ByFred Topel, writer at
Fred Topel

I’m so excited I get to do a two part interview with Daniel Waters. I always like to talk about filmmakers’ classic work when I interview them about something new, but Waters has had his hand in so many films with which I grew up, I could fill the whole interview with them. And Moviepilot is letting me! But first, the DVD and Blu-ray of Vampire Academy is out.

The film bombed in its February theatrical release, and Waters was self-deprecating about that and some of his own dissatisfactions with the movie. Based on Richelle Mead’s novel, Vampire Academy is about the battle between Strigoi and Moroi, and their protectors the Dhampir. Mark Waters, Daniel’s brother, directed the film which still hits those notes from Mead’s book, and perhaps the DVD has even more lost tidbits from the world of Vampire Academy.

Here is part one of my epic 30 minute interview with Daniel Waters, focusing on his adaptation of Vampire Academy. He even began with a personal note that blew my mind both as a writer and as a person named Fred.

I like the name Fred. It’s a fun name to type. You make a circle with your index finger. F-R-E-D is a circle.

That is amazing. I’ve never thought of that and I have typed my own name many, many times. There aren’t a lot of characters named Fred in movies. I always get Drop Dead Fred is the biggest one now. Before that it was Freddy Kreuger.

That’s pretty good. I always have a character named Fred, even if it’s just a small role.

Is there really? If I look at all of your movies, there’s a Fred somewhere?

I know there’s one in Batman Returns. Don’t quote me.

When you got the job for Vampire Academy, where did it fall in the vampire and teen lit phenomenon? Were there already some teen lit movies, or was this even before that started?

Oh, no, it was definitely late in the game. Perhaps naively, my brother and I thought, much like the way at the end of the ‘80s, people were sick of teen films and nobody wanted to see another teen film, but I did the movie Heathers and it was a new way of looking at the teen film so it was responded to quite well. Even if it didn’t make a lot of money, people liked it. Mark and I thought, “Okay, people are sick of vampire movies, but this book has its own kind of personality and its own kind of style. If we bring that to life, people will of course see what an original take on the vampire lore this is.” I think we just came at the wrong time where no matter what we did, people just had fatigue about the whole vampire genre and there was nothing we could do to change that.

For fans of the book, if they get the DVD, are some of the additional scenes you wrote included?

Yeah, there are some additional scenes. Definitely there’s a big flashback scene that was in the book that was mystifyingly cut out of the movie. I know that’s on the DVD. I haven’t actually seen the final list of deleted scenes. To me there’s a lot of things just personally, stuff within scenes that exist in the movie now that I thought were cut down a bit too much. To me the famous scene from the book, the charm necklace scene, to me it went through an ABC Family Channelization process. It was much sexier before. Maybe I’m an old perv, but I miss the old version where it was much more sexy.

ABC Family is still pretty edgy.

Well, I won’t get into the details but we had thong. [Laughs] A basic disappointment I had with the movie is that the studio that released the movie, The Weinstein Company, didn’t quite get what was appealing to the readers of the books. They kind of thought they were going to get a [The Hunger Games](movie:44466) -type action movie, and we knew that the key to [Vampire Academy](movie:609357) is the dynamic between Rose and Lissa and just the personality of it, not just action scenes. They were cut so I think a lot of good just them standing around talking stuff was lost to keep the story moving. Those of you who’ve read all the books, the first Vampire Academy is not the most fascinatingly plot driven of the books. It is more just the characters hanging out. That’s what was unique about it, but I feel the movie, a lot of it plays, even fans who love the movie all seem to agree that the movie’s a little rushed, that things happen too fast. You just wish you could breathe a bit more.

It sounds like you disagree with some of the cuts. Did you get into it with your brother over that?

Yes, yes, we had a very awkward Thanksgiving, let’s just say that. Stuffing went flying across the table. This is the problem. I think my brother loves cutting movies tight. He likes to cut movies tight and then Harvey Weinstein likes to come in and whatever the director thinks is tight, he needs to cut that much more out of it. So I was working with two guys who don’t like to let people stand around and talk and I love movies that were just okay, it’s not about keeping the story moving. This isn’t like a bomb on a bus and if the speed goes under 50 miles an hour, the bus blows up. It’s not that kind of movie. I wish it was a little more leisurely.

