During the sweltering summertime of rural Spain, Sara carries an extra load of teenage agony due to the perpetual bullying from her peers. She’s also an outsider at home—her parents and little brother just don’t understand her—so, feelings internalized, she’s often found buried in her headphones, drowning out her surroundings. One day, Sara’s usual solo dip at the local pool is disrupted by the presence of a mysterious stranger in the water and an exceptionally grueling bout of abuse at the hands of three girls. But, in a strange twist of fate, along the way home, Sara witnesses her bloodied tormentors being kidnapped in the back of the stranger’s van. All of this and more happens in PIGGY.
Expanding upon the short Cerdita, which people can find on Youtube via ALTER, writer/director Carlota Pereda brings her feature PIGGY to Sundance Film Festival, presenting arguably one of our favorite Midnight genre selections from the fest. To learn more about our thoughts, check out Dolores’ review!
Ahead of the film’s premiere, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky spoke with Pereda, where they discussed the decision to expand the original short into a feature, the challenges that mounted up due to ensuring they could shoot during COVID restrictions, and the magnetic power of Laura Galán.
PIGGY initially started off as a short, and then you ended up expanding it. I wanted to know what was your thought process like in expanding the story? Because where the short ends seems like the perfect stopping point.
Carlota Pereda: Well for me it is that I fell in love with the character and her conflict. I couldn’t let her go. I mean, I just fell in love with Sara. And I just wanted to know what happened to her and how she would react. So that’s why I did it. I just followed her lead.
One of the fun things as a viewer is just watching how she shifts and changes with her decision-making process. So, that was fun to watch seeing all those gray areas to being able to explore that.
Carlota Pereda: Yeah, I wanted to show how being a teen sometimes when you make these mistakes, you’re just scared. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. And that’s something that you rarely see in movies and that’s what life is. That you’re confused. Most of the time you don’t know what you’re doing.
Laura is fantastic in both the short and in this film. When it came time to cast Sara, how did you find Laura?
Carlota Pereda: Well, it took me two years to find her. I went to every single theater school. I went to casting directors. I went to a lot of places until I found her. She was a bit older than the role. But I talked to her. When she arrived, she was Sara and she understood the character for me and she understood how I wanted to shoot it and she understood why. She’s so intelligent, and she knows her worth and she’s so much fun to be around basically, that it was…yeah, she’s great. [laughs] That’s all I can say. and that when I was writing the film, it was such a joy to know that she is going to do it. That to write something for her, knowing that it was going to be her and she will be able to do everything fantastically, it was like having the biggest safety net you could have. It was great.
Having that actor you can just trust to handle everything you throw at them.
Carlota Pereda: Exactly. And also you have a face to write. And so, you know the character, you know how she looks and you know how she’s going to react, and that everything was as it was meant to be. There’s a moral ambiguity. And it’s sometimes it’s very hard for actors to play that or at least for teenagers it will be really hard. So, knowing that it was her, I knew that she would be able to do it and she would understand that perfectly. There will be no emotions that she wouldn’t be able to come to let the audience know what she was going through.
You mentioned visualization before. When it comes to screenwriting, are you more of a visual type of writer? Because for me, I have to draw out pictures before I translate anything into words. But I know others who can just put words to a page with no visual aids necessary.
Carlota Pereda: I’m like that. With the screenplay, you see the movie. In the beginning, everything…that all the shots that are out there, they are described that way. I mean, I like to guide. I think that way. I think visually, but also because for me, the screenplay has to be the movie. It has to be the tone, and it has to be the way it’s gonna be shot. So. when you go to our producer, they know what they’re getting into and we’re both on the same team. If they love it, they’re going to be for it. And that’s one of the great things I have that I got the animation producer that was 100% behind me, and they would run the film.
I’m assuming you shot this during COVID. What were the logistical challenges for you?
Carlota Pereda: Well, first, we had to postpone one year for the shooting. During that time, my DOP had a baby. [laughs] So, the thing we did is that as we were going to shoot in a small village, what we did is we made a bubble. So, it was you were there, you stay there. There would be less traveling to Madrid. So, everybody stayed there. We all stayed with all the families there and we created a kindergarten so that people could have their babies there, so they didn’t have to travel to Madrid to watch the babies and they would be there so there would be fewer chances to get COVID. But also we wanted to do something that was…. it was a female-led [project] and our mostly female crew that if you have kids, they could be with you as well. So yeah, we tried to make a big bubble about that.
And, of course, the movie became much more costly because of all the testing we had to do. We did it every single day, and even so, we did have one case and we had a problem for one day but we keep on shooting. So yeah, it’s always very hard and so it’s very risky for producers because we didn’t have a mayor behind us. So, if we had a case, we would have to have closed down. So, always have this kind of thing with the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head.
