David Hillenbrand takes us on an unrated trip through Transylmania
Transylmania, the latest comedy outing from Dorm Daze creators David and Scott Hillenbrand, is finally making its long awaited DVD debut on April 27th. The film reunites the cast from National Lampoon's Dorm Daze franchise, and finds a motley crew of college students embarking on the wildest, sexiest, most outrageous semester abroad ever at famed Romanian cultural outpost Razvan University. Located deep in the heart of the "cursed land" of Transylvania in a centuries-old castle, Razvan isn't your typical institution of higher learning. And the black leather-clad professors, three-foot-tall dean, instruction in crucifix-wielding, and topless vampiresses lurking in dark corners are just the start in this laugh riot that ignites the screen with sexiness. We recently caught up with David to find out more about the film. Here's our conversation with Mr. Hillenbrand:
Most modern spoof films are truly awful. How did you guys overcome that stigma to create something that is unique and funny in this well-trodden genre?
David Hillenbrand: Our goal was not to spoof specific movies or individual scenes, like the recent spoof movie type franchises. Our goal was to have fun with the whole monster-hunting genre. Vampires. Van Helsing. Those types of things. We wanted to do something akin to what Mel Brooks did with Young Frankenstein. Or even Zombieland. We wanted to have our own story from beginning to middle to end. But we also wanted to have fun, giving nods to a lot of movies along the way without spoofing any particular characters or scenes.
You guys buck the trend of brining in a known-name guest star. Why did you decide to fly without at least one recognizable person in the cast?
David Hillenbrand: What we did was spin off some of the characters from our National Lampoon Presents: Dorm Daze franchise. We had a good time working with those actors, and those characters have gotten a lot of great feed back in the years since we put them out there. We have gotten a lot of emails and phone calls telling us that they really like those films. We had a chance to take some of those characters and spin them off into this story. Then we added in even more characters. It turned into a very large ensemble. We were looking for people that really filled out these rolls. Musetta Vander did a great job with the Teodora Van Sloan role. She is a great character actor. Everyone in the cast has a lot of experience. None of them are huge, big stars. Maybe that helps you forget that aspect of it. That you are watching a bunch of real people. You can just get into the story without having any of the baggage that comes with a big star.
We're huge fans of both Dorm Daze films. And Transylmania does pretty much borrow the entire cast from those two films. Do you consider this your own personal comedy troupe? And was there a reason why this couldn't have just been called Dorm Daze 3?
David Hillenbrand: We really enjoy working with these actors. I joke about Patrick Cavanaugh sometimes. He wasn't only in Transylmania and the Dorm Daze movies, but he is also in a film of ours called Gamebox 1.0, and despite completely different stories, his character always seems to be named Pete. A lot of people are now enjoying him on Mad Men. He plays Smitty on that series. We've had a great time with this great cast. We have James DeBello, Oren Skoog, Jennifer Lyons. This is our first time working with the twins Natalie and Nicole Garza. We definitely would love to work with them all again. Right now we are not focusing on continuing with this franchise. Yet, you never know.
Even with the grotesque hump on her back, Irena Hoffman is still very fetching. I find it hard to suspend my disbelief that someone like Oren Skoog's Rusty would shun her.
David Hillenbrand: We really wanted her to have that "Beauty and the Beast" quality all in one. Scott, my brother, had actually met Irena at a film festival in Spain, where our movie Gamebox 1.0 was playing. She was in a dramatic movie, playing a very serious role. And he had met her on a panel. They struck up a conversation. There was something about her. He felt she'd do really well in a comedy. She is Romanian born, but she lives here. When we auditioned her, and put her through her paces, we felt that she had a natural knack for comedy. Being gorgeous, she created, with us, a character that is very intense in her desire for romance. She is beautiful, yet she has this huge hump on her back. It's interesting. You are attracted and withdrawn all at once. If you want to get deeper into it, think about all the issues of inner beauty as opposed to outer beauty. This comes with all of those types of issues. The other thing we wanted to do with that character was have fun with the whole online internet dating experience. Where you're not quite sure at any given time who you might be talking to. Rusty has struck up a relationship with her online. They are chatting and sharing video, and all of that, before he can convince his friends to join him in this study abroad program in this 800-year-old castle in Romania. There is this build up of meeting this girl, only to find out she is not quite what he expected.
Let me ask you about Irena's character. There is a glaring factual error that IMDB doesn't mind pointing out. Draguta's baby wouldn't have any of her family's genetics, as her head has been sewn back onto someone else's body. Care to explain yourself?
