Rereading The Vampire – Saint Dracula 3D
How has your career as a director stacked up?
It hasn’t stacked up at all in any conventional, usual way. Usually, everybody starts with a short film and goes on to do feature films later. I started the other way, going from feature-filmmaking to short-filmmaking before I finally returned to feature-filmmaking.
Could you please talk about the travails of your journey as a filmmaker?
My first attempt at filmmaking was a feature-film called My Mother’s Laptop. I got a producer in no time for the story and was lucky enough to have the agreement signed on the day of my presentation itself. Even though the film had an interesting story and an impressive star-cast, it turned out to be a commercial disaster. All that we could recover from the theatres was an amount close to Rs. 4 lakh. We did get good satellite and home video rates once the critical reviews poured in, but the theatrical beating it received meant that it was called a commercial disaster. I was blacklisted in a sense as a bad investment choice. [quote]As no producer of any budget category would give me work, I was forced to borrow money from my friends and family and make only short films. I didn’t have a job for 8 months at a go and was down in the dumps.[/quote]
One fine day in 2010, I got a call from Cannes Film Festival’s “The Short-Film Corner.” They had selected my short-film for screening at the 2010 edition of Cannes. For the preliminary screening, I had sent them a low resolution file. They asked me to come to Cannes and bring along the high-resolution file for the official screening.
When I went to get my VISA I realised that the French authorities required a six month long, stable bank account statement. My penniless bank account didn’t convince them and they decided not to issue the VISA to me. I could, therefore, neither go to Cannes, not show my film there in 2010. I was left with no choice, but to wait patiently and look for work in the world of filmmaking in India. Nothing significant came along though for a long time.
Once again, Cannes sent me an invite in 2011 and asked me to come and show my film. My bank statements were relatively better this time around. Scared that the French authorities might remember last year’s episode and block my chances again, I chose to skip going directly to France and applied for an Italian VISA instead. I knew that the Italian authorities would provide me with the VISA as I was a Roman Catholic. Once that plan clicked, I took a flight to Rome and then travelled to France by train. That’s how I got the much desired chance of showing my short film in Cannes 2011.
How did you land Saint Dracula 3D?
I was sitting outside the theatre at Cannes “The Short-Film Corner,” drinking Vodka, after the screening of my short-film had taken place. Quite unexpectedly, a man and a woman walked up to me and invited me to dinner. They were to be my future producers. At our cocktail dinner, the man told me that he needed a story for a new film. I got to know that he both directed and produced films. I thought that he wanted a story to direct. I told him that if he could pay me two lakh rupees, I would send a story to him. I admitted that even though the story was my dream project, I wasn’t sure when and how I’d be able to turn it into a film, and therefore, wanted to give it away for being filmed. The real fact instead was that I needed two lakh rupees then to pay for my lodgings and food in Cannes. Then the man asked me for a narration of the story. After I narrated in an inebriated state for two hours, he told me that he really liked the story and wanted me to direct it. I thought he was inventing an excuse and conveying that he wasn’t interested in the story anymore. But almost immediately, he clarified that he would produce the film if I directed it. Even then, I hardly believed it. The very next day he gave me 2500 Euros as an advance payment. [quote]I was surviving on green apples and alcohol in happy hours at local outlets in Cannes till then. That amount gave me a new lease of life and brought be immense relief. [/quote]As soon as I reached India, he made me sign the agreement. He also gave me complete freedom to decide the cast and technical crew of the film. I was also sent to Barcelona, Spain, for a 2 week training programme in 3D filmmaking. While training, I really liked my teacher, Julian Crivelli, and took him on board as the stereographer of the film.
We could start the shoot only on the 45th day of the agreement. We shot for 45 days in UK. We auditioned 600 girls for the lead-female-actor of the film. In UK, if you advertise for the lead-male-actor or the lead-female-actor of a film, you get at least 800 applications. Such heavy traffic generally means conducting a screening test before the final auditions. Our auditions lasted 12 days. We got our lead-female-actor only on the 9th day of the audition. She was a Brazilian girl called Patricia Duarte who amazed everyone with her exemplary acting skills. She had problems with accent, but we neglected those in favour of her tremendous on-screen presence.
What happened with the actress of the film? We heard she went missing?
Eerily enough, nobody was able to trace Patricia Duarte after the shoot got over. She didn’t make it to the sets for dubbing, ADR, postproduction, premier, or anything else. There were rumours about her personal life. Her Facebook account was deleted and our emails to her bounced. After a few days, even her phone went dead. We lost touch with our lead-actress completely after the film was shot. It was weird and very uncomfortable, but we got along and accepted it in the long run.
