Q&A: Juliet Landau and Deverill Weekes on Their Vampire Documentary “A PLACE AMONG THE UNDEAD”Fearful Features,Home,Movies/TV,News Abbie Bernstein
Juliet Landau is probably best known for playing the unhinged vampire Drusilla over multiple seasons of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL. Deverill Weekes is an acclaimed cinematographer/photographer with a passion for genre films and TV, as well as prosthetic makeup and its creators. Given their backgrounds, it makes sense that the married Landau and Weekes have embarked on making the feature-length documentary A PLACE AMONG THE UNDEAD, which explores both creators and fans of vampires in literature, cinema, television and other media.
In addition to her prominent film roles, including the title character’s would-be financier in Tim Burton’s ED WOOD (which starred her father Martin as Bela Lugosi), multihyphenate Landau made her debut as a filmmaker with the documentary short TAKE FLIGHT: GARY OLDMAN DIRECTS CHUTZPAH, chronicling Oldman’s making of a hiphop music video. Her and Weekes’ interview subjects in A PLACE AMONG THE UNDEAD include Burton, Oldman, Anne Rice, Joss Whedon, Sookie Stackhouse creator Charlaine Harris, UNDERWORLD creator Kevin Grevioux, Robert Patrick, Willem Dafoe, Hammer horror veterans Caroline Munro and Madeline Smith and a stellar list of others. In this exclusive interview, Landau and Weekes discuss their approach to UNDEAD.
FANGORIA: How did you become interested in the subject of vampires?
JULIET LANDAU: It was living—or should I say unliving—in the BUFFY universe and working with Joss Whedon [pictured above with Landau] that sparked my interest. Through the years since then, whenever I have spent time with creators, writers, directors and actors who have explored the world of vampires, I have had the best conversations. I’ve always thought that fans would go nuts for the stuff they shared that has never been seen on film before.
DEVERILL WEEKES: I grew up in England, so it’s kind of around you from birth. We are an old country, and Dracula’s adopted home. Every summer, they would show a season of horror movies. The first was always the 1932 DRACULA, and it was so dreamlike and magical, I just wanted to enter the film and live there.
FANG: How did A PLACE AMONG THE UNDEAD come into being?
WEEKES: Juliet told me how many amazing conversations she’d had with people who played or worked with the idea of vampires. She said it felt like kind of a club, and thought it would be amazing to share these experiences with an audience. Then we thought, why not take these interviews and write our own short films to link each chapter together?
FANG: Did you come up with a structure first, or based that around the interviews?
LANDAU: We had a structure in mind, but as with all documentaries—and really, all movies in general—the footage speaks to you and tells you what it needs to be. So many things get revealed in the edit bay.
FANG: In working on A PLACE AMONG THE UNDEAD, have you found there is a common reason people are fascinated by vampires, or does it vary?
LANDAU: Because vampirism can be used to explore the human condition in such a wide variety of ways, it speaks to and reflects so many aspects of our natures. For Joss Whedon, the metaphor for BUFFY was high school as a nightmare, and ANGEL explored addiction. For Anne Rice, it was about loss and grief. Her daughter died of leukemia, a blood disease, so she wrote INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE with a child vampire who wouldn’t die. For Kevin Grevioux, the creator of UNDERWORLD, it was interracial dating. He created two species [vampires and werewolves] who don’t get along. For Tim Burton, [the film] DARK SHADOWS was about a dysfunctional family. Vampirism affords a wonderful prism for us to view the human condition.
WEEKES: Mariana Klaveno [TRUE BLOOD] said it was obsessive love. We have found that the central metaphor the artists work with is very defined by the world they are creating. As a metaphor, [vampires] mean so many things, and yet these same ideas and subthemes keep appearing. They represent the darker, primal fears and desires we have, be they immortality, sex, addiction, which are universal. There is truly an elusive and mystical aspect to dealing with this subject. It really lives in the shadows.
LANDAU: Everyone has a unique perspective, but there is a real camaraderie amongst those who have a place among the undead. Everyone who has delved into this universe has a real love of it, and a sense of joy bubbles over when they discuss it. Each interviewee has shared personal and intimate experiences. However, only a couple of people said they would choose eternal life if they had the option. Most people feel that it is the transience of life that makes it beautiful.
FANG: Did playing Drusilla teach you more about vampires, or about madness?
