The first lines of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! were written while I was shooting my previous film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The penthouse set that we had built for the central character, Pepa, had cost us a small fortune. I wanted to get the most out of it by using it for something else. A dubbing artist (the role played by Carmen Maura in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) might be able to afford such an expensive home, but for our small production company, El Deseo, S.A. (The Desire, Inc.), that penthouse was too lavish an expense. At the time, our only real assets were ideas and enthusiasm.
I told my producer-brother, Agustín: “I’d like to make a movie à la [Roger] Corman that could occur entirely on Pepa’s penthouse set. Maybe then we can justify the huge expense.” “Let’s go for it!” he said.
My brother and I have always been fans of B movies. Agustín would kill to make a women-in-prison film, pack it to the gills with girls of all races, each more deviant than the next. We’d follow the line of Jonathan Demme’s Caged Heat, or the line of films made by Linda Blair after she developed physically. Lots of skin, a large helping of irreverent humor, and very little money, of course.
As far as I’m concerned, financial difficulties have always stimulated my creativity. For this reason, the idea of making two films for the price of one really appealed to me, but there were other reasons too. I love to shoot inside a studio because I like it when the sets lie (in the case of a comedy like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, this convention is a part of the rules of the genre). I am delighted when sets represent themselves, when the false represents falsity, when a studio represents a studio in which walls are held up with braces. These are the theatrical elements that every movie is born with and that I like to reveal. The physiology of the film language. The authenticity of artifice. There is nothing more authentic than naked artifice.
For all these reasons, and because of my need to be unfaithful to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, I worked one weekend to develop a plot for another movie that would take place on the studio set that then belonged to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The same actors would interpret new roles, and it didn’t matter if the audience saw the lighting instruments, the plastic plants on Pepa’s terrace, the backs of window frames, the maze of woodwork—in general, the indescribable circus that occurs when a fake city is shaped within the four walls of a studio. I would also use the hallways and the bathrooms of the studio.
A draft of what I wrote went something like this:
“One weekend, three psychopaths escape from a maximum-security jail and temporarily take refuge in a film studio where a horror film, a copy of a copy, is being shot. Hiding behind backdrops, the three fugitives overhear that the shooting is about to end, and they decide to stay in the empty studio for the weekend. It’ll be the last place the police will look for them. Besides, they like the set. Even though it is false, it feels more like a home than the jail they just escaped from.
“The director of the horror film calls the final shot, and the film crew disperses amid laughter and cheers.
“The psychopaths enjoy the emptiness of their refuge for a few hours, until the crew starts arriving again. The psychopaths don’t know that a wrap party is to take place right on the set. The psychopaths barely have time to hide in the women’s bathroom. With no other alternative, the three wait there for the party to end and for everyone to go home. Strange as it seems, they never consider the idea of leaving themselves.
“If the psychopaths don’t want to leave, neither do the partygoers. Alcohol, drugs—the party is warming up. Next, a group of girls discover the psychopaths hidden in the bathroom. The girls mistake them for party guests, and not knowing what to do, the men decide to fuck the girls, with very satisfactory results for all parties concerned. The girls naturally think they’re also guests of the party. As time passes, the party starts to close in on the psychopaths. Feeling cornered, they violently take over the party and then demand a large ransom from the families of the partygoers and from the Ministry of Culture. Much to their surprise, nobody answers their demands. In Spain, nobody is very concerned with the fate of a film crew.
“One of the psychopaths, the most handsome, falls for the attractive protagonist, and she responds to him. This sudden passion helps speed the story toward a rhythmic and unexpected conclusion.”
This was my first plotline. It couldn’t have been more classical, and it adapted itself perfectly to the single-set requirement. To help steer away from boredom or claustrophobia, and to make sure the spectator would not miss colorful sunsets or pastoral settings, I would be sure to dress the story with morbidity and intrigue. This was becoming an amusing experiment, with blatant references to William Wyler’s The Desperate Hours and Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel.
However, I didn’t have the opportunity to test my improvisational skills, because the production of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown became more and more complicated. For me, just finishing that film in one piece was a miracle.
Though I craved making some mischief on Pepa’s set, it didn’t seem to be in the cards. After opening Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and bending over backward to promote it, I happened by chance on those crazed pages of script. But by then Pepa’s set had been struck, and that particular story no longer had its reason for being. Still, something about it excited me. I sat at the typewriter, and out came Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!