Earlier this year, Hypable visited the set of Vampire Academy for a behind the scenes look at the eagerly anticipated young adult novel-turned-movie arriving in 2014. This was our opportunity to speak to the cast and crew and find out for ourselves just how progress was going on one of our absolute favorite fandoms.
The cast were filming for a total of 8 weeks (in roughly 20 different locations), and we caught up with them on week 6 during an on-location set in the heart of London. The scenic University College London (UCL) provides the backdrop for St. Vladimir’s Academy and we were lucky enough to witness several scenes being filmed within this stunning atmosphere.
Although rarely illustrative when watching a movie for the first time, the filming process is repetitive and arduous; each scene is shot, and re-shot, and re-re-shot, then again in different camera angles. The mark of good filmmaking is attention to detail and the most striking impression we were left with after departing the set was the sheer meticulousness of every scene. The director, Mark Waters (Mean Girls), quite clearly has a very precise vision in bringing the story to life and that is to remain as loyal to Richelle Mead’s world as much as possible.
The Vampire Academy fandom is large, vibrant, enthusiastic and protective of the stories that they have taken to heart; the cast and crew seem all too aware of this and delivering a movie that above all else, is meaningful to the fandom community seems to be the overarching ambition of the team. This is an admirable endeavour and certainly left us feeling reassured.
Meeting the producers
Producers Susan Montford (Real Steel, Sheet ‘Em Up) and Don Murphy (Transformers trilogy) certainly felt spoilt by the strong mythology provided by the author Richelle. In particular, they tell us that the opportunity to tell a story that depicts strong and independent female characters in the spotlight in a typically male-driven movie genre was tantalizing. So much so that the biggest challenge came early on in subverting the scepticism of establishing another vampire story after the Twilight franchise.
Before becoming involved with the project (and therefore having not read the original books), when approached about producing the movie, Don responded with “Are you fucking crazy? That sounds awful.” It wasn’t until him and Susan read the stories did their decision change:
We read and woke up in the middle of the third one and felt: ‘This is amazing. We have to try and get involved with this…’
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This issue was encountered again and again; the title of the feature was problematic in the early days in convincing the studio to green-light the project.
However, the producers were equally concerned with casting the right individuals to play the roles of the characters in a way that the fans would respond to. Finding the right chemistry between actors was painstaking and became a common roadblock of the auditioning process. Indeed, although many applicants had impressive standalone auditions, the production team weren’t satisfied when it came to their interactions with other cast members. For example, finding someone to portray Lissa Dragomir that had good chemistry with both Rose and Dimitri was particularly challenging.
Fun fact: Lucy Fry (Lissa Dragomir) was the final person to audition for the part and was then offered the role.
Producer Deepak Nayar fondly remembers Danila Kozlovsky’s audition as Dimitri in particular and jokingly insisted on his looks alone were good enough to get him the part, and was therefore mercifully thankful when the rest of his audition was as wonderful.
The hardest role to cast was unanimously agreed to be Christian Ozera. The team were looking for someone who could come across as an outsider and a loner, but still had an air of charm and royalty to him. Eventually, Dominic Sherwood was offered the part. “You are haplessly attracted to him”, remarks Deepak.
Meeting the cast
We were particularly curious to speak to Danila Kozlovsky who is playing Dimitri Belikov; he is depicted as mysterious, intense, brooding, serious, noble and chivalrous, thus finding an actor who can portray that aura is quite a challenge.
He tells us that the character’s heart and soul is very much Russian and although Dimitri is only 24 years old, he’s aged and experienced emotionally. As an actor, he finds this character attractive to play. However, he regards the character as almost perfect and thus it was difficult to draw a certain amount of experience from past roles.
This is Danila’s first English movie so one of the challenges is certainly going to be mastering the language. In particular, he has high praise for the director Mark Waters in the direction he chooses to take while at the same time offering the cast a great deal of freedom in incorporating some improvisation into everyone’s performance. Danila tells us that first he films some takes and once he’s satisfied, the cast then have the opportunity to inject their own personal interpretations.
We later spoke to Sarah Hyland (Modern Family) who is playing Natalie Dashkov. She tells us that the filming experience is a joy (unsurprisingly), but is all too aware of the massive fan base the books already entertain and can’t help but feel nervous about the reaction of her performance.
However, she confesses to being a hardcore fan of the series prior to her involvement with it, reassures us that differences between the script and literature are minimal at best, and professes an unashamed love of fan art!
Behind the scenes, she informs us that the cast have really bonded over the filming period. So much so that they all have dinner together each night. Finally, Sarah remarks that she has to restrain herself from sharing too much information about the movie on Twitter, and instead has to reside herself to taking pictures of fruit and other inanimate objects that won’t get her into trouble nor reveal anything about the production process.
Fun fact: Sarah wanted to portray Natalie as geeky and socially awkward, so she incorporated some improvised twitches and expressions into her performance.
Finally, we grabbed a few minutes with Lucy Fry (Lissa Dragomir) in between takes; Lucy seems completely bemused by the experience and lives in permanent shock that she’s even managed to become involved with the movie.
Her auditioning process wasn’t as smooth as she would have liked. She sent in a professional tape with her regular accent originally but didn’t hear anything. However, rather than giving up, she then sent a subsequent self-tape that she made herself where she tried an English accent. Days later, she got a call back and eventually was offered the part.
Richelle has been Lucy’s biggest source of inspiration and has lambasted the author with numerous questions about her character, trying to draw as much inspiration from the books as possible. However, she does tell us that she is not a fan of wearing the green-eyed contact lenses.
Meeting the author
We always enjoy getting to chat to Richelle and this time was no different. Richelle always relishes the opportunity to speak to her fans and candidly told us about the film-making process.
Like us, she too was shocked with the overwhelming level of detail but is feeling completely at ease with the project. Her involvement with the daily development of the picture is minimal and thus there is no pressure on her to contribute. However, getting the production going was another story. Like producers Don and Susan remarked earlier, Richelle told us that it was hard getting studios and publishers interested in another vampire story and it took a long time for people to warm up to the idea. Vampire Academy was optioned (the term used when the production rights to a book are purchased by a studio) several years before the movie started to progress.
In regards to the casting, Richelle states that she’s glad that the casting team took the time to ensure proper chemistry between actors. In particular, they “nailed the chemistry between Zoey (Rose) and Lucy (Lissa).” Upon seeing such good decisions made, she tells us that giving up control over her work was a big risk, but she’s now glad she made it.
We wanted a bit more insight into her writing process and Richelle immediately stipulates that women in stories are far too passive or have been stereotyped into focusing on romance. One of the biggest points she wanted to convey within the Vampire Academy series was that her central characters (who are obviously female) ooze charisma, strength and above all else, independence.
Although the set visit was enjoyable, there is still a long way to go until the movie is completed. However, we left feeling assured that the team behind it are taking due care and attention to the fandom as a whole. It seems that using Waters’ experience with Mean Girls is becoming more pronounced with the marketing material and of the footage seen at NYCC. Whether this is to further distance the movie from the Twilight franchise by injecting a sense of attitude into the cast, or simply because Mean Girls is awesome and we all want more of it is unclear.
Nonetheless, The Vampire Academy will be released next year so stay tuned for more coverage!