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SET VISIT: Welcome to Fright Night...for real! (Part 1)

Aug. 1, 2011by: Jake Dee

I honestly believe my sophomore set visit for JoBlo/AITH couldn't have been a cooler, more rewarding experience. Berge and John were kind enough to, on the 1st of September, whisk me away to the sunny, desolate New Mexican dessert to visit the set of Disney/DreamWorks remolding of the classic 80s horror-comedy FRIGHT NIGHT. The 21st century reiteration, directed by Craig Gillespie (LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, MR. WOODCOCK) from a script by Marti Noxon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") - will star Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Toni Collette, Dave Franco, Sandra Vergara and Emily Montague. So without further adieu, allow me to relay what it was I witnessed during the two days spent in Albuquerque, NM.

Now, if you're as big a fan of Tom Holland's 1985 original as I, you can imagine the unwavering skepticism I had regarding a big-budget Hollywood remake...in 3D no less. Still, I tried to eschew a provincial outlook and go in fresh...with no loyalty or tether to the merit of the original film. Nope, I was determined to go in clean, minus the jaded cynicism Hollywood remakes generally incur in me. Objectivity baby, through and through on this one.

Arriving at a crowded LAX, mid-afternoon, the late-summer SoCal sun ablaze, my excitement was more than palpable. Never had I before been to New Mexico, and the chance to stay at the Hard Rock Hotel with a dozen or so other journalists just seemed so awesomely out of my element that I couldn't help but walk around with goofy-ass smile plastered on my mug. Airport attendants were leering at me as if I were smuggling half a pound of chiba in my lungs. That happy I was.

Strolling up to my gate, a felicitous surprise awaited me. Mr. Ryan Rotten of SkockTillYouDrop was already posted up, feverishly hammering out articles on his laptop. Having met the dude a couple times prior, I instantly felt welcome and in good hands. Familiarity breeds comfort, and when I saw Rotten I instantly new a grip of fun was to be had on this trip. A lot of work, mind you, but the two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Before boarding the smallish aircraft, two other journalists made our acquaintance. Ms. Melissa Molina of Latino Review and Mr. Don McKay of MSN, both a true pleasure to meet and an honor to share time with.

The plane boarded. And off to New Mexico we were...

Touching down in Albuquerque, near dusk, I felt a bigger wig than I ever should have. I mean, come on, a pair of caravans awaiting our arrival to shoot us to the Hard Rock Hotel? Who the f*ck are we? Seriously.

Stepping outside, the acrid New Mexican air cloaked me like an electric blanket. Golden hues and dusty desert topography subsuming a panoramic view. We were in the middle of nowhere, and you know what? It felt pretty f*ckin' great.

After a 15 minute drive or so, the four of us pulled in to the famed Hard Rock Hotel, New Mexican style. Actually it was five of us now, as Mania.com's Rob Vaux had joined us at this point. Another cool dude I had the pleasure to cross paths with, without question. Roving into the ornate doorways of the Hotel, one thing instantly hit us. A humongous banner draping from the backside of a gaudy, old-fashioned elevator shaft. The image? David Tennant as a revamped Peter Vincent (played by Roddy McDowell in the original), clearly channeling his Chris Angel meets Michael Sheen in UNDERWORLD persona (I also see some Hugh Jackman in THE FOUNTAIN. Anyone else?) Below the image of Tennant, the famed Hard Rock Hotel logo. Yup, we had officially arrived to the set of the FRIGHT NIGHT.

An hour after checking into our rooms, all twelve journalists convened in the lobby and met with publicists Dustin Sandoval and Marshall Weinbaum. I really can't thank these two gentlemen enough, not only were they kind, cool and cordial...they made our stay extremely pleasant...accommodated us in every way possible; from facilitating the interview processes, getting us in and out of the scenes being shot on set, to hooking up food and drink, whatever. Professional yet totally personable, a real pleasure to be around!

And speaking of pleasures to be around, it was at the following dinner I met the rest of my journalistic compatriots. Slash Film's Russ Fischer, Collider's Steven "Frosty Weintraub," Bloody-Disgusting's Chris Eggersten, FEARnet's Joe McCabe, Film School Rejects' Rob Hunter, DreadCentral's Heather Wixson and Hitfix's Alex Dorn. If y'all mothaf*ckers are reading, I had a goddamn blast on this set. So thank you!

Down to Brass Tacks

The morning of September 2nd, we all met in the lobby at about a quarter to ten. Now, before I break down the entirety of a hectic day, it might wise to delineate exactly what the set looked like, and what its practical function would be while we were there. You all remember the infamous night club scene in Holland's original film, right? Well, that's more or less what Gillespie and company are not only looking to recreate here, but put their own fresh spin on as well. In the original, this sequence all but springboards the unbridled carnage and mayhem that ensues in the back-half of the picture...and if the fidelity of Marti Noxon's script is pure, this scene could function similarly. And while I can't be certain how pivotal the scene will play in the larger scheme of things, one thing was undeniable...how much f*ckin' fun it was to watch get filmed.

