The Arrow interviews Patrick Lussier
I was lucky enough to see Patrick Luissier's Dracula Legacy last year and as you can see via my glowing review I had a great time with it! This rousing horror, action adventure was better than half the bullcrap that's regularly released on the big screen and its FINALLY off the Dimension shelves (hits DVD on July 12 2005). I caught up with Mr. Luissier and here's what he had to say about the film and the Dracula franchise.
From Dracula 2000 to Dracula 3 the franchise has taken quite the varied route. What was the creative spark that triggered Drac 3 to become a rousing horror/adventure as opposed to just pure horror?
Dracula 3 came about from Joel and I joking that Dimension, who had ordered Drac 2, was going to send us to Romania to shoot it. We laughed saying we should come up with a third story, set in Romania and pitch Dimension the two-fer. From that Drac 3 was born. Very quickly we knew we wanted it to be an odyssey, Uffizi and Luke’s pursuit of Drac across a mythic Romanian landscape. We both started thinking of HEART OF DARKNESS, and parallels we could draw making Dracula a Kurtzian figure.
After escaping his imprisonment, he’s gone back to the ‘legend that suited him most’ where he, the patient zero, can send his ever-growing hordes out into the night to transform anyone they encounter (remaking the world in his image). In those first conversations we came up with the concept of Rutger Hauer as ‘Kurtzula’ and it stuck instantly. Pitching it to Nick Phillips and Andrew Rona was great. They were initially wary (From Dusk ‘til Dawn 2 & 3 hadn’t been cheap for them, the last two-fer-one they’d attempted) but with the selling points of the same director, writers, producers and two or three leading actors, eventually we sold them on it.
That and the story of Dracula 3 itself. Nick and Andrew frequently wondered if we should skip 2 and only make 3 because they were so intrigued by the scope of that world. Luckily they had faith in us to make both films. They got us Rutger which was amazing. He really brought the Kurtzain element we were hoping, yet still captured the essence of both Gerry Butler and Steve Billington (his Dracula predecessors) while grounding his version of Dracula with a unique power that only Rutger possesses. Due to the buddy-road movie and ‘Heart of Darkness’ dynamics (it’s a strange concept just re-reading this sentence) the story couldn’t help but take this larger adventurous tone.
You wrote the Dracula 3 script with Joel Soisson. Can you give us some insight as to “how” you guys worked together?
Joel and I have been fast friends since he co-wrote (with Carl Dupre) and produced Prophecy 3; the first movie Dimension was generous enough to let me direct. We wrote Drac 3 quite differently than we wrote Drac 2 or our collaboration on Dracula 2000. Because we were pitching it as an ‘opportunity’ to the studio we needed to hit the decks pretty fast. Joel and I came up with a very quick treatment (which I believe is in the extras on the DVD) and from there I started writing the screenplay while Joel did a quick budget-conscious rewrite on Drac 2. I would plow through pages on D3, recklessly adding set-pieces then email them to Joel who would sweep behind me reworking sequences to make them leaner and meaner.
Then together we would rework that. All in all, I think we had a first draft of Dracula 3 in 3 weeks. From that draft we kept reworking sequences to fit the budget. Joel and I would go back and forth making elements bigger and smaller as we’d figure out what we could get done in Romania and what the locations were like. Originally we didn’t have the ending we have now, but instead ended with a Butch and Sundance moment, our heroes surrounded and charging into oblivion. Joel came up with a better idea, creating the brilliant ending that’s now on the film.
You shot the film in Romania and in my opinion the drab weather added to the engaging aura of the film. Any drawbacks as to shooting there?
We wanted the weather to be as bleak as possible and it was when we scouted many of the locations. Unfortunately so many of the days we shot exteriors were gorgeous. We didn’t have time to reschedule so Doug Mislome, our director of photography, did an amazing job of making the beautiful weather seem bleak and foreboding. He was invaluable in transforming so many of the scenic locations into the stark, bloodless landscape we needed to tell our story. Cristi Niculescu, our production designer, was also instrumental in creating this world in decay.
He turned parks into massive grave-yards, built barricaded town fronts, made the most Disney-esque location into an outdoor slaughter house complete with dead circus performers and an old spinning carousel. The only drawbacks of shooting in Romania are whatever preconceptions you come with. It’s not an easy place to shoot, not many locations are, but the crews will bust their asses for you to get the job done. We were so lucky that we went there, especially for Drac 3, because I don’t think we could’ve achieved the scope we got anywhere else. Keith Border and Ron Schmidt, our producers, were key in keeping it all together, working with the Romanian production company to make sure we always had what we needed to make the best movie for the budget.
