Nobody In ‘Vampire Academy’ Is Innocent, Says Screenwriter Dan Waters
Fans got their first taste of the big-screen adaptation of Richelle Mead’s “Vampire Academy” earlier this month with the bloody fabulous debut of a teaser trailer. (SHIRTLESS DIMITRI WHAT!!!!!!!) But with a big-screen bow more than six months away, we’re already bloodlusting for more.
Sooooooo… we hopped on the phone with screenwriter Daniel Waters (probably best known for penning 1988’s “Heathers”) to get all the dirty details about the Zoey Deutch-starring film, including what’s changed from the book and how “Vampire Academy” will be different than other teen flicks.
MTV Hollywood Crush: “Heathers” came out 25 years ago. How do you think the teen sensibility has changed since then?
Dan Waters: I think it goes through different patterns and waves. Certainly, when “Heathers” came around, I think people were sick of a certain kind of teen film, like, even John Hughes films that we loved then and love now, I think it came at a period when people were sick of them, and I think we’re getting to that point again, where we’ve seen so many different teen cliches and young-adult cliches and even vampire-themed cliches. I’m happy to be coming back to the teen genre, because I think it’s time to slap those cliches around again. We need something new because I think everybody kind of feels like we’re in a rut of the same kind of thing over and over.
How is that you and your brother [“Mean Girls” director Mark Waters] as adult men can so easily tap into the psyche of teen girls?
Well, I’ve always had the opinion that men are—there are so many movies about men and boys and things like that, and we’re not that interesting. I think especially at that age, especially in the high school years, it’s the girls that really run things, and they’re the ones going through a lot more complex stuff. So to me, it’s not about being a great feminist or anything like that, I just want to find what’s most original that when you do something with a female character, you’re already getting a much more original and interesting perspective. Even like the Catwoman character I did in “Batman Returns” was odd. You definitely have a different sensibility.
I get kind of weirded out when people get so surprised when it has a female protagonist. I think a lot of times people will compare Rose Hathaway’s character with Bella Swan from “Twilight,” and I’m like, “Can’t they just be two characters in two separate universes?” Nobody says Iron Man has a better sense of humor than Wolverine because they’re just two different characters. We need a lot more female characters. I think it makes the world a lot more interesting if we see that perspective. So I’m coming in almost on the level of a writer trying to be original, that when you have a female character—a female lead, especially—it colors everything.
I was a little guilty of that too, believe me. When the producers first came to me, and I wasn’t familiar with the book and they said, “Would you like to adapt ‘Vampire Academy’?” I thought, “Oh no! It’s come to this.” It was like they were offering me “Zack and Cody in Space” or something. It took me to really read the book and really understand, “Okay, don’t be fooled by the titled. There’s a lot going on here. There’s a lot going on here that you don’t get in a typical genre movie.”
I see every movie that comes out, so to me—and especially it seems like nowadays—every movie has some innocent character come across this new world, and they start screaming, “This just can’t be happening! Magic is impossible! There’s no such thing as a vampire!” I love that nobody in “Vampire Academy” is innocent. We get to jump the line past all of that stuff. They’re all pretty chill about it. Magic is real. Vampires are real. Vampires doing magic is real. To me, what was interesting about the project was the chance to play the supernatural as completely natural. To me, it was just a new way. A new attack at this material.
It certainly has a unique mythology with the three different types of vampires.
By being able to start on second base or third base, as it were, and not have to go through that whole opening getting everyone up to speed, we can actually get to a deeper level. We’re all agreed there is such a thing as vampires. Now let’s really get into it. Now, let’s get into the different types of vampires and the different types of relationships that that makes. That’s also pretty fascinating.
That does take a bit of explaining though. How do you not get bogged down in exposition?
I can tell you, it’s an ongoing process. My original view was to just throw everybody right in, and just like you’re a fly on a wall at the academy where everybody knows this stuff already. So you’ve got to pay attention and glom on. For people who haven’t read the book, we’re going through a process, or maybe tweaking. So we do find out a little bit more upfront. But to me, that’s part of the fun. That the whole movie isn’t about finding out what it’s all about but what happens after that. It’s like when you go visit a foreign city, you don’t want to read about everything int he travel book on the plane over there. You want to kind of just be thrown in to that new environment and experience it. I think that’s part of the fun.
How involved was Richelle?
I didn’t talk to Richelle before writing it. She’s so cool that she knew it’s a different process, and she didn’t want to be in my head right away. But she did read the first draft. Mark and I went up and met with her after that. The great thing about her is that she’ snot only the person who created this world, but she’s also a fan too. So she can look at this as a fan and just like enjoy it and go with it. And I think she was surprised when she just went on the roller-coaster ride forgetting she’s the one who actually created this stuff. There’s definitely some stuff I tried that she was for. I tried to make Christian blond, and that’s when she slapped me. Definitely don’t want to mess with the boys and their personal appearance.
It’s not an easy book to adapt. I always think that my housekeeper could have done a good adaptation of “Hunger Games.” You just go for a ride and step back. I think this is much more complex material. It’s not just dealing with action and the supernatural, but all these different kinds of weird relationships, too. So I found from an adaptation standpoint, the biggest difficulty was that a lot of it takes place in Rose’s head, which kind of works in the book with Richelle and her writing, but nobody wants to see a movie where the character narrates the movie and says, “this happened and then this happened.” So i think a lot of if was creating mystery out of that. But I felt like everything—and maybe I’m just rationalizing—but I felt like everything that was cut, I’m okay with. That statement will come back to haunt me. I know I had to do practically a press conference to tell the fans that Eddie’s character would not be appearing. I mean, it’s crazy. But you read the book, and Eddie’s got, like, a couple of lines. I’m struggling to put more Mason in right now.
This was the first project you and your brother collaborated on. When and how did he become involved?
It’s funny, we’ve actually developed a lot of things together. I don’t want to blow anybody’s mind, but this is actually our second vampire project. I adapted the Christopher Moore novel “Bloodsucking Freaks” for 20th Century Fox with him attached to direct. The studio really liked the script, but it’s so hard to get a movie made. When my brother found out I was doing another vampire movie, he was actually angry. He didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Then I showed him the script and he said, “Wait a minute. You didn’t tell me it was going to be good!” I think he got involved then. But my brother and I are a god team. I’m kind of like the “crazy right brain, way too imaginative, can’t even get a driver’s license because I day dream too much” [type], and he’s much more the “left brain, never got a B in his life, just make everything run on time” [type]. It’s a good match because I can just let my imagination run wild. And he says you’re letting it run too wild.
I assume Mark’s cutting the film now. Are you involved in that process, or are you hands off now?
He’s still in London, and I’m in Los Angeles. But I’m definitely not done. I have a feeling I’m going to be writing and re-writing narration, tweaking it until a week before. I think the disappointment of certain teen films recently, we have to completely readjust what we’re doing with the movie. We’re obviously adapting “Vampire Academy” because we love “Vampire Academy,” so the movie’s not going to change. The marketing may get crazy, so I warn the readers of that.