Exclusive: 'Daybreakers' Directors on Making Vamps Nasty Again

Australian filmmakers Michael and Peter Spierig may soon win the thanks of old-school vampire fans everywhere -- for taking the undead, at least on screen, back to their proper satanic roots with Daybreakers. (In the wake of Twilight, Vampire Diaries, and True Blood this is no mean feat.) I was one of the first online journos lucky enough to chat with the Spierig brothers upon completion of their new epic, way back in October of '07. Hit the jump to read the conversation we had, and decide if you think Daybreakers is worth checking out when it, at long last, opens this Friday, January 8.

When did the two of you begin working together as filmmakers?

Peter: Michael and I, we started making films in our backyard when we were ten or eleven, and have sort of been doing stuff ever since. But seriously working? It was pretty much when I was in college. We started making short films. Michael was doing a graphic design course and I was doing film. Michael?s interest was more in design at that point, and he started working on a few short films of his own, and it grew from there. At college, we started directing a few TV commercials together, and we haven?t been able to get away from each other.

Vampires are hot again right now, but you've been working on Daybreakers for some time. What sparked the project?

Peter: It's a genre that we certainly love. When we came up with the concept it wasn't so much that we wanted to do a vampire movie. We just liked the story, and it just so happened that there were vampires. There are certain parallels that you can make between vampirism and certain things that are going on today. We kind of liked that concept, too. And while our film has some of that, it's ultimately about making something that's entertaining and fun. We just thought it was a really cool idea, and kept developing it. It's very different to any vampire film that's out there. We?ve been asked a couple of times what's different about it, and I wish I could say more about that, but I feel like I'd give away too much. But we spent a lot of time watching lots and lots of vampire movies. I feel like we've done something, hopefully, that's pretty unique.

Michael: To sum it up without giving too much away, this film is set, probably, about ten years in the future. Predominantly, the world is just vampires. Instead of it being a post-apocalyptic, end-of-the-world vampire movie, the citizens basically accept that they're vampires, and they move back into their homes and try to go on with their lives as normal people. But, essentially, the problem is that they're running out of food, which is human beings. So once the vampires don't have any human blood they start to kind of turn into bats. This sophisticated civilization slowly turns into these monsters. But I don't think we're giving too much away, because that's sort of the landscape from where the film starts.

You have two well-known actors as your leads, Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe. And Dafoe, of course, was nominated for an Oscar for playing a vampire in Shadow of the Vampire.

Michael: Willem's the ultimate vampire.

Peter: He played the vampire in Shadow of the Vampire and [here] he's doing another vampire movie, but the roles are so diametrically opposed that it couldn't be more different really.

Is Willem the lead vampire in your film?

Michael: No, Ethan's the lead vampire in the film, along with Sam Neil. Willem's character is hard to describe without giving too much away.

With this film it looks like you're fusing sci-fi and horror. Are you fans of both genres?

Michael: Yeah, absolutely. We love all genres really, but we're big fans of sci-fi, big fans of horror. Yet sometimes they kind of blend together a bit, and that can work really well. Sometimes that can work terribly. But when it's good?

Right, You've got Alien. But when it doesn't, you've got some pretty bad movies. Knowing there have been so many misfired attempts at combining the two, does that give you a tremendous challenge? Does that make this project daunting?

Peter: Yeah, sure, and the fact that we're doing a vampire movie is daunting, because there's so many of them out there. How do you do something that's different? And how do you make it more than just another b-movie, which the genre is? That's the big dilemma. We worked to try and do something different, which hopefully it is.

Michael: And I can't tell you why it's different, dammit! [Laughs.]

There's so much secrecy involved. [Laughs.] Where are you at this stage of the project?

Peter: Well, we've been developing it since 2005, maybe. It went through a long period of development. It was going to happen, and then it wasn't going to happen. Then it did happen. Of course, one of the things we did was we went after Ethan Hawke, and thankfully he said, "Yes." Which, at the time, made the rest of the casting easier. It wasn't easy, but it made it a little easier. We started pre-production in...March? It's all a blur at the moment. Shooting was...June? We spent forty days shooting and we wrapped four weeks ago, so it's been pretty crazy. It's kind of been a lot of not knowing if it's gonna happen and then knowing it's gonna happen. We spent an endless amount of time thinking, "Well, is it gonna happen?"

Michael: Did what seems to be a resurgence in the popularity of vampires help make it happen? No, I don't think so. We seem to fall into this thing where... When we started to make Undead, we kept saying, "Let's make a zombie movie. Nobody's making them anymore." Then by the time Undead came out there was a thousand of them. I don't know what happens, and I can't explain why there's a resurgence in certain genres. I guess people have the same thoughts that Peter and I do, which is, "Hey, nobody's doing this, so let's do it." Then it comes out at the same time.

I'm glad that there's a resurgence of the genre. I don't think this genre ever stopped. It's not like the zombie films, where, in the '90s, there were very few. I think there's always been vampire films, and there always will be vampire films. I think that nowadays the opportunities to try and branch out and do something a little different are essential, because there's been so many types of vampire movies. I think you have to do something different to continue to make this kind of film interesting. I hope that's what we've done. The reason we got such a great cast is because they are interested in the idea. The fact that it?s different from all the other types of vampire films that are coming out now.

Were you inspired at all by the original novel I Am Legend? Because that postulates a future in which humanity is almost entirely replaced by vampires.

No, not at all. [Laughs.] I do like I Am Legend. We seem to be getting lots of people saying, "Is this like I Am Legend?" And the film is nothing like I Am Legend.

Peter: That being said, the idea of a world that's dominated by vampires is the only similarity. That's a big similarity I suppose, but everything else about it is completely different. It's like saying 28 Days Later is the same as I Am Legend. Well, it kind of is. [Laughs.]

Michael: But it's a very different movie. And certainly we're familiar with I Am Legend, and also the two previous films before this [upcoming adaptation of the novel]. It's a very different story.

You mentioned Ethan Hawke will play a vampire. It's somewhat surprising that no one's already cast him as such, since he has a pale, gaunt look, and a slightly Byron-esque screen persona.

Michael: Yeah, Ethan traditionally doesn't do a lot of horror films. He's not really...  It's funny, because we had this discussion about genre pictures, and Ethan hasn't really done many. I mean he did Explorers when he was like thirteen, then obviously he did Assault on Precinct 13, which is a remake of the John Carpenter movie. He hasn't done many genre pictures at all, and Ethan says that he doesn't really like horror films, although he's seen everything, so I don't know where that comes from. [Laughs.]

Peter: When we sent the script to his agent, the reaction from Ethan was, "Not interested." Then he read the first couple of pages and he was totally into it. It's kind of bizarre how those things work out, because our feeling was always, "There's no way he'll be interested. He doesn't do these types of movies." But, yeah, he reacted really well. It's certainly not so much based on the work that Michael and I have done in the past, because we made a small movie that five people, including my parents, saw. It really was the material. It really was the script.

That says a good deal about your script. Ethan's movies may not always be hits, but they're usually pretty smart.

Peter: Yeah, yeah. Either that or we really fooled him. [Laughs.]

Before we leave, we have one last question for you... what are your biggest fears?

Michael: Sharks.

Peter: Rabid Koala Bears. [Laughs.]