Dialogue: Screenwriter Daniel Waters on Why 'Vampire Academy' Is Nothing Like Those Other YA Movies

Dialogue: Screenwriter Daniel Waters on Why 'Vampire Academy' Is Nothing Like Those Other YA Movies

Aug 30, 2013

Vampire Academy PosterIt’s easy to look at the promotional campaign for the adaptation of Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy and brand the film another Twilight or just another one-note teen supernatural adventure, but screenwriter Daniel Waters is well aware of that and expects to prove those naysayers wrong come February 14, 2014.

The film’s first teaser trailer just dropped and, as it should, only scratches the surface of the narrative: best friends Rose (Zoey Deutch) and Lissa (Lucy Fry) attend St. Vladimir’s Academy, your typical high school filled with young love, parties and gossip. Oh, and vampires, too. Lissa is a Moroi, a benevolent breed of vampire whose existence is threatened by the malicious Strigoi. That’s where Rose steps in. She’s a Dhampir, half human and half vampire, and is studying to become Lissa’s guardian in order to protect her from the Strigoi.

Again, that’s only the surface. The story is loaded with curious characters, varying relationships, sass, action and a particularly unique set of world rules. The film isn’t due in theaters until Valentine’s Day of next year, but Waters took the time out of postproduction work to give us an update on the project, enlighten us on his adaptation process, and offer some thoughts on the book-to-film potential beyond Vampire Academy. Catch it all for yourself in the interview below.

Movies.com: How far along are you in the editing process?

Daniel Waters: We’re just coming on our first cut, so it’s still very early on. We’re trying to get out at Valentine’s Day so everything is a little accelerated. Things are going good, but it’s still at the first-cut stage.

Movies.com: Based on the footage you’ve seen so far, is there anything that you’re particularly excited to show fans – perhaps even in the marketing campaign?

Waters: Well, yeah. It’s tricky because I’m still recovering from the over-hysteria and overanalysis of the one-minute teaser trailer. I’m afraid to turn on my computer nowadays. [Laughs] But unfortunately for me, a lot of my favorite scenes are the scenes towards the end of the movie that you don’t want to give away in a teaser or a trailer, so it’s gonna be weird to see how we end up using that in marketing. The problem I have with marketing in general when you tie it to trailers and commercials and things, is that only the surface clichés of the vampire genre are gonna come across, when the movie, like the book, is much richer and more complex than any commercial or any trailer could be.

Zoey Deutch and Danila Kozlovsky in Vampire Academy

Movies.com: How would you describe the tone of the film? How would you compare it to, let’s say, Heathers and Mean Girls?

Waters: I gotta get my brother to stop saying the word "comedy." When I hear the words "vampire" and "comedy," I start to think, "that vampire’s a real pain in the neck! He’s not my blood type!" [Laughs] I start thinking of all these awful Saturday morning jokes. To me, it’s not a comedy, but it does have some wit to it. It’s not Heathers or Mean Girls; it’s Vampire Academy. You look at Vampire Academy and it’s got that same mixture of tone, that sometimes it’s scary, sometimes it’s intense, sometimes it’s romantic and sometimes it is genuinely amusing. There are a couple of scenes where we went for a laugh, but I think it’s not like we take you out of the movie. It’s not too goofy. Some of my movies people have accused of having way too many tones and being way too crazy, but my brother’s definitely much more the left-brain, stern taskmaster. He’ll like slap me on the face if I go too far, so if I try to make it too goofy, he’ll draw it back. I think this is what makes us different than other teen films. I’ve seen Mortal Instruments, I’ve seen the trailer for Divergent, and to me it looks like homework. It looks like, oh my God, it’s so tied into the plot that I feel like I should be taking notes. But I’d like to think Vampire Academy is a little more breezy about such things. It plays it a lot more naturally. I think that’s been our motto from the beginning, to treat the supernatural as completely natural.    

Movies.com: Can you talk about your adaptation process? Do you mark the book up a certain way, make notecards, or anything like that?

Waters: Yeah, certainly my copy of Vampire Academy is ravaged. I think I really did tear it apart. The problem is, you’ve got this huge over-300-page book, and when a movie is a bullet, it’s kind of like taking a bathtub of gunpowder and trying to pack it into a bullet. I packed as much as I could in there. There’s certainly nothing worse than going to a concert where the artist doesn’t play your favorite songs, and I can assure everyone that everybody’s favorite stuff is in there. There’s a lot of stuff I had to maybe make tighter. I’m already getting grief for accelerating Rose’s training. Yes, she gets to train with the silver stake in the first movie and she waits until the second book. I’m sorry! But then there’s little things like, yes, in the book the shopping scene comes before the ankle scene, but in my movie the ankle scene had to come before the shopping scene. It’s little things like that, but everybody should be happy that I do have a shopping scene and I do have an ankle scene. It’s not like I added crazy stuff like a talking dog or anything like that, either. It definitely was all about not doing whatever I wanted. It was definitely me trying to serve the material as best I could.

Movies.com: Can you reveal more about the pieces you might have added? Richelle gave you more than enough to work with, but what Daniel Waters originals will we see in the movie?

Waters: Definitely the dialogue, maybe, is a little openly more witty, but I definitely didn’t try to mess with a blimp with laser beams or a flying giraffe. It’s like you say: there’s so much stuff in there to begin with. I mean, I think a lot of things is connecting material. Like the steel casing around the bullet. How do you make things connect a little better? I think the main part of the adaptation process was that a lot of the book takes place in Rose’s head where Rose has information that even the reader doesn’t have, and I tried to move away from that a little bit. Maybe Rose doesn’t know as much about Ms. Karp as she thought she did. It involves her being more of an active protagonist, more of someone who has to play detective in certain things, which is much more interesting than going to see a movie where the character’s narrating everything and saying, okay, this happened and this happened. The book’s a lot like that, but because of Richelle’s beautiful writing it works. You’re in Rose’s head with her, but in a movie you just don’t have that luxury. I think a lot of it’s got to be surprising to the characters as much as the audience.


Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry and Sarah Hyland in Vampire Academy

Movies.com: This may sound silly, but do you have a favorite character?

Waters: The problem is, to me, it’s always like, who’s your second-favorite character? Rose is obviously the character that, to me, is fascinating because I love the fact that she’s not even likable a lot of times. She’s sometimes really irritating, which makes me like her all the more. I think she’s just such an original character in that she’s not a weak character like we see in a lot of these films. But I even think strong female characters are boring when they do everything right! [Laughs] Rose is strong, but she can be weak, she’s vulgar, she’s loving, she’s mean. I think there’s just so many shadings with her that I could do a whole movie of just her alone in her room. That’s what makes her fascinating. I can tell you, there were characters that I wasn’t crazy about in the book. I thought both Mia and Natalie were kind of one dimensional in the book. It worked for the book, but I think in the movie I was very happy that Sarah Hyland as Natalie and Sami Gayle as Mia -- and hopefully me as a writer too -- we brought a little more layers to those characters. You definitely feel sorry for them at some points and you can see their point of view a little bit better, so it’s kind of cool.     

Movies.com: Not to put you on the spot, but because you somewhat brought it up, have you seen anything in other YA-to-film adaptations that you deliberately avoided or incorporated here?

Waters: I didn’t read the books for Beautiful Creatures or Mortal Instruments, but I know Beautiful Creatures took some major liberties and Mortal Instruments seems to be pretty faithful and yet fans are still complaining. [Laughs] To me, what I like is, those movies cost a lot more money than our movie did, but those movies, the last hour of the movie is nothing but special effects. It’s almost like watching ESPN with special effects instead of sports highlights where it’s not connected to the movie. What I love about Vampire Academy is it’s mostly about the relationships. It’s mostly about the emotion and interpersonal dynamics. That’s what makes it interesting, that everything means something. It’s not just churning up your brain and doing a bunch of explosions. I just think we have a different vibe than a lot of, not just young-adult movies, but I feel like every movie now has the same first half hour where the innocent character comes into this crazy world and says, "Oh, no! This can’t be happening! This is impossible! There’s no such thing as a vampire or a monster!" I love the fact that we get to cut in front of the line. We’re in a world where, yeah, magic is real, vampires are real, get over it! This is just another day of high school. This is just another day at St. Vladimir’s. So I think it’s gonna be a great attitude change. When I did Heathers, people were kind of bored and a little tired of teen films and I think Vampire Academy is coming at that perfect moment where people are starting to get really tired of the genre. But then, to me, when people start getting tired of a genre, that’s when you can get really crazy and start playing with all the clichés and turning them upside down.

Movies.com: And how about doing all of that with your brother? This is your first collaboration, right?

Waters: I think there’s a slight misconception because my brother and I have worked on things together; it’s just so hard to get a movie actually made. In fact, this is our second vampire adaptation together. We adapted another book, Christopher Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends, for 20th Century Fox. The script turned out great. It just takes a lot longer to get a movie made at a studio. And so when my brother heard I was working on a vampire movie, he was like, "Have you gone crazy? We already did our vampire movie." But then, when he actually read the script, he was like, "Okay, this is something completely different and really interesting." It’s crazy just how fast this whole process was. I finished my script probably a year ago and to go from finishing a script to actually having a movie coming out in this quick period of time is unheard of.   

Zoey Deutch in Vampire Academy

Movies.com: Can you tell us anything about Mark’s shot selection? Do you know if there are any themes in terms of framing, color palette, lens choices or other visual elements that we can keep an eye out for?

Waters: To me, the most fascinating thing is that when you read the book – and this is the simplest thing in the world – you almost don’t appreciate that these kids go to high school at night! [Laughs] To me, that’s the coolest thing about the movie. It’s not the boring fluorescent lights by the locker scenes. It’s taking place at this really cool place and it’s the middle of the night. Our shooting hours were 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. Just by that visual alone it turns every cliché upside down because suddenly everything’s just a lot cooler and sexier and stranger that people are having these normal boy-girl, mean-girl, girl-on-girl arguments and it’s taking place in this weird-but-cool moonlight and dark lighting. I think even people who’ve read the book eight times are gonna appreciate it: "Oh, wow. We didn’t think of it in such interesting visual terms."

Movies.com: Vampire Academy is still months away, but many are already getting hyped for Frostbite. You probably don’t want to get ahead of yourself, but are you making any preparations for the sequel?

Waters: Give me Frostbite! Frostbite’s so much easier than Vampire Academy! Vampire Academy’s got so many different weird plots, stories and relationships! Frostbite’s so clean and nice! [Laughs] But yes, if this movie does well, we get to do Frostbite. But I’ve already started conceiting Frostbite. To me, Vampire Academy is too thick and Frostbite is too thin, so I may have to actually add something to Frostbite.

Movies.com: If you had to cast Adrian right now on the spot, who would you pick?

Waters: Oh, geez! To me, I have an Adrian in my mind that doesn’t exist in any of these CW children that I look at. Adrian’s hiding somewhere. I think he hasn’t acted in a movie yet and he’s too busy actually being cool and he will wait until Frostbite, and Adrian’s character come out of the shadows.



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