Sucker Up for “BLOOD KISS” With Neil Gaiman et al.
A lot of people refer to Hollywood as being full of vampires, but in BLOOD KISS, scripted by famed comic book/animation writer Michael Reaves, this is literally the case. We’re in the 1940s, and our detective hero is running afoul of both the studio system and real bloodsuckers. And you can be a part of bringing this tale to the screen.
Several things set BLOOD KISS apart from other vampire-noir projects. For one, it will star Neil Gaiman—yes, you read that right, the author of the SANDMAN series and AMERICAN GODS is getting in front of the cameras. Gaiman notes that he hadn’t want to act before this, though he did appear as himself in an episode of the on-line series THE GUILD. “I’m not an actor, I’m a writer,” he says. “I felt guilty when I beat proper actors for the Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year for THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. I am happy to play Neil Gaiman in animated cartoons, though.
“Writing is private and solitary and something you do on your own, and the same is true of recording audiobooks,” he adds. “Acting is done in front of other people, and is scary.” So why he is setting himself up for the frightening experience of playing a movie lead? “Michael Reaves asked me as a personal favor, and there are things you don’t say no to.”
Reaves reveals that the role wasn’t originally written for Gaiman: “I had pretty much figured the character out before I realized Neil would be a natural for him. I can be thick sometimes.” Once the notion occurred to Reaves, however, Gaiman didn’t require much convincing. “Surprisingly not. I didn’t even have to pull my roscoe [pistol].”
Co-starring opposite Gaiman will be Amber Benson, known for both acting (she was Tara on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) and writing (author of the DEATH’S DAUGHTER novels, co-author with Chris Golden of the GHOSTS OF ALBION series). “Getting to play around with Neil on set will be fun,” she says. “He’s a real sweetheart with a wicked sense of humor, so it’s a win/win situation. My motto is to have fun in whatever I do, and I feel pretty certain that making BLOOD KISS with all these amazing people will continue that philosophy.”
Benson was attracted to Reaves’ attitude, the script and the era of the story. “I love its ’40s film noir quality. I’m a big fan of that genre in general, and have always wanted to be in one. The costumes will be amazing—the ’40s were all about accentuating the sensuality of a woman’s body without being tawdry. This is Michael’s passion project, and that intrigued me; when someone feels so intensely about something, curiosity gets the better of you and you want to read it. Luckily, the script lived up to Michael’s passion.”
Another unusual aspect of BLOOD KISS is that it’s being developed simultaneously as a feature film and a graphic novel, with artwork by Tom Mandrake (creator of the CREEPS comic and an illustrator on BATMAN, SWAMP THING and THE SPECTRE, among many others). This is Mandrake’s first time collaborating with Reaves—and he almost wasn’t able to do the job. “[Reaves] contacted me over two years ago and asked if I would do some sample pages for the graphic novel. I said yes and started on it, and then I got sick with Lyme disease and had to call him, apologize and say, ‘Mike, I just can’t do this now. I can barely lift my hand off the board.’ He was very understanding, and that was it for a long time. Then he contacted me rather recently and said, ‘We’re going ahead with this full force, so if you want back in, let’s do it.’ ”
Mandrake has past experience drawing characters to look like specific real-life performers, and notes, “I’ve had that work both in my favor and against me. Sometimes it’s a question of whether you’re able to capture somebody’s likeness; it can be hell, and you feel like you can never get them right. I worked on FRINGE, and some of those characters were very tough. I find [Benson and Gaiman, seen in Mandrake’s art below] to be easier, because they have very specific faces. You don’t look at either Neil or Amber and say, ‘I’m not sure who that is.’ ”
Reaves reveals that he initially envisioned BLOOD KISS as a contemporary tale. “We did a table read, and everybody there said, ‘This has to be set in the ’40s. Can’t you see there’s a flick from that era screaming to be set free?’ Initially, I was skeptical, since period films can be a major pain; no matter how exhaustive your research is, there’s always some detail that squeezes by, and some sphincter who tells you all about it at the screening. But then I got bitten by the noir bug. I wanted to see cold, hard-eyed guys with roscoes in their mitts. I wanted to hear them spout lines like, ‘Say, you mugs!’ and ‘What kinda palaver are you goons spoutin’?’ For the record, no one says anything remotely like that in the script, for the simple reason that such lines tend to evoke incredulous responses from sophisticated modern audiences.”
Because Mandrake is developing the BLOOD KISS graphic novel while the film is still in preproduction, he has to come up with his own concepts of how scenes will be visualized rather than working from the actual film. “It’s like being a cinematographer: I’ve been handed a script and am figuring out how to make it most effective. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I can’t really fit the entire movie into the graphic novel; I’ve got to do some picking and choosing about which pieces stay and what has to go. So there is going to be a kind of editing going on too, but I’m hoping to work very closely with Michael on that.”
BLOOD KISS producers Daniela Di Mase and David Raiklen are using Kickstarter (see their page here) to get financing, and hit their initial goal of $50,000 13 days into the 30-day campaign. The duo recall that Reaves brought them onto the project individually. “I met Michael first,” Di Mase says. “There’s a networking group here in LA called The Table, run by Marc Zicree, where people in the [film and TV] industry, and some in music as well, come together to collaborate. I met Michael there; he had already written the script and had decided to do a Kickstarter on it, so he was looking for help with it. That’s how I came aboard as a producer.”
