Steve Niles, David Slade, and Rob Tapert Survive 30 Days of Night

The creators of this Halloween's scariest flick talk about their experiences on set!

Producer Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) brings audiences the terrifying thriller "30 Days of Night," set in the isolated town of Barrow, Alaska. There, in the extreme northern hemisphere, the populace is plunged into complete darkness for an entire month. When most of the inhabitants head south for the winter, a mysterious group of strangers appear: bloodthirsty vampires, ready to take advantage of the uninterrupted darkness to feed on the town's residents. As the night wears on, Barrow's Sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett), his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George), and an ever-shrinking group of survivors must do anything they can to last until daylight.

We aren't allowed to review 30 Days of Night at this time, but I can tell you that it is awesome. It is easily the best vampire movie in the last ten years. It's not some namby-pamby redo of "Interview with a Vampire or Bram Stoker's Dracula. This is more along the lines of The Lost Boys and From Dusk Till Dawn. Triple the gore. Trust me, you won't be disappointed. Heads go flying; vampire children die a wicked death. It's brutal, and honest, and never cheats the world it has created for itself.

Earlier tonight, we were treated to a special screening, followed by a Q&A by the film's direct David Slade, producer Rob Tapert, and co-screenwriter and original creator of the graphic novel Steve Niles. Scott Mantz of Access Hollywood was the moderator.

Here is that Q&A:

Okay, I've got to ask, what did you think of that? Right? Every once in awhile, a movie comes along to breath life into a tired genre. I know that's how I felt about zombie movies after watching 28 Days Later. And that's how I feel about vampire movies after having watched 30 Days of Night. Wouldn't you agree with that? Right? For those of you who don't know me, I am Scott Mantz. I am the film critic for Access Hollywood. I know what you're thinking. "Access Hollywood has a film critic?" Yes. That's me. And I am very pleased to be moderating tonight's Q&A with the filmmakers of 30 Days of Night. First, welcome the author of the graphic novel and co-screenwriter Steve Niles. Also welcome producer of the film Rob Tapert. And the director David Slade. First question tonight, Steve. I understand that this is your first time seeing the movie?

Steve Niles: It's my first time seeing it all cut together like that. I saw a test screening three weeks ago. There was temp music, and placeholders, and I didn't see the ending. There was a lot more stuff missing.

What did you think?

Steve Niles: I am so thrilled. I am so happy, I can't even tell you. This really feels like a great film.

When you read the graphic novel, you realize that the style of it is right up there on the screen.

Steve Niles: It is. I've been saying this in every interview, but I really have been having an anti-Hollywood experience with this whole thing. This has been mine and Ben's baby for so long, I just can't believe it.

Can Sony quote you on that?

Steve Niles: Sure they can.

Now, what was the genesis of this story? I heard 30 Days of Night, and I thought, "This is like a wet dream for Vampires." Where did you get this idea for the film?

Steve Niles: We would always check the paper, and right before it goes dark in Barrow, there is always this little human interest piece about it. I was living in Minnesota at the time, suffering through one of their winters. I had very little human contact, and I was dealing with that. I happened to read the little human-interest piece. The first thing that interested me was the darkness. But then it was the alcohol. It was not illegal. You could bring it there. But they couldn't sell it because of the increase in suicides. The suicide rate would just go up, and I had to think, "God, what kind of people live there?" I tore the story out. This was like twelve years ago. I wrote "vampires" in the corner. And then I just sat on it. It took me another five or six years before I was in Los Angeles. I pitched it around. I just had the basic story for it, with Eben and Stella and the vampires. And I pitched it for two or three years, just to blank faces. It wasn't until we did the comic that it caught on.

In terms of the style, and working with Ben Templesmith, the artist, how did that collaboration work?

Steve Niles: Ben and I had already been working together. We were working on Hell Spawn for Todd McFarlane. And we would have this massive time in-between. Ted Adams called and asked if we had any stories. He said he couldn't pay any money but he could publish our comic. I said, "Okay, here is my rejected pitch list." 30 Days of Night was fourth on the list. He called me back and said, "This vampire thing sounds kind of cool." So then we started doing it. Me and Ben started talking. The first thing we agreed on was that I wanted to write scary vampires and he wanted to draw scary vampires. The more we looked into it, the more we saw what little there was of it. Even the good vampire movies that have come out in the last couple of years, they aren't really scary. So, that was the one thing we agreed on right away. Ben's style is what it is. I knew that from working with him. I knew that he would do that kind of stuff. What I loved about him, when we were wasting our time on Hell Spawn, was that Ben was not afraid to go dark. As in, it's a little murky, it's a little hard to see. Which I think is great for a horror comic book.

It's also great for the movie. The darkness of the film is perfect. This is a perfect adaptation of what we see on the page. Which brings me to the next question. Rob, tell us a little bit about the first time you read the comic and how you decided to make it into a film?

