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IFTN Interviews ‘Dracula Untold’ Director Gary Shore
01 Oct 2014 : Deirdre Molumby
Gary Shore at the Irish premiere
For ‘Dracula Untold’, Luke Evans (‘The Hobbit’, ‘Fast & Furious 6’) takes on one of the most iconic roles of all time. The film marks the feature debut of Dublin director Gary Shore, who first established himself as a high-end commercials director and a director to watch out for following his short ‘The Draft’ and his faux film trailer for ‘The Cup of Tears’.

‘Dracula Untold’, which had a $100m budget, was shot in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in locations including the Giant’s Causeway, the Italian Garden at Mount Stewart, Divis and the Black Mountains, Roe Valley Country Park, Killynether Woods and Scrabo among others.

The film follows Vlad (Evans), who transforms into a vampire to protect his family and people from invasion. A strong warrior in human form, he inherits even more power as a vampire. The film co-stars Sarah Gadon (‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’) and Irish actor Art Parkinson (‘Game of Thrones’) as the wife and son of Vlad respectively.

Below, IFTN interviews the helmer of the feature, Gary Shore:

This is a new and fresh interpretation of a character that has been around for so long. How did you ensure the movie’s originality in terms of story and characters?
“With the writers Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama, you could see that this was something that had been gestating in their minds for years. I knew that the script was just this labour of love from the two of them. Because it was a really great story to begin with, my approach was to just try and service what was already there, which was a great heart.

“The family dynamic between Vlad, his wife and his son, the fact that he is the leader of a people put into a really horrible situation - all the drama was there, all the spectacle, all the heart, the right emotions, and the historical backdrop. It was everything I wanted in a film and I thought it would be an appropriate first.”

The locations that were used around Northern Ireland are beautifully photographed. They have a magical, surreal quality to them. How involved were you in the locations department throughout production?
“[Locations manager] Catherine Geary was fantastic. She had a great team that was able to go out and come back with a lot of options for me. Even with the options though, you have to go out and see what these locations are like, you start to break down what will make sense economically, and what gives us the most value in terms of landscape.

“I was very conscious of the landscape being a character, that’s something I really like in films. When you look at Terrence Mallick movies, for example, the world that the characters inhabit is a character in itself. You can’t help but try and take those kinds of aesthetic qualities into a film that you’re making. The intention there from the beginning was to try to find locations that speak the character.”

In particular with Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon and Art Parkinson, you used up-and-coming talent as opposed to major, established stars, which was really interesting. What was your experience of casting and working with them?
“What attracted me first and foremost were actors who were hungry, who had read the script and knew the characters. I sat down and talked with a lot of actors, and it was the ones that had really taken in the character that I was most interested in.

“Luke was the first actor I spoke to for Dracula and the last actor I spoke to. There was nobody else. He just had the part down and looked the part, it was just brilliant. With Mirena [played by Sarah Gadon], I’d spoken to a couple of actresses and when I sat down with Sarah, her articulation grabbed me and the fact that she’s a cinephile. She’s worked on Cronenberg movies and she does all these tiny independent films, even though she looks like a movie star. She can do whatever she wants because she has the range to go from big films to small films. I knew with Sarah and with Luke that if I was getting pressure from the studio, these guys would be able to support me and work with me through the scenes. I was extremely lucky and I would not change it for the world.

“As for Art Parkinson, he’s a superstar in the making. He has the balance and the mentality of someone years ahead of himself. A lot of it comes from his family and his mother, Myfanwy, who keep him grounded. I think he’s going to do really well and I feel very lucky to have had a chance to work with him while he was young and fairly cheap!”

Were there a lot of Irish cast and crew involved in the production?
“There was a good bit of crew. Starting off the director was Irish! My set decorator, Paki Smith was Irish, he was amazing. He’s done work for Christopher Nolan as well and is really phenomenal. We had a lot of model makers who were Irish; I had gone to college with them in Dun Laoghaire so it was lovely to see them. We had some of the greens people, some of the production design department, a lot of costume crew, and a lot of hair and make-up were coming up for the huge scenes. Most of our heads of departments though were from the US, some from the UK, and one from New Zealand. So it was a mixed bag overall.”

The visual effects were another very impressive part of the film. What would you say was the most challenging aspect of ‘Dracula Untold’ in terms of VFX?
“Getting everything finished. There was just never enough time. Thankfully the studio didn’t push us to do it in 3D, the biggest we were going to do was IMAX, but that’s also scary because you know every day when you’re looking at these effects that this is going to be projected four times the size of what you can see in the Savoy cinema, Screen 1. But I had a brilliant VFX supervisor, Christian Manz, as well as the entire Frame Store machine working behind this film in their Montreal and London offices churning out the work. It was a scramble to get everything done.”

What do you hope people will take away from the film?
“I don’t think people have very high expectations of a Dracula film because they know what they’ve seen before. Hopefully the experience they will have after is ‘I was not expecting that and I actually found escapism for my time there in the cinema’. The films that I love are the ones that you just forget yourself in for those few hours and I hope that people feel that too.”

Would you like to make similar big budget, fantasy productions in the future or something in another genre?
“I don’t mind, I want to challenge myself to take on any story of any level. It only comes down to story and characters, that’s the only thing that matters. Even if it’s two people in a room talking, I’m very happy to do that. My favourite scene in the entire film is of two people talking and that’s Vlad and the master vampire. In terms of if I had a dream project, I’d love to do a western or I’d love to do Lone Wolf and Cub in Japanese.

“I set up a production company last year with Jonathon Loughran who used to run the Irish Film Board in LA, so we have a company called ArtCastle. We’re developing projects through our own slate so the ideal situation would be making films where I could control every aspect of a film from a creative point of view, and not have to make any compromises based on demographics, which inevitably happens with the studio system. We’ve got a couple of really good projects sitting there at the moment so we’ll see what happens.”

Do you think there could be a sequel to ‘Dracula Untold’?
“The only people that can judge if there’s a sequel is the audience. The studio is completely reliant on the film doing well and people voting with their feet. As for would I go back and do a sequel, I think there is unfinished business there but it’s all based on the right script. I’d like to see Vlad in a different time and place, because we know this film happens 450 years before Bram Stoker’s Dracula so there’s a little bit of time to explore in between, and maybe a little after.”

Universal Pictures is distributing the film, which is out this Friday.

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