30 Days Q&A!
It was a dark night when Sony Pictures invited a few journalists for a night of horror... and then, the lights went out. It was in darkness when they gave us a sneak peek at 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, the new vampire flick which is the latest production from Ghost House Pictures. And although we were asked not to review the film, I will tell you that it is well worth a look. If you are looking for a truly scary vampire flick, you’re in luck. And if you are a fan of the graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, you won’t be disappointed… well, maybe some of you will be.
After the movie, there was a Q and A with Producer, Rob Tapert (also husband to Lucy Lawless, lucky man), previously mentioned Steve Niles, co-author of the graphic novel and comics. And finally, the director of the wonderfully disturbing flick HARD CANDY, who had the balls to take on this project and make it work, David Slade. The moderator Scott Mantz (from “Access Hollywood”) offered up the questions, while the trio cheerfully answered.
As for the rest of the night, we were given the opportunity to stay in creepy territory as we were led, in groups of eight, to a pitch black soundstage. Once there, we were given a three course meal without the luxury of being able to actually see…… like, at all. It was so dark that you could not see your hand in front of your face. This is a unique and bizarre dining experience called Dining in the Dark, www.darkdining.com. You can check it out in case you have a few extra bucks (and I mean quite a few) and a strong desire to eat in darkness with some wacky music. I quite liked the experience, but a few people could not bear to have no idea what they are eating.
At the end of the night, I was creeped out, freaked out and finally using my hands to eat a salad that I couldn’t see. But without actually reviewing the film, I will say the audience seemed to dig 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, as did I. It is bloody fun that attempts to terrify, and it often succeeds.
First question tonight, Steve. I
understand that this is your first time seeing the movie?
Steve Niles: It's my first time seeing it all cut together like that. I saw a test screening three [weeks] ago. There were placeholders and no music, and I didn't see the ending. There was a lot more stuff missing.
What did you think?
SN: I am thrilled. I am so happy, I can't even tell you.
When you read the comics, the graphic novel, you realize that the style of the film and it’s right up there on the screen.
SN: It is. It is. I've been saying this in every interview I‘ve been doing, but I really have been having an anti-Hollywood experience with this whole thing. They have treated mine and Ben's baby so well, I just can't believe it.
Can Sony quote you on that?
SN: Yeah, sure.
Now, let’s start with the genesis of this story? I heard 30 DAYS OF NIGHT and then when I saw the film I thought, thirty days of darkness, that is like a wet dream for vampires. Where did you get this idea [for the film] in the first place?
SN: Every year, we would always check the paper, and right before it goes dark in Barrow, there is always this little human interest piece about it. I was living in Minnesota at the time, suffering through one of their winters, where they tell you not to go outside or flesh will freeze on contact. I had very little human contact, and I was dealing with that. So I just read the little human-interest piece. The first thing that interested me was the darkness. But then it was the alcohol. It was not illegal. You could bring it there. But they couldn't sell it because of the increase in the suicide rate, [it] would just go up, and I had to think, ‘God, what kind of people live there?’ I tore the story out. This was like twelve years ago. So I tore out the whole piece, I wrote "vampires" in the corner, because that seemed like the obvious. And then I just sat on it. It took me another five or six years until I was even in L.A. [Los Angeles]. I pitched it around. I just had the basic story for it, with Eben and Stella and the vampires. And I pitched it for two years, just to blank faces. And then it wasn't until we did the comic that it caught on. That people picked up on it.
In terms of the style, and working with Ben Templesmith, the artist, how did that collaboration work while designing the style of the comic series?
Steve Niles: Ben and I had already been working together. We were working on Hell Spawn for Todd McFarlane. And we would have this massive time in-between. So we just started… actually what happened was Ted Adams called and asked if we had any stories, we can’t pay any money but he could publish our comic. I said, ‘Okay, here is my rejected pitch list.; And that [30 DAYS OF NIGHT] was like, fourth on the list and he just called me and said, ‘This vampire thing sounds kind of cool.’ So then we started doing it. And then me and Ben started talking. The first thing we really agreed on was that I wanted to write scary vampires and he wanted to draw scary vampires. The more we looked into it, the more we realized there weren’t any, there hadn’t been any for a long time. Even the good vampire movies that have come out in the last thirty/forty years, they’re not scary. So, that was the one thing we agreed on right away. And, you know, Ben's style is just what it is. And that’s what attracted me to working with him. I knew he would do that kind of stuff. What I loved about him, when we were wasting our time on Hell Spawn, was that when we started doing THIRTY DAYS is that Ben’s not afraid to go dark. As in, it's a little murky, it's a little hard to see. Which I think is just perfect for a horror comic.
