Five Questