Talking with Daniel Waters is a treat. We were his last interview of the day – along with our friends over at Page to Premiere and That’s Normal. Phone call interviews are fun, not only because you get to do them in your pajamas, but also because you can instant message your friends and ask what is happening.
Daniel Waters came onto the line super enthusiastic, and seemed to be afraid that as fans we would tear him apart. We are not new to the world of adaptations, and loved what the trailer brought us.
Here’s our interview with Daniel Waters. Hope you love it as much as we loved talking to him.
Before we could even ask a question, screenwriter Dan Waters made it clear he knew fans were upset about a few things seen in the first trailer
Dan: I am sorry about the silver stake, I am sorry about the silver stake – I know it’s one book early. Don’t hit me!
We won’t – we’ll be kind. We’re actually okay with that.
Dan: Well you know, it’s so boring if her training – if she doesn’t even get to use the silver stake in training.
Did you get a lot of negative feedback about that?
Dan: No, no. It’s funny. My brother [Director Mark Waters] doesn’t read anything. He’s not on Facebook. He doesn’t know what a Tumblr is. He lives in bliss and I can’t help looking at stuff. And I love how [the fans] go – “but it’s wrong. I see the silver stake, it’s wrong!” Like I am a typist, like I mistyped it. “Oh wait, like oh wait, I made a mistake what was I doing!”
Being that it is a young adult franchise and with everything that is going on right now – with you know, some of them not doing so well and a lot of the feedback being…
Dan: Some of them? Some of them?
I am trying to be positive here! A lot of the fan feedback has been it is because they have taken liberties with the property. Are you nervous about that? Have you taken a lot of liberties or do you feel that it is really true to the book?
Dan: Well yes, and I have heard people offer the other thing, that some of them are too faithful. But don’t worry, I don’t believe that. But I think that a lot of the projects that I get offered as a writer, the studio or the producers come to me and are all, “Hey all these kids like this thing and we don’t get it. But just use the title and do whatever you want.“ To me that’s horrible. To me I wouldn’t be doing that to Vampire Academy (although it would be great to have a new title.) I wouldn’t be doing Vampire Academy if I didn’t love Vampire Academy. Certainly when I first was offered Vampire Academy without even reading the books, I was like “ooh boy, what happened, what happened to my career? What’s next, Zach and Cody in space?” Once I read the first book, I had to read all the books. Now I like to think of myself as its biggest protector. Everybody says they know this but it still comes as a shock when I say to myself, “I’m going to listen to the fans, I am going to respect the fans, but I am not going to be their bitch.” There are a lot of people out there that want kind of a four hour slide show of every page of the book and they watch it while wearing white gloves and holding a clipboard and checking to make sure that every frame is exactly like the book. That’s just not going to happen. I think that a movie has got to be like a bullet and to me the novel is gunpowder. I am going to try and get every bit of the gunpowder from the novel into that bullet but then again, it’s not all going to get in. I look back and I didn’t cut anything where I really said “Oh No. How could I not…” For instance I had to do a press conference and I didn’t put Eddie in the first movie, and to me Eddie’s just not that interesting in the first book. He’s maybe got five lines. If you are going to get mad about that, you are going to get mad about everything. But, I tried not to take liberties just to take liberties. Like don’t worry, I am not going to put a talking dog in the movie.
Why not, because that would awesome! (Just kidding!)
Dan: (laughs) Ya, a talking dog….
Do you ever start writing and then look for fan feedback. Are there particular moments given to you by production or even by [author] Richelle Mead that they go “this is really important to be in here” and you have kind of adjusted things. Has that happened?
Dan: Richelle is incredibly cool. Almost too cool. She didn’t prepare me for how severe the fans were going to be. I thought – okay, I passed the author of the book test, like how bad can it be from here on in? I had no idea. Richelle’s a softie. The great thing about Richelle is she’s not just the creator of the books, she’s also a huge fan. The biggest compliment that she could give was she read my script, like turning the pages and was anxious to know what happens next. I was like, “you know what happens next, you created what happens next!” But by reordering the material, by making it sort of a bullet, it became something that she got caught up in. Which I think is great. It’s the little things, like the shopping scene in the book comes before the ankle scene in the book and in my script, the ankle scene comes before the shopping scene. But don’t go crazy, just be happy I have got an ankle scene and a shopping scene in there! On that level I am being very faithful, but if I reorient it a little bit, don’t get mad at me.
Although it is funny – I did learn this: Don’t mess with the boy’s appearance. I think the draft Richelle read, Christian was blonde and Jessie was Latin. She just about smashed a coffee mug over my head. Okay, note to self, never mess with the way the guys look or anything to do with romance! I think I made the charm, the necklace scene, a little too funny the first time around and I really got it. Not as much from Richelle, but from other people who had read the book, and had read the script were like, okay smarty pants, don’t mess that scene.
Mark (Waters, the director) has been talking about how the humor is amplified. Can you talk about adding more humor to the story?