And I think it's also perfect for a horror movie because the darkness of the film, like I said, it’s a perfect adaptation of what we see on the page. Which brings us to the next question. Rob, tell us about the first time you read the comic and how you decided to make it into a film?
Rob Tapert: The comic had been sent to us by Steve's agent at the time. We got the very first one. Then we got the rough’s of two, and I don’t think three was even written yet. Steve came in, and we heard how it was going to wrap up and Steve came in and kind of pitched it to us. We thought it was a great idea. What really appealed to Sam [Raimi] and myself, and our partners at that time, was the idea of having a love story as the backbone to a horror movie. This seemed original, to have vampires portrayed in a way that we'd never seen them. I think it was Steve that once said, it’s kind of the anti-Buffy, and that appealed to us at the time. We were looking for something that was unusual with vampires.
SN: The first thing that Rob ever said to me was, "I hate vampire movies." And he still does.
Do you still?
RT: No, not this one.
SN: Good, mission accomplished.
That's a true producer's comment right there. Now, how many of you have seen
HARD CANDY? Great movie, right? First of all, [asking Director, David Slade] how
do you go from an indie like HARD CANDY to something that is as stylish as 30
DAYS OF NIGHT?
David Slade: Well, I had picked up the trade edition, so I like comic books anyway so I actually read it. HARD CANDY was complete but it was about to go to Sundance. So I took a meeting. Some executives said, ‘We have all these projects, blah, blah blah.’ And I kind of didn't want to do a studio project after HARD CANDY, I wanted to continue doing smaller independent films for a while. Then someone said, ‘…project blah, and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT." And I said, ‘Hang on a second… wait a minute’’ I closed my eyes and went, ‘I’d love to do that. I would [tear off] my arms to do that.’ I was a fan of the graphic novel to begin with. I could see, like, huge potential in it. But also, it kind of went towards my sensibilities… it was scary. It’s a scary vampire movie. And as Steve said, I wanted to make a scary vampire movie, to do a scary horror movie.
You know, watching this movie, before the you know what hits the fan, why would anyone want to live in up there [in Barrow, Alaska]? I'm just glad I live in L.A. where it's nice and safe... joking. But, in terms of the project that is up and running, now, because you also co-wrote the screenplay, why don't you tell me about adapting your story for the screen and working with the other screen writers?
SN: Like Rob was saying, I was in the room working on the story with Rob and
Sam before I'd even finished the
comic series. I had this sort of general idea of where I wanted the story to go.
One of the things that we both really liked about it, was that we agreed on the
core story was Eben and Stella. That is the real story, so we just spent a lot
of time working on that. It was strange. I was actually writing… typing up the
screenplay about a month before I had to write the final issue. As far as just
working with Rob and Sam, I've never had so much fun.
Lets talk a little about the casting. Let’s talk about how Josh Hartnett get cast in the role? I understand that you met him at a diner.
DS: Yes, I did. I met him at a diner.
Tell me how that came about?
DS: You know, the way things work at the casting stage, there’s a list, they call them a laundry list sometimes. And at the top of this list was Josh Hartnett. But Josh said, ‘Nah, I don't want to do this. No, I don't.’ But then he read it, and said, ‘I’ll have a meeting with the director.’ So I went and met him in this little bowling alley vegetarian diner. We are both vegetarians, which is weird. Doing a vampire movie. And I am still thinking he is not going to take this role. This is a little film. It is a little survival piece with lots of these horrible elements. So, I met him and gave him my email address. We had a really good conversation. I told him everything I wanted for the character. I took a picture of the outside of this place with my camera, and I went back not expecting anything, then sent him a thank you email. I attached the picture. And apparently, that picture was what changed his mind and made him decide to do the film. He said he'd never seen such benevolence in a place he'd been to almost everyday of his childhood life. And he worked his ass off and I think in a leading role that this is one of his best performances, I think. Maybe I shouldn't say that.