David Hillenbrand: You've got to love the internet. Her father is played by David Steinberg, who, unfortunately, just recently passed away. We were all extremely sad to hear this news. He was a brilliant actor. A great comedian. A lot of people remember him from Willow. He was a little person that just did a fantastic job. He plays Irena's father brilliantly in this movie. Please just see it as a tribute to David and his work. There is a joke in the film where Rusty speculates, "I wonder what her mother looked like?" The film doesn't answer that question. What did she get from her mother? Where do these genetics find themselves passing through her. Especially if she were to have a child? I think that's a little bit of a spoiler alert. I suppose. As far as the ending, with her having a baby and passing on some of those traits? Those are from her lineage.
The problem is that Draguta had the baby after her head had been sewn onto someone else's body. So the baby is not actually being made with her own uterus or genetics.
David Hillenbrand: They replace her body, but her original body is the one with the hump.
Yes, but it's the new body that gives birth.
David Hillenbrand: That's true. But we have to think about DNA. If we are really going to get into this, if you move and replace certain limbs on your body, would that change your inner DNA? I don't think so.
I don't know. That's why I am asking you. The film is basically a live action cartoon, so I think its funny that people are arguing this fact.
David Hillenbrand: That is very funny. The speculation of that, and the accuracy of it. You are casting aside the suspension of disbelief that she has most of her body removed and replaced with other body parts. That part of the film, you are okay with. (Laughs) Interesting question.
Yes. This is not a movie that is chock full of scientific fact.
David Hillenbrand: That is my point. In dealing with vampires and castle freaks, and all of these other things we see in the movie. The head that is kept alive on top of an interesting contraption. This is not really a documentary.
I was watching the outtakes from the film, and at one point we see James DeBello screaming about the dogs interrupting the set. While it might seem funny to someone that has never stepped foot inside Romania, where you guys shot most of the movie, this is a very really problem plaguing the country. The whole land is littered with abandoned dogs, and they do have a tendency to disrupt the set.
David Hillenbrand: Yes. That is a great point. Especially inside the city. When you travel outside the United States, you certainly realize that there are certain aspects about a country like Romania that you sometimes take for granted. Especially how the government takes care of stray animals, or whatever other problems may crop up. There are a lot of stray dogs that run the streets in Romania. Especially in this town where our castle was located. This is way in the countryside, literally in Transylvania. You could hear dogs howling and barking. We loved that part of it. It sounded like wolves outside the castle. But it's sad. Especially inside the cities. To see these animals. There are a lot of three legged dogs, because of all the accidents that happen. Wherever you turn in Romania, there are a lot of stray animals. Especially dogs.
Did any of the cast or crew try to adopt some of these animals?
David Hillenbrand: We did have that happen. At the train station location, where we shot the train and the horse. I found this out. I believe it was the twins Natalie and Nicole Garza. They took home a little puppy. Meaning, they took it back to the hotel. The whole thing happened before I found out about it. They did put it in their purse and take it back to the hotel, only to learn that it, perhaps, was not a good idea. I'm not quite sure, but I think they brought the dog back to the same location. I think it may have been from a litter of puppies. It was a puppy that they fell in love with on the set. They did reunite it with the mother.
And they set of a strain of mange amongst the cast members.
David Hillenbrand: Yes.
This film seems very old fashion, which has a lot to do with its setting. What about this specific aesthetic appealed to your own sensibilities as directors?
David Hillenbrand: As far as an old style look? That really comes through in the flashback scenes, which we shot with a certain bleach bypass process. We did extensive testing with the cinematographer
Viorel Sergovici in Bucharest, Romania. They had a new Kodak laboratory there. We did a number of tests to find the exact desaturation level that we wanted to get for that look. We were very happy with how that came out. It's a unique chemical process. There are different levels of intensities. We dialed in our own exact level. We felt it worked. We did a lot of wardrobe and color tests at the castle, just to see how it should be treated. The rest of the film, we really went for a warm saturated, or cold look. When appropriate. There is so much that happens in this film. There were so many locations. Especially the secret laboratory, which we discover in the film. The soundtrack has a bit of a throwback sound with the Theremin music. We had fun with that. Viorel Sergovici is looked at as one of the top cinematographers in all of Eastern Europe. We felt he did a beautiful job lighting this film. What was unique is that if we shot this film here in Hollywood, there would be certain types of lightening instruments, balloons, and a bunch of stuff that we didn't have over there. We had a lot of original, practical instruments. And when you see the size of that castle? It is a huge castle. Just lighting up that castle at night took quite a few lightening instruments. We were amazed at the fantastic job he did lighting this up without some of those toys we would normally find in Hollywood. We are very proud of the look we achieved with this film.