Dan: I wanna calm everyone down. I am going to walk this one back a little bit. My brother has been doing these interviews and is like ‘it’s a comedy’. To me when I hear the words vampire and comedy I get scared. “He’s a real pain in the neck!” It makes you think of every bad vampire pun and it’s not – it never gets to be a straight comedy. I think it’s just that we have a certain feel. There is one very hilarious thing that Sarah Hyland does but I am not going to even talk about, but it goes to the level of comedy. Other than that, I think we make the dialogue a little more openly whitty, but it still keeps everything in tact.
The great thing is when I did the movie Heathers, everyone was kind of sick of John Hughes teen films and they just knew the clichés too well. I think we are in that same kind of zone with young adult movies and especially vampire movies. Okay, we know all the clichés at this point. And you know another writer or director would get scared of that and go oh no, we’re tired of it. But to me that’s when you get to have fun. It’s when you get to get interesting, because you can start to mess with the clichés. You can start to be like, “Okay you think you know what movie you are seeing.” That’s when you can really slap them in the face. They think they know what they are getting, but then you give them something that’s got a lot more layers and a lot more shades to it. I think that we are all sick of that movie that begins with the innocent character saying, “what is this strange world, this can’t be happening, magic is impossible. But there is no such thing as a vampire!” I love that in Vampire Academy we get to jump the line. None of our characters are innocent and they are all pretty chill. Magic is real, vampires are real, vampires doing magic is real. It’s just another day of highschool. Mark and I’s motto was play the supernatural as completely natural. That in itself, I think it has a level of – I am not going to say comedy, but more it makes it fun. I think we are so familiar with film clichés the fun of that premise is going to come out more in the movie then it did in the book.
Going back to the love charm scene, I have to do it. Even the small glimpse of things that you see in the trailer, makes some fans nervous. So when writing the script, do you feel such pressure that you need to include those scene, but do you also feel a pressure that if you don’t do them right you are going to be crucified?
Dan: Yes, believe me my palms are very sweaty over crucifixion right now. I had no idea until that teaser came out, and it was the most analyzed film since the Zapruder film. Everyone went over it frame by frame and I think that they have to remember, it’s marketing. Especially the opening when it’s like, “Hey!” The opening was a little goofy and tried to be funny. I watched that trailer and Jillian who runs the Facebook site, and we can tell you down to the molecule what the fans would not like and were going to misinterpret. Nobody listened to us. And that’s because they rightfully had the opinion where they wanted to expand beyond the fan base. But we knew [we’d get this reaction].
For instance there is a speech in the teaser that Lissa gives, and it’s not strictly in the book. But it is kind of a companion piece to being in the book where the queen humiliates Lissa. And that actual speech, trust, I swear to God you guys are going to like it! But the way it’s cut into that teaser and it’s like, “And blood is death!” Then everyone starts cheering at blood is death and I am like what is going on? They are going to think, “okay let’s all be humans now.” It’s very misinterpreted, and it is just marketing. Please feel free to ask about anything in the teaser, so I can clear the air and save my soul. Un-crucify myself! My motto is, “you can come drag me and my brother out on the street and pour gasoline on us and light a match if you don’t like the movie, but don’t do it yet, off a one minute teaser.” Please, let us live to finish editing.
You wrote the screenplay to Batman Returns, right? We have to ask- what do you think about Ben Affleck as Batman?
Dan: Poor Ben, but I’m just glad it’s taking off the attention from the vampire academy teaser! Ben can’t catch a break. He did Argo & everyone forgave him, and they still don’t believe he would be right. I read something online that showed what people’s responses were to Heath Ledger when he as announced as the joker- trying to calm everyone down about their reactions about Ben.
That was on Buzzfeed! Wow you do really keep up with everything online!
Dan: Oh Buzzfeed! My brother is much more on facebook, he doesn’t know what a tumblr is. I am the one who is like Ah, oh, eek, ah. Me, I am the one that needs to take a break. I think just cause of the non-success of Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments, that they are going to be trying some really crazy stuff with marketing. Some of it will be cool and some of it will be dorky.
When you read the book for the first time, was there a part in the book that you thought would be awesome on screen?
Dan: Well I can speak in code to you guys as opposed to vampire academy virgins. There is a certain scene with a certain person and a certain younger person in the jail cell towards the end, where a lot of things come together. I think that is my favorite scene, because it’s where the mystery elements and the thriller elements and the high school elements kind of all come together in a way that I think is fantastic. And I know that there was a great job in the filming of it too. Whatever anger people have about liberties that I may have taken earlier on they are going to be healed by that.
