Way, way back in September 2010, one unbelievably lucky B-D reporter (holla!) was drugged, tossed on a plane against his will and flown out to the set of Dreamworks’ Fright Night (releasing August 19th), a 3D remake of the beloved 1985 Tom Holland horror/comedy that has gone on to become one of the most well-regarded vampire films of the last 30 years. Filming at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in the deliriously exciting city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, I managed to get a look behind the scenes at one of the most anticipated genre releases of 2011 and chat with several members of the cast and crew, including but not limited to stars Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell, director Craig Gillespie, screenwriter Marti Noxon and special effects makeup guru Howard Berger.
See inside for the full, and lengthy, set report. If you dare.
That’s right, friends. A mere three weeks prior to the release of Dreamworks’ Fright Night remake, the studio has decided that now is the time to unveil our set reports. I have no explanation for this, but my job isn’t to psychoanalyze studio marketing and publicity departments. It’s to bring you all the best damn set report I can muster, signed, sealed and delivered by the established deadline.
The question then becomes: do I make this a looooong and detailed article, as I’ve been known to churn out in the past with great care and precision (only to be greeted with cries of “this set report is way too long and I don’t have the time to read it”)? Or a teeny-tiny short one like my FD5 article, which all the commenters insisted was far inferior to ShockTilYouDrop’s set visit because it wasn’t long and detailed enough?
But c’est la vie. Truth be told, it’s impossible to win in this racket, and you know what? That’s okay by me; I like doing it anyway. I’m not in this to be liked, or for the money…I’m in it for the glory. That’s right, the glory; and goddammit, if any one article brings the whole proverbial house of cards tumbling down around my ears, I want it to be one that was worth the trouble. In other words, there will be no FD5 brevity here, though I have nevertheless gone to the trouble of bolding the most interesting portions of the article so as to make it easier for those who don’t have the time to read it all the way through.
But enough about that; let’s talk Albuquerque. Yes, Albuquerque, that arid desert bastion of sparkling pools, central air conditioning, and potentially explosive meth labs – not to mention the world-famous Sandia Peak Tramway, which I’d never heard of previously but which I’ve been assured is indeed world-famous. How could I ever have been so out of touch?
I’m also obsessed with a completely baseless theory that the city has a teeming MILF/cougar population, a belief I can’t back up in any way, shape, or form except for the following, now seemingly-defunct MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/the_indian_superman, which I originally assumed was some online gathering place for Albuquerque MILFs until I realized it’s actually just some Indian student at the local community college, looking to “meet single moms in Albuquerque & show them a good time.” Judging by the fact that he’s only got twelve friends – only seven of them actual MILFS, and only one of them named “Mama Shorty” – I’d say his little social-networking experiment didn’t pan out quite the way he wanted.
Ok, so I admit there’s really no point to all this, outside of the fact that Albuquerque was the main shooting location of Dreamworks’ upcoming remake of Fright Night, the 1985 Tom Holland-directed film about a hapless teenage boy who realizes there’s a murderous and seductive vampire living next door to him. Albuquerque, as it so happens, proved a good (not to mention less expensive) double for the Las Vegas suburbs where the remake is set, though I’d bet people actually living in the Las Vegas suburbs won’t think so. But who cares, really, when there’s nickels to be spared?
Ok, so it’s early September. I arrive at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, located on the outskirts of the city, to find a giant poster of Peter Vincent hung on the side of the glass elevator bank in the high-ceilinged lobby. The poster, as I quickly ascertain, is actually a faux-advertisement to be featured in the film, which depicts Vincent – hipper, cooler, and more “of the moment”, as re-imagined by screenwriter Marti Noxon – as a douchey Criss Angel-esque magician with long, flowing locks, tight black leather pants, and a neatly-“groomed” mustache and goatee. Roddy McDowall – who, lest we forget, portrayed the original incarnation of the character as a late-night horror TV host – has in this remake been replaced with David “Tenth Doctor” Tennant. Only thing is, the British actor wasn’t present during our set visit, so Doctor Who fans needn’t get too excited.
Anyway, after taking a moment to conspicuously roll my eyes at the sight of the “Teen Spirit” lyrics emblazoned on the wall behind the check-in counter (because nothing says “rock ‘n’ roll revolution” like corporate appropriation), I headed on up to my room to unload all my shit before heading out on the town to enjoy every nook and cranny of the city of Albuquerque – you know, soak in some of the local color. Navigate my way through the Old Town bar scene and take in a good live blues band. Maybe chat it up with a local jacked-up meth addict or three.
