Filming is underway in Detroit, Michigan, on Amy Heckerling’s [Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Clueless] rom-com Vamps. The film reunites the director with her Clueless star Alicia Silverstone and a striking cast that includes Krysten Ritter and Sigourney Weaver.
Synopsis: Stacy (Ritter) and Goody (Silverstone) are two sexy vampires living it up in present-day New York City. When they each meet a special man, the friends have to make a choice that will jeopardise their immortality and potentially much more by joining forces with one of the men’s vampire hunting parents to kill the bloodthirsty Cisserus (Weaver).
Director: Amy Heckerling
Writer: Amy Heckerling
Producers: Red Hour Films and Lucky Monkey Pictures. Individual producers are Lauren Versel, Molly Hassell, Maria-Therese Arida and Adam Brightman
Cast: Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter, Sigourney Weaver, Wallace Shawn, Justin Kirk, Kristen Johnston, Richard Lewis, Dan Stevens, Todd Barry
Budget: Under $20m
Financing: Private equity, pre-sales and Michigan tax rebates
International Sales: Parlay Films
Filming Locations: Detroit and New York
Shoot dates: August–September 2010
Status: In production
Release date: Summer 2011.
“I knew this was going to be great when I read the script,” Lauren Versel says over the phone from a stiflingly hot Detroit at the end of the first week of shooting. “Amy’s an amazing director and she’s on top form here. I knew Amy many, many years ago during the years when I was a screenwriter. A friend of mine was in New York City going out to dinner with Amy and asked me along. I had just made City Island and I asked Amy what she was up to and she had this script and I asked if I could read it. I told her I couldn’t do a studio level film but if she would let me do it on a more modest scale we could do it. I met Molly [Hassell] in mid-2009 and I shared this with her and she wanted to so to it.”
“[Lauren] gave it to me and me and Julie Kroll [the film’s executive producer and a well known buyers’ rep], with whom I do business, sent it to Lisa Wilson at Parlay Films,” Hassell says. “We had a very hard time [with casting]. Ritter was a fast choice. She was on Amy’s list. I’d seen her so many times in movies and thought she had the potential to be great. We were looking forever for the second girl. Lauren went with Amy to see a play that Alicia Silverstone was in and Lauren thought it would be special if they could work together. We had to get the lynchpin name and when Sigourney Weaver met Amy we were off and running.”
Michigan’s 40% refundable tax credit for qualified film costs incurred in the state proved irresistible, and around 40% of the crew on Vamps are based in Detroit. “Detroit is a great city and while we would have loved to shoot it in New York City their tax credit only passed last June,” Versel says. “There are many qualified crew here and between six and ten movies are shooting here [including Machine Gun Preacher, LOL, Transformers 3 and Real Steel].”
Hassell says the city of Detroit lends itself well to a story set in New York. “The architecture is old enough that it matches the architecture of the New York buildings. We even found a place that we could double for Union Square West and we built a statue in the middle.” After the 37-day shoot the producers will travel to New York to shoot exteriors before decamping to Los Angeles for offline editing and taking a trip to Alvernia Studios, a brand new facility near Krakow, Poland, for effects work. Vamps will be the first major US production to use the facility. “We have a lot of effects because it’s a vampire movie,” Hassell notes dryly.
Versel points out that despite the storyline, the tone of the films is very clear. “It’s funny. It’s a rom-com but it’s also quite touching and very, very beautiful. The art direction and photography are stunning and the costumes by Mona May are beautiful – people are going to love it.” Heckerling was too ensconced in the shoot to speak, however during a rare free moment she managed to fire off a quick email to Screen. “I was thinking about the kind of lifestyle I’d like to live and that it would be fun to be eternally young, go to school, have a job, and horse around with your friends in New York at night.” Heckerling has worked with several of the cast before: Silverstone on Clueless, Marilu Henner on Johnny Dangerously, and Taylor Negron in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.
The producers are hands-on types and are happy to brave the 90 degree heat and 90% humidity of a Michigan summer. “I feel that film-making in the DVD era got a little bit soft,” Hassell says. “If there hadn’t been so much money around I’m not sure many people would still be working today. I’ve been producing for over ten years and there’s been frustration every few years when you wonder how [certain] movies get made. Those days are over and you can’t just walk around and say you’re making a movie and get financing. It’s a lot more work these days. I had to do a lot more prep work before we approached financiers. Different investors want different things – some want to protect the downside, others want to play the upside. With Amy it’s upside and you can sell that. You have to let people know what they’re getting into. I’m very fastidious about that.”