Rob Tapert: The comic had been sent to us by Steve's agent at the time. We got the very first one. Then we got the rough of two, and three wasn't even written yet. Steve came in, and we heard how it was going to wrap up. Steve came in and kind of pitched it to us. We thought it was a great idea. What really appealed to Sam (Raimi) and I, and the investors, was having a love story as the backbone to a horror movie. This seemed original, to have vampires as we'd never seen them. It was being called the anti-Buffy, and that really appealed to us at the time. We were looking for something that was unusual with vampires.

Steve Niles: The first thing that Rob ever said to me was, "I hate vampire movies." And he still does.

Do you steal hate them?

Rob Tapert: No, not this one.

Steve Niles: Good, mission accomplished.

That's a true producer's comment right there. Now, how many of you have seen Hard Candy? Great movie, right? First of all, I have to ask David Slade, how do you go from an indie like Hard Candy to something that is as stylish as 30 Days of Night?

David Slade: Well, I had picked up the trade edition, because I like comic books anyway. I'd read it. Hard Candy was finished and about to play at Sundance. So I took a meeting. Some executives said, "We have all these projects for you to look at." I really didn't want to do a studio project after finishing Hard Candy. I wanted to continue doing small independent films for a while. Then someone said, "We've got 30 Days of Night." And I said, "Wait a second." I closed my eyes and went, "I would love to do that. I would shave my arms to do that." I saw a lot of potential in that graphic novel. Also, it went towards my sensibilities. I liked the story. And it was scary. As Steve said, I wanted to make a horror movie that was scary. I wanted to make one that was interesting.

In the movie, before the shit hits the fan, I'm thinking, "Why would anyone want to live in up there in Barrow, Alaska?" I'm just glad I live in Los Angeles where it's nice and safe...That's a joke. But, in terms of the project that is up and running, why don't you tell me about adapting your story for the screen and working with the other screen writers?

Steve Niles: That's what was cool. Like Rob was saying, I was in the room working on the story with Rob and Sam before I'd even finished the comic series. I had a general idea of where I wanted the story to go. The thing I liked about it, was that we agreed on the core story. That it was between Eben and Stella. That is the core story, so we spent a lot of time working on that. It was strange. I was working on the screenplay before I had to write the final issue. As far as just working with Rob and Sam, I've never had so much fun.

Lets talk about casting. How did Josh Hartnett get cast in the role? I understand that you met him at a dinner.

David Slade: Yes, I did. I met him at a diner.

Tell me how that came about?

David Slade: The way things work at the casting stage, there is this list. And Josh was at the top of this list. But Josh said, "Nah, I don't want to do this. I really don't." But then he read it, and said, "I want to see the director." So I went and met him at this little vegetarian bowling alley diner. We are both vegetarians, which is weird. Doing a vampire movie. And I am still thinking he is not going to take this role. This is a little movie. It is a little survival piece with all of these horrible elements. So, I met him and gave him my email address. I told him everything I wanted for the character. I took a picture of the outside of this place with my camera, and then sent him a thank you email not expecting anything back from him. I attached the picture of him. And apparently, that picture was what changed his mind and made him decide to do the picture. He said he'd never seen such benevolence in a place he'd been to everyday of his childhood life. And I think this is one of his best performances in a leading role. Maybe I shouldn't say that.

No, I totally agree with that. Also, I don't know if you've seen 3:10 to Yuma yet, but Ben Foster was outstanding in that movie. He was also really good in Alpha Dog. He has a hell of a character in this movie.

David Slade: I was lucky enough to have met Ben quite a while ago. While we were doing the press run for Hard Candy, I'd met him, and I got to know him socially. And I saw this character in him well before we were at the casting stage. Six months before we started making offers, I told him that I was going to go off and do this film. As it turned out, Ben has a vampire fetish. He is mad about vampires. He said, "I'd love to do that." I think he was expecting to play a vampire. I told him, "No, you can't be a vampire." And he was quite disappointed. But at the time, he was in character for a role in a film that fell apart. He was going to play a survivalist expert, so he showed up with a shaved head. He had on mirrored shades and a utility belt, and he fired questions at me like a drill sergeant. I was kind of laughing at him, and answering his questions, "What does this guy do? What kind of accent does he have?" And I told him that the character had a Cajun accent. So he goes, "Okay." And then he comes back with a Cajun accent. I think he pulled it off. The scariest thing, actually, especially for the other actors is, he got off a plane from New Zealand at four in the morning and then went straight to rehearsal. Which is tough for any actor. They were all doing whole entire pieces of the script, and he knew every line perfectly. And he did them with a Cajun accent, and he improvised. He scared them all to death. He is brilliant from the word go. We expanded his role. We did this, hoping and knowing that he would be brilliant. I think Ben actually carries the first act of the film.