“I was first approached by Michael Reaves,” Raiklen says, “and then Daniela reached out to me, and who could resist? She’s the most relentless, charming producer in the world.”
Although the script is Reaves’ baby, Raiklen says that Gaiman may have some input. “Michael and Neil have been fast friends for years and talk to each other regularly, in addition to collaborating on multiple projects, so while Michael has primary writing credit, I think it’s safe to say that there will be some Neil Gaiman influence there.”
Both producers are extremely enthusiastic about using Kickstarter as a funding source. “This is the most creative and liberating way to produce a movie—going directly to the fans, because they want to see the movie you want to make,” Raiklen says. “The studios aren’t interested in making things that are unique, like putting vampires in golden-age Hollywood and having them be scientifically plausible instead of just supernatural, with unexpected and complex twists. The characters have dimensionality, which is one of the wonderful things about Michael’s writing; every single character could have their own movie. You start following them and you go, ‘Wow, I want to know what they’re going to do next.’ So you’re getting this banquet of entertainment—a big, gory banquet.”
A good part of the budget, in fact, will go toward the grue. “It’s full of blood and gore, impalement, all kinds of shocking moments,” Raiklen promises. “You’re definitely going to get scared out of your skin.” Depending on exactly how much is raised by their campaign, “There will be more horrible things we can show you if we have the money to do the special effects and makeup. Movie magic like that becomes possible when you have the money and resources. You can have a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY type of movie that’s scary via atmosphere, but we can show you more cool things when we have more of a budget.”
“I’m a huge horror fan,” says Di Mase, who’s especially fond of “vampires and the darkness of them—separate from what vampires have become nowadays, which I’m not so crazy about. To make a classic film noir set in the 1940s with the kind of detective story we don’t see anymore—I believe there’s an audience for that. It might not be the most commercial project, but if I’m excited about seeing it on the screen, I feel other people would be too. We’re still keeping it on the [inexpensive] side, so that’s why we didn’t want to go studio. There is definitely creativity in low-budget filmmaking, and it’s fantastic that there are people like Neil Gaiman, who’s having an HBO series made but is still willing to work on an indie movie.”
“There’s more than one good way to tell a story,” Raiklen elaborates. “Depending on our budget, we’ll use different techniques. On a very low budget, to do something set in 1940s Hollywood, we’ll need to use greenscreen, because it’s expensive to move the company around to various locations. But if we get more like $200,000 or $300,000, it will be possible to actually go to those places, plus greenscreen. The same thing with visual effects. At a lower budget, there are fewer; at a bigger budget, there are more.”
There are numerous incentives for Kickstarter investors, Raiklen points out: “Well, you start with getting the movie. You can get signed posters by Tom and Christopher Salmon, who’s an amazing artist. You can get portraits of your favorite stars involved in the project, and props from the movie itself. We also have unusual and extremely rare items from other productions that these folks have worked on. For example, we have a set of CDs from BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES signed by Michael Reaves, who won the Emmy for it. So if you’re a Batman fan, this is an opportunity to get a unique collector’s item.
“You can also get VIP passes to the premiere, where you’ll get to meet Neil, Amber and Michael, the whole cast and crew. You can also get a walk-on or speaking role and become immortalized with the creative people. We’ve already had a wonderful experience of backers reaching out to us and saying they want to do more than just contribute money, they want to actually be part of the film—actors, makeup and camerapeople, all are kinds who want to be part of the filmmaking process, and that’s very rewarding and exciting. People actually want to help make the film.”
“We’re also going to have custom-made fangs for anybody who [pledges a certain amount],” Di Mase says, “from an amazing fang creator who works here in Hollywood. They’re the type the cast is going to be using.”
The aim is to start principal photography this fall, Di Mase says. “Based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign, we want to get into production fast, and everybody’s ready to go and passionate about helping Michael get his film made. Not only is it a great story, he’s such a great guy and wants to get this picture made. All his friends have rallied together, so it’s almost like a machine that is going on its own. We’re currently in the process of interviewing and negotiating for the right director. This is an amazing project, and a wonderful opportunity to work with this kind of talent. At the Kickstarter page, you can look at some of the concept art by Chris Salmon, Tom Mandrake and Tommy Bruno, and you’ll see that this has real depth to it. It’s not your typical horror movie. It’s got plenty of scares and atmosphere, but also things we haven’t seen before and a wonderful sense of humor—like a corpse that you play croquet on.”
“We’re really excited to be sharing this project with FANGORIA readers,” Di Mase says. “I’m such a huge fan of true horror, and we want to share it with people who get what this film is. That’s the whole point of doing it on Kickstarter and not taking it to studios, so Fango readers should check out the project, and if they like it, support it. It deserves to get made.”
Moreover, everyone involved seems to be in sync on how it should be made. “So far, we’ve all agreed on everything,” Raiklen says. “That’s one of the wonderful things about having a great creative team: We all see the film in a very similar way, and it’s just [a matter of] finding the best way to get it done.”