Based on the best-selling book series from author Richelle Mead, Vampire Academy tells the story of half-vampire/half-human guardian Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) and her royal Moroi vampire best friend Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry). As two 17-year-old girls trying to survive the perils of Moroi society and high school, Rose will sacrifice everything to protect Lissa from those who are putting her life in jeopardy. From director Mark Waters (Mean Girls) and writer Dan Waters (Heathers), the film also stars Danila Kozlovsky, Dominic Sherwood, Sarah Hyland, Cameron Monaghan and Sami Gayle.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, director Mark Waters talked about what it was like to work with a cast who were such big fans of Mean Girls, why being too sincere has been the downfall of some of the previous Young Adult adaptations, what makes this story and film different, the challenge of figuring out how to give information without having too much exposition, collaborating with author Richelle Mead, finding the right approach to the sexier moments between Rose and Dimitri, and what deleted scenes fans can expect to see on the Blu-ray/DVD. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
MARK WATERS: It was interesting making the movie. I made Mean Girls so many years ago. I want to say it came out almost 10 years ago now. For my cast, who all range in age from 18 to 23, Mean Girls is emblematic, and a very, very influential movie for them. At a certain point, during the shooting of the movie, there was a repertory house in London that did a quote-along screening of Mean Girls, and we all went to it. It was amazing! I watched all of the cast members quoting the entire movie back with the crowd. They knew it by hard. And I was watching it and going, “God, I forgot all these lines.” It had an affect on them.
Admittedly, I don’t really think about my work, at all, when I’m doing a new movie, but it excites the young actors. They’re excited to be involved in something that could end up being as influential for the next generation. I’ve done it several times in my career – like with Freaky Friday and even The Spiderwick Chronicles – where I’ve been casting a bunch of young actors and seeing a brand new crop of people. Each time you do that, it’s always fun to see because it’s the equivalent of kids coming out of the college draft. It’s the people you don’t know yet, but there’s some remarkable charisma and talent that keeps replenishing itself, over many generations. It’s fun to get to meet all of them and, if you’re lucky, pick the best of the best to be involved with the movie.
Young Adult adaptations seem to be a very tricky thing. For every Twilight franchise, there are films like Beautiful Creatures, The Host and The Mortal Instruments, that don’t connect with their intended audience quite how studios had hoped. Was that something you were aware of before doing this? Did you think about that, before agreeing to do this film?
WATERS: Yeah. There was something inside the source material of Richelle’s that just separated itself and made it feel different, even from the beginning. And then, when Danny did his adaptation, I knew that, if nothing else, we were going to go further in that direction. The one thing about Beautiful Creatures, The Host and The Mortal Instruments, which are all well-made movies, is that they were all infected with a dreadful sincerity. Everything was done very, very seriously and without any awareness of people feeling like real human beings, or just being like kids are. Kids are funny. One of the reasons Danny and I have made the movies we’ve made is because teenagers don’t spend their time gazing at each other and talking about deep things. Occasionally, they’re just ripping into each other and having fun. And I think there’s something great about this character of Rose Hathaway, who is just a wild and messy character. She doesn’t do things neatly. She’s not demure, in her emotions. She makes bold gestures and big mistakes, and recovers from there. She is a rakish, charming character that’s kind of like a male character, frankly. It’s more like a character that you would write for Robert Downey, Jr. She’s a young female version of that.
So, when I started to read the books and read about Rose, I knew this had the potential to be something different. And then, obviously, there’s the fact that you’re dealing with vampires, which is a genre that’s been overplayed, but Richelle’s take on it, which is really an ancient concept, of their being three types of vampires – the bad, the good and the dhampir who stand between them – also seemed really intriguing and interesting, and was something new that I hadn’t seen before. There were a lot of things that I got excited about, right away, and where I felt like, even if we didn’t make more money than any of those movies, we made a very different movie.
People seem to fall into one of two categories and either want the pretty, brooding, lovestruck vampires, or they want the scary, bloodthirsty vampires, but this movie has both, and there’s a balance of that.
