Issa López Talks “Dream Narrative” Behind ‘Tigers Are Not Afraid’

Director Issa López shares her insightful and diligent approach to writing "Tigers Are Not Afraid" and elaborates on "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is one of her favorite films.

Issa López (CR: Alex Neiman)
Filmmaker and screenwriter Issa López chatted with me late last month about the Steelbook release of Tigers Are Not Afraid. In the interview she alluded to a third screenplay which she could not disclose at the time; that project is now Our Lady of Tears. Here’s the Q&A with Lopez, and if you are an aspring writer, filmmaker, or most importantly just a tried and true movie fan, Lopez shares an insightful approach on how she made Tigers Are Not Afraid.

Now out on Blu-ray and DVD steelbook, Tigers Are Not Afraid is a surreal comiing of age tale set amidst Mexico’s drug wars. Estrella (Paola Lara) has just lost her mother and she joins several other orphaned children (led by Juan Ramón López as El Shine) as they try to survive in this dog eat dog world.

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Armed with three magical wishes, Estrella is able to see the dead, and these spirits may be able to help the children live to see another day. Penned and directed by Issa López, Tigers Are Not Afraid has received worldwide critical acclaim (it is streaming on Shudder) and has taken Lopez’s career to another level.

Along with the aforementioned Our Lady of Tears, Lopez will direct a Werewolf Western with Guillermo del Toro producing and she is also collaborating with Noah Hawley in Book of Souls.

Special features for the Tigers Are Not Afraid steelbook include: a featurette on the making of the movie, an interview with Lopez and Del Toro at the Toronto International Film Festival, director’s commentary, deleted scenes, photo galeries, and casting sessions.

The deleted scenes of Tigers Are Not Afraid are a must watch, as there is one deleted scene which really rounds out the ending of the film (regarding the fate of a couple of important characters).

After watching Tigers Are Not Afraid, I am looking forward to watching more of Lopez’s work. Mixing religion, horror, reality and the supernatural into a cinematic tale is a momentous creative feat, especially when working on an indie budget, and it will be interesting to see how Lopez works with a bigger budget at her disposal.


I’m a huge fan of Blu-rays and DVDs, so it’s great to see Tigers Are Not Afraid released in steelbook fashion. Are you a fan of physical media?

I love it. I keep too much stuff, especially for someone that keeps moving around the world. I’m a believer that you should own your movies in a way that they stay there and they have all the features right there. They put the entire history of cinema in our fingertips.

They can disappear tomorrow. We’ve seen it. So to keep your own collection of little things – I’m a firm believer in that and I’m so glad that Tigers Are Not Afraid got the treatment with all the extras. It’s really a dream come true.

Issa López (CR: Alex Neiman)
Can you talk about the practical and diligent method of how you wrote Tigers Are Not Afraid?

Well absolutely yes. I think that a lot of us who want to write a movie or write a book or just make it happen and we have these bunch of ideas; and we keep telling ourselves that we will get to it and right now we don’t have the time – we’re deluding ourselves.

I did, for a number of years (delude myself). I had to pay the bills and I was delivering the scripts or doctoring the scripts under contract. I did not make the time to write the story for no one else but me. It is a team effort, but at the very beginning it has to be yours.

I had a little moment of “let’s stop the bulls**t” with myself. And I forced myself to wake up an hour earlier in the morning, every morning and even as the alarm went off, I would reach for the computer in the darkness and bring out the computer, turn down the brightness and (start to write). It didn’t matter if it was not flowing, it had to be put down.

And it could be a half a page for a scene or sometimes eight or nine pages. It didn’t matter. I would not allow myself to get out of bed until that scene was done. And once it was done, I would close the computer, have some coffee (and) walk the dog. But for that one hour, it was only me and the script.

It worked. In two months I had the script. There was a really interesting side effect; The script I think was infused with a dream narrative. I don’t think I was truly awake when I reached for the computer to write a scene and I think you can feel that in the movie. Maybe it’s a better movie, honestly.

Hanssel Casillas, Rodrigo Cortes, Nery Arredondo, Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López in Tigers Are Not Afraid – Shudder
In the Tigers Are Not Afraid special features, Juan Ramón López discusses how he formed a bond with you. I’m assuming that was one of the most gratifying parts of making your film?

Completely. At the beginning of the process I was not expecting that. You become very selfish when you are trying to get a (movie) made and it’s (all) about the project. But then when I went out and I found these kids, and finding them was a huge adventure. We saw 600 kids to find these 5. I discovered who they were and what were the things that could get them emotionally to a fragile place that the movie demanded.

I had to create a real true bond with them. I grew so much as a filmmaker, I hope. It doesn’t matter in the end – I grew up as a person. In being responsible for them, for example. If you’re going to get them to that emotional place you want to (also) get them out of that emotional place.

It was my role to stay in touch with them and see what’s happening in their lives. All of the children, but especially (with) Paola Lara and Juan Ramón López, who are the leads in the movie. Since the movie was received this way, they have received so many calls because of the movie so that, in a way, is your responsibility.

They trust me, so they call me and ask for advice. I know it’s going to be a relationship that will last the rest of my life. For sure.

Issa López (CR: Alex Neiman)
Even with self quarantine, you seem to still be doing a lot of work. You are collaborating with both Guillermo del Toro and Noah Hawley. Like the characters in Tigers Are Not Afraid, no matter what the world throws at you, sometimes you just need to keep on living and, in your case, creating as well.

Well, that sounds amazing, and some days it’s true even (laughs). The fact of the matter is I am incredibly blessed and I am so thankful that I have specific goals that I can achieve while this is developing around us.

I have three scripts to deliver. I delivered two second drafts. The Del Toro Western and Noah’s I already delivered. And I’m working on the first draft of a third script that we still haven’t announced but it’s so exciting.

(Our Lady of Tears) is everything that I love. It’s brutal reality and the supernatural getting together. The truth is there’s days that you do your little routine whatever it is. When I did Tigers, it was reaching for the computer.

This time it’s waking up, making coffee, reading the news. I don’t watch the news because I risk listening to voices that drive me crazy (laughs). I rather read the paper and I read a bunch of papers from around the world. And then it’s this little moment of panic or despair of the future for our civilization hits me. So I immediately work out to get it out of my mind and then it’s the time to right. Most days it works and I make progress into these stories and it makes it easier that they are very dark worlds to tell you the truth. To put it out there – the fear and the horror.

There are days when it just doesn’t flow because the brain is escaping and despair is seeping in. The way I explain it to myself is this is the perfect excuse to take a script that wasn’t good enough and make them extraordinary. There is no excuse to walk out of this one and without making a (script) that is superior to your standard. Hopefully. We’ll see!


Can you talk about one of your favorite movies and what is it about this film that continues to resonate with you today?

Oh my god that is the hardest question in the world. If I had to pick one movie that I could watch forever, it’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. It contains so many incredible elements. It contains history and adventure. It contains the sacred and divine. It’s so well executed. The script is perfection from Lawrence Kasdan. It’s a joy of a movie, from beginning to end.