Hollywood is more a concept than a place. Although it is a place. But as the center of English-language commercial cinema, it is actually spread across production centers like Los Angeles, New York, and Vancouver, go-to low-cost filming locations like Czech Republic and Morocco, and Chile. Wait, what?
Yup, Chilewood is the latest “foreign country-wood” portmanteau to invade industry jargon, situating itself alongside big budget global titans like Bollywood and its more DIY Nigerian cousin, Nollywood. Although Chilewood (shouldn’t it technically be Chollywood?) has one glaring distinction from its extended family of woods: rather than functioning as a parallel industry entirely removed from the reach of Hollywood’s tentacles, Chilewood is made up of a tight-knit clique of Santiago-based, genre-crazy writer/producer/directors who are paving the way for new production, financing, and distribution models in both Latin America and Hollywood. To put it more succinctly: Chileans are changing the game in Hollywood and satisfying local audiences to boot.
The roots of this Chilean invasion lie in an admiring letter Chilean filmmaker Nicolás López sent to Boston-bred American director Eli Roth back in the early aughts. Roth had just completed his horror debut, Cabin Fever, and López was finishing up a comedy fantasy feature entitled Promedio Rojo down in Santiago. As two young helmers on the cusp of stardom (Roth would go on to write, produce, and direct the Hostel series), they immediately felt a self-described geek bond and Roth eventually showed Promedio Rojo to Quentin Tarantino. After some public praise from the God of all geeks, López was quickly flooded with phone calls from Hollywood studios looking to cash in on the new sensation from the end of the world.
But perhaps what most solidified López and Roth’s professional relationship ended up being a severe dissatisfaction with the way things worked in Hollywood. Big budgets, slow turnarounds, and a lot of wasted money frustrated the two filmmakers as they navigated the choppy waters of Hollywood bankability, and after López fell on his face with a $6 million flop called Santos, the two decided the way to go was low budgets, fast turnarounds, and guaranteed profit. In other words, the opposite of Hollywood.
To date, the model has worked and their Sobras International production label has been making quite an impression on the global film market. Using Santiago as a low-cost double for U.S. cities like Calabasas in the upcoming psychosexual thriller Knock Knock starring Keanu Reeves, and blowing apart the Chilean market with hit films like the Fuck My Life (Qué pena tu vida) series, the Sobras gang has seemingly put their finger on a formula that has eluded Hollywood for nearly half a century. And by all accounts, they’re just getting started.
Here are some essential films…