|From the magazine Fangoria
Written by: Lisa Maccarillo
Titled: Oh My Goth! Real-life creatures of the night are the focus of the indie chiller "Hollywood Vampyr."
It's a blindingly bright fall day on the outskirts of Burbank, CA, but midnight inside a nonedescript brick structure at the corer of Burbank and Orchard. Lit only by tea candles and indirect theater lamps hidden away in the corners, the interior of the place has been transformed into an empty creepy nightclub whose only inhabitant is a pretty teenage girl sitting at a table while a vampire prepars to "bleed" her. No, this isn't a typical afternoon at the Burbank Moos Lodge--it's on the final days of shooting on Hollywood Vampyr.
This is ground zero in the world of independant horror, where a good idea and a digital camera can level the filmmaking playing field. Bedugeted at "more than a dollar, less than 3 million," Hollywood Vampyr is a labor of love for writer/producer Joel Eisenberg and director/producer Steven K. Akashoshi, the latter of well-respected TV and film actor fresh from his first short film, At Face Value, which qualified for 2001 Academy Award consideration. "We wanted to accept the challenge of going into this digital video wave at it's start," says Akashoshi. "It's a swell that's beginning and it's going to tidal wave eventually with hi-def. This movie is all about the story and not about special effects. We wanted to do it at a budget where if we accomplish what we set out to do, number one, we're amazed; number two, I think the industry will be amazed. You can go out and shoot with a Polaroid camera and still have an effective story."
Hollywood Vampyr unfolds in the underground Goth scene where, in the night, a weekend "tourist" can disappear amoung the real vamps for whom dark, atmospheric clubs and bloodsucking are a way of life--or death. Eisenberg, who submerged himself in the scene to reasearch the film, describes Hollywood Vampyr as "the first real vampire story."
"There are things in the Gothic world that stand out," adds Akashoshi. "There is a lot of blood. You'll see plent of it." The film focuses on a young woman named Fatal (Nora Zimmett), a former heroin addict "with a real colored past," says Eisenberg. "Her parents disowned her; they had drug problems of their own; she had to stay here in the States and create a life for herself. Because of things she's dealt with in her past, she has had a hard time coping with real adult figures to latch onto. She became inspired by the darkness, and she became a vampire. This story is her struggle, trying to get out of that lifestyle. After a certain point, she sees that there are deaths invovled--vampire murders, vampire suicides. These things are based on real life. But she finds that she has basically been overcome her demons. She's not accepted; she's more of a freak now in trying to make herself something she is not."
Complicating Fatal's journey is her college turor, Tom (Jeff Marchelletta), who is struggling with his own identity and finds the world Fatal is trying to leave behind increasingly suductive. "I went on-line and typed in the 'Gothic culture,' " says Marchelletta, who recently starred as Ken Bianchi in The Hillside Strangler Murders. "Thousands of things popped up. I found myself sitting at the computer for hours in vampire chat rooms and I thought, 'That's weird, because that's what Tom is doing.' Tom is becomeing fascinated by it, because he's intrigued by Fatal. I had no idea there was that much. It was cool and intriguing.
Aslo standing in Fatal's way, is the enigatmic Blood, played by Trevor Goddard, with whom she shares an intimate bond. Goddard, perhaps best-known for his role in Navy Lawyer Mic Brumby on Jag, once again plays the heavy, following nasty turns as a gung-ho private who meets an ugly fate in Deep Rising and the dreaded Kano in Mortal Kombat. "Blood is the leader of an underground Gothic club," Goddard says. "He's a very, very powerful character in the sense that he influences people and draws them into his web. People who are homeless, haven't got direction in life, drop of school and do drugs will come to him, and he'll take them under his wing and make them believe in what he believes."
Put together financing, like countless other filmmakers, Akashoshi and Eisenberg "did what ever we could--favors, everything else--to make this movie," says Eisenberg, who is fresh off the Pittsburgh location on his last film, Out of the Black, starring Sally Kirkland and Dee Wallace. "Steve and I formed a production company, Silver Sky Pictures, and we brought abord a third partner, the exectutive producer of the project, Rick Duvall. He was instumental in helping to get this thing financed where we were able to do what we wanted."