Actually, I totally agree with that. Also, I don't know if you've seen 3:10 TO YUMA yet, but Ben Foster is an absolute stand-out in that movie. He was also really good in ALPHA DOG. He‘s also terrific as the sort of Renfield character in this movie. So tell me about that…
DS: I was lucky enough to have met Ben quite a while ago. While we were doing the press run in this country for HARD CANDY because he‘s really good friends with Ellen Page because they‘d been in X-MEN 3 together. And I got to know him socially. And I saw this kind of Renfield character in him well before we were at the casting stage. Six months before we were making offers, I said I really want you to do this film. As it turned out, he has sort of a vampire fetish. He is mad about vampires. And he‘s like, "I'd love to do that." I think he was expecting to be a vampire, he really wanted to be a vampire . I said, ‘No, you can't be a vampire.’ But at the time, he was in character for a role in a film that fell apart financially. He was a survivalist expert, so he had a shaved head and mirrored shades and a utility belt, and he fired questions at me like a drill sergeant. I was kind of laughing at him, and answering him, ‘Where does this guy come from? What’s he do? What kind of accent does he have?’ And I said it’s be great if you did a Cajun accent without being comic. So he goes, ‘Okay.’ And then he comes back about two weeks later with a Cajun accent. I was like, ‘Shit!‘, but he nailed it perfectly. The scariest thing, actually, I think for the other actors more than anything else and brilliant for me was he got off a plane from New Zealand at four in the morning and then went straight to rehearsal. An ensemble rehearsal which is from a directors point of view, really tough. A room full of actors and you’re doing, like, whole ensemble pieces and he knew every line perfectly, with a Cajun accent, and improvised. He scared the shit out of everybody. He is brilliant from the word go. We expanded his role. Which I did anyway hoping and knowing that he’d be brilliant. And, that’s Ben, who, I think carries the first act of the film.
Now, were you on the set the whole time this was being made [to Steve]?
SN: No, I wasn't, actually.
RT: The writer is never allowed on the set, of course.
DS: Not true, Brian Nelson who was one of the collaborators was there the entire time.
SN: Everybody was giving me daily updates, and letting me know what was going on. So, I felt like I was getting to see the everything anyway.
Where's the dirt?
RT: There's always dirt, but this worked out well.
DS: You know, it was a very difficult film physically to make. We were under extreme duress. Physical and mental. Working extremely long nights. We were doing really big things, sometimes without enough money to do them. And so I think, on the one hand, we were having too much fun to actually be daunted by it. On the other hand, the physical stress of actually doing it... We had like two months of night shoots. Which people start to get loopy. Two months of night shoots, people start to go crazy. Not just the cast, the grips obviously most notably go crazy. And those things are always the dirt. Because you’re just so tired, you don't have time for anything.
How long was the production was, two months?
DS: Three months?
RT: Yeah, at least. Almost seventy days of shooting. Not including the second unit.
DS: We were on mountaintops for about a week or so . We did like a week in the general store which was like, ‘This is great. It‘s easy, stay on one stage.’ But then we were on this mountain and everything brakes down. We were up there with this big crane and tons of cables and it’s not working. There's tons of moisture, and everyone is getting altitude sickness, and freezing their asses off. It was one of those things. It was a really physically demanding film to actually shoot.
Well in terms of the special effects and prosthetics and the stunts you
know…? You didn't have any of that in HARD CANDY.
DS: We had a few.
Were there any new challenges for you as a director?
DS: People may not know, but I did, like about, ten years in television and commercials, so I've blown shit up before. I've killed people before and blown people up. Obviously, not physically. To the best of my knowledge. So that’s alwasy where I learned my craft and where I learned the language of filmmaking. And that makes it, not necessarily easy, but easier. The thing about this film is that I had to be prepared. Everything was about preparation. Without preparation, we couldn't have made this film.
RT: On that subject, it really was about a lot of the choices that David made. Early on, the script included these vampires running on roofs and jumping from roof to roof. I was a little concerned that we would have Peter Pan on wires flying around the rooftops.
SN: How did you…?
DS: They actually jumped from roof to roof. [Laughing] One of the things I did, was I sat down with the stunt coordinator. I had storyboarded… it was funny, at one point, I had the script, and the storyboards which was about twice as thick as the actual film which is a concern. Just in the amount of shooting time. But, when everything was visualized, we went to the stunt coordinator, I told him, ‘I want this to happen, but we don't want them to be flying on wires. We want to be completely and utterly physical. Trying not to break the laws of physics.’ We used these amazing things, these ramps that would blast you and catapult you into the air. On a couple of the shots we did that. I think we did a couple of gags in the final fight with wires because it was the only way it could be done. But everything else was done physically and practically.
Another interesting observation while watching the film is that it all takes place, obviously, within thirty days and the only sense you have of the passage of time is the [beard] growth on the guys' faces. The movie starts off, and Josh Hartnett is clean-shaven. Then you get the sense of just how long this has been going on because you see that all the guys have beards.
DS: I don't want to talk about the beards. The beards were a nightmare.
RT: That was just tough scripting because when you realize…
DS: Yeah, on top of working in freezing cold conditions at night, and then having the continuity of it. We weren't shooting this in sequence because you never start at the beginning and shoot all the way through the story. And it was just like, ‘Well, how and what stage of beard are we at now?’ That was one of the biggest headaches actually were the beards. We wanted to go with a full beard all the way through, but it just seemed to make sense to mark the passage of time and various other stuff. I don't want to talk about it.
RT: What David doesn't want to say is, he had to start with a clean face. It was a character choice, really.
Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.