Except that none of that actually happened. Instead, I ended up having dinner with my fellow set-visiters and our two delightful PR guides (no sarcasm there) in the depressing hotel restaurant downstairs, before proceeding to get good and drunk at the casino’s aptly-named Center Bar, which the Hard Rock website assures is “the place to see and be seen”. Which is true, of course, if you’re talking about being “seen” by a group consisting mainly of morbidly obese gambling addicts and leathery, chain-smoking middle-aged women with nothing left to lose but their homes and livelihoods.
No matter though…I was drunk, and happy, and in all honesty that god-awful processed-grunge bullshit Candlebox song from 1995 was sounding pretty damn good over the casino’s blaring set of speakers. And besides, I was here to visit the set of Fright Night – ! – which my inner eleven-year-0ld kept telling me I should be really, really excited about. Except how the hell was I supposed to trust the little fucker? Shit, he was drunk too.
Ok, so…Fright Night. Directed by Lars and the Real Girl helmer Craig Gillespie, the film is intended as a somewhat faithful remake of the beloved vampire hit. Along with Tennant, this new version stars Anton Yelchin as Charley, Colin Farrell as vampire neighbor Jerry, Toni Collette as Charley’s mother Jane, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as “Evil Ed”, Imogen Poots as Charley’s girlfriend Amy, and last but not least, Lisa Loeb as Ed’s mother, who I’m now 100% convinced is never going to go away.
Next morning, bright and early. Only slightly hung over, I head down to meet the others in the tastefully-furnished downstairs lobby. We are soon met by producer Alison Rosenzweig, a guardedly blonde middle-aged woman whose last major credit was the 2002 insta-classic Windtalkers, starring Nicolas Cage as our white guide into the world of WWII Navajo “codetalkers”. Sort of like Saving Private Ryan, except that movie had Tom Hanks in the Cage role, and there were no Navajo. And it was good.
Along with her partner Michael Gaeta, Rosenzweig quickly snapped up the remake rights to Fright Night when the option expired at Sony, which had apparently intended on taking a tonally different approach to the story than the original film had.
“I cannot speak categorically because I wasn’t at Sony, I wasn’t the producer there on this – but my impression from what the rights holders have told me [was] they were developing it as a straight horror,” Rosenzweig began. “You know, very much a serious, straight sort of slasher horror. That was never what we had intended. I mean, we – again – loved the original, [which we] always thought of [as] sort of a horror-comedy. …So we definitely wanted to pay homage to the original. And I think we do that. We definitely keep scenes the same, and I think the intent is the same, just we’re going to get the opportunity to use all these new technologies that we all have access to now to enhance all of that.”
By new technologies, Rosenzweig is of course referring not only to the huge advancements in CGI since the mid-’80s but also advancements in 3D filmmaking, which were utilized in service of piggybacking on the current 3D trend, or, as the phenomenon is regularly coined by Hollywood producers, engaging in a purely-creative-and-not-at-all-driven-by-profits “artistic exercise”.
“It was Steven Spielberg’s idea,” said Rosenzweig of the decision to shoot in 3D. “I think it’s a great idea. We’re shooting it in 3D [as opposed to post-converting]. So I think hopefully it’s going to be better than what the audience has perhaps come to expect. Everything’s looking incredible, and I think it’s going to give it that sense of `you’re there’ and immediacy that’s hopefully going to make it a really visceral ride for everybody.”
Sort of like ‘Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience’?, I found myself wondering, though I was too embarrassed to pose the question aloud.
Ok, here’s a more socially-appropriate one: [insert obligatory ‘Twilight’ question]?
“It’s definitely the anti-`Twilight’,” she said confidently. “I mean, Jerry the vampire is…certainly sexy, but he’s not…anybody’s romantic ideal. You know, he’s a violent predator. So…also, the fact that it’s a horror-comedy. Again…it’s not `Twilight’. It’s a scary, very frightening movie that happens to also be funny, I think.”
That’s not to say that it won’t be edgy, and youthful, and fresh and…wait, am I missing any pandering adjectives here? Several, you say? Ok, good. Use them to describe the Peter Vincent character, if you don’t mind.
“I mean, we’ve definitely been aware that it needed to be MODERNIZED, so I think that this [iteration of the] Peter Vincent character makes it feel more MODERN and much more youthful,” said Rosenzweig. “I loved Roddy in the original, but there was definitely sort old-fashioned kind of feeling to his character. So I think all the characters, we’re just trying to make them, in terms of the Anton character, RELATABLE and sort of CURRENT.”
Ah…”current”, and “relatable”, and also “modern”. Are there any boxes left to be checked, producer lady? How about “irresistible”?
“I mean, I think we’re doing a decent amount of both,” she answered, in response to a question about how much of the film’s effects will be practical and how much will be CGI. “But you know, again, please forgive me for repeating myself – why not exploit the amazing technology that we have right now? And that’s sort of…IRRESISTIBLE.”