But they also had a stroke of luck: Muse Watson, who played the murderous fisherman in the I Know What You Did Last Summer films and has also appeared in If I Die Before I Wake, From Dusk Till Dawn 2, and this summer's drama Songcatcher, was a neighbor of Akashoshi's. He would up cast in the role of Professor Fulton, who is extremely skeptical of the vampire idelology. "We alsways thought that one day we'd work together, but we didn't know exactly what or how, " says Watson, a strapping coyboy type with a charming drawl. "A lof of times when you want work with somebody, it's up to a whole bunch of other people, so when we got all those other people together, we made it work."
The filmmakers also soon learned that Goddard interested in playing the films darkest presence. "Trevor was a very happy accident," Eisenberg says. "We had a submission from his manager, but we had somebody else we were interested in for that particular role. But after his audition, Steve said, 'You've got to meet his guy.' Trevor came back down to the office. I just wanted to meet him, speak to him. After hello, he was like, 'This is how I see Blood. Blood is a seducer. He seduces everybody. He seduces Tom. He seduces Fatal. I've been to these clubs. I know what these guys are like.' So, he had the part. There were no ifs, ands or buts. The guy was loaded with charisma, and he is Blood." It's hinted that both Goddard and Watson took below their standard rates out of thier love for the material.
Today the Hollywood Vampyr skeliton crew has taken over the Burgank Moose Lodge for some pickup shots, including the scene we walked in on--a young girl named Ashely is standing in for star Zimmett, it's being rigged to have her arm bled into a wine glass for a key turning point in the film. The makeup FX crew have attached a pump to an appliance on the inside of her arm to create the effect of blood "pulsing" from her vein. Ashely, like a number of the crew and film's extras, is a real-life goth.
Zimmett notes that certain revelations about the characters of Fatal and Blood bear a romantic and sexual nature. "I wrote a lot of journal entries while I was studying this character," says the stunning, raven-haired 22 yr old, "and came to the conclusing that after her parents left her and and everything else she had been through, the one who got her out of that was Blood." He took care of her. They are very, very lonely and don't know how else to express love, and came to it through a sexual sense. It was something that happened naturally, orgainically; it wasn't sex in a raunchy sense, it was a kind of sharing."
The role took Gaddard back to a time in his own life when he needed direction and a place to belong. "I just ran the streets of London; they couldn't hold me down," he remembers. "Never went to school. Ended up in reform school. Got out of there. And again ran the streets of London, got into the whole punk scene, which is very much like the Gothic scene. I was living in squats, and we were stealing and doing whatever it took to stay alive. Going to clubs all night where we could sleep, and thinking that my family. But then realizing that this wasn't my family. My real family--my mom, my dat in Australia--truely cared for me. Reading this script really brought it back. There's a better life out there. But then again, some people find a good life in this--they find their own redemption and their hopes and dreams. Out of something bad, something good blossoms."
Blood, explains Goddard, "eally believes in this whole Gothic thing that goes back centuries. Not the books and all that, but a deep belief that there is life beyond this. That vampires are real."
And, naturally, that he is one of them and will live eternally after shuffling off his mortal coil. "We met a couple when we were on shoot--some extras who really do believe in the vampire ideology that they will return after death and ought to drink blood for sustenance," notes Zimmett. She adds that modern-day vampires also believe "that sexual expression with many different partners is a good thing. It's a positive thing; it's sharing a life. And if you can do it with more people, the better. It means spreading life throughout everybody. That's their twist on it."
"It was a really interesting thing to think about, and it took me a very long tome to see it that way," Zimmett continues. "I lived with two Catholic roomates and they were like, 'This is disgusting. I can't believe you're doing this movie." And one of of them had a hard very time with it for a while. They were not actors. Once is a law student and one is a producter. It was hard for me to come to grips with it. Steve [Akashoshi] said, 'You can't look at it from Nora's perspective. You have to look at it from Fatal's.' It is a different world. And I can't just apply my value system to it."
"Death is life's only inevitability," Eisenberg adds. "It is something that a lot of them seem to worship, in a sense. They go about their lives and worship death because it's the only thing that's inevitable, and thus the one thing to look forward to. Extremist groups are people who really go all out and form cults that dwelve heavily into blood play: ths slitting of the arm, doing a blood line and drinking it."