What is a stereographer? How is he or she different from a cinematographer/DOP?
3D filmmaking uses two expert camera technicians, the DOP and the stereographer. 2D filmmaking uses just the DOP. While the DOP reigns supreme in a 2D film shoot, the stereographer is a higher functionary in a 3D shoot. He takes care of the stereoscopy of a 3D film and decides upon the depth of shots, the position of the actors, the convergence of the lenses, and the precision of the focus. The cinematographer works in such a set-up in consultation with the stereographer and puts the perspectives the stereographer provides into implementation.
How was it producing the film in a Western filmmaking atmosphere? What challenges did you encounter during filmmaking?
The production of the film was very exciting. Although cinema has a universal language, cinema production works in different ways in different places of the world. The way in which Hollywood and the West work is totally different from how we go about filmmaking in India. Even at the really basic level such as preparation of call-sheets, they work differently and have lots of formalities, specifications, and a whole load of technical jargon that you need to grasp. You need to know and use the exact words for concepts, shots, and requirements while conversing about the film with your fellow filmmakers and technicians. Although I was trained in such technical terminology in Barcelona, it was for a really small period. It took me about 3 days on set to be comfortable with this different, precise, nuanced, theoretical, and functional language of filmmaking. Quite undoubtedly though, the grandness of Hollywood’s work-culture makes you feel that filmmaking is great art, and you, a great artist creating his or her masterpiece.
We synced sounds for the film. As we did not have much time to create sets, we started looking for old castles to shoot our film after the 15th day of our shoot. We got a castle which had been kept locked for about 120 years by its owners. Even though we were told that it was haunted, we negotiated with its owners, paid 500 pounds to its gateman as bribe, and got it opened. We shot about 30 percent of the film in that castle without anything really spooky happening. The only mysterious thing that occurred was that the crew found some biscuit packets missing at times (laughs).
The most troublesome experience was when my VISA expired while we were shooting. Luckily, a fellow Keralian over there helped me apply for an extension of my VISA. As I could continue living in the UK during the application period, I used that time to finish the shoot.
Where did you do the postproduction of the film?
We did the postproduction of the film in India. In India, any 2D movie laden with stars takes a maximum of 45 days for postproduction. A 3D movie needs at least 6 months of postproduction time. We went overboard and took nine months. As staying abroad for six months, and paying technicians and hotel bills was too much, we chose to get the postproduction done in India.
How did you come upon the story that the film is based on?
I was a celebrated writer and poet in Kerala before I ventured into filmmaking. In school, when I was in Std. 8th, I’d won a literary prize of rupees 15,000 for a short story named “The Seventh Bride of Dracula.” The Keralian media gave me the front page and turned my literary achievement into a big event, giving me instant fame and bringing instant applause to my doorsteps (laughs). This award-winning story was to become the bedrock of the story of Saint Dracula 3D. As you can clearly see, the figure of Dracula has interested me since teenage. I’ve found a book on Dracula in whichever corner of India and the world I’ve gone to. They differ from each other in some way, speaking something different about him. That shows the centrality he has continued to enjoy in extant and contemporary Christian cultures as an object of hate, fear, curiosity, and in some rare cases, of reverence. I have a large collection of books on him. [quote]For a brief period in my life, I also felt that I was a reincarnation of Dracula[/quote]
Historical records attest to the true Dracula being not against Christianity or Christians, but against the corrupt Christian church. They state that when a Romanian Cardinal sought count Dracula’s patronage for protecting his catholic Christian community and its religious processions and tableaux against opposing Turkish Muslims of the old world, Dracula (whose real name was Vladtepes) impaled 30,000 Turkish Muslims as an exemplar and threat to the old world Turkey’s Muslim rule. This cruel act, which was also a most powerful act, raised Dracula’s image in the Christian public world to such an extent that the Roman Catholic Church started to fear that he could challenge their supremacy in global Christiandom. The Church, therefore, started a process of misrepresentation of Dracula as someone devilish and opposed to the Christian God and Christians. They wove stories of him as a blood-thirsty vampire. You should note that Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, the Gothic novel that established Count Dracula’s blood-thirsty image in the modern imagination, was a severely conservative and believing Irish Catholic. This combination of biased modern literary popular culture and institutional religious demonization of Dracula produced popular images of Dracula as fear-incarnate. His identity was rendered unholy and he was never crossed again. Being a Christian, when I got to know this story after my research I felt like inverting the image of Dracula in popular culture by making a film on him. I must admit that this is not a novel idea that has occurred to me per say. A particular eastern-European orthodox church and those who follow it regard Dracula as a saint because of his persecution of old world Turkish Muslims to secure medieval Christian interests.