Next up we spoke with screenwriter Marti Noxon, all smiley and glowy and YOUTHFUL, her peaches-and-cream skin freshly-scrubbed from what I can only assume was the “Rock N Roll Facial” she’d received just minutes before our interview. Best known for her work as a co-writer/executive producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Noxon had her first feature-length screenplay produced by a major studio last year with the Alex Pettyfer ego-booster I Am Number Four. She was brought on to Fright Night due to her work on the former title, however, which similarly balanced the sort of horror and the comedy that was needed to fulfill Dreamworks’ vision for the project.
“I felt like there were a lot of seeds in the original movie that hadn’t been fully exploited,” said Noxon in reference to the character relationships. “The great thing about Dreamworks was that they were really committed to making a movie with a real first act. …And I feel like because of that decision, that’s why we’ve drawn like Craig Gillespie and Colin and Anton and Toni and all these amazing actors, because we wrote a character movie that also happens to be really scary.”
The decision to make this incarnation of Peter Vincent a cheesy big-ticket magician (with a vampire-themed stage show, no less) resulted both from Noxon’s feeling that a late-night TV host would come off too dated in a modern setting (probably true) and most of all from her original idea to set the whole thing in Vegas – a place where a monster like Jerry could easily blend in with the voracious hordes of gamblers, prostitutes, alcoholics, frat boys and drug dealers clogging the porn-paved Strip.
“I was really inspired by the idea that Penn & Teller have this amazing supernatural collection,” she said. “[And I was thinking] it has to be set in Vegas, specifically because I have been thinking about that for a long time, having spent some time there during the election…I was like, where better for a demon to hide out than in Vegas? Like, it’s a transient population, people sleep all day and party all night and nobody would notice if people just went missing, you know? So, I’d already been thinking about Vegas and it was a natural. … [And] I knew about the Penn & Teller museum basically and I was like, ok, we gotta [do something like that]… but they can’t be cynics like Penn & Teller. They have to be somebody who actually might believe.”
Although the setting was changed for the remake, however, Noxon still felt it was important to insert homages to the original film while still taking care to play with audience expectations. In other words, while it certainly won’t follow the exact template of its predecessor, this also won’t be an “in-name-only” remake like the soulless modern-day Screen Gems version of Prom Night.
“With this movie, there were some classic sequences that we knew we wanted to…reinvent, but reference for sure,” she said. “There are a couple of…key moments in the film that I wanted to [reference]. …There’s one moment in particular where I think that if you know the original movie, you know what’s gonna happen and [then] it doesn’t happen.”
Having been a major creative force on Buffy for its last few seasons, Noxon’s involvement also can’t help but beg the question: are the characters in this new Fright Night going to talk in the cleverer-than-thou, irony-drenched manner that SMG and company did in that landmark Joss Whedon series?
“It’s not nearly as stylized,” she assured us. “It’s funny, I went back recently and watched some ‘Buffy’ because I was doing some lecturing and I was like, ‘wooow!’ We were giving ‘The Gilmore Girls’ a run for their money. And what’s so funny is that I was so critical of other people’s highly stylized dialogue because it’s so unreal. …The goal in this one was I think to more create a language for the teenagers that felt authentic. [But] they’re more clever than I am for sure.”
This toned-down approach, according to Noxon, was also used when approaching the characters’ sense of pop-cultural self-awareness regarding the specifics of vampire lore.
“You know it’s interesting, I feel like I’ve come to a place where I feel like these movies, because audiences are so sophisticated, you almost try to keep all that to a total minimum,” she said. “Like, don’t drag the story down with a lot of… it depends what kind of movie it is, but in this one in particular, it’s like let’s just get to it. Like, we all know what vampires are, we all know what the rules are, we over-know it, you know what I mean? And the rules are so malleable now, with ‘True Blood’ and ‘Twilight’, there’s a million different things you can be doing.”
It was around this time that I and the other journos were shepherded over to the Hard Rock nightclub inside the hotel – dubbed “505 Fusion” – and grouped around a single TV monitor just outside to watch the current scene playing out in real time. Essentially a tip of the hat to the nightclub sequence in the original film, the shot being filmed at the moment was one in which Jerry hangs above a sea of partying clubgoers, his chiseled face descending into frame in close-up as he surveys the crowd, searching for Charley and Amy in the red-lit landscape of gyrating bodies below. Quite an eye-catching visual, I have to admit, even in 2D (though I viewed it both with and without the 3D glasses being passed around).
After a few minutes of standing shoulder to shoulder on a narrow strip of floor in front of the monitor, we were then led to a conference room down the hall to speak with super-producer Michael De Luca, whose most recent genre releases include Ghost Rider, Priest, and the very expensive Nicolas Cage flop Drive Angry 3D from earlier this year. One of the first questions asked was what percentage of the remake is made up of new material, and what percentage was copped from the original film.