LANDAU: I think it taught me more about madness. I never approached the character as supernatural. I was interested in the elements that made her human and multidimensional.
FANG: Do you believe vampirism and madness in fictional vampires complement each other or are separate issues?
LANDAU: I believe they are separate issues. There are many sane vampire characters—well, if you count killing people and drinking blood as sane activities. But those are intrinsic to their nature.
FANG: What do each of your backgrounds give you as a filmmaker?
WEEKES: I love lighting and framing. I have an understanding of how I want the set to run. The real brains, though, is Juliet. I always say I am Burt Ward to her Adam West—or rather, in this case, Renfield to her Dracula.
LANDAU: My background has given me many useful skills. I’ve spent a lot of time on set and in production. I understand what needs to happen to make things run effectively. When working on the narrative sections [of UNDEAD], I love and understand the process that will make things truly sing. As an actor, I work with imagery, and have always created a look-book of references for each role. Dev and I did the same thing on this project. That way, every department knows and understands what world we are building, and that allows everyone to bring their A-game.
FANG: How did you decide whom you wanted to interview?
WEEKES: We have a wish list. We want to cover everyone, but that’s impossible, so we choose people who have defined and redefined this subgenre. Anne Rice and Joss Whedon really shaped it, and Gary Oldman as Dracula was a game-changer. There are still a huge amount of people we need to talk to.
LANDAU: A lot of them have approached us, which has been amazing. We reached out to Anne Rice first, and she immediately came on board. Then we talked to Gary Oldman [pictured below right with Weekes and Landau], who we have now interviewed twice. Gary also shot some of the UNDEAD imagery on his camera from 1853; it’s beautiful wet-plate tintype Victorian photography. He shot Joss Whedon, Robert Patrick, myself and other UNDEAD-ees’ portraits. The book of images is one of the perks on our Indiegogo campaign.
FANG: Is there a specific visual aesthetic?
WEEKES: Yes. All the interviews are on a white backdrop. It’s a very clean aesthetic. Juliet and I love that. The two narratives we have shot so far have a rich, moody feel. The others will live in that vein. I’m thinking of making a vampire pun here, but I will forego it.
FANG: Are you using any film/TV clips to illustrate points?
WEEKES: No, we want to create our own world.
FANG: How do the two of you work together as filmmakers?
LANDAU: We complement each other brilliantly. We bring our separate strengths to the equation. We spark one another’s creativity. It is a dream collaboration.
WEEKES: We collaborate on every part of the work—wardrobe, lighting, editing, sound mix. Juliet is a natural filmmaker with a very strong vision. She kills in preproduction and editing. She is my hero.
LANDAU: Dev and I draft the questions together. For the interviews, Dev is the cinematographer and I’m the on-camera interviewer. [On the dramatic segments] sometimes Dev will get an idea and begin writing a narrative, and then he’ll send it to me, I’ll do a pass and we go back and forth that way. With the promos we cut, we edited them ourselves and worked on the sound design together. Dev has a great eye for color correction and I have a great ear for the sound mix. We both worked with the composer.
FANG: What is the purpose of the Indiegogo campaign—completion funds, publicity funds…?
LANDAU: It is to make the film, to publicize and to distribute. We have half [remaining] to shoot and all of the postproduction to do. Dev and I were self-funding, but the project grew and grew and grew. We have a number of production companies that want to invest, but we really want to make the film that fans want to see. We had one company telling us to cut the Hammer interviewees, and you can’t make the definitive vampire documentary and not include Hammer. We want producing partners who not only like what we’re doing, but really love and understand it.
FANG: When will be the final movie be available to the public?
LANDAU: It usually takes about a year to complete a picture, so we are aiming for next Halloween.
FANG: You have also been working on another documentary, A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD, about real people who believe they are vampires. What’s happening with that?
WEEKES: A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD is very dark and quite scary. Juliet has been working closely with a number of LAPD detectives. There are at least 10 active vampire-style serial killers at large right now in the U.S. alone.
LANDAU: A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD covers crime/reality when people take the fantasy of vampirism too far. It is very different in tone from UNDEAD, and both are fascinating to make. UNDEAD has grown beyond our wildest expectations. We have so many more people who want to be included, it may develop into a TV series. We have a joke that our company should be called Vampires ’R Us!