Oscar win brings more eyes to 'Eyes'

Director Juan Jose Campanella on making the crime thriller

Wonderful as it is to win the Oscar for best foreign-language film, don't expect it to make your phone ring off the hook.

"If you win every other award in the world from every major festival, it's not as visible as the Oscar," observes Argentine writer-director Juan Jose Campanella, whose thriller "The Secret in Their Eyes" just won.

But as great as it is for the movie, he told me, "I don't know if it makes a huge impact on my career. What the Oscar does is make a lot of producers and directors want to see the movie. Then if they like it, something might happen."

"Eyes," opening Apr. 16 in New York and L.A. via Sony Pictures Classics, got on the awards track after playing at festivals like Toronto and San Sebastian.

Its screenplay by Campanella and Eduardo Sacheri is adapted from Sacheri's book about a retired criminal court investigator writing a novel about a rape-murder case he handled 25 years earlier.

Campanella read Sacheri's novel after it was published in early 2005. They met during a radio interview where Campanella was talking about a TV series he'd produced and Sacheri was discussing another book. Afterwards over coffee they decided to adapt "Eyes" and worked on its script from early '06 until pre-production began in August '08.

"First we had conversations about the broad changes I wanted to make from the novel to the adaptation."

What they did was structure the first 15 minutes of the movie, working together in the same room.

"Then we would divide the scenes and each of us would work on his own and we would exchange them via e-mail and make comments."

When they felt they had a good first draft of those scenes, they'd get together again and outline the next 15 or 20 minutes.

Their first draft took about five months, Campanella explained, "Not because we're very slow writers, but because we had to work on our day jobs in the meantime."

They showed that draft to a few readers Campanella trusts and two months later they were rewriting.

"I usually do like 15 drafts of a script. The process was shortened because we were starting from a novel so we knew where we were going. It was not a completely blank page."

The difference between a blank page and a draft, he laughs, is a lot! "It's much easier to make comments on something that's written even if you're changing everything than it is to face a blank page."

One thing Campanella didn't have to worry about was getting his film financed.

"The good thing about Argentina and the fact that my two previous movies have been very successful is that I had the financing. While we were writing the script we knew it was going to get made."

However, he points out with a smile, it also had its downside: "The movies are so cheap that you don't make a living out of it. It's really for pleasure. But we knew we could get the $2 million or $2.5 million that we needed to make the movie."

Campanella cast the film with some of Argentina's best-known actors. Guillermo Francella, who plays the investigator's alcoholic sidekick, is a very popular comic in Argentina. "His comedies are usually very broad. His persona as a comedian is completely different. Audiences looking at this movie couldn't believe his transformation."

But Campanella's not taking credit for turning Francella into a dramatic actor: "I wish I could brag about that. He's a trained actor. He was in theater doing Shakespearian plays in his early 20s and then one day he got a TV job in an Argentine sitcom and was such a hit that it took him in that direction."

Ricardo Darin, who plays the investigator, started out as "a telenovela heartthrob. Then about 15 years ago when he was in his mid-30s he started doing theater."

Campanella hired Darin for a film at the time, which helped change his career: "After that other directors called him to do more dramatic parts and now he's like the Laurence Olivier of Argentina."

Because "Eyes" takes place over three decades Darin and other actors appear younger in some scenes and older in others.

"We shot the past first for five weeks," Campanella said. They then took a three day weekend to work on hair and makeup before shooting two weeks of present day scenes.

"We had to re-color Ricardo's hair. He's one of these lucky guys -- I'm bald -- who has very strong resilient hair and we had to put so much bleach on him that they were almost burning his scalp."

Darin's character has a beard in the '70s scenes, which the actor grew during the month before shooting.

"There's nothing worse than a fake beard. Even here in America, the only way to make a very good fake beard is when you put it in almost hair by hair. It's something you can do for one day, but you cannot do it every day."

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