“25% from original, 75% new,” answered De Luca without hesitation. “And most of [the stuff taken from the] original has to do with the premise obviously, and certain scenes are straight up homages that are in the movie. But, I’d say it’s like that kind of ratio.”
As for Gillespie coming on board, his involvement appears to have sprung from a fortuitous accidental run-in he had with Stacey Snider in the Dreamworks lobby, right around the time the studio had begun to cast around for the right directorial take.
“I think he asked Stacey Snider ‘what do you have that you’re excited about?'” recalled De Luca. “And they started talking about the [‘Fright Night’] script. And then I had a subsequent conversation with him. He was, for whatever reason of his own, was coming off a period in his career where he really wanted to explore darker material. He was very influenced and kind of affected by ‘No Country For Old Men’ and was talking about this kind of pallet and this kind of lighting, and this kind of story content. He was just kind of up for something dark or darker. And…he thought the script was really good.”
But seriously though, why in god’s name is this movie in 3D? Level with us, Mike.
“We thought what could be neat with a horror film in 3D is that you’re kind of in the frame with the people onscreen, whether you’re tracking down a hallway, even though you’re moving, you’re still,” he said. “You’re not like cutting, cutting, cutting [like you would with an action film]. You have a chance for the 3D to really plant you in the scene. And in horror movies it’s all about dread and anticipation, so if you’re in that corridor on a Steadicam shot as you’re moving down the hallway, you really feel like you’re floating into the movie because of 3D, so when you finally get the ‘boo’ pop-out scare, you’re kind of like, we think it can be that much more effective because the 3D plants you in the scene. So we thought 3D might be oddly really well suited for a traditional horror film.”
Coming from the mouth of De Luca – a man unquestionably born to be a Hollywood producer, with a “casual-slick” demeanor that never comes off as “snake oil-y” – it was an explanation that sounded oddly rational. Of course, the truth is that had 3D never caught on commercially, Dreamworks clearly wouldn’t have considered using the format in the first place, especially not for a straight-ahead vampire movie.
The sort of artistic justification voiced by De Luca in the above paragraph is merely a way for producers to sell audiences on 3D’s “necessity” without making it seem like a shameless money grab. Which, of course, it is. More and more, thank god, moviegoers are beginning to understand that, and lately they’ve been voting with their wallets – thought to be fair, the third Transformers film was unquestionably a blockbuster and had a 60/40 ratio of 3D/2D tickets sold opening weekend. But the impressive numbers posted by the Michael Bay threequel are somewhat of an anomaly as of late, and, particularly after Drive Angry crashed and burned so badly at the box-office, you can be damn sure De Luca is sweating more than a few bullets over this one.
“I’ve read all those articles [about the death of 3D]. Because ‘Priest’, you know this movie I did at Screen Gems, is a conversion, and I read all these articles about how the sky is falling on 3D, there’s been too many crappy ones and the audience is dwindling per screen, like return on the investment and all,” he said, commenting on the idea that demand for 3D movies might dwindle by the time Fright Night hits theaters. “But I keep thinking there are so many crappy movies every year and people still go to the movies…like if it’s good…I keep thinking if it’s good, whether it’s 3D or 2D, it’ll get an audience. And if it’s bad, you know, good 3D won’t save a bad movie and vise-versa. But maybe that’s naïve. I hope not.”
Outside of its technical aspects, of course, there’s certainly no denying that Fright Night boasts a solid cast, with heavyweights like Farrell and Collette sharing the screen with promising up-and-comers like Yelchin and Poots. In Yelchin’s case, De Luca felt the young actor possessed just the right qualities needed to portray a high-school senior going through a very fraught transition from child to adult.
“Boy trying to make that transition to man with first true love and son of a single parent household, with the mother being the parent…there’s a protectiveness where he feels like he’s father, husband, boyfriend…it’s a very complex transition in adolescence to bear all that responsibility,” said De Luca. “And right when he’s about to fulfill his promise as he’s come out of his shell, like he’s entering senior year of high-school, he’s got his first love, he’s cutting cords with the mom – this alpha male moves in next door, much more confident, older, and starts putting the moves on his life…even forgetting the vampire element, like there’s a lot of psychological fanatic stuff to play with there and we tried to jack it up to that level.
“And following that,” he continued, “we wanted a cast that you just know when you hear who they are or see their performances that we’re treating the premise seriously and mining that premise for scares and appropriate humor. And Anton Yelchin is such a great actor and seemed to have gone through a similar transition just in terms of watching his movies, from boy roles to man-boy roles, to heroic man roles. He seemed to fit right into our ambition for Charlie.”
