes: When you have an impossible shot, it takes the whole day. It's like a totem. You're on your knees and you pray to that impossible shot. But when you have 35 shots a day, the impossible one is one of those 35! So you cannot treat it like a totem, which is pretty lofty. Somehow you have to get it.
For some reason, this guy [Reynolds] can do whatever. He can break your heart in the most organic or truthful way. You can add more and more instructions with every take and he does it. I remember in one take saying "And now that, and that, and that, and say this, now do that." and he just looks at you and says, "Okay." He makes everything easy.
Reynolds: I do what I'm told. I come from a family of cops, and you learn early that you do what you're told.
Was there anything in the script that you were dreading, Ryan, that ended up being a breeze?
Reynolds: I don't think anything on this movie was a breeze. I found as I went on that I got better about instinctively lighting myself than I was at the beginning. That was a huge challenge. Obviously I have to convey a huge range of emotions in every scene, but I also have to make sure I'm seen, so those were difficult. I can't say anything was a breeze.
I'm working with what I would classify as one of the most talented, inventive directors on Earth. I mean that, though. I'm not jerking [Rodrigo] off here. But there's also a generosity and a trust that he brings to the table. He says, "Okay, we don't have to rehearse, we'll let you discover as we go." and he says, "You know, we'll just do one take of that." And that's generous. Most directors would say, "What if something happens in the lab? What if we lose this?"
The guy's a gunfighter. I never worked with a director that said, "We did that whole take in one shot and that's all we're going to do, we're moving on." I was pretty impressed by that.
That is rare. So can you clarify, then, the early reports that after Sundance and Lionsgate picked you up, that you went and did re-shoots? Is there a difference between the theatrical cut and the Sundance cut?
Cortes: That's not true!
Reynolds: Somebody else said that, yeah. I've never done a re-shoot for this movie ever in my life. I also looked completely different by the time it played.
Cortes: It's exactly the same edit! But I also read it. I don't know where it was, but there are many inventive people out there and you cannot control them. I also read that we shot shots of the surface, shooting other characters or something like that.
Reynolds: I can say that had that been proposed to me, I would rather have molten aluminum poured through a hole in my head than go back in that box. I would have just said no.
The rumors probably came out of people's fears that when a movie has such a strong reaction at a fest like Sundance and is then picked up by a studio like Lionsgate --
Reynolds: I think that's exactly it. People said, "Oh, we saw this amazing, terrifying, risky film at Sundance and Lionsgate picked it up and they're going to do something to expand it and make it bigger and more commercial."
Cortes: Two things. First, we would have never sold it that way; we had the rights. Second, and most important, they never wanted to do that. They loved what they saw there, they bought it, and they are going to release. Nobody said any word about it, so I don't know where these things come from.
So what's next for you guys? When are you two going to work together again?
Reynolds: Every script I get I say, "Well what about Rodrigo? Would Rodrigo do a broad comedy? Would Rodrigo do another thriller? An action movie?" Honestly I can say, if [Rodrigo] came to me with any script, I'd be amazed if I could pass it up. I don't think I ever could.
Cortes: That's going to happen for sure when we find the right script. Things are better and easier with him. I'm dying to do it.
Reynolds: When you have a shorthand with a director that I've been lucky enough to have with him ... It's chemistry, is what it is. It's like chemistry with a great co-star and you say, "I wish we could do every movie together." But nobody wants to see two people in every movie together, but with directors you can kind of get away with that. I would love to do 10 movies with this man.
So what is next on the horizon?
Cortes: The thing about talking about things that don't exist is that... they don't exist. I will say that it will explore how our brain is not a tool you can trust to perceive reality because it basically lies the whole time.
Reynolds: Mine is a much more succinct 'Green Lantern.' I'm shooting a movie called 'Change Up' starting next week and then I go to Africa to shoot a movie called 'Safe House,' which is another thriller I'm really looking forward to.