“We Are the Night” And He Is Dennis Gansel

“We Are the Night” And He Is Dennis Gansel (photo)

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There have been a lot of vampire movies on the market lately, but few like “We Are the Night.” It’s about a petty criminal named Lena (Karoline Herfurth) who is spotted by a beautiful, ageless vampire (a ferociously menacing Nina Hoss) and inducted against her will into an all-girl crew of badass vamps. There’s a little bit of lesbian intrigue, some smart world-building around the idea of an all-female vampire society, and an appealing blend of genres: horror, action, and even a little social commentary. The material might seem like a departure for German filmmaker Dennis Gansel, whose two previous works as a director, “Before the Fall” and “The Wave,” were both Nazi-centric stories focused around high schools. But as we discussed during our conversation, there are some very clear and very interesting thematic connections in all of Gansel’s recent work.

People of my generation who went to public school in the 1980s will probably recognize “The Wave,” based on an experiment on the nature of fascism and dictatorships in a California high school, from the classic TV movie starring Bruce Davison it inspired. Gansel’s version ups the production values and style and, simply by setting the story in Germany, significantly ups the ante as well.

With IFC Films bringing both “We Are the Night” and “The Wave” to VOD (“We Are the Night” is available now; “The Wave” premieres next Wednesday, June 8) I had the chance to chat with Gansel about the origins of both project as well as some of the peculiar specifics of making a vampire movie (you’ll never believe how many different kinds of fake blood they have to use).

Where did the idea of a movie about a family of female vampires come from?

When I started this story, back in 1997, I read a lot about vampires and I discovered the novel that was actually the first vampire novel ever written: “Carmilla” by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. The novel dealt with a female vampire duchess traveling through Austria, in the region of Styria. She falls in love with the daughter of a landlord and she bites her and makes her her companion. This novel was actually the biggest influence on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” so much so that he actually wanted Styria to be his setting too, but his editor said he couldn’t do it. They were frantically searching for another location and that’s when they came up with Transylvania. I thought if female lesbian vampires who don’t bite men is in the very beginnings of vampires’ history, it could be very nice for us. And that’s where the idea came from.

Watching these incredibly wealthy women living these luxurious, decadent lives, and then occasionally drinking blood, it reminded me an awful lot of “Sex in the City” with vampires. I know your original idea predates the show, but was that an influence at all?

I wasn’t a big fan of “Sex and the City,” but I know the show because, oddly, it was a huge hit in Germany. But I don’t think it was an influence on the film. The idea was more from watching women in Berlin in the last five six years and the way they behave, shop, club, and the way they have relationships with men. It’s a very vibrant, almost emancipated way they live their lives. Watching them, and going to some of the wilder clubs in Berlin, the things we saw were so absurd that we thought they would make a good part of our vampire film.

Has the vampire genre been undergoing a renaissance in Germany in recent years, the way it has been in the United States? Are there are lot of modern German vampire films?

“We Are the Night” is a rare film in Germany. It’s more like an experiment. It was really really hard to convince the financiers to believe in the genre again. When the film opened in Germany it didn’t make much money, essentially because everyone in Germany thought it was sort of a German “Twilight.” We had a lot of problems in the communication with the audience. It’s now a huge hit on DVD but in cinemas it was quite disappointing.

When you’re making a movie in such a well-established genre like the vampire film, how do you know what elements to keep and what elements to reinvent?

It really depends on the story. We were making these decisions while we were writing. Actually the one thing we talked about a lot was the fact that they are all female vampires, which raises the question “But what about the male vampires?” And we thought “Okay, if we were female vampires, we would instantly kill every male vampire because they would obviously be much stronger than we are.” We though that the survival rate for female vampires would be much higher because they were less likely to reveal themselves and they wouldn’t kill as many people. And ironically that is what our female vampires do after Lena joins the group; the body count rises because they want to impress her. Ultimately these male aspects may lead to the extinction of our vampires. We thought that was an interesting side effect.

There were two shots in the film that really caught my eye, both close-ups of women’s arms. In one we watch as goosebumps suddenly appear, and in another the hairs on the arm suddenly stand on end. The shots are so simple, but they are so cool. Are those real arms and real goosebumps or is that some computer magic?

It was actually our main actress, Karoline Herfurth, and her arm, but we enhanced it. So we did use visual effects to get the right motion of the hair. We tried everything: ice, even cold air! But it didn’t work out so we had to enhance it a little bit. There’s much more CGI than you would think in the film. We have over 250 CGI shots, which is a lot.

I’m always interested in the practicalities of fantastical movies like yours. For example: what’s the best way to shoot fake blood? Does it need to be lit at a certain way? Do you have to keep it at a certain temperature?

There are actually different sorts of blood for each scene. So for night scenes you need blood that is much more light. For daylight scenes you can use much darker blood. I think we used five different types of blood. And it was actually made so you could drink up to half a liter and nothing would happen. But if you drank more than that — and in one scene they drank a lot — you get, um, problems. You’d get a stomachache and have to run to the bathroom. [laughs] It was very funny.

[laughs] So even vampires have to know their limits. Switching gears here, I wanted to ask a few questions about “The Wave” as well. As a kid, I remember seeing the TV movie that was based on that experiment several times. Did you grow up with the story as well?

I didn’t see the movie but there is a novel based on the movie that, because of our history in German, is required reading for kids in school. I did a movie a few years earlier called “Before the Fall” and it was dealing with Nazi schools where my own grandfather was a student and later a teacher. I made that movie because I wanted to understand why those ideas were so seductive, and to make it possible for the audience to emotionally understand how these schools and the system worked. That film led to more questions: “What about my generation? Is fascism or dictatorship still possible?” In Germany, with our history, everyone always says “No, no, no. We learned our lesson. We learn so much about it in high school and university and daily life.”

So it was quite interesting for us to raise this question. I asked it to [Ron Jones] the original teacher of the Third Wave experiment. And he said, “Dennis, it’s not about the nation or politics. It’s about psychology. And in my opinion, the psychology behind The Wave is so strong it can even work in Germany.”

I got to see the two films back-to-back. And seeing them that way, you realize that even though they have such different subjects — female vampires versus a high school class — they’re basically talking about the same ideas: how badly individuals want to feel like part of a group and how power seduces and corrupts. Are the two films connected in your mind in that way?

Absolutely. And I would say it’s the same with “Before the Fall” too. That and “The Wave” and “We are the Night” are dealing with the same subject: what would I sacrifice to be part of a group and where are my moral standards? At what point would I say enough is enough? That’s something I have found fascinating since I first started making movies.

I’ve read other interviews you’ve given where you talk about wanting to make movies in Hollywood. How’s the transition going so far?

After “Before the Fall,” I got an agent and I flew out to Los Angeles for the first time. And I was surprised because in Germany it’s all about the money. In Germany, they say “Oh you can’t do that as a movie, people won’t like it.” We do comedies all the time and it’s really tough to get on with new ideas. In Hollywood — or the United States — it’s just about ideas. When you go to Los Angeles or New York, all the meetings are just about the story. It’s all about your ideas; what’s fresh, what’s unique. And I did find this very refreshing. That’s the first part; then afterwards it’s about money and actors and it gets really tough. [laughs]

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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