As for the rest of the cast:
“Colin…[is] someone with movie-star charisma who’s got incredible acting chops and it seemed to be an easy call to think that he could give us a vampire that would distinguish itself from ”True Blood’ and ‘Twilight’,” said De Luca. “An actor of his weight to play this version of Jerry Dandridge. It seemed like the right way to go. And Imogen just blew us away with her audition and she’s got such a fresh face, and again, is a really good actress and could deal with the humor. …[As for] Christopher Mintz-Plasse, the first Evil Ed is so iconoclastic that I thought we needed someone with almost their own brand of performance to plant [their] flag on that character, and he brings that.”
Though Mintz-Plasse, along with Tennant and Collette, wasn’t on set the day we visited, a surprisingly warm and friendly Farrell briefly stopped by our group in between takes to give us the rundown on his more vicious interpretation of murderous vamp-next-door Jerry Dandridge.
“The character’s design in this is the less romantic rendering of the vampire,” Farrell said. “In this one he’s more territorial. He’s more just a…he’s kind of got a large appetite really. He’s just, as I say to Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s character in the film, he’s not romantic. He’s not Edward Cullen, he’s not Dracula. He says he’s Jaws, he’s just fucking Jaws. He eats, he eats, then he moves on.”
Nevertheless, Farrell told us that at points he felt tempted to change up the modus operandi of the rather single-minded character he was presented with on the page to make him a tad more three-dimensional. Though that doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement of Noxon’s screenplay, from the way Jerry was described throughout the day by various members of the cast and crew, it seems less a deficiency in the script than a conscious effort to portray Jerry as just a hair more predator than man.
“There was the whole preset [in the original film] between Amy and Jerry where the first time they met…he walks by everyone, kisses her hand, bends down and says ‘Charmed.'”, said Farrell. “And that continues through the rest of the film where he’s looking at the paintings and says to his dude ‘You know, she looks just like her.’ Then he says to her when they’re back at his place ‘She was someone I knew a long time ago.’ And so this whole relationship is built up, which isn’t designed in this film. So I kind of had to get my own fucking head around ‘Oh just let it go.’ I’m like ‘Maybe if we do this…’ [Laughs] But it’s actually not within the structure of the narrative.”
A self-described aficionado of the original Fright Night, at one point Farrell echoed the thoughts of many moviegoers, no doubt, when he described his annoyance at hearing the film was being remade. Until he read the script, that is.
“When I heard they were making [the] film I was like ‘Fucking Hollywood, impressively lacking originality once more’,” he said. “And then I read it and I was hoping I wouldn’t like it but motherfucker! Oh no! …It read as the original, but obviously it’ll be completely contemporized, a new perspective on the story. But in essence, as a read it was [nearly as] fun…as the [original] film was to view for me, so I just jumped at the chance.”
Though Farrell ultimately admitted the movie may not turn out exactly the way he’d like it to – “I don’t know what the film’s [going to be] like. Maybe I won’t fucking like it, who knows” – he seemed convinced that at the very least the creative intention behind the project was noble: “It’s not…[a] thirty, forty, whatever it costs million dollar exercise in nostalgia,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s made for a new audience.”
Just as soon as Farrell’s sexy ass had left us we were quickly introduced to the incomparably-named Imogen Poots, a dewy-eyed young actress who genre fans know best from Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s excellent 2007 outbreak sequel 28 Weeks Later. Unlike Amanda Bearse, who originated the Amy role and frankly could’ve passed for Charley’s teacher more easily than his high-school girlfriend, Poots thankfully looks like an actual teenager, which in my mind can’t help but present an improvement in at least one area. The petite actress went on to describe her version of the character as less passive than in the ’85 original.
“Charlie and Amy are still going through the same adventure,” she said. “But I’ve made it different in the sense that I’ve made it my own. I think that’s what is important when you’re embarking on a remake, to find something new and original. To sum up the characterization, I think my Amy is quite strong. I’m not saying that the other one is weaker in any way, but she’s definitely got a strength. Which means that she’s able to be on par with Charlie in dealing with Jerry and the vampire situation.”
Part of updating the character was also in “modernizing” the dynamic between Amy and Charley, the latter of whom was the sexually aggressive one in the original film. This time around, Poots’ Amy is the one making all the moves, and, as with Charley in the ’85 film, getting nowhere right quick.
“There’s a sexual tension, probably mainly from Amy’s point of view,” she told us. “I think there’s a running gag where she’s constantly trying to get him to deliver ‘the goods’ and he doesn’t because he’s always [focused on the] vampire. So that’s kind of funny. I guess maybe they’re unusual because they’re always dealing with running away from vampires and very suspicious situations. So there’s not much time to mess around.”
The British Poots, who will speak with an American accent for the role (“I’m trying to be an all American girl, which is really fun”, she remarked), also talked a bit about Amy’s transition from human to vampire after being bitten by Jerry rather late in the film (a plot point taken from the original). With some relief from the assembled group of journos, the starlet indicated that she spent quite a bit of time in the makeup chair to complete the transformation.
