Dread Central hit the set of Sony’s 30 Days of Night: Dark Days earlier this month – the film wraps principal photography today in Vancouver, Canada, under the watchful eye of co-scripter (with Steve Niles) and director Ben Ketai – and while there sat down with producer JR Young (among others) to discuss the flick (cast interviews to come).
“This is a very edgy film,” Young, who previously produced The Messengers, told Dread while intently watching a scene being played out in video village – a scene which featured a rather hysterical and bloody actress (Katharine Isabelle) pleading for her life. “Ben knows this world. I think it comes natural to him.”
Starring Kiele (A Perfect Getaway) Sanchez, Mia (De Palma’s The Black Dahlia) Kirschner, Rhys (“Entourage”) Coiro, Diora (Night of the Demons) Baird, Harold (“Lost”) Perrineau, Troy (A Marine Story) Ruptash, Jackson Berlin, John De Santis, Marco Sorian, Monique (Cabin in the Woods) Ganderton, and the previously-mentioned horror fave Katharine (Ginger Snaps, “Supernatural”) Isabelle, Dark Days appears poised according to Young to be a rather faithful adaptation of Niles’ graphic novel of the same name.
“It (the novel) was the jumping off point,” said the producer. “Having Steve aboard as the co-writer with Ben Ketai has been great because they’ve been able to forge the story already knowing that world intimately. What is also cool is that we are all fans of the first film. (Director of the original 30 Days of Night) David Slade, who’s currently up here shooting the third Twilight movie, took the vampires (in 30 Days) and really brought them into their own. How he treated their movements and look is something we all loved, so all of those elements have been translated into this film – keeping the vampires in tune with the first one and keeping the characters and story loyal to the graphic novel.”
Fans of the original film not familiar with the source material can breathe a sigh of relief, as the look of the vamps, from what this scribe witnessed, as well as their on-screen brutality, does indeed keep in step with Slade’s vision. What they may be surprised about, however, is the narrative’s departure from the first film’s frozen Alaskan climes they are accustomed to.
“What has been fun and what I think will be very different is that here we are in an urban and gritty environment, versus small town Barrow,” explained Young of the setting change to sunny Los Angeles. “The color palette of this film is different. We have yellows and amber tones due to the setting, which you didn’t see so much in the first film, so it’s drawing from all of these pre-existing things, but in its own way it’s becoming its own.”
As for the casting, “We read a lot actors out of Los Angeles, and we scored,” said Young, who, given the scene playing out, unsurprisingly first commented on the actresses before us. “For instance, when we were talking about the character of Lilith, we brought up (actress) Mia Kirshner, and when we found out that she wanted to do it, we were so psyched. We were thrilled, too, that Katharine Isabelle wanted to be a part of this.”
The producer’s outlook was warranted, as Kirschner (regardless of the flu she at the time suffered, coupled with the prosthetic dentures and scleral lenses required of her character) flickered menace upon the monitor. From what this scribe witnessed, in the end she indeed may prove a worthy successor to actor Danny Huston, whose chilling depiction of lead vamp Marlow in the original caused so many chills.
As for actress Kiele Sanchez (taking over the ‘Stella’ role previously played by Melissa George in the original 30 Days of Night), Young said, “What’s interesting is that she was actually in the mix for the role of Stella in the first film, but she was on (the television show) “Lost” at the time and wasn’t available. It came around this time, though, and she had a great audition and was able to take the role, so it was a fortuitous turn of events.”
Young seemed convinced also that the actress would have little problem filling the character’s boots with the gravitas needed of the film’s psychologically-damaged protagonist. “Ever since she got on set, it’s really great to see her step into the role,” said the producer. “When she first grabbed the gun (described as a “gnarly black shotgun” in the sides), she was a little tentative, and now she walks around cocking it like she’s ready to kill some vampires.”
Effects, too, seem to be on point with the original film. The production hired FX man Todd Masters to deliver the goods, and given the grue on hand, he did just that.
“He’s doing a lot of blood gags and prosthetic work, from the vampire teeth to heads being decapitated,” said Young, who cited Masters’ work on James Gunn’s Slither as some of his favorite cinematic splatter. “Ben (Kentai) and I keep using the term ‘organic’ in our approach to this film. It’s very much practically-driven. When you are working within a budget and you want to make it look real and cool is when you actually use prosthetics. We’ll use visual effects to enhance, but the project has been designed in such a way that those few VFX shots won’t be (recognized as such). A good example is District 9. In that film I couldn’t tell what was a VFX shot or practical, and that’s our goal with Dark Days. With this show, the smarter and better approach is to do it with prosthetic work – you’ll see that in this scene – her neck is bitten into and a chunk is taken out and it’s all prosthetic work.”
Two cameras worked in conjunction to capture the gag – a gag which echoed some of Savini’s more gut-churning work on 1985’s Day of the Dead, given the amount of flesh-pulling, tearing, and blood-spurting on display, and Young and crew seemed pleased with the result. Shooting Day 13 of 25 at the time at old foundry turned film location Terminal City in East Vancouver, Dark Days director of photography Eric Madison was shooting on a Sony F35 HD camera, which allowed for film editor Darrin (Grace) Navarro to assemble a rough-cut instantaneously, pleasing the producer.
“We have a really cool editor,” said Young. “We’re already seeing things coming together.”
As for the flick’s DP, Young effused of Madison, “We were looking for someone to make it a living, breathing film. We wanted the camera moving, and for someone to capture that gritty environment, but continue with the style of the original so that it feels like a continuation. Even with the roughest of cuts, Ben is really happy with what he is seeing, even though he is his own toughest critic. It inspires confidence.”
With post-production scheduled to be completed by April of 2010, Young admitted, “It’s been a super ambitious shoot. There’s more of an action component to this film, in that they are actually going out after the vampires – they aren’t just trying to stay alive – so by nature there is more. I’m careful in wording this, but I can compare the difference (in films) to Alien and Aliens. Those are the most incredible of films, so I use that as the golden example.”
This scribe had to know, however, whether there were plans for a cinematic incarnation of 30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow, the third in Niles’ graphic novel series, and Young didn’t disappoint, as he stated with enthusiasm, “What’s great is that with the novels, there is potential for another film. We are staying true to the end of the novel Dark Days, which has a lot to do with Return to Barrow, so the door is definitely open for more films.”
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