A scene from Sebastian Hofmann's "Tiempo Compartido"

Interview: Sebastián Hofmann on Taking Audiences For a Trip in “Tiempo Compartido (Time Share)”

“Everfields showed me who I really was and what I could do,” says Tom (RJ Mitte), a slick manager dispatched from the corporate offices attempting to rally the troops in Sebastian Hofmann’s wonderfully mischevious “Tiempo Compartido (Time Share)” just after the hotel chain has purchased Vistamar, a stately seaside resort in Mexico. Th‎e American speaks as if the corporation has cured him of his cerebral palsy, which he believes should make the task of serving – and upselling – the clientele with confidence quite easy in comparison. He isn’t wrong about Everfields revealing character, just not in the way he seems to think as Hofmann trains his lens on two men feeling trapped at the compound – Pedro (Luis Gerardo Mendez), a father who sees his family trip get trampled on by another family when he learns the hotel has overbooked his room, and Andres (Miguel Rodarte), an employee of Everfields who becomes frustrated in his inability to move up from toiling in the laundry room while his wife excels in sales.

Between the two, Hofmann lays the groundwork for a biting satire about consumerism and globalization gone awry as Pedro and Andres see themselves as victims of a corporate culture that devalues the human experience and embraces homogeneity. While they see others thrive in the same environment, the constant drumbeat of the Everfields’ marketing pitch that “paradise is within reach” becomes a taunt for the two, who gradually start to go mad wondering why others don’t see what they do. As much success as the company has with its “one size fits all” ethos, Hofmann‎ strives to stand out with “Tiempo Compartido,” injecting his wicked sense of humor into every carefully crafted frame, showing how the pursuit of a dream vacation morphs into a nightmare for Pedro and Andres.

After the film inspired conversations all over Sundance, it recently arrived on Netflix and Hoffman shared with us why he was inspired to make “Tiempo Compartido,” shooting a film entirely inside the grounds of a real operational resort and giving audiences a good time, even if the characters on screen aren’t having one.

A scene from Sebastian Hofmann's "Tiempo Compartido"How did this come about?

Actually, my mom used to sell time shares when I was a child for a little bit, and I lived in one of these massive, all-inclusive hotels for about a year. That [experience] stuck with me, that world of time share sales and I thought it would be interesting to make a film that’s [set in] one location and the one location is this massive creepy hotel, like a labyrinth.

Did you actually have this specific location where you wound up filming in mind?

Yeah, the co-writer and producer of the film and I used to vacation here when we were kids, so we were very lucky to get this location. It’s one of the oldest hotels in Mexico of that type, those really big ones, and now it’s somewhat abandoned, but it used to be one of the most prestigious hotels in all of Mexico. It’s where Howard Hughes [spent the] last few years of his life. He lived in this hotel and had the top two floors, like the penthouses, all for himself and it’s where he lost his mind, so there are all these legends around it. This movie [also] speaks so much about globalization, which is what happened to Mexico after ’94 [with the North America Free Trade Agreement] where all these massive American hotel chains like Sheraton or Hilton started acquiring the little small hotels in Mexico and this is the true story of the location. It was a Mexican hotel [first] and it got bought by Americans and now it’s Mexican again, which is interesting, since we shot the film.

Did you have the run of the place during shooting?

We did, but we didn’t have enough money to shut down the hotel during filming, of course, so we paid what we could afford and they were super kind and welcoming. They didn’t read the script, I think, because I don’t know if they would’ve allowed us to shoot there [if they had], but we told them what the movie was about and we told them who the cast is because the cast [has] very famous actors from Mexico – very loveable comedic actors that people relate to, so they just told us, “Yeah, yeah, you can shoot here, but the hotel needs to keep operating,” so we had little windows [to shoot in]. That made it difficult. We didn’t have a lot of money to make this film, so we couldn’t shut down the swimming pool, so we had to shoot [there] on Monday, let’s say, at eight in the morning when nobody’s there and the hotel just kept going about its business. But the entire movie was shot at the hotel and the entire crew and cast stayed there, so we really got that [same] feeling of isolation [as the characters]. I wanted to create the same sort of atmosphere like something bad’s going to happen, but then you realize that the only monsters in the movie aren’t supernatural beings, but the actual human beings. “The Shining” of course, was such a big influence on me. If you look back at the movie, there’s a few references – the room number of the villa is “237.”

A scene from Sebastian Hofmann's "Tiempo Compartido"Was it fun to play around with some of those horror ideas in an organic way? I loved the scene where a red T-shirt dyes the water in a laundry machine, so everything comes out looking like blood.

