Jim Mickle's STAKE LAND (read my initial report HERE) is the apocalyptic tale of a man, known only as "Mister" (played by Nick Damici, MULBERRY STREET), who grudgingly takes a teenager (Connor Paolo of "Gossip Girl" fame) under his wing in a tumultuous world... Not an unusual formula - unless that world is a foreboding landscape filled with bloodsucking vampires and deranged religious zealots.
Along for the ride, if it can be called that, are Belle, played by Danielle Harris (Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN remakes), Sean Nelson ("The Corner", FRESH), and Kelly McGillis (yes, from TOP GUN!). This strange, makeshift family travels the wasteland that was once America and is now Stake Land.
Nick Damici, Danielle Harris, Connor Paolo and Sean Nelson Interview
I was able to catch up with Nick Damici, Danielle Harris, Connor Paolo and Sean Nelson during a break or two on the chilly upper NY set (this is a bit of a compilation of the few conversations I had with the gang). They spoke with me about vampires, effects, stunts and hating Christmas.
What exactly is going on in this scene today?
Nick Damici: Stivingtown, it's a locked-down town. Basically you have a couple of different factions in the movie who are against each other; these are just normal Americans who don't want to be good guys or bad guys, they just want to survive. They've locked their town down, and we've got to cross this town to get to the next spot. So they're disarming us at the border, we'll move through the town, and they'll give us our weapons back at the end of it.
So this is a safe haven?
Nick: Yeah, a small safe haven. So we think.
Is there any comedy in this thing, or is it all pretty bleak?
Nick: There's a few laughs, I'm sure.
Danielle Harris: I don't know if comedy is the right word, but there's some lighter moments.
Nick: A few tension-breaking moments before we get back to the blood and gore.
Nick Damici, Danielle Harris and director Jim Mickle
(to Nick) So did you help Jim write this one?
Nick: Yeah. Jim and I have been working together for eight, ten years now. We just have a system of writing; I do all the hands-on, then he comes in and does the edit, then we talk it out, and we do that like five hundred times until we have a script.
Danielle: I hear Jim mellows out Nick's writing.
Nick: He calms me down!
Seems like we're not going to see any vampires today, so can you talk about what kind of vampires we're dealing with?
Nick: we're just going with the feral, ferocious kind of vampire. Just want to suck your blood. In the script we call them vamps because they suck blood, but we're not following the classic folklore, or what the modern vampire has become.
Can you walk me through what the basic idea of the story is?
Nick: A vampire plague has collapsed the world, basically. America has fallen, the government is gone. Sort of an apocalyptic time. And this guy who just hunts vampires saves this kid (gestures toward Connor Paolo), the kid become his protégé in a sense, and he's kind of made a vow to get this kid to Canada. Everyone says it's safe, but we don't know. And it's that journey as he picks up other people along the way. And it's this sort of ragtag group. Kelly McGillis plays the nun. Mister doesn't like her, he doesn't do religion. It's good, it's a family story. (Laughs) We only do family stories. It's a Disney movie!
Connor Paolo, Danielle Harris and Sean Nelson
Is "Stake Land" an actual place, or is it a state of mind?
Nick: It's kind of what the world has turned into. When [Mister] first introduces Martin to the world of killing vampires, he basically says "Welcome to Stake Land, kid". Lets a vampire attack the kid... So it's like, live or die, buddy.
Is it all practical effects, or is there some CG?
Nick: Probably going to be a little bit of CG.
Connor: A little green screen, mostly practical. We do our own stunts.
Nick: Brian Spears is doing our make-up, he's terrific. We've had a few special effects, but nothing super major. A lot of tricks.
Danielle, what can you tell us about your character?
Danielle: Belle. Free spirit, "Suzy Home-Maker" trying to round up this rowdy group of boys. Sort of the nurturing caretaker, kind of the odd man out with a bunch of burly men. Making a home, trying to keep the peace and remain positive through all of it. And pregnant and growing. (Shows off fake baby bump under shirt) We're just a little bump right now.
Now is that going to expand?
Danielle: Oh yes, oh yes. I think finding family, creating a family out of what's left.
We've been hearing that this movie is an epic, it's been described as an epic. How does that match up with the low budget. Can we have a low-budget epic?
Nick: We're gonna find out!
Evening shoot on the set
Danielle: Sure! I'm mean, I've worked on supposedly-epic, hundred million dollar features that looked like crap, and from what I've seen so far, this is looking really amazing. We've got two Red cameras, shooting at all times, so Jim is covering the crap out of it. The reason I wanted to do the movie was because I saw MULBERRY STREET, and what they were able to do, what that movie looked like for that amount of money, I thought "My god, this is going to be epic!"
(To Nick) Do you double as producer too?
Nick: No. I write and I act, other than that, I keep my mouth shut.
Danielle: Liar! (Laughs)
Nick: Let's just say I have a very strong opinion...
(To Connor and Sean Nelson) What can you guys tell us about your characters?
Sean Nelson: Well, Willie is a military guy that they pick up, and he's really just trying to get back home to his family, find his way. He's really to get picked up by these guys, you know, they save his life. That's basically the gist of my character.
Nick: And he hates f*cking Christmas!
Sean: He hates f*cking Christmas.
Can you talk about how you got the role?
Sean: Yeah, I met with Jim Mickle, I wasn't really familiar with his work. I still haven't seen MULBERRY STREET. But I've heard it was great from these guys. I just believed in it. I've never been in a horror film, and this was a great opportunity for me. I persuaded Mickle to let me be a part of it, and he was all for it.
Connor Paolo and Nick Damici on set
You mentioned stunts before, have there been many stunts?
Nick: I don't know what we're allowed to say and what we're not allowed to say. We've got an insurance company backing this film!
Connor: Nick and I have done our share of tumbling and jumping.
Nick: It's mostly roughhousing kind of stuff. Running, jumping. We had some fight stuff. Some rope work. That was real fun, I've never done that before.
Is there a big villain in this piece?
Nick: Yes there is, Michael Cervaris. He's on fire! He's on fire with a passion.
He's a stage actor, predominantly, right?
Nick: Yeah, he's a terrific actor. Lot of television work, some big movies. Oh, what an actor.
Now we heard you guys have been shooting for quite a while and there was a hiatus - how does that effect your work?
Nick: Well, that was part of our original plan. To get the epic feel, the idea was to watch the characters age. When I started out in the first two weeks, I dyed my hair. So now I'm letting the gray grow back in, the hair is getting longer. Martin (Paolo) in the first two weeks, you looked at him and he looked twelve-years-old, now the kid showed up and I said "Hey he grew up!"
Connor: That was a big part of the hiatus; not only getting from summer to winter, we've got the changing seasons, but it is ultimately Martin's coming-of-age story. Him becoming the man he was formed to be.