As the director of “The Orphanage” (2007) and “A Monster Calls” (2016), Spanish-born filmmaker J.A. Bayona (b. 1975) is very familiar with fantasy and the supernatural. And after directing the blockbuster “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (2018), it was a walk in the park for him, so to speak, to helm the first two out of eight episodes of Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” (2022), the most expensive TV series of all time.
His next and upcoming screen effort is “Society of the Snow,” his second survival movie after “The Impossible” (2012), based on the experience of María Belón and her family during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. “Society of the Snow,” made for Netflix, is inspired by the real story of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 which carried an entire rugby team and, en route to Santiago, Chile, crashed on an Andes’ glacier in 1972. The flight had 45 passengers and crew; only 29 survived the crash. During the following 72 days, the survivors found themselves in one of the world’s toughest environments with an avalanche and starvation, which lead to the death of 13 more passengers. The other survivors were forced to take extreme measures—including cannibalism—to stay alive. The Andes flight disaster was previously filmed in 1993 with Frank Marshall’s “Alive.”
“The Impossible” (2012, trailer)
“Society of the Snow” is Mr. Bayona’s return to Spanish-speaking filmmaking since “The Orphanage”; the film is based on the book “La sociedad de la nieve” by Uruguayan author and journalist Pablo Vierci, and locations for the movie included Andalucia (Spain), Uruguay and other locations throughout the Andes, including the actual crash site. Mr. Bayona shot the film with a cast of unknown Uruguayan and Argentinian actors. “I consider myself very lucky to be able to work in Hollywood and at the same time go back home and produce my own films in my own language,” he said during our interview.
Nevertheless, his most famous work so far is “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” the sequel to “Jurassic World” (2015), the second installment in the “Jurassic World” trilogy, and the fifth installment overall in the “Jurassic Park” film series. “Fallen Kingdom” was the second most expensive film ever made, but it grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide and became the highest-grossing film of 2018 and, at the time, the 12th-highest-grossing movie of all time. And that film was only Mr. Bayona’s fourth feature.
Last April, he was invited to the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival and was the BIFFF’s guest of honor, where I joined him during a roundtable interview.
Mr. Bayona, a number of your films are inspired by fairy tales. What attracts you to this kind of storytelling?
Fairy tales are very interesting because of the way they connect with the audience. Fairy tales help children to understand the world they live in and to process it in a way that seems very primal but, at the same time, very truthful. In that sense, I have always been very attracted to fairy tales, especially when I did “A Monster Calls” . I read more about fairy tales and how smartly these kinds of stories connect to the primal and conscious part of your brain and the way you process the reality you live in. I would also like to add that intuition is one of the most important tools a director has. In that sense, I never plan what will be my next movie. Also, when you do your next movie, you’re influenced by the previous one because that lifts your spirits in a way that I would never be able to choose what my next movie will be without finishing the one that I’m doing at the moment.
After working in your home country [Spain], you decided to go to America. Can you tell something about that?
I did “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”  after I did three movies in my own country. After those movies, I decided to say ‘Yes’ to Hollywood. I was attracted to the idea of going there and see what would happen—also, the idea of working with Steven Spielberg was fantastic to me because he always had a huge influence on me.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (2018, trailer)
Is your working method as a film director any different if you do a film based on true events compared to a work of fiction?
That’s a very interesting question. You always try to connect with the story, and I love to do a lot of research. When you have a true story, it’s a lot easier because you have all the material you need. I just did “Society of the Snow” about the plane that crashed in the Andes in the 1970s; when I was working on that film, I was in contact with all the survivors—every day of the shoot. So that gives you the source of material that you’re looking for when you’re working on that film. If it’s not a true story, the kind of research I do is different. But to me, it’s all about getting as much information as I can, and from there, you try to enhance the story that you are telling.
What about the difference between making a film in Spain and the U.S.?
There is a difference. When I did “Jurassic World,” I knew I was at the service of the franchise. There were four movies before, three directors, and I sat down with some of them. I put my skills at the service of the franchise. At the same time, if you want to be at your best, you need to put yourself in the story and enrich the material with yourself. That’s the only way I can give my best in the story. I was lucky enough to keep my tone. It was funny because it was the weirdest “Jurassic” movie ever done—it looked like a fairy tale and like a horror film, but some of the filmmakers supported me. I remember I was talking to Steven Spielberg, and he was very happy that I was able to put my stamp on it. When I talked to the composer [Michael Giacchino], I remember we were talking about the score and one day I told him, ‘This sounds like the score of a “Dracula” movie, not a “Jurassic World,”’ and he said, ‘Great! This is what you did; this is exactly the movie that you did!’
In each film of yours, a family plays a key role. Is that a coincidence?