You guys also do use a real castle. A real train. There's not a whole lot of CGI being utilized to bring this film to life. It's a pretty cool looking film. But also playing into that old fashion sensibility is this sense that the cast and crew is truly a family. There is a certain charm that shines through, that you don't see in too many comedies of this kind.
David Hillenbrand: Thanks. I appreciate that observation. Especially with a comedy like this one, which has a heightened tone. Everyone has to be on the same level tone wise in order to have a consistent feel. We tried to have the right kind of vibe. The right kind of environment. We like to play a lot of music on set. We want to keep everyone in a fun mood. As far as the accommodations, we made a choice to give the entire cast their own hotel. It was like college for them. They had their own dormitory. The chaperons weren't watching. We took these twenty-year-olds to a foreign country and let them go off on their own. They certainly had a good time. My brother and I stayed in a tiny bed and breakfast in order to focus on the work. We had to plan out our days. The crew, especially the Romanians...We had to house all of the Romanians on the crew because the castle was so far away from Bucharest...They had their own hotel. I think that contributed to the cast really being able to bond. They got to know each other and develop relationships that we felt translated onto the set.
As you reveal in the audio commentary, you guys don't mind getting your cast drunk. How do you think that helps in creating a more realistic environment on set. And does it ever hinder what you are trying to accomplish?
David Hillenbrand: For the most part, everyone in the cast is very professional. They did a great job. We didn't have any problem actors. We have had some issues in the past. But these guys and girls? They are all top professional people. There was one scene in particular that took place in a strip club. It was late at night. The cast needed to look like they had been there for a while. They did partake a little to get in the mood. And it definitely added a realism to the scene. But they are such pros. We were never concerned that they would push it beyond the boundaries of being able to do their job, and get through their scenes well. They are all pros. They took the edge off. And that gave the scene a realism our main audience, the seventeen to twenty-our year old kids, could really relate too. Because these are kids just like them.
You mentioned that specific scene in the strip club. Didn't you guys have a problem locating the actress who was set to play the stripper in that particular part of the film?
David Hillenbrand: Yes. In that part of the movie, you will see a girl dancing on stage. The actress didn't show up at the last minute. It was a surprise. In Romania, you will ask for something, and the answer you will get is, "Not a problem! Don't worry!" You always get this kind of an answer. Most of the time that works out. This wasn't one of those times. We got to the set, and apparently that actress didn't show up. No one knew where she was. There was a mad scramble to find a stripper. There was nudity involved. It was a certain type of role. Having to find someone that fast who was interested in playing that part posed a challenge. There was no advance warning that the girl wasn't going to show up. In the end, we did find someone to play the role. She was a nice girl, and she did a great job.
For the upcoming DVD, you created an all-new Unrated Edition. How does it differ from the R rated version that was in theaters, and how does having to have the Unrated Edition change or alter your own idea of what the film is supposed to be?
David Hillenbrand: We were very proud of the theatrical cut. However, the Unrated allowed us to add in some additional moments that we were close to putting in the final cut. We were also able to extend certain sequences. There was one particular scene that was not seen in the original version. We get the back-story of the vampire king and his sorceress. It was a beautiful scene. We were very proud of the lightening and the design. We loved their vampire layer. We could put that back in. When you are editing, you always want the film to be shorter and tighter. This allowed us to put back in some of the additional footage that we really enjoyed, yet didn't make it into that final version.
What's next for you and your brother?
David Hillenbrand: We have a few different things that we are working on. There is a swashbuckling action adventure based on a classic Robert Louis Stevenson story that we are in preparation on called The Black Arrow. It is almost a Batman Begins meets Robin Hood, if you will. We also started a family genre division that is going to be making movies based on successful toys. We are excited about that as well. We had a lot of experience in the family genre. We worked on shows like Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, and cartoons like X-Men and Spider-Man. We like the family genre a lot. So we are definitely doing some work there. Then, in addition to The Black Arrow, we are prepping a movie based on a graphic novel set in the world of Los Angeles gangs. Its called Adrenaline Rush. It is about a modern, urban-based super hero. We are very excited about that.
You are working on a toy based film. Can you say what toy?
David Hillenbrand: I can't say at the moment. I'd be happy to circle back to you as soon as I can. I'm sorry for that. It's in the young girl genre. The six to ten-year-old dolls and books kind of line. That is the area we are working in.
So I can bust out the scoop that you guys are bringing Strawberry Shortcake to life with Bruce Dern starring as the Purple Pieman?
David Hillenbrand: (Laughs) Exactly. How did you guess?
Transylmania is available on DVD April 27th, 2010.