WATERS: Yeah. The big difference with this movie is that we don’t have an ingénue character. You don’t have Bella Swan going, “Wait a second, there’s no such thing as vampires.” You’re immediately immersed in a world where they all know what’s going on. The only innocent is the audience. And that’s a cool thing that I like a lot, too, and was very distinctive to this. The audience is forced to play catch-up, as opposed to watching a lead character with stars in their eyes and their mouth open.
How challenging was it to figure out how to give all of the information for this story and these characters to the audience without having too much exposition?
WATERS: That was one of the biggest things that we experimented with during the editing process. How much information do you give people? How do you parse it out, and at what time? The general rule that I decided on was that, as long as everything is covered eventually, people are okay with it. People need to be given enough so that they feel like they’re not missing something. There’s a thing that you have when you watch a movie where, if you feel like you’re not following and you’re going to get tested on it later, you’re going to get disengaged. So, you have to give people just enough information, so that they’re able to keep up with the story. Some things can be left mysterious and unexplained, and as long as it’s all explained by the end, people have a contentment. That’s a balancing act that I hope we were able to achieve, by the end. Certain viewers we show it to are like, “Yeah, of course, it was obvious,” and other people are like, “So, what’s a Strigoi again?” But, you can’t aim toward the lowest common denominator of the audience. You have to aim for the middle and hope that most people will follow.
At what point did you realize just how devoted and loyal the fan following for these books is?
WATERS: I knew right away because it was presented to me when the producer showed me the project. They already had this Facebook page with 320,000 people on it, which is more than most movies have, even after their release. They clearly had a big fan base. But, I was certainly surprised by the enthusiasm of the fan base when we went to London and we had people stalking the actors at their hotel. People lined up outside with signs, at the hotel where we were all staying. That’s when I got the sense that these fans were really into it, and we had to take care of them.
Once you met the author, Richelle Mead, and realized that she was so open to what both you and your brother were bringing to the story, did you breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that she wouldn’t be the crazy or difficult author that we often hear about?
WATERS: Yeah. When we showed the screenplay to Richelle Mead, she said, “I wish I’d written some of these lines myself,” to Danny, I thought it was really cool. She also felt like we were basically being loyal to it, but just injecting a little bit more subversive wit into it, at the same time. She’s been very reasonable, throughout every stage of the process. She understands that a movie is a movie and a book is a book, but overall, she feels like we captured Vampire Academy. And the fact that we injected a little more humor into it and put the action on steroids, she’s okay with all of that ‘cause she thinks it makes for a more fun movie.
Because these books have such a strong following, did you talk to Richelle about which scenes or storylines she felt shouldn’t be cut or changed, or was there anything you were particularly nervous about having to change?
WATERS: It’s funny, there’s a lot of energy that goes into the charm sequence. That’s a very important scene for fans. I felt like that was the one scene that we had to do, and I had to compromise a bit, really just to please a general audience. There’s a certain level of raciness that is off-putting to your average 13- to 17-year-old girl in Middle America, who doesn’t necessarily know the books, while for the book readers, the more raciness, the better. They want to see a full-on sex scene with Rose and Dimitri. So, we had to find that balancing act, where it was funny and exciting and potent, and still have a lot of exciting energy to it, but we also wanted to make sure that it’s not going so far over the edge that it’s rubbing people the wrong way. That was something that I discussed with Richelle when we were trying to find the right pitch.
WATERS: There are a number of deleted scenes, and a number of things that ended up getting lost and restructured, but they’re all really good scenes. There was a lot more story real estate put into explaining why Rose and Lissa left the Academy, in the first place, that revealed that mystery. In the editing process, we realized that that was a B-story mystery compared to the mystery of who was out to get them, right now. So, we ended up eliminating a lot of things that were in that storyline. For instance, there was a prominent scene with the flashback party where Lissa over-uses her compulsion. There was a lot of debate about whether that scene should stay in the movie or not, and we ended up cutting it.
It exists fine without it, and that’s true of all of the deleted scenes. Nobody who doesn’t know they existed is going to miss them. We had to make some of those tough calls, in the process. It was less about pacing and more about just not adding more information for people to get confused by. And there’s also a whole introductory sequence we did at the beginning, where we explained the three types of vampires in much more classic, The Lord of the Rings detail, and then we ended up shelving it because we thought it was too hokey. That will be on the DVD, too, so people can see that.
Vampire Academy is now playing in theaters.