Now, Steve, were you on the set the entire time it was being shot?

Steve Niles: No, I wasn't, actually.

Rob Tapert: The writer is never allowed on the set.

David Slade: Not true, Brian Nelson was there the entire time.

Steve Niles: Everybody was giving me daily updates, and letting me know what was going on. So, I felt it was going good during the whole production.

Where's the dirt?

Rob Tapert: There's always dirt, but this worked out well.

David Slade: It was a very difficult film to make. We were under extreme duress. Physical and mental. We were doing really big things. On the one hand, we were having too much fun to be daunted by it. On the other hand, the physical exertion starts to make you go crazy after two months. Not just with the cast. The grips obviously go the most crazy. Those things are always the dirt. You are so tired, you don't have time for any of the other stuff.

How long was the production process on the film?

David Slade: Three months. Two months at the least. There were about seventy days of shooting, not including the second unit. We were on mountaintops for about a week. Then we did a week in the general store. We thought that was easy, "This is great. Let's just stay in this one location." But then we were on this mountain and everything broke down. We were up there with this big crane, and all of these cables. There's the moisture, and everyone is getting altitude sickness, and everyone is freezing their asses off. It wasn't a lot of fun. It was one of those things. It was a really physically demanding shoot.

What about all of the prosthetics and the special effects? You didn't have hardly any of that in Hard Candy.

David Slade: We had a few on that film.

Were there any new challenges on this film?

David Slade: People may not know this, but I worked in television and commercials for about ten years, so I've blown shit up before. I've killed people and blown people up. Obviously, not physically. To the best of my knowledge. But that is where I learned my craft and where I learned the language of filmmaking. The thing about this film is that I had to be prepared. Everything was about preparation. Without preparation, this film couldn't have been made.

Rob Tapert: On that subject, it really was about a lot of the choices that David made. Early on, the script had these vampires running on roofs and jumping from roof to roof. I was a little concerned that we would have Peter Pan on wires flying around the rooftops.

David Slade: The people actually jumped from roof to roof. One of the things I did, was I sat down with the stunt coordinator. My storyboards and my script were about as twice as thick as the actual film. Just in the amount of shooting time. So, When I took that stuff to the stunt coordinator, I told him, "I don't want them to be flying on wires. I want this to be physical. I don't want to break the laws of physics." We used these amazing ramps that would blast you and catapult you into the air. On a couple of the shots we used that. I think we did a couple of gags in the final fight with wires. Everything else was done physically and practically.

One of my favorite shots in the film is the aerial shot, where all Hell is breaking loose. The vampires are just killing everybody. That was a very short scene, but it was my favorite in the entire film. How was that shot?

David Slade: That was a helicopter shot. There was all of this crazy stuff going on, on the ground, so I had to stay behind. They went up there, and we just kind of directed it from the ground. It was a helicopter shot, which was shot straight down. There was some digital stuff going on here and there. What you see is what you get pretty much. We did add a couple of people in. There was this one funny one. This guy gets shot, and you assume he is a vampire. But this other guy jumps on him and starts eating him. This vampire eats him. That's called friendly fire. And another bit of trivia, there are two screams at the end. The woman's scream is my girlfriend. And I am the one chasing after her.

Another interesting observation while watching the film is that the only sense of passing time we have is the beard growth on the guys' faces. The movie starts off, and Josh Hartnett is clean-shaven. Then at the end of the movie, he has this beard...

David Slade: I don't want to talk about the beards. The beards were a nightmare.

Rob Tapert: That was just tough scripting it.

David Slade: You are working in these freezing cold conditions at night, and plus you have the continuity of it. We weren't shooting this in sequence. You have to work all the way through the story. It was always, "What stage of beard are we at now?" That was one of the biggest headaches. We thought we should do beards all the way through, but it was one of the easiest ways to mark a passage of time. I don't want to talk about it.

Rob Tapert: What David doesn't want to say is, he had to start with a clean face. It was a character choice, really.

I loved what you decided to show us, and what you didn't want to show us. Did you have a set of rules as to when we would see the bones poking through? Or when we might just hear a sound off of camera.

David Slade: There's the reality of shooting stuff. There was stuff that was shot, we just couldn't fit it into the film. In a way, the length of the film dictates that. We wanted to hide the vampires. To me, personally, that makes up some of the drama. I wanted to make a horrible horror film. As opposed to an action or a fantasy movie. The core of that is the drama. The only way to keep the human drama going was to figure out the when and the why. We had to slowly introduce certain scenes, but when it comes, it comes. One of my favorite scenes doesn't have to do with the gore at all. It's the argument in the basement. It's just a great character piece. There were a number of things that we were really specific about when they would happen, and how far they would go.

30 Days of Night opens October 19th, 2007.