I always say that tone and atmosphere are my favorite brushes when I film, and if you look back at all my short films and my previous feature, they all explore the fantastic in an absurd way. I’m a huge fan of Luis Bunuel and David Lynch and of course, I grew up loving horror films more than anything else. I wanted to be a makeup artist right after I saw Cronenberg’s “The Fly” or John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and then I went to art school and I studied all the great masters – Tarkovsky and Bergman, but I always go back to reference my childhood [when] I was obsessed with horror films like so many other kids growing up in the ‘80s.

Those films are full of practical effects and you get unreal colors in this. Can I assume you got that through crafty lighting as opposed to working on it in postproduction?

Yeah, we did everything on set. The [cinematographer] and I always talked about creating a hyperreality and I wanted the film that plays with the audience in a subconscious way. The hotel is set right in front of the Pacific Ocean, so the view and the sunsets are amazing and the sunset’s right on the horizon and it’s beautiful, but I decided not to [show] the sea to create this claustrophobic atmosphere. It was the same with the lighting. The DOP was experimenting with a lot of crazy gels – we ordered some from a store in Los Angeles – and we were doing tests with them with super bright reds, greens and oranges. We wanted the movie to feel like a graphic novel in a way.

Structurally in terms of the story, did you initially start with either Pedro or Andre at first or did you develop those separate storylines together?

We went through so many different versions of the script because it took us so many years to even find the budget to make this. There were some versions in which they came together a lot more and tried to sabotage the hotel together, but in the end, I always tend to go for the most subtle way to maybe tell a story and to resolve it because everything else felt like such a circus. I knew the film was already filled with bizarre characters and situations, so at the end, I wanted it to defy expectations of the audience to have those characters meet briefly in their own paranoia and insanity.

To me, the film is really a tale of neurosis. The two protagonists are actually the antagonists in a way. I keep hearing that RJ Mitte’s character is the bad one or the real villain is the hotel or the corporation, or just our capitalistic philosophy now that’s ruling the world, but really it’s just these two guys have always an option to see the world in a lighter sense and they decide to let their inner child take over, so it’s their inner narcissist [that’s the villain] and they’re taking their families with them. It’s just these two crazy motherfuckers just trapped in this artificial space.

A scene from Sebastian Hofmann's "Tiempo Compartido"How did you think of RJ Mitte for that part?

I wanted to work with an guy that [actually] gave motivational speeches. It wasn’t an idea of working with an actor who can do the whole motivational speaker character, but to have an actual motivational speaker. They have a sort of a fake charm about them and somebody sent me some videos of RJ speaking at universities. I never watched “Breaking Bad,” so I really had no reference as to who he was, but he gives this wonderful speech in which he [speaks about] how he was born with this disability and he was always told he couldn’t act because he was born with cerebral palsy. And look at him now, with all his success. There’s a few videos of him speaking at a few universities on YouTube and I just thought that was amazing and I got him on the phone and I told him about the character and said, “Basically, it’s this guy who has your speech, and you use it to inspire good, but he uses it to inspire the worst in human beings.” I think he actually loved that because he always gets to play the loveable guy with the crutches and this, was an opportunity for him to be the…explore this really dark, sinister, crazy character.

It must’ve been fun to create a hotel chain out of whole cloth, with all these promotional materials for Everfields. Was that a fun part of the process for you?

It was amazing just getting together with the production designer and creating this world. The movie has many different layers. For example, we were really inspired by Illuminati symbols and the movie is filled with them, but they’re just hidden like easter eggs. The logo for the Everfields Corporation is a pyramid, and the pyramids are everywhere within the film. There’s so much more that you can’t see in the movie because I rarely do closeups or use insert shots. I felt bad at the end because there was so much work involved. [The costume department] did all the uniforms – the hotel T-shirts, the employees’ little pins – everybody had a nametag, all those little details. We created a hotel from scratch and that was an amazing amount of work.

A scene from Sebastian Hofmann's "Tiempo Compartido"There’s also this wonderful score I can’t get out of my head since seeing it – what was it like working with Giorgio Giampa on it?

He’s an amazing composer and I actually went to Rome where he lives and knocked on his door while I was editing the movie. I had just a rough cut and I think the soundtrack is a character within itself, so I was so happy that we were able to get it. He’s already crazy, but I pushed his craziness – again, we were super influenced by “The Shining” and horror movies in general. We watched hours of horror films and how they create the tension and I said, “We just really need to make this place even crazier. This movie needs to have a different layer of insanity.” [Giorgio] used a lot of distortion, but [the score was] all recorded live with an orchestra. All the instruments are real, but he filtered some of them tweaked the chords, like the violins, When they were recording at the studio, he would de-tune them and just do a lot of crazy stuff. But he’s wonderful.

“Tiempo Compartido (Time Share)” is now streaming on Netflix.