When it came to telling the true story behind a plane crash in the Andes that left 29 passengers stranded in an extreme environment, “Society of the Snow” filmmaker J.A. Bayona said he wanted to take “almost like a philosophical approach.” Based on the book of the same name by Pablo Vierci, which itself is based on interviews conducted five years after the crash, Bayona said the film felt like a spiritual undertaking in TheWrap’s latest episode of How I Did It, presented by Netflix.
“Society of the Snow” chronicles the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 that went down in the heart of the Andes in 1972, killing 16 passengers and leaving the other 29 to band together and survive under harsh conditions.
“We were trusted with this story to tell that was a true story that happened to these people, that happened to their friends,” Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino said. “I like to say I put myself in the character and how would they feel? That’s OK if it’s Captain Kirk or Spider-Man. In this film in particular, it was a very uncomfortable question to ask yourself on a daily basis.”
Bayona and his team knew the plane crash would be central to the story, but bringing that to life necessitated a meticulous handle on the entire sequence that leaned on sound effects over score.
“We were scared of playing a lot of music in that moment,” the “A Monster Calls” director explained. “We didn’t want to make the audience feel like we were pushing them. You can get to the end of the film and the audience is so exhausted that they don’t feel anymore.”
“The engine was very, very high pitched and penetrating,” sound designer and supervising sound editor Oriol Tarragó said of the chilling sounds that populate the sequence.
When putting it all together, Bayona said he drew inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock, specifically the shower scene in “Psycho.”
“It’s kind of like a suspense scene. There’s a long sense of anticipation, but at the very end, the survivors will tell you the worst moment is once we finally crashed against the snow and all the seats crushed like an accordion,” he said. “Suspense is all about the anticipation and then the shock.”
Bayona and Giacchino became friends over a decade ago, and through that time Bayona would show Giacchino his films to get the composer and director’s feedback. Giacchino, whose composing work ranges from “Up” to “Spider-Man: Homecoming” to Bayona’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” wrote the first piece of music for “Society of the Snow” the day after he saw the movie.
“I loved the movie so much I just immediately got right into it,” the composer said. “The next morning, after he left my house, I woke up and I wrote a piece of music and I sent it to him I was like, ‘Here, throw this into the cut.’”
That piece is music is still in the film nearly unchanged, and Giacchino sparked to the restraint of the music in the film that allowed the emotion of the characters – and their friendship – to shine through.
“The most important thing was to create that real friendship,” Bayona said of the film. “That bond that was created in the mountain, that society, that is what the film is about.”
“Society of the Snow” has been selected by Spain as its official entry for the Best International Film category at the Oscars. The film is in select theaters on Dec. 22 and on Netflix on Jan. 4, 2024.