Director Amy Heckerling proved she had an ear and eye for capturing the spirit of the youth generation in movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless. In her new movie, she proves that set of skills is even adept at capturing the essence of a people that never age.
The comedy director reunites with her Clueless star Alicia Silverstone and Apt. 23 leading lady Krysten Ritter for Vamps, a indie comedy that explores the ups and downs of life as a vampire living in New York City. Movie-going audiences have seen a fair share of bloodsuckers in the past few years, but none quite like the ladies of Vamps. That's because instead of dwelling on the plot details, Heckerling spent years letting her imagination run wild over what she herself would do if she gained supernatural powers. Mixing elements of old school vampire movies with the hurdles of today's rapidly evolving social scenes, Heckerling examines nostalgia with her signature wit.
We sunk our teeth into Vamps with the director, whose off-the-cuff style is even more apparent when discussing her films:
Instead of throwing every scenario or joke at the wall, Vamps has a very structured set of rules. It's well thought out vampire mythology. How did you flesh out this particular vampire universe?
Amy Heckerling: I started with the Bram Stoker. That was, for me, the first book from Western Civilization that really spelled it out. But that was much smellier, more decrepit, much like the Max Schreck. Not so much of the Bella Legosi, with the classiness, with the capes and the medals. The sexy guys.
But I always said, 'I'd love to be a vampire. Imagine all these people staying up all night and never getting older. You [can] go to a movie every night, go to clubs, go to night school — all these wonderful things. That would be a lifestyle I like but I don't want to hurt anybody.' So when Ann Rice's Interview with a Vampire came out, I heard they were eating just animals. So I thought, 'There you go.' That's no worse than people who eat meat all the time. If I could do that, and that was the only trade-off, drinking animal blood and not being able to eat food — food really is a big part of life [laughs] — but if you burn your mouth or can't taste or smell for awhile, you realize how miserable it is to not enjoy food. But all these other things would make it a great trade-off.
The only thing I was thinking of, it wouldn't really mathematically make sense, the way the vampires kill people or turn people. Let's say the infection started 2,000 years ago. There wouldn't be any people left! The whole world would be vampires. Where would the blood come from? So I thought, there has to be some sort of an infection. One person gets it and can spread to others, but the entire universe doesn't get it at once. And only the stronger one, the "stems," would be able to turn people. That seems manageable to me.
Why do you think there aren't as many successful vampire comedies?
Heckerling: Mel Brooks did a wonderful one [Dead and Loving It], but it was kind of a satire of the Coppola movie with a few other things thrown in. I love Mel, he's the greatest guy and an inspiration to everyone in comedy. But maybe had the Coppola movie been a bigger hit, people would have gotten the references more. I don't think people know Nosfuratu.And he had a wonderful thing that I wanted to do in my version. The vampire had a daydream and it was sunny, flowers — and Leslie Nielsen is so funny — that was hilarious. I wanted to do a dream sequence, like a day-mare, which would be an Annette Fontecello beach movie as her nightmare. People playing volleyball, surfing, having fun — that would be horrifying thing for her.
I think that might be a horrifying thing for some non-vampires.
Heckerling: It is for me! We just didn't have enough money.
But that's the advantage of this movie. You get to make this movie without restraint.
Heckerling: We didn't have the restraints of the studio saying, 'You need to use this actor,' but we didn't have the money to get a song, or a day to shoot, or certain scenes. It's a trade-off.
Have your sensibilities always aligned with studios? Was it easy to work with them in the past?
Heckerling: At the present time, there is a video of someone reenacting my pitch of Look Who's Talking to a studio and them telling me why it's not going to work. And there's a girl playing me who is pretty damn close, she's got the insecurity and the messy hair. I'm going, 'Oh my God, I didn't know anyone saw me or could imitate me.'
You have a fan base!
Heckerling: I wish they ran a studio.
You get to work with Alicia Silverstone again in Vamps, but even more exciting is you find an amazing accomplice in Krysten Ritter. Why did they make a great pair?
Heckerling: Oh my God, when I would see them on their marks about to start a scene, I would think, 'Am I about to do a Betty and Veronica movie?' They're so cute together. First of all, Krsyten is so beautiful and sweet. The two of them were just giggling the whole time.
I guess they're on the same page comedically.
Heckerling: Alicia is what my grandfather would call a very old fashioned kind of girl. Krysten is Blackberrying and tweeting and constantly on.
A bit more modern.
Heckerling: Exactly. And Alicia was pregnant while we were shooting, so that was a whole other thing. And I didn't know! So I would say, 'Alicia, can you climb up on the ceiling and you can hold this and you'll be upside down.' I did not know.
The film ends up using the immortal vampire life to tackle nostalgia from a variety of angles. Do you share Alicia's nostalgic sensibilities and are you critical of clinging to the old ways at the same time?
Heckerling: I really live in my own kind of universe. I'm real excited by a phone where I can look at my kid and talk to her face. I've been waiting and waiting. 'Do they have it yet? Do they have it yet?' And then they come. [This month] the iPad Mini came out. I'm always saying, 'Computers are too big and phones are annoying, so I want something this big and I want it to do this.' Finally, a few years later, they have it.
There's something I find kind of amusing. Young people's nostalgia. When the iPad came out, I said to my 20-something assistant, 'Go get one for you and one for me.' And she said, 'I don't want one!' And I said, 'Why don't you want one?' 'I like my computer.' Or my daughter going, 'I don't like this version of the old system.' They could be just like an 80-year-old person going, 'Why do I have so many remotes?'
I want what I want. I don't want to be fighting with Time Warner constantly over what I can and can't do. But I miss things so much. Everybody who worked in film misses holding pieces of film, holding it up to the light, and seeing exactly where something was image wise. So I try to say, 'Okay, nobody likes the way digital looks, but it's getting better and better, and actually I know people in upstate New York — Eastman Kodak — was dumping stuff and there was people with Hodgkin's Disease, and maybe we shouldn't have film. Maybe it'll be better.'
Aside from the many shows that have been adapted from your movies, you've also done a lot of television recently — is that a fun world to play in and would you ever develop original TV?
Heckerling: There are a couple of shows that I'm going to go to L.A. and pitch. I love working in movies, but you never know what's going to happen. You can work for a couple of years on something that's only around for a couple of weeks. That's depressing! On TV, you work a couple weeks on something and it's going to be right out there right then.
Is it fun to work off other people's material?
Heckerling: No. I don't like saying to a writer, 'Is it okay if I make this this? Or if we do that?' I like writing. I like making what I wrote.
A show you've worked on a few times is about to end. You'll miss Gossip Girl, right?
Heckerling: Gossip Girl was fun. A goofy show. I love those kids. It's a weird combination: it wants to be an old movie and it wants to be cool and modern. Ed Westwick and Leighton Meister are adorable.
Here's a moment of my own nostalgia. I am a big fan of Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan's A Night at the Roxbury. Were you involved enough with that film that you look back at it fondly?
Heckerling: Totally. Just the other day, I was talking about a meeting and I remembered how they open up their brand new filefaxes and check them out to see if they have anything scheduled. Stupid people acting important — I love that.
Did you end up directing part of that film?
Heckerling: No. But I'm very close to [director John] Forttenberry, who is wonderful. I was around and we just had a lot of fun. He did a great job. The guys were also part of the writing staff. So it was everyone working hard and everyone in agreement.
Vamps is now available on Blu-ray.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Anchor Bay Films]