How was the first time you ended up working with Mark [Waters]?

Like I said, before we squabbled in the editing room, I think it was very good. It’s been sad that the movie didn’t do very well, that we feel like the two streams in Ghostbusters that you’re not supposed to cross them or something. So we hope it’s not bad luck working together because we have very similar sensibilities. Even just as movie viewers, we seem to agree on everything. I think it was a good team in that my brother was good at math, I was great at English. He is more the left brain Type A guy and I’m more the dreamy right brain guy. We always wanted to work together. Certainly our working relationship is very good as far as I can come up with this crazy, crazy stuff and he’s the guy who’s got to make it real. His wife has a funny thing she says. She says, “I make him cool and he makes me sane.” So it was supposed to be a good combination.

Speaking of feeling rushed, there is a lot of background to the Strigoi and St. Vladimir's. Were there points in reading Richelle’s book that felt like, “Come on, Richelle, you’re killing me. Don’t give me all this stuff to explain!

Definitely the first movie. We thought, “Oh, just get us to the second movie and we can relax a bit more.” It’s a 300 page book that I thought was going to be a two hour movie, ended up being a 90 minute movie. Of course there are some fans of the book that wouldn’t even like the longer version of the movie because they want a five hour movie that has every single thing in the book. It’s just not going to happen. Yeah, definitely for my adult friends who hadn’t read the book, I would show them early drafts of the script and their eyes would glaze over. “Moroi? Strigoi? What’s going on? Help me.” I think we need to give people a menu before they walked in that had everything on a big placard. We could wait to start the movie for 10 minutes and have them read everything.

Speaking of scenes of people standing around talking, was there a part of you that would have wanted to throw out a lot of background and just do a wacky high school movie with vampires?

The thing is, some people criticized us like, “Oh, the guys who did Mean Girls and Heathers are not the right person to do the movie.” But we never wanted to do just Mean Girls with fangs. We really wanted to capture everything about Vampire Academy. I’m someone, if you look at the movies I’ve done, I’ve never met a tone I didn’t like. I like darkness and fantasy mixed with humor and I thought the book had all of that. We tried to get it all. My first approach was even less explanatory. It was more like okay, I’m just going to pretend that you’re backstage at a concert and this is just the way this school is and you’ve got to play catch up yourself. Richelle liked that version the best, but then we ended up doing [a draft] explaining every little thing. Then that was too long, so I think we ended up with this middle version that is simultaneously too much exposition, too many facts and figures and also for some people not enough explanation. I think just the pure information of it was a tough nut that we never quite cracked. But please, buy the DVD.

Well, people can see different stages of the development, but I feel audiences seem to universally prefer that first version you described where they’re trusted to follow along. Yet Hollywood always seems to want to explain everything to them. Where does that disconnect come from?

It is a weird thing that it is true. If you look at just anime, more Japanese stuff, they throw you in the middle of this 10 times even crazier world and you’re just supposed to play catch up. It seems like everybody under the age of 25 doesn’t have a problem with it. But then unfortunately the movies are produced and made by people who don’t have that quick mindset yet. So it’s just like, “Well, wait a minute. Nobody’s going to understand this if you don’t stop the movie dead and explain it.” So you have these kind of adults still running the system. I think as the people who are 25 and under get older and into more positions of power, I think it may change a bit.

I suppose Game of Thrones does it that way too, and I actually am lost in Game of Thrones.

No, but it is a sense with [Game of Thrones](movie:817617), I just go with the flow. It’s funny when I read about Game of Thrones and they give me all the characters names, that’s when I get confused.

Yeah, just tell me Peter Dinklage, Lena Heady, I know who they are.

Yeah, but when I watch it, I can follow along.

Come back for part two of my Daniel Waters interview where we look back at Heathers, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Hudson Hawk, Batman Returns and Demolition Man!

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