Speaking of challenges, there’s a fairly physically intensive scene much later on in the movie. Without getting into spoilers, what was it like shooting that? As a viewer, it looked intense.
Carlota Pereda: It wasn’t very complicated because we rehearsed a lot. Also, when I wrote that part in the screenplay, I wrote the screenplay in that building.
Oh! So, you could see everything.
Carlota Pereda: So when I wrote it, I knew that everything that I wrote could be done. And when we rehearsed, we rehearsed there. So, everybody knew that, and also I storyboard everything. We also had stunts with us, and also they were not always hanging. We also had the first assistant director who told us we’re going to do this in two days, and then we’re going to do this one then. The biggest issue was the heat because it was 51 degrees Celsius inside (Editor’s note: For Americans, 51 C is equal to 123.8 F). So, it was too hot, and it was emotionally exhausting for the actors. But we were a really big loving family at that point of the shoot. So we were hugging before each take, and then we’d go “Okay, action!” It was very emotional. It was very intense but it was very exciting at the same time. But it wasn’t really something that was stressful. It was just intense because it was very emotional. And it was too hot! [laughs]
Don’t you guys get a lot of humidity there too?
Carlota Pereda: In that part of Spain, it’s actually quite dry. But the good thing is that it was always in the screenplay the idea of sweat.
They were just able to get that all out then. So, if that wasn’t the most challenging scene, what was for you?
Carlota Pereda: The most challenging scene was the scene on the bridge, because I had done it before the short but I talked to the guys. Something was happening. Laura knew what was gonna happen and the actors knew what was going to happen and everybody knew what was gonna happen and I thought this is not working. And I told the guys and Laura, “Guys, this is something that’s not working. We have to really let it go.” And we did. We did a take and I just broke down because it was too intense and too hard. I just broke down. I just couldn’t handle it. Laura came and we hugged, and she was like, “Are you okay?” But it was so intense for me. It was the most intense scene of the whole movie.
It is so excellently done. It’s really tense. I remember I had a pause to just take it all in and to process it, but it paid off.
Carlota Pereda: Yeah, we did just that take. [laughs] It wasn’t going to work better than that. And is not gonna work better than this, and the guys were like, “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.” And Laura was like, “We can do another one if you want.”
In the short, it was sort of shot as if we were outsiders looking in, almost as if we were voyeurs. With PIGGY, it seems like it was shot more along with Sara’s perspective. Can you talk to me a bit about that?
Carlota Pereda: Yes, because in the short, it was almost like a fairytale and it ends with a twisted ending. And that was also the idea of a narrator, because when there is a narrator, there is an audience. At the end of the short, she looks straight in the camera and she includes you, because I wanted to play with that conversation, like what would you do? But here now, here I just wanted people to walk in her shoes.
I think the pool sequence and how you changed the shooting of that is probably my favorite change visually. We’re there with her as she’s taking in everything, experiencing the bullying, etc. This is more of a comment, but it’s interesting for me just to see how changing the shooting focus changes how we take in everything
Carlota Pereda: Yeah, for me it was a different thing for sure. Everything had to be almost abstract in a sense. The three girls dress the same. They look the same. They have the same hairdo. There are minor differences in the same thing. It’s like they are almost like three witches. And you don’t know anything about Sara. Everything that happened is a bit more like a sketch just for the short. But, of course, you want more layers, because the more layers and more complex it’s going to be, the more realistic you will feel.
Yeah, and I think we also get to see more of the gray areas behind bullies as well. Especially with Claudia, you see her mother. So, you got to expand a bit more there in comparison to the short too, where they are sort of blank slates.
Carlota Pereda: Also I like this the idea of, you know, in Lazarus parties, people die and you go to a party, and I wanted in this to see people disappear and everything stops. Her mother’s going to worry and she’s going to look for her, you know?
Again, it adds that realistic human element that I think sometimes we all forget about.
Carlota Pereda: I mean, I love movies that are like that as well. But I wanted this to feel real. If someone’s missing, people are going to and people want to find out.
So, what are you interested in working on? Are you working on anything right now?
Carlota Pereda: Yes, I’m currently working on the feature adaptation of The Blondes, which is also about identity. It’s a comedy-thriller that is based on a true story. And I’m working on a fantasy horror film that I’m trying to get financed for the end of the year. That’s what I have. I’m also writing a pilot.
You’re keeping busy. I’m going to add one final question here, but what do you want to see more of in film, in general?
Carlota: Pereda: Just different voices and different points of view. I like movies about people who want to be writers, especially in Spain, like, why men want to be writers or directors. But if I don’t see one in 20 years, nothing will happen. [laughs] I just want to see people who have a story to tell and do it passionately. Whatever that is, and if it’s something we haven’t seen before, better.