How challenging was it to stage/film the scene where Uffizi fights a vamp mounted on stilts! I loved that bit!
The Stiltman fight is one of my favourites. I had conceived that scene back in 1996 when I had pitched Dimension on remaking Hammer’s Vampire Circus. They didn’t go for it but the vampire on stilts stuck with me. When we started writing Drac 3, I pitched the scene of the circus infected with vampires and the Stiltman to Joel. He dug it instantly. Dimension thought we were kidding when we pitched it to them but once we mapped it out they got right behind it. We shot the scene on two very cold nights in a Transylvanian town called Sighisoara. Our stilt performer was great. He really nailed the madness of the character which Gary Tunnicliffe designed beautifully (he’s toothless with fangs growing out from his gums).
Jason Scott Lee was instrumental in making it all work because he has such a great sense of choreography and movement. Ken Quinn, our stunt coordinator, rehearsed the Stiltman moves over and over as well as those of the blood-soaked acrobat and how she’s revealed. The hardest thing was the leap. You can’t vault 10 inches in the air on stilts let alone the 10 feet we needed. But between Ken and Jamison Goie, our amazing visual effects supervisor, we managed to make the psycho-vampire-stiltman do the impossible.
How conscious were you of the DVD as you were shooting the film? Was it ever a hindrance in your directorial process?
We knew the venue we were shooting for but didn’t let it hinder us in anyway. We shot widescreen (super 35) as we’d shot D2K and really went after a big screen look even if it was never going to play on one. The same with sound mix which was done at Deluxe Toronto. We have an aggressive mix, taking full advantage of surrounds, building in the biggest score, by Kevin Kliesch and Ceiri Torjussen, we could given our limited budget.
What kind of “extras” can we expect from the Dracula 3 DVD?
This time we packed it with as much as we could. There’s a commentary by Joel, Gary Tunnicliffe our Make-up designer and 2nd Unit director and myself. There’s also conversations with Gary and I on vampires and how they work in the films. There’s a deleted scene and the alternate ending Dimension wanted us to shoot (thankfully when they saw the ending that’s now in the film they never even asked about this alternate, but it’s presented here for the curious). Cast auditions and the original treatments for all three films, D2K, D2 and D3 are also included… I believe the D2K treatment even includes the Uffizi character but I’m not sure if that’s the one Dimension used. Lastly there’s supposed to be a little Easter egg.
Do you have a Dracula 4 brewing in your noggin? If so any idea as to the direction the sequel would take?
Joel and I have talked about ‘what happens next’ to our characters several times. Jason London and Jason Scott Lee were both so amazing to work with that Joel and I would love to keep their adventure going. What direction would it take? Well, in my mind the Vatican would want to investigate what happened to Uffizi, their ‘star attraction.’ Finding out would be costly for them and spiral everyone involved into an even darker terrain.
What about an Uffizi spin-off? Is that still a possibility?
I don’t know if an Uffizi spin-off is still possible due to the divorce between the Weinsteins and Disney. I tried to reclaim the rights to the character of Uffizi a year or so ago but Dimension’s holding onto him. I know those at Dimension are big fans of this series and especially of Uffizi. Joel, Jason and Jason and I would love to continue the story. We have a whole arc of horrific and brooding adventures in mind but we’ll have to see if the ‘grown-ups’ will allow us to re-enter this world.
What’s next on your plate editing/directing/screenwriting wise?
I’ve been developing a film for the last year, working with a series of great writers on the script, getting it into great shape. Ultimately, with the production company’s extensive horror roster and recent genre acquisitions, they’ve decided to not make it at this time. Perhaps next year we’ll get back on it. In the interim I’ve been cutting RED-EYE for Wes Craven over at Dreamworks. We’re just finishing the movie and we are all thrilled with how well it’s turned out. A brilliant screenplay by Carl Ellsworth with excellent performances by Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy and probably the best thing Mr. Craven has directed since SCREAM. I’m very proud to be part of it.
Will we ever see a romantic comedy directed by Patrick Lussier?
Who knows? Stranger things have happened… but somehow I don’t think you’ll see that anytime soon. If I did The Arrow might not be interested and where would be the fun in that?
I'd like to thank Matthew for checking into the site and for the sweet meal that was "Dead and Breakfast". Congrats on locking distribution, dude! NOW ALL OF YOU RENT/SEE IT WHEN IT COMES OUT!