Scott Lebrecht developed his filmmaking chops while working as a visual effects art director for Industrial Light and Magic, crafting effects for such films as 101 Dalmations and Sleepy Hollow. But as a consummate film fan, Lebrecht has long had a taste for indie drama. In his feature directorial debut, Midnight Son, he couples this with his genre background to create an entirely new kind of vampire thriller, one that truly creeps under the skin for its realism and grit. Check out my chat with Lebrecht below, and be sure to watch Midnight Son on DVD from Image Entertainment.
How would you describe Midnight Son for the uninitiated?
For people who haven’t seen the film, Midnight Son is really at its heart a character study and a love story. But it’s also a vampire movie. It’s also got a lot of horror elements to it. The idea behind the movie is what it would be like to really be a vampire. And as an audience, most people who watch the film, I believe, are really going to ask themselves, “What WOULD this really be like?” So it’s not a spectacle. It’s not something where my vampire has incredible powers and a sexy seductive way about him. This is more of a story of coming of age, of a vampire becoming what he is, almost like a puberty metaphor. This is the idea of what it would be like if a vampire becomes sexy and powerful one day, but in the beginning, when he first becomes a vampire, he’s not. Just like in adolescence. So that’s the idea.
The film stands in stark contrast to most vampire films these days, was that part of the intent in making it – as a reaction to these other depictions of the undead?
It started with the idea of the sad or melancholy vampire that was a little bit lonely and confused. So out of that came the realization that I wasn’t going to make a typical vampire movie. It really started with this idea of someone trapped in a house who wants to communicate with people outside of his house. That’s when I thought, “Well, maybe it could be a vampire. Someone who can’t come outside during the day, because it would be lethal to them. So the only time they can come out is when everyone’s asleep at home, or not out. So it would be sad to be this vampire.” That’s when I started realizing I’d never seen that story. The idea of “What if it would suck to be a vampire?” That was what I wanted to explore.
The film’s casting is pretty remarkable – can you talk about your two leads? How were they selected?
Yeah, Zak Kilberg was an actor in LA when I was living in San Francisco. I put up a website on the internet about the movie, trying to get interest. He saw the website and emailed me randomly and sent some pictures. I really liked his pictures and we got to talking, and he came up to San Francisco and we met and auditioned him. That’s how we found him. It was really just a random luck of the draw. I auditioned other actors for the role, but I always went back to him. He was always the right one. Amazingly, he was the first actor that I saw… Then Maya Parish, who played Mary, I met her in film school when there was a screening at a big theater in Hollywood of all the film students’ short, at the American Film Institute. She was in a movie, a short film, that one of my colleagues had made, and she saw my short film, and we got to talking afterwards. I always thought, after I saw her in that movie, that she’d be a good Mary. So I told her about the movie I was then writing, and said that she might be good for that, and I wanted to get her information in case I made the movie. She gave me her number, and then three years later I finally finished it and was ready to make the movie. I sent it to her and told her I wanted her to play Mary, and she was into it. That’s how it happened. That’s how I found it.
After watching Midnight Son, one can’t help but wonder if there could be a sequel. Have you started writing one, if only in your head?
I never imagined what I would do in a sequel, but I did write an epilogue that I talked to the actors about shooting, but we never really did. The idea was that after you fade to black, you fade back up and it’s five years later and Jacob and Mary are maybe living in a house in America or Canada and they’re out on their porch swing, and they’re waving high to their neighbors, and you notice that sitting next to Jacob is a little child, a three year old boy. Mary maybe comes out of the house with a sippy cup and gives it to the child. We don’t ever show the audience what’s in the sippy cup. The idea is that somehow they’ve been able to form a life together as a family, with their new child, who is probably infected and is a vampire as well. But they are able to somehow fit into this community and no one knows what they really are.
Could that be the basis for a follow-up film someday?
Sure, if someone is interested in financing that movie, then heck yeah I would make it. Their adventure just began in the first movie, I think.
Midnight Son appears as influenced by indie dramas as it is by genre films. Did that blend that inform your vision for the movie?
Yeah, I had a kind of interesting experience when I was working at Industrial Light and Magic. I was always exposed to the spectacle films, and that was really what my craft was. So I really developed a taste for art-house films, and out of that came a love for filmmakers like Harmony Korine. Basically any of the movies of the nineties that were like City of God or Gummo or Kids – these were the movies that were really startling to me, that I felt really grabbed you and pulled you in. So at that time, and this was before I ever conceived of Midnight Son, there was a huge potential to combine the two approaches, just to the presentation of the story. So I wasn’t surprised when Cloverfield was made, because it was just so ready for the combination of the gritty handheld camera film and the spectacle. Because in the ‘90s you had one or the other. And it wasn’t until the 2000s that there was finally some experimentation being done. I remember the first time I saw it – because I was such a nut about the idea – when I was like, “They’re doing it! Finally somebody’s doing it!” was in the movie Signs. When the video that was being shot at the birthday party, and the alien walks into the backyard, it was like really crappy handheld video and yet ILM was doing a shot with this video. I was like, “Yes! Here we go.” You see something handheld on video, it’s real, so when you throw in a spectacle it’s that much more powerful, because our brains are saying, “This is real.” It’s trickier I think to make those effects appear real in that kind of filming.
Is that an idea that you’d like to continue pursuing in your work? Crossover genre films?
Yes, I think that I’m always gonna be the biggest pain in the ass to any kind of marketing department in Hollywood, because I really do love the idea of doing something different, and mixing genres and making something that makes people realize there is more than one way to tell a story. Ridley Scott really did it with Blade Runner back in the day. He realized he could tell a type of story in the future, but remain true to the detective story genre and not do the spectacle as much. The spectacle was really the background. That’s what was so fascinating about Blade Runner. That’s something that I think I’ll always want to try and do – the unexpected. I’m also gonna want to try and do what feels incredibly real. I really have no interest in outrageous, crazy movement of the camera or performance. I really want the audience to feel like they’re seeing something happening through a window that somehow they’ve been exposed to, through which they can watch other people’s lives unfold. Not something where they’re sitting there going, “Wow, these effects are amazing!” That’s the idea.
It looks like you’re off to a great start with Midnight Son… Thanks for your time, Scott!
Oh my pleasure. Thanks so much for the support, man. I appreciate it.