Spanish director Luis Prieto moved to the United States with a rolodex of filmmaking knowledge—everything from editing and short films to documentaries, cinematography, music videos, commercial directing and producing—a goldmine of skills that burst into a valuable toolkit used to break into mainstream Hollywood. When his short Bamboleho won the Best Narrative Award at the first annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, a train of film and TV credits followed; Z Nation, White Lines, The Oath, Pusher and Kidnap with Halle Berry. Now the nerve-wracking thriller Shattered starring John Malkovich is coming to theaters and on-demand January 14th.
In what respect has your filmmaking vision been shaped coming from Spain versus starting out in the United States?
I've been exposed not only to the Spanish European culture, but also to the Spanish and European cinema that's sometimes a little bit harder to grow up with in the States. I mean, you can find it today, but I'm talking about growing up. So, let's say when I was twelve years old, I was already starting to go to the local cinematheque where I would have the opportunity to watch not only American films—especially by independent filmmakers or even the classics—but also some European films. I think European films tend to be less formulaic. They follow the rules less than in the U.S., and I'm talking more across mainstream cinema in the U.S. Even mainstream cinema in Europe or Spain doesn't follow the rules the way American cinema does; they tend to be done more with the instinct, more with the heart rather than a precise structure. And then having been able to study cinema in Los Angeles, I learned if you want the American way of doing things you have to follow the very precise storytelling structure. Obviously in America, there is a lot of heart and a lot of great filmmakers. What I’m talking about is bringing the heart [of my filmmaking] from Europe.
What skills did you take away from working as an editor on short films, commercials, and documentaries that you use on features today?
I think the best lesson I took from everything was when I started working, I was already shooting and thinking about how I was going to cut the film. So basically, I was able to go faster and that’s very useful when you're shooting independent films with very tight schedules. In this case, Shattered was shot in twenty days. Now I can say that I was able to do it because, among other things, I have the mind of an editor and I'm shooting what I'm going to be editing. I don't do coverage that I'm not going to be using. I think that's useful having the background of an editor when you go to direct your own films. You can really go faster because you already have an idea how you're going to cut the scene and what elements you might need to cut the scene. You know, it’s very resourceful in that sense.
Can you talk about Shattered and when you first got involved with the project?
I read the script for the first time a while back, I would say even four years ago, and I loved it. I thought it was an amazing rollercoaster of emotions. I thought it was a great thriller. I liked that quite a few parts took place in one location in the house. The character shields himself on the outside, so having to shoot a big chunk of the movie inside his house, it felt like very challenging. I was coming from shooting Kidnap with Halle Berry where most of the film took place inside of a car and this movie felt like a similar challenge. The script [of Shattered] was very interesting. The fact that the protagonist had built a castle, basically a house that becomes his own prison. I thought it was a very interesting premise for a film. So that was five years ago and as it happens sometimes in Hollywood, nothing happens for a few years. And then this spring, I got a call from the producers where the film was greenlit, and they asked me if I wanted to do it. I said yes and within two weeks I was already in Montana prepping in the film.
When you first read David Loughery’s screenplay, what did you envision for the film at that point?
Well, I envisioned something, god it's interesting because I can only think of the film that I make, not so much the one that I envision. I think I probably envisioned something that was going to be very high tech. As I was prepping the film, I sort of brought it down more to a film that happens today, not so much projecting into the future. I think that was actually a very good decision because everyone can relate to what's going on in the protagonist's home—the kind of technology he's working with, the walls that he created around his house to protect himself from the strangers is the kind of technology that pretty much everyone has today. So, I sort of scaled back the futuristic element and made it contemporary.
Who are some of your directing idols?
If I were to name just a few, I would say Michelangelo Antonioni, an Italian director, that would be one of them. Francis Ford Coppola, that would be another. I would say the other father of my education, you could say, is Martin Scorsese. I would say those would be the three directors that left a bigger imprint growing up, especially as a filmmaker.
As a director, how do you approach filming suspense?
I'm basically a moviegoer. I'm a spectator before a director. I learned from the kind of things that I like to see when I'm watching a movie and what I want to feel when I'm seeing a movie. I translate that into the directing process. I literally visualize the scenes, especially those that carry suspense and the essence of a thriller. I visualize shot by shot, also bringing some of my editing background and I sort of feel the chill as I'm imagining the movie. What I do is just try to execute that as much as possible.
The film has a slick but at the same time ominous look to it. What camera did you use?
I think we used Alexa. I have to say, it used to be very important to me what camera I am using. Now I put less attention to what we're using, but I think we were using Alexa. That's the latest model, I would say.
It’s HD but looks more like high quality film.
It's not film, that's right. It's not film. This is almost like a 4k camera, so the quality of the image is 4k.
That makes sense. Moonlight was shot on Alexa. There’s almost a poetic look to it.
In Shattered, I was able to work with Juan Miguel Azpiroz. He's a Spanish director of photography I met twenty years ago. We're good friends and he's fantastic. He works in Hollywood and he's doing amazing work. You know, not everyone can make that look with those cameras, so I have to say it’s a compliment to the director of photography more than the camera.
Tell us about working with your ensemble cast, John Malkovich, Cameron Monaghan, Frank Grillo, Sasha Luss and Lilly Krug.
I was very lucky because I have two protagonists, Cameron Monaghan, and Lilly Krug, who are both amazing and very young. What is better than being able to have John Malkovich and Frank Grillo come support these two young actors? Then I had Sasha Luss, who is just amazing, and the little girl, Ridely Asha Bateman, who is also a fantastic young actress. I had an amazing cast the whole time. I felt very lucky because I had a movie with some "new faces,” and in fact, this is the first protagonist role in a feature film for Lilly Krug. Cameron has done work already in Shameless, so people know him from that. Sasha did a film in France, Anna, that is a fantastic film by Luc Besson. To be able to have these young actors be working next to the figures of John Malkovich and Frank Grillo, both extremely generous bringing such energy to the film and to their performances, that was fascinating to be able to have this ensemble of very talented people from many different age groups.
What did John Malkovich bring to his performance?
I was always amazed and impressed with what he brought to the table during the rehearsals and readings. More readings than rehearsals, because we shot the film during the COVID pandemic, so we had very few in-person rehearsals or readings. Most of them were done online, but I was always impressed and surprised with every reading that he would do. And obviously, I had to study his work. I thought I knew what to expect, but I was amazed and surprised with every reading. Once we started shooting, this thing sort of happened but multiplied by a thousand. Every take would be slightly different, and he would bring something new and fresh. It was very hard to decide which take was the best one because they were all fantastic. I'm sure maybe John is like that in every film that he does, but I wasn't expecting that. I was expecting an incredible actor, but then when you are working with him, you realize that you are shocked. He was even more incredible than what I thought he’d be.
What’s next on your slate?
I just finished doing a TV show, Vampire Academy with [writers/producers] Julie Plec and Marguerite MacIntyre literally a month ago. I have another amazing project around the corner. It's not a hundred percent yet, so I won't put it out there just in case it doesn't happen, or it gets postponed, but I have a couple things that are exciting. So yes, good things.
Lionsgate will release the thriller film Shattered in select Theaters and On Demand on January 14th and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on February 22nd.
-Script Magazine, Writer's Digest