You know – one thing that you guys should know and I should warn you about is the main problem that I had in adaptation, and believe me if I get to do Frostbite or Shadow Kiss, those books are so much easier to adapt. They are so much simpler. There is a lot of complexity in the first Vampire Academy and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that a lot of the book is in Rose’s head. Which I think works fine in the book with Richelle’s writing and you really bonded with Rose. But in a movie it can be really boring and really deadly if the lead character is narrating the whole movie and saying this happened, and this happened, and this happened. I think a lot of information that Rose has, that she keeps from other characters – even the reader – I kind of took it away from Rose, to make it more of a mystery where Rose has got to do more active investigation on herself instead of knowing what happened to Miss Karp right away. She has to do some investigating, which makes it more interesting as a movie. That’s why she’s holding a laptop under Kirova’s desk while going leave me alone in the teaser.
In Vampire Academy, who was your favorite character to bring to life?
Dan: To me there is no getting around the fact that Rose is too awesome for words. The other female characters I have done like Winona Ryder’s character Veronica in Heathers and Selena Kyle Catwoman in Batman Returns – to me strong female characters are as boring as weak female characters. To me you gotta go better then strong, you gotta be more interesting than strong. Rose just isn’t strong, she can be irritating, she can be vulnerable, she can be hilarious, she can be violent, she can be vulgar, and she can be mysterious. To me I want every adjective in the book and that’s what makes her fascinating. That’s almost an obvious question to answer.
One of the more interesting things is the characters I didn’t respond to in the book. To me I thought both the Mia character and Natalie character were a little one dimensional in the book. They weren’t that much more dimensional in my script. I think we just got really lucky with the actors. Sarah Hyland really does some interesting things with Natalie and I think you will be able to watch the whole movie a second time and just look at the expression and little things that Sarah does silently in the background of scenes and it’s almost a whole new movie. Sami Gayle, who plays Mia, she worked on the first day, had one of her biggest scenes on the very first day of shooting – which is before a certain punch happens and she brought so much complexity and emotional layers to it, you are like, “why am I crying at Mia.” It was great because the other actors were on the set, and I think the other actors were scared, like Woah, Woah. They were like, “This isn’t going to be just another young adult movie! We are going to have to bring our A Game, we aren’t going to be able to just walk through this like we are on the set of Gossip Girl. This is like the big leagues.” It was fantastic.
You guys did choose an eclectic cast but you also chose younger actors that aren’t you know, maybe, that well known but have the chance for breakout potential. Like Sami Gayle, she’s awesome on Blue Bloods, Sarah Hyland, you know, all of these people – do you feel like all these actors captured what you wrote?
Dan: Yeah absolutely, I think it’s not as interesting when you get these actors that are sort of pre-digested. You know, like sometimes the fans suggest these actors – especially for Adrian in the next one – and I’m like, really? That’s really who you want to see play this part? Wouldn’t you rather see someone that you aren’t completely familiar with come in and surprise you? I think that’s much more interesting. I don’t like to write with an actor in mind either, I think that makes it boring. I just want to bring to life Richelle’s characters from the book, and have to make the actor climb up to get to it. They have to bring something to it.
I’m really happy with the cast. Even if it’s not physically exact, they have the same souls of the characters, which to me is more important. What we didn’t want to do – not that I have anything against the CW or MTV – is that they all have the same type of all American blandness. To me, what was interesting about St. Vladimir’s was, let’s make a place where it’s this international enclave hidden in Montana. You have different accents, and you have different flavors of people. It makes it a lot more enticing and interesting, and a lot more you know…this isn’t a normal high school movie.
Even – this is something that I didn’t really appreciate when I read the book or even adapted the screenplay – is that, just seeing the visual of seeing people go to high school at night is really cool. It’s something you take for granted when you read the book! It just gives everything a different feeling to it. This isn’t something you see everyday, you know, we’re walking to fifth period and there’s this crazy blue moonlight shining down on us. It just makes it a lot more interesting.
I worked on Beautiful Creatures, this is kind of funny, I worked with Zoey and I think she’s absolutely amazing, and such a great choice for Rose. That’s who I’m personally most excited to see.
Zoey and I have our own little bond. First of all we’re November 10th Scorpios, which means we’re evil, and funny. Also, she happens to be my best friend’s daughter’s best friend. So, I’ve always known she kind of has this moxie to her. It’s funny, even though I knew her, I never thought of her when I was writing. It was only when she came in and auditioned, I was like oh my god – I was practically channeling Zoey when I was writing. She’s just got that attitude! Of course, I wanted Rose to be Japanese, but that’s why nobody listens to me. Like, a Japanese anime girl! Don’t worry, nobody liked the idea.
When you’re adapting, obviously it’s very different from writing something original. Do you prefer it, do you like to do both? What is your stance on it?
Dan: It’s really a different animal. I just love working off a blank page and coming up with ideas, developing ideas myself. This is, it’s almost like two different jobs. Some people look at the adaptation process like, how can I make this my own? I never thought in those terms. I thought along the lines of how can I turn what I love about Vampire Academy into something I love as a film? It was all about just helping the material. Richelle was my dream fan! If I make a quote on quote “great script,” but Richelle doesn’t like it, to me I really haven’t done my job. I’m almost a guardian. I’m the Dhampir, and Richelle’s book is the Moroi. Hey, that was an accidentally good answer!