The awesome Universal re-telling of the classic vampire tale DRACULA UNTOLD has hit DVD and Blu-ray, so we spoke to the director GARY SHORE to find out more…
STARBURST: With the recent DVD and Blu-ray release of Dracula Untold, do you feel like you've finally let go of the film?
Gary Shore: To be honest, I felt like that the day the film was released! I suppose there was staggered release dates around the world and it did feel like it hit that point, but actually yeah I got a bunch of the Blu-rays sent to me the other day and when I got them I thought ‘wow that well and truly is the end of it’. It's really interesting to have gone on this three-year journey of developing the project, filming and post-production and going through all this mayhem that happens with a film this size and suddenly you are signing for the Blu-ray at your door step!
Was there anything in your commercial background that prepared you for the story aspect of a major Hollywood production?
The thing that commercials are good for is that it gives you discipline. It conditions you to tell a story; a very short story in a small space of time. Dealing with agencies is a precursor to working with studios and it gives you some of the skills you need to manage with that process. The narrative storytelling is a whole different muscle. It's a whole different discipline. There is a very nonlinear approach to commercials, and the ones I was doing were all sports where they have to be action packed and fast paced and I was really looking forward to slowing it all down a lot more and letting the camera sit and be still and observe. When you finish editing and put it all together and I watched the film the other day, and there is so much stuff that is cut out. With commercials, you know very clearly what it's going to look like and with the film there are so many people that handle it in between and you go wow maybe that's 60% of what I imagined.
What was it like to work with Director of Photography John Schwartzman? Was it intimidating working with someone of that stature on your first motion picture?
I spoke to John initially on Skype and his energy and love of the craft is just infectious, and that never let up. I mean the guy is savant when it comes to just remembering facts, details, stories impressions and images! He has this energy. It gets really hard when you shoot a film of any size, everyone gets down, I mean there are long days in forests with pouring rain and the mood can drop. John was always there, not that he was cheerleading, but he led from the front. He never got pissed off, or let anything get to him, and that’s infectious and it rubs off on the cast and crew. He was just a great collaborator; I'd work with John on every film if I could, if possible. I mean he did a beautiful job. I was looking at the transfer on Blu-ray, and it came out a lot darker and this version I prefer because you can really get in to those blacks, we shot it all on film and it looks gorgeous.
If you could go back to the start and do it all again what would you tell yourself to do on the first day on shooting?
Get out and run more. I mean it's a 72-day shoot, still working weekends and you need a marathon mentality when you approach it. I was running a lot before the film and you know I quit it just to stay focused on the film and then I started again once I finished. I was thinking ‘God I should have kept doing this because you solve so many problems when you are out on a run’, you know what I mean? It's a better way of doing it than being on a set trying to figure problems out when it’s costing you millions of dollars a day.
What was it about Dracula that you were drawn to?
Well, I was sent the script, and I read it with a lot of scepticism and I just found myself letting go and really enjoying it. It was a different approach. It was this really left field approach on history and fiction and being able to stick it in a blender. I looked at it as well like: 1 - It's a great opportunity to tell a great anti-hero story; 2 - To take on a legend and 3 - Just go and make a film! It’s hard enough to get a film made of any size and then the opportunity to go make a studio film and get them to invest that kind of confidence, time and budget in you as a filmmaker is really something, and it becomes an opportunity for you to be interested in and explore films.
Dracula Untold incorporates a lot of genres and influences, part fantasy, historical epic, superhero origin story and you said you were influenced by westerns, but is there any one film that influenced the overall tone and visual aesthetic?
I went back to many films, as you are approaching a first film, you've stored up all these ideas over the years coming up through film school, doing those commercials, and watching films. All these things build up in the subconscious, so when you go to start shooting you have to be very disciplined about what story you want to tell in the scenes and you start picking all the moments from your memory. You know what? There are about ten Predator references that I'm quite proud of! There’s loads of stuff in there.
Did you or the studio feel there was a need to pay homage to the Universal movies or was the thinking to distance this universe from the old one?
Like any studio film, you will feel pressure from the studio, it's a very controlled experience, beyond the level I expected it to be. At the same time, there’s a lot of freedom when you are shooting and making the film. There was never a conversation from the studio saying that you have to pay homage in a certain way to any previous films so no, and I never put that pressure on myself either. I wanted to go make a different film; I was approaching it as a story about a warrior who becomes Dracula. It's a story about a man, and that’s the way you have to approach it and what it becomes is what it becomes.
Do you see yourself revisiting this new version of Dracula again and maybe have a part to play in the upcoming new Universal Monster movie franchise?
That’s entirely a studio question. Honestly, I’m not trying to dodge it or anything! If they came back to me and said 'here’s a script we are happy with go ahead and read it, and if you have any ideas come back to us' they can talk to me, but they haven't yet. They are still working on their other monster movies, or I assume they are anyway; I haven't heard, so we'll see. It will be interesting to see how they take it in modern day as well. I'm sure they have a great plan, so we'll see.
How did the landscape of Northern Ireland influence the shooting process and the finished film?
For me, it was a great opportunity. Northern Ireland was a great place to shoot in. I'm from Dublin myself! It was great to be an hour and a half away from the shoot and scout. I needed to be home for a period of time last year so it was great to be that close. Being able to go up and scout around, we spent a lot of time on a very shaky bus driving around these small roads trying to find these locations and we were all over the place. It was brilliant to be able to shoot on the Giants Causeway; we didn't even need to go to the trouble to shoot there. It all came from me. It was a request to the studio from me and I said there’s this unique landscape formation that it would be criminal not to use in some way.
So we designed the rock structure in Broken Tooth Mountain to have the same column formation you'd find the Causeway. We got there in the morning with gale force winds, being lashed by rain and waves and when it got time to shoot it calmed down! For all the Americans being there and just being able to see it and the wild landscape, I was very proud to be able to bring them there and say we shot there. The structure influenced a lot of the design then within the caves, and the set that we had originally designed we ended up scrapping. We were up in Divis Mountain too for the handover scene and when we got up there it could be something out of a John Ford movie cause it just had this barren Western feel.
Do you think the proposed film cuts in Northern Ireland will have an effect on the film industry there, even though the industry is currently thriving with Game of Thrones and other motion pictures being filmed there?
To be honest, I don't know enough about it. I know that they are still able to attract film projects. The amount of business that they attracted and brought in and the amount of training that came in from Dracula, the Halo project, The Fall, and others, there is a huge amount of talent. There is so much going on to the extent when we were shooting, we couldn't even get a crew and I don't think that's going to stop. I think there will be a lot of spill-over still from not being able to get studio space in the United Kingdom and being able to still use the same tax incentives will obviously benefit the North (of Ireland) and they are doing incredibly well.
Up next you have a tale in the anthology feature Holidays, is there anything you have planned beyond that?
I'm actually just finished writing the short for the anthology. I got back here (Ireland) in January and after the film was released, I went off and got married so I was focused on the wedding! I've only just started reading again, I don't want to break the cardinal sin and say there isn't a lot going on. There are a few things I'm writing; I want to take time, Dracula took a lot of time, it was three very intense years, so I want to take a bit of time and find the right project. It'll happen over the years but the one I'm excited for, in the short term is Holidays as there is so much going on and so much talent involved. It's a great opportunity to do a grindhouse version of these films like Paris, I Love You or Coffee and Cigarettes.
DRACULA UNTOLD is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.