Prior to being plucked from a casting call that drew hundreds of young actresses, Zimmett was on her way to a law or journalism carreer. Her experience with the film's subject matter amounted to having taken a survey of Gothic literature while a student at Harvard. "I came at this from a renaissance Goth point of view, which is to say the poetry of Tennyson and Keats and Colerridge," Zimmett says. "I studied that genre, and Gothic architecture, and when I started researchig this role I foud that people who call themselves Goth, who aren't part of this underworld, really do have a serioius education in that kind of history and literature, and the romance, drama and intrigue of the 18th and 19th centures. So, it really appearled to me. Instead of just thinking, 'Oh Goth--black lipstick and black nail polish,' I started going into the more academic side. People who follow this have to have an educated background, or at least an interst in the arts, in order to understand exactly what they're getting into. But personally, I have not club experience at all."
Eisenberg concurs: "These are people with a great knowledge and love for romantic culture--Old World Celtic or Eurpean. Goths, the partiers, want to go out and dress in black, and it's a fun night out--they go to school the next day. But those who do treat this as a religion, are not of the extremist cult type, are all nice, down-to-earth people."
The filmmakers are taking great care to present an accurate portrait of the Goth life style. "The challenge of trying to present this whole world was that we knew we were going to be watched by a lot of people--not in terms of the audience, but the Gothic people, modern-day vampires," notes Akashoshi. "Whenever you protray somebody's world, the people in it are the first to be offended if it's not done correctly. So we've gone to great lengths to research it. Even a number of our crew members come from the Gothic world. We heard a lot of stories from actors that auditioned, even people that we didn't cast. They told us things that enhanced our vision. 'Yeah, this is my life.' We had one actreess who told us these stories, and we were like, 'You're Fatal, in a sense.' We're trying to autenthic with what we portray, down to the costumes. We've done our best to do it right and hopefully that will come across when they see the movie."
Their efforts were not in vain. "The vampire community has fully supported this film," says Eisenberg. Three of LA's established Goth clubs--Communion, Bar Sinister and Antiquity--all provided a forum for the movie's principals to communicate with, and recruited real-life vampires as extras. "A lot of people want to get out of that [sterotype] of 'We're al loud, dark, horrible individuals,' "the producer notes. "They want to be seen in a different light. In the script, again because it deals with the extremists, there's an awful lot of dark there, but we had to try to be fair. So I had to take everything I knew, or thought I knew, throw it out the window and get to know these people as individuals, and allow these vampires who are bloodsuckers in real life to work as crew on the set. [Assistant art director] Anatol Heomke is of that culture, along with number of other people."
Hoemke not only assisted with the art department, makeup and costuming, but aslo served as an informal consultant on the movie. "Usually the people of this type of scene, the Goth scene, are very supportive of the arts in all forms," he notes. "So they're usually willing to help out. There were couple of places where we filmed that just had great atmosphere. They were very happy to us, even though this was this was a little-smal thing."
A working actor who played "Doc" Matsuda on the Emmy-winning CBS drama Tour of Duty, Akashoshi too great care with the movie's cast. "There are some things in the film that would be very offensive to the general public, even to me," he says. "Together we sat down and discussed each action of the characters take--not focusing on what they're doing, but what it is that let them up to that moment. We take that very seriously, and we're very sensative to being truthful to the characters. There's a trust factor."
"As an actor," he continues, "you'll often comprimise yourself to get the role. In this case, I wanted to build a safe place where what ever we do, we do it together and discuss it. With many of the actors that came in, Trevor included, there's a venerability, but if I took advantage of that, then I'm just anther Hollywood producter bastard. But we took time to say, 'Lets just do this together,' and that's where we've been for this whole film. Hey Trevor," he jokes, shouting at the actor, who is about to undergo a custume change. "Get me some coffee. Hurry up!"
The next scene on the schedule is a dramatic confrontation between Blood and his opposite, a peacable club owner named Anubus (Mark Irvingsen). The actors, have spent the afternoon rehearsing a tightly choreographed fight scene which ends in gunfire. A weapons expert has shown up and is handling what looks like .45 Magnum that will be use in the scene. This is the point at which the Moose Lodge becomes a closed set, and Fango emerges from the darkness of Hollywood Vampyr's world, back into the blinding warmth and light of the day.
From the outside, the place is just like building next door, and the one next to that. But be careful which door you open: One might lead to a place where bood is on the menu and it's always dark.
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