“It’s a big make up experience,” she said. “I’ll just say ‘chin’. That all I’ll say. I’ve never experienced so much ‘experience’ on my chin before. …That’s another fun thing. There’s that little transition and that’s a really wonderful thing as an actor, to then play a part within a part.”
Speaking of special effects, around this time we took a little jaunt over to the makeup trailer – located across a wide swath of sun-baked parking lot – to have a look at what makeup effects supervisor Howard Berger and his team had cooking. Clearly, following up the distinctive and very impressive vampire effects from the original film (created by two-time Oscar winner Richard Edlund) would be no easy task, and I was interested to see how they planned on tackling the challenge.
Judging from the rows of vampire molds lining the walls of Berger & co.’s trailer, my first impression was that they weren’t going to be reinventing the wheel. Indeed, the designs appeared to roughly follow the parameters of the original film – particularly with regard to the “Amy vampire”, which sported the same jagged, impossibly toothy grin that Bearse’s character did over 25 years ago.
“[For] Imogen, who plays Amy, Mike De Luca wanted it to be very faithful to the original Amy makeup, the big ‘Dr. Sardonicus’ thing,” said Berger, part-owner of KNB effects group along with Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman. “So we’ve got a new concept using that original thought process and concept.”
Berger, a big fan of the original film who personally called up Dreamworks when he found out they were remaking it to stress his interest, admitted he was initially disappointed when some of the executives at the studio – clearly not fans of the ’85 version – curiously remarked that they didn’t envision the film as “a big makeup movie.”
‘[It was] more like, you know, ‘maybe we’ll do lenses and fangs and pale them down’,” recalled Berger. “And I said, ‘I don’t think that’s a Fright Night movie, but OK, we’ll entertain that thought for a minute.'”
It was at this point that De Luca, god love him, stepped in and insisted they had no idea what they were talking about (my words). According to Berger, the producer was vocal about adhering to the makeup effects-heavy sensibilities of the original.
“He said, ‘no, there’s tons of makeup and monsters in this movie’,” said Berger. “Thank goodness!”
That was around the time Gillespie came on board the project, with the director personally choosing which of KNB’s design concepts made it into the final film – though obviously with Dreamworks’ (aka Spielberg’s) stamp of approval.
“So behind you are five of the concepts that we had done for Colin,” said Berger, indicating a group of “vampire Jerry” molds set along one side of the trailer. “That’s pretty faithful to what we ended up with. Once we got hold of Colin’s cast we knew what direction we wanted to go in, and so the big things were: we wanted to start subtle, and build and build and build on that until we got into a full-scale creature, which is that fifth stage with the big crazy ears and veins and all that stuff.
“What’s neat about Craig’s concept,” he continued, “was that it wasn’t just ‘he becomes a creature and wanders around the streets’ and has that goofy awkward ‘big monster roaming around giving dialogue’ approach, which never ever works. Craig’s thought was that it was all adrenaline-based. Jerry flares up, [and] it’s an anger and adrenaline that forces him into these different stages. And it comes on real quick.”
Farrell himself – perhaps directing the energy he wasn’t able to devote to fleshing out the id-drenched version of Jerry he was presented with on the page – also (along with Gillespie) exerted his influence over the creature design during production, resulting in a slight throwing-off of the carefully-prepared schedule Berger and his team had laid out prior to the start of principal photography.
“It was originally very planned out; we were very meticulous about what the stages were in which scenes,” said Berger, who ultimately seemed more amused than annoyed at Farrell and Gillespie’s intrusion. “And then once we’d get to set it would be ‘maybe this should be stage one. No, let’s do stage point-5’. And then Colin might say, ‘I think I want to wear fingernails in this scene. Maybe the stage four teeth and the stage one eyes.’ And I’m thinking, ‘well, now there are a thousand stages, but okay.’ So we’d bring everything to set with us so we were prepared for Craig and Colin’s spontaneity.”
Perhaps the most beloved character from the original film is “Evil Ed”, originated by Stephen Geoffreys and here portrayed by Superbad actor Mintz-Plasse, a seemingly perfect fit for the part who was reportedly quite the ad-libber during shooting.
“This is an early concept design on Chris [Mintz-Plasse],” Berger said, indicating a row of three molds representing each of Evil Ed’s transformation stages. “We wanted to add eyebrows, to pull it closer to Chris. That’s the big thing about all these makeups; even though they get broad at some point, we always want to maintain the essence of the actor, be it Colin or Christopher or Imogen. It’s really, really important.”
What was also important was making sure they didn’t skimp on the blood flow where necessary, something Gillespie wasn’t exactly comfortable with at the outset.