No, because emotions are very important to me. When I talk about following your intuition, most of the time, intuition is pursuing something that connects with the most human aspect of human psychology. That is very important. But I don’t have a plan. It’s funny; every time I do a film, there is something that guides me. I don’t know what it is, but I find out when I’m filming. It’s like when you have a dream; if you find out what the dream was all about and what it meant, you can enhance its visuals. I also like to think that movies can connect even when there’s no sound. There are so many films in theaters that feel like television; if you disconnect the sound, you don’t understand anything, or the camera doesn’t really tell you the story—while that is what moviemaking is all about. Sound and visuals—the way you tell the story with the camera—are so important.
You are a successful and bankable film director. Does that also mean you have carte blanche?
When you talk about Hollywood, during the 1940s and 1950s, film directors began working in a way that they made a film for the studio, and one for them, one for the studio, one for them. To me, movies are about visuals and sound, but to the industry, movies are about sound, visuals and money. So you need to navigate to find that balance. I always tried to find enough elements to enjoy my work when I did “Jurassic World” or “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”—when I was at someone else’s service.
What kind of films did you see when you were young?
I grew up watching the classics and a lot of blockbusters, mostly on television. But I really enjoy the experience of going to a theater. There is no better way than watching a movie on a big screen with a lot of people around you. There is nothing better than that. I go to the cinema once or twice a week, and I think the number of young people going to the movies is increasing too. In my late teens, I began working as a journalist—or at least I pretended to be a journalist—and went to several film festivals to get free tickets. Genre festivals like this one are very important to keep cinema alive. I would never have been able to make “The Orphanage”  if I didn’t meet Guillermo del Toro at a film festival—as a journalist asking him questions. We became friends, and three or four years later, he was producing “The Orphanage.”
Do you think artificial intelligence can be useful for your work as a director?
I think it’s too early now to think about it, and I’m not very familiar with it. The things that I heard feel to me like a more sophisticated way of doing things than the way we are doing now. The whole artificial intelligence that is developing is unknown to me, so I don’t have enough information to talk about it.
Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival
April 15, 2023
EL ORFANATO, a.k.a. THE ORPHANAGE (2007) DIR J.A. Bayona PROD Álvaro Augustin, Joaquín Padró, Mar Targarona SCR Sergio G. Sánchez CAM Oscar Faura ED Elena Ruiz MUS Fernando Velázquez CAST Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep, Óscar Casas, Mabel Rivera, Montserrat Carulla, Andrés Gertrúdix, Geraldine Chaplin
LO IMPOSSIBLE, a.k.a. THE IMPOSSIBLE (2012) DIR J.A. Bayona PROD Belén Atienza, Álvaro Augustin, Ghislain Barrios SCR Sergio G. Sánchez (story by María Belón) CAM Oscar Faura ED Elena Ruiz, Bernat Vilaplana MUS Fernando Velázquez CAST Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Marta Etura, Sönke Möhring, Geraldine Chaplin, Ploy Jindachote, Jomjaoi Sae-Limh, Johan Sundberg, Jan Roland Sundberg, La-Orng Thongruang, Tor Klathaley, Douglas Johansson, Emilio Riccardi, Vorarat Jutakeo, Karun Konsaman, Nicola Harrison
A MONSTER CALLS (2016) DIR J.A. Bayona PROD Belén Atienza SCR Patrick Ness (novel “A Monster Calls”  by Patrick Ness; from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd) CAM Oscar Faura ED Jaume Martí, Bernat Vilaplana MUS Fernando Velázquez CAST Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall, Liam Neeson, Toby Kebbell, Ben Moor, James Melville, Oliver Steer, Dominic Boyle, Jennifer Lim, Max Gabbay, Morgan Symes, Max Golds, Frida Palsson, Wanda Opalinska
JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018) DIR J.A. Bayona PROD Belén Atienza, Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley SCR Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly (characters created by Michael Crichton) CAM Oscar Faura ED Bernart Vilaplana MUS Michael Giacchino CAST Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, Jeff Goldblum, Geraldine Chaplin
SOCIETY OF THE SNOW (2023) DIR J.A. Bayona PROD Belén Atienza, Sandra Hermida, Benjamín Segura SCR J.A. Bayona, Bernat Vilaplana, Nicolás Casariego, Jaime Marques (book “La sociedad de la nieve” [a.k.a. “The Snow Society: The Definitive Account of the World’s Greatest Survival Story”] by Pablo Vierci) CAST Enzo Vogrincic Roldán, Matías Recalt, Tomas Wolf, Diego Ariel Vegezzi, Agustín Pardella, Francisco Romero, Rafael Federman, Felipe González Otaño, Esteban Kukuriczka, Agustín Della Corte, Valentino Alonso, Simón Hempe, Jerónimo Bosia, Fernando Contigiani García