Tired of the gloomy, overly serious bloodsuckers of The Twilight Saga? If so, the new vampire comedy Transylmania should be right up your alley. In this horror spoof, a group of college kids travel to Transylvania for a semester abroad. Unfortunately, their new school, Razvan University, is located in a centuries-old castle, which just so happens to be run by a band of vampires eager for some new visitors.
Following the success of the popular Dorm Daze comedies, Transylmania represents the most ambitious—and possibly funniest—venture yet for the movie’s directors, David and Scott Hillenbrand. Just before Transylmania‘s release on December 4, MM caught up with the Hillenbrand brothers to discuss their latest off-the-wall comedy.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): Transylmania was written by Patrick Casey and Worm Miller, the writing duo behind your popular Dorm Daze movies. It also stars many actors you’ve worked with before (including James DeBello, Tony Denman and Patrick Cavanaugh), who have the same character names in the film as those they played in the Dorm Daze series. Is it fair to assume Transylmania is the third Dorm Daze film? If so, why did you go with a new title?
David and Scott Hillenbrand (D&SH): Great question, Kyle. No, Transylmania is not the third Dorm Daze Film. It is a standalone film. We received so many fan e-mails and letters loving Pete, Wang, Newmar, Lynne, Rusty and Cliff from the Dorm Daze franchise that we decided to work and develop those characters/actors further and spin them off into a big-budget vampire action/comedy that brought to life a whole new set of characters. If you’ve never seen a Dorm Daze film, you won’t be missing a thing. If you did see Dorm Daze, then you’ll be familiar with a few of the characters. We discussed with Worm and Pat what kind of story we wanted to tell with these characters; we wanted them to get into a study abroad program in a school that was housed in a Gothic castle in the heart of Transylvania, and [the screenwriters] jumped off from there—and thus the birth of Transylmania.
MM: Were there any previous horror comedies or horror spoofs you looked to for inspiration?
D&SH: Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein is one of our favorites that we looked to. We challenged ourselves and our team to make a spoof of the genre, and we wanted to spoof films like Van Helsing, Underworld, Dracula, Saw and Hostel. Rather than spoofing the actual movies themselves, as has been the recent trend with the Scary Movie franchise, Epic Movie and Date Movie, we wanted to create a spoof that had its own storyline that lived within the genre and had fun with it all on its own. Extreme gore has been in the zeitgeist of the world for the last 10 years with the Saw movies, Hostel, etc. We wanted to see if we could create sequences that brought extreme gore that were shocking at first, but then became “laugh-out-loud” funny.
In Transylmania, we actually have a full body that is assembled on screen and sewed together, with one of the hot blonde twins’ head (actress Natalie Garza) severed, kept alive and then re-attached to this Franken-body. It is an extremely shocking sequence that then becomes laugh-out-loud funny because it happens to be the stoner characters Pete and Wang involved in this “operation,” and they are responsible for conducting the procedure completely stoned out of their minds.
MM: You shot Transylmania in Romania (where much of the film takes place). What was it like shooting there compared to the United States? What were some of the difficulties you encountered?
D&SH: This was our first time shooting out of the country, and we had a great experience in Romania. We have members on our American team with ties to Romania and they laid the groundwork. There is a Romania production company named Silver Bullet, who in many ways is like a Romanian version of our production company, Hill & Brand Entertainment. The principal of Silver Bullet, Viorel Sergovici, is also one of the top directors of photography in all of Eastern Europe. This co-production-like relationship allowed us to be treated more like a local company rather than merely an American company coming into a foreign location. We were able to pull the best talent together and had a fantastic Romanian crew, and we also brought about 10 members from our Los Angeles team to have our core keys with us.
We didn’t have any particular difficulties on the shoot, other than some interesting “lost in translation” moments. As an example, when we had our first costume fitting with Musetta Vander, who plays the vampire huntress Teodora van Sloan, she was supposed to be dressed for a particular fantasy sequence in a maiden‘s outfit—in the vain of a Princess Leia-type dress. When the Romanians translated this from the script, Musetta came out wearing a French maid‘s outfit. In another scene, the screenplay called for the stoner characters Pete and Wang to be wearing 1940s-type motorcycle goggles (which you can see in clips on the Internet). The costume director had them put on Bausch & Lomb ski goggles, thinking that’s what the goggles were supposed to be. We had to make the “vroom vroom” motorcycle sounds, rather than the “swish swish” skiing/snowboarding sounds to get our point across!
We had over 150 Romanians working on the team, and overall things went extremely well. We built sets in Bucharest and shot at locations in and around the city. We then traveled eight hours north into the heart of Transylvania to a town called Hunedoara, where the castle was located. We brought the entire cast and crew with us. We pretty much overtook the town, and the local people were very accommodating—we even drew from the local townspeople (vampires included) to add to the large number of extras that the movie called for.
MM: So far, the two of you have made all your movies together. Any desire to branch out and direct on your own in the future (a la, say, Chris and Paul Weitz), or would you rather continue directing as a team?
D&SH: We really enjoy working together. We tell people all the time that we are like a two-headed monster. There is so much happening on a film production, having four eyes instead of two is a definite plus. We’ve been working together since we were kids, and we are also very different so we complement each other in many ways. We don’t delineate anything on a set. Everything happens very organically—sometimes one of us will be working with the actors while the other is working with the DP or crew, and then in the next moment that will reverse. Does that mean we wouldn’t consider working on different projects like the Weitz brothers just did? That’s entirely possible that one of us may choose to pursue one project while the others pursues another. There are definitely some projects that are more passion projects for each of us, but for the moment we are moving forward on projects together and are having a great time working together.
MM: What are some of these upcoming projects?
D&SH: John Coven, a colleague of ours who just finished doing the pre-viz and storyboards with Michel Gondry on The Green Hornet, worked with us on adapting Robert Louis Stevenson’s historical novel The Black Arrow. The Black Arrow was Stevenson’s take on the Robin Hood legends and is set against the backdrop of the War of the Roses in England in the mid-1400s. It’s a swashbuckling action adventure (think Batman Begins meets Robin Hood—the birthing of a medieval superhero). Tone-wise, think Gladiator meets Last of the Mohicans—a “dark,” edgy popcorn film. This is up next for us and we have several other projects in development behind it.
MM: Anything else to add?
D&SH: Kyle, thanks for taking the time and your interest to do the Q&A. We are very proud of all the work in Transylmania. We think Viorel Sergovici, the Eastern European DP on the film, along with his Romanian crew did a phenomenal job lighting and shooting the film. It has a very cool look, and as we were really there in the heart of Transylvania during the dead of winter, it has a flavorful and authentic feel. For us, comedy is the hardest to pull off; either people laugh or they don’t. We’ve seen Transylmania play all over the country, and it is amazing to see how many laugh-out-loud moments there are and how crazy the audience gets over some of our favorite sequences.
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