“We keep trying to pump up the bloodage on this movie, too,” said Berger. “It’s the first film where Craig has ever had blood on set. So the first blood gag we did…[I] said, ‘I think there needs to be more’, and [Craig] was saying, ‘it’s too much, it’s too much!’ And now he’s kind of getting into the ‘blood’ of it all and we’re able to do bigger. We did a gag a couple weeks ago where we brought out the big fire extinguisher full of blood and charged it up to about 100psi, put five gallons of blood in there, and we used it all up. There was blood everywhere, blood up Colin’s nose, in everything. This is what we’re talking about!
“So whenever blood comes up”, he continued, “[Key makeup artist] Douglas [Noe] always says ‘go big or go home.’ Craig will say he just wants a trickle of blood and… I don’t think that’s possible! We did a blood gag the other day on the Doris character [played by Emily Montague], tons of blood! Craig’s like, ‘It’s a little bloody! Maybe just a trickle?’ And we just… we kinda made a trickle, but everybody was still pretty covered in blood.”
That said: “There are very few gags, meaning we don’t have a lot of people getting ripped to shreds, chopped up, body parts and blood spraying,” Berger noted. “There is enough of that to make the audience happy, and little enough to make me happy that I’m not getting drenched in blood every day.”
Though Berger seemed hopeful that all the hard work and care he and his team put into the practicals wouldn’t be overrun with CGI in the final film, his optimism was also tinged with an unmistakable note of “been-there-done-that” resignation. Having worked in the business for as long as he has, he was nothing if not realistic about the fact that ultimately there’s no escaping the specter of digital augmentation on a major studio film.
“We’re trying to also do very little digital on this movie,” he said. “I think there are only 100 digital shots. That’s unheard of. That number will probably grow, as we all know, but right now we’re trying to do everything as practical as possible, or do a mix. For instance, on Amy, it will be a mix. You can see a design for Amy right there, that big mouth, it’s a full appliance piece -everything on the show is silicone appliances – and her whole interior mouth will be digital. It won’t be like the original film where there was kind of teeth glued to the outside of her face.”
Back at the hotel a few minutes later, our group was led into the fashionable interior of 505 Fusion, the Hard Rock nightclub that was serving as the trendy Vegas party dungeon into which Jerry chases Charley and Amy late in the film.
Plopping down onto bar stools and in serious need of a stiff drink to liven our tired spirits, the dozen or so of us congregated in the outer area of the bar as we watched several dozen dressed-to-the-nines extras moving to the beat of some thumping techno song on the red-hued dance floor, two scantily-clad go-go girls swiveling their bony hips on pedestals to either side. On one wall, the resident “DJ” stood spinning behind a turntable and – take after take after take after take – boomed the words “t-shirt time!” out over a microphone before tossing several folded-up t-shirts into the ocean of flailing arms before him.
3D flying t-shirt moment? You’ll have to watch the finished film to find out the exciting answer to that particular question, I’m afraid. I certainly won’t be the one to spoil the surprise.
Following what I can only assume was close to three-and-a-half hours’ worth of t-shirt time (or at least it felt that way), the production shifted to a bit in which a line of clubgoers is flung aside by Farrell’s character, advancing on the fleeing forms of his two intended victims. However, given that the large crane-set 3D camera was pointed in the direction of the mirrored ceiling – and since, as we all know, vampires cast no reflections – Farrell wasn’t needed to actually do the shoving; rather, the extras were instructed to pretend as if they were being rudely jostled by an angry A-list actor. Wouldn’t have been a hard thing for me to envision, but then I live in L.A.
As I watched this gag play out on the monitor just outside the entrance to the dance floor, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the old-school inventiveness of the shot. If the rest of the film looks this good, I thought to myself, this might not totally suck.
A short time later, and with the needed shots presumably in the can, Gillespie and Yelchin made their way over to our tight-knit little group to grant us a brief interview. As if ready to break into a round of journalist-alienating inside jokes at a moment’s notice, both men seemed on the cusp of a laugh throughout: What a bunch of basement-dwelling losers, I imagined them thinking, perhaps communicating it to each other via some psychic link shared only by the successful and/or marginally-famous. But no matter; just my paranoid imagination working overtime again. So where exactly did the concept for that nifty mirror shot come from, anyway?
“Actually, I got the idea for this from that U2 3D [film],” said Gillespie. “It was awesome, with all these crane shots going over a crowd. …Also the 3D camera weighs about 85 pounds, so the crane kinda helps. We have a Steadicam, but the Steadicam operator gets pretty damn tired lugging that thing around. It’s usually 28 pounds [just] for the camera. For 3D it’s always nice to have the camera moving and the background always changing so we do have the camera moving all the time. [To Anton] What do you think about that crane idea? [Laughs]”
“Aaah, we’ll talk about it later,” Yelchin smirked.
“He’s being nice,” said Gillespie. “He wanted [camera] lock-offs.”
“No it’s fine, I’ve gotten used to it,” Yelchin replied.
“He never knows where the eyeline is,” Gillespie said.
Hmm…do I sense a little on-set tension? A spate of unrepentant diva behavior on the part of sweet baby-faced Yelchin? Man, would I have paid to see that.
“It’s a very legitimate vampire story in the sense that the vampires are actually dangerous,” said Yelchin on what attracted him to the project and stuff. “They play the monster role as opposed to whatever it’s been recently. It’s a legitimate, frightening, destructive ,chaotic being that just wants to fucking kill everything… which is great! It sounds good to me! It’s something I’d want to see. I just think it’s a legitimate way to portray a monster. I mean look, you know, they’re monsters, that’s the point, they kill things. Also I think it’s interesting that Jerry, in addition to being destructive, sexually preys. In the original especially, but this one as well. It’s not like he just destroys. There’s a complexity to the way he preys on people, which I thought was really cool.”
Gillespie also claimed that in this version Charley has been painted with a rather more three-dimensional brush than in the original (no pun intended), with Noxon giving the character a more easily-identified arc from naïve beginning to brutal, vampire-slaying end.
“Charley makes mistakes throughout the movie which he then pays for, which is a whole subplot going on that really invests you in those characters because you can relate to them,” said Gillespie, referring in particular to Charley’s shunning of best friend Ed after scoring Amy, the popular sex kitten of his dreams. “That’s part of what he has to do, is come back over the bad choices he’s made throughout the film and sort of rectify those choices, and part of that is coming up against the vampires.”
“I think if you look at the vampires very simply as ‘Death’, then that is what makes him realize what he values and what the people around him really mean to him when it all gets threatened,” offered Yelchin. “Basically the vampires just destroy his reality. I think there’s more of that [in this movie]. In the [original] there’s less of an arc to Charlie…he just freaks out then continues to freak out until he defeats Jerry. Whereas here it’s just what Craig says: he really goes on a journey to become a person that is able to actually fight vampires.”
Gillespie also mentioned, interestingly, that the specific balance of horror and comedy he’s going for in the film is something that hasn’t been seen much since the 1980s, when movies like The Howling, Re-Animator, and the original Fright Night took the world of genre filmmaking by storm with their cheekily dark and off-center comic sensibilities.
“The horror part of this wasn’t the tricky part for me, the tone of this is the hardest part,” he said. “We’ve got some scenes that are just classic horror and I think they work great, but there is that balance that we’re trying to get, which I guess is from the ’80s where they try to mix comedy and drama and the thriller aspect like ‘American Werewolf in London’ and being able to make that change and do that shift. Being able to go to these scary moments and be invested in that, but then still being able to have levity at times and then [have] some really emotional moments, that was the tricky part. It’s not just one genre. It’s hard to find modern day examples of that.”
Perhaps realizing that the demand for self-aware horror has diminished significantly since its pinnacle in the ’80s and particularly the mid-’90s, Gillespie also voiced his aversion to focusing too intently on moments in the film in which the tropes of vampire lore are highlighted – as in the ceiling-mirror bit, for example.
“Honestly I try to keep [those moments] as part of the storytelling and not try to make [them] a big event,” he told us. “There’s actually only two shots where [Jerry] deals with the mirror. It’s actually been harder trying to keep him out of reflections…where we’ll see him [and say] like ‘uh oh, we see him in the car window’ or ‘we see him in a window in the background.’ There will be a couple of other moments [like that] but really we just keep it part of the storytelling. …Amy will see herself in the mirror and it will be very brief, but I just try not to make a big moment out of it, [but instead] just stay with the characters all the time.”
As Gillespie left us to take care of business on set, we were granted a few more precious moments with Yelchin, who stuck around to answer such out-of-left-field questions as, “Why do you think the vampire genre is so popular right now?”
“I… hum… something to do with Mormons I guess,” he grinned, in joking reference to Twilight author Stephenie Meyer (oh, Anty!). “I don’t know what the socio-political-economic relevance of the vampire is to modern day culture aside from the current phenomenon that’s going on, but I think that this film [is] a great traditional vampire genre film.”
And then he was gone, leaving the rest of us to ponder what he meant, exactly, by the term “traditional vampire film”. Was he referring to Lugosi’s Dracula, perhaps? Schreck’s Nosferatu? Tom Cruise’s Lestat? (Ok, maybe not that last one.) Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t really matter what Yelchin meant; what matters is whether the finished film is even any good. And if you’re reading this, that means you’ve got less than three weeks left to find out.
P.S. As an added bonus to my overlong set report, I now bring you the following genius Tumblr creation: http://fuckmeantonyelchin.tumblr.com/. I can only assume it was created by some desperately horny MILF, probably one living somewhere in Albuquerque.