One of the really cool things about our day was, in between interviewing all kinds of above and below the line talent (stay tuned for part two for all those), the level of accessibility we were allotted on set. I realize it was a "Set Visit", but we weren't merely confined to a remote playback monitor in some f*ckin' trailer somewhere around the block. Hell no. If we weren't directly on the set, in the background amongst extras and out of the shot crew people, we were face to face with multiple playback video feeds. And since the film is being SHOT in 3D (thankfully not post-converted, a huge difference), at times we were actually able to watch a footage in a 3D playback screen. Quite a f*ckin' thrill. Now, I'm not the biggest 3D proponent, but I have to say (and you'll hear producer Mike De Luca corroborate this)...the motivation behind it in this particular instance is not only warranted, they way the principals involved are going about it seem to be genuine. The fact the 3D looks great I believe is the result.

We're at a club, right? Where's the f*ckin' shots?

The first shot in the night club scene we were lucky enough to witness focused on Colin Farrell's reimagining of Jerry Dandridge...vampire pimp extraordinaire. Now, in the original scene, Chris Sarandon exudes a seductive danger...a carnal confidence that no mere mortal could ever seem to resist. Here, in a much more predatory turn, Farrell retains that menacing charm...but eschews the campiness for something a little more threatening. Eyes blackened, the smiles erased, Farrell's Dandridge is a f*ckin' shark in a chum-laced pond. Not to be trifled with one iota...

The initial shot in question is a pretty cool one, actually. On a bustling night club dance floor (dressed during the AM for filming, mind you), strobes and multicolored neons swaying this way and that, steam swirling...hot young ass shaking their booties to a loud techno-dirge...old monster movies from the 40s and 50s playing on mounted wall screens in the background. Here's what we see...

As a the camera slowly cranes up and over a balcony to reveal a buzzing dance floor, Dandridge's wan face suddenly enters the frame from off camera right. His close-up clogs the right part of the screen, with the dancing denizens continuing on over his shoulder in the left background. After flashing a sinister stare (not directly in lens, but at us), Dandridge then spins around and lunges out of the frame...presumably from the balcony to the dance floor.

The camera then holds on the busy crowd for a few ticks. It's an affective shot, because without even one line of dialogue, we're bombarded with all sorts of information. Dandridge is alone, athletic and absolutely on the prowl. The second shot we bore witness to was the reverse of the first. That is, it's a visual continuation that picks up where the last shot cut. Now sitting at the bar, in the background, plumes of dry ice washing over our faces, we journalists had a better view this time...looking directly at what was being filmed rather than a representation of it on a playback monitor. Damn scintillating!

We last left off with Farrell's Dandridge leaping off the balcony to the dance floor. Now we're looking at the ferocious vampire hang from ceiling, eventually dropping and landing on the floor...cutting his way through a throng of drunken patrons. However, filming the shot isn't so simple. Why? It's all done through a mirror hung at the back of the club, one meant to illustrate Dandridge's lack of reflection. So here's what we have: As the camera slowly pushes its way through a raucous crowd, ambient lights darting, smoke lifting, we see Dandridge suddenly drop to the floor. This causes quite a commotion in the crowd, people disperse. As Dandridge ambles toward the back of the club (presumably in pursuit of Amy), the camera has now turned so it's at his back. As he nears the mirror, we realize Dandridge's being doesn't emit a reflection. When he doesn't immediately locate what he's looking for (Amy), he spins back around and exits the dance floor. The shot ends with Dandridge walking toward the camera, ultimately past it and out of the frame. As he leaves, we once again see how menacing and austere his facial expression remains.

Again, not much dialogue, but many character traits conveyed. Dandridge can't reflect an image in a mirror, he's unruly, unpredictable...even has a physicality that almost immediately rings superhuman. Film is a show me not tell me medium, and to that end, Gillespie deftly paints a picture in this shot without so much as a line of spoken language. Really good stuff!

The third and final shot we were able to see Gillespie and company orchestrate is probably the tamest of the bunch. Keeping with the "Dandridge on the prowl" motif, this next look unfortunately features a gratuitous 3D shot, a la FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3. In another tracking shot, the camera pushes through the club to find Jerry dancing seductively. But before we focus on him, the camera swoops by the club DJ, who is spouting promotional jargon while throwing out free t-shirts to the crowd. As you may guess, in shameless fit of 3D indulgence, a t-shirt flies directly into the lens of the camera, even making contact with it. Not sure if this effect will make the final cut of the film, but suffice it to say, a number of takes were allocated to achieve a "direct hit" of the lens. The shot concludes with Dandridge, again framed in medium close-up, glowering like a pissed off piranha who missed his mark.

In between our time spent on the actual filming set, witnessing shots get locked, we were also fortunate enough to conduct interviews with many talented people from the cast and crew. In order, we spoke with writer Marti Noxon, producer Allison Rozenzweig, actors Colin Farrell and Imogen Poots, producer Mike De Luca, make-up/FX artist Howard Berger, director Craig Gillespie and our new Charlie Brewster, Anton Yelchin. To learn a lot more about FRIGHT NIGHT, stay tuned for those interviews shortly.

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2!

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