TRIBECA: North Carolina-born filmmaker Onur Tukel’s Manhattan and Brooklyn-set black comedy Summer of Blood is a novel twist on relationship angst, where the selfish needs of a vampire align with those of New York City bachelor.
The film, which world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, focuses on Eric (Tukel) who has turned down his girlfriend’s proposal for marriage only to finds himself adrift and soon topping off his bachelorhood with unemployment. As fortune would have it, he’s then bitten by a vampire, and that’s when things really start to get interesting.
Summer of Blood, which is being sold by XYZ Films, boasts a cast of mainly named indie actors such as Anna Margaret Hollyman and Dakota Goldhor. The film also has cameos by directors such as Dustin Guy Defa and Girls actor/director Alex Karpovsky (the two met when Tukel co-starred Karpovsky’s debut feature Red Flag).
Tukel stopped to talk in Tribeca recently about making his film in nine days, giving insight into the acting behind vampire bites and to discuss whether he might be the Turkish Woody Allen.
Tell me about your background.
I am Turkish American - I’m the first generation. My brother, my mom and dad were from Turkey then I was born here in Taylorsville, a very small town in North Carolina.
Do you speak Turkish?
My joke is I should be at least bi-lingual but I was learning English from a mother that was learning English at the same time so, I’m barely monolingual. I speak a broken dumb Turkish, it’s like Borat speaking English…
Where did you come up with the concept for Summer of Blood?
I wanted to make something that would make money - a genre film - but I also didn’t want to make something I’ve seen before. I am a big fan of Woody Allen, Whit Stillman, Neil Labute - dialogue-driven movies and being here in New York for a few years I definitely wanted to make something that was New York centric. I wanted make a dialogue-driven funny move with low budget horror film esthetics and sensibilities.
What led you to pick the themes of a man in relationship angst?
At 41 years, this is a turning point in my life, trying to decide if I am gonna get married or not, so it was easy to write about that fear. And also the fear of being overwhelmed in the city. And, there’s a big part of the movie where he’s wrestling with paying his rent and about his job …
He has a choice to make between a committed lifestyle, which is terrifying to him, and a fantasy lifestyle [of the vampire] to have complete sexual freedom with no repercussions. But what he thought was a beautiful fantastic lifestyle is even scarier than commitment.
The film feels a bit like Woody Allen meets Girls meets Twilight (for the vampire aspect). What do you think of that?
I’ve been watching Woody Allen my whole life and feel like I have always been influenced by his work so I think regardless, anything I do is going to be influenced by Woody Allen.
And Girls - I identify with Lena Dunham a lot - her Tiny Furniture is about that awkwardness of graduating college - knowing what she was going to do with her life. And Twilight well, that’s a melodrama but there’s the romantic/relationship aspect as well.
You do come across as a kind of the Turkish Woody Allen.
That’s because there is a dearth of Turkish filmmakers in America. I don’t know of any. If I was trying to make movies that were similar to Won Kar Wai, I’d be the Turkish Won Kar Wai as there are no other Turkish filmmakers making those kind of films. I think on my best day I might be able to touch Woody Allen on his absolute worst day.
How about the snappy writing?
I write the script myself - I have to write the first draft really quickly in two weeks or so and effusively pour it out, then I spend months re-writing it.
What I didn’t want to do and what I’ve done with previous films - is rehearse and get actors to learn it verbatim. I wanted it to be very loose and feel very improvisational.
We never rehearsed and - just kind of read thorough it and hit the main talking points, on shorter scenes we memorized them, but mainly we wanted to abandon the dialog but keep the context and the funny jokes.
So, he’s a lazy guy in relationships and he brings all his dates to the same place. How much of this was about character or was it a budget issue?
It was a budget and then a character thing. He’s so unoriginal and listless with his choices. We shot very quickly with two cameras in nine days so we knew - we didn’t have the money or time or resources to shoot his seven different dates [in different locations].
So we found a place called Milk & Roses in Greenpoint [Brooklyn]. It worked out really well for the character who is an idiot and who would take every date to the same place.
Those vampire bites were portrayed in a very interesting way.
The way I always saw it was being penetrated, so there was something orgasmic about it. There is a bit of homoeroticism to them. And the whole joke of terrible sex before the bites…
How did you pick your actors?
We had a pretty good script, I wanted to find and get actors that were on the rise independently, on the radar but hadn’t had any major roles yet.
Anna Margaret Hollyman, Dakota Goldhor, Melanie Fisk, these are people I’ve met in the independent film community going to different festivals, in New York, that are all hungry and they want to make good films.
They are known in the low budget indie film world, there are a lot of cameos in the independent film world too, like Alex Carpazzi, who is a director himself from Girls, and Dustin Guy Defa, he’s the one who bites me, he’s really a terrific actor and mainly a director…. and Zach Clark who made a film called White Reindeer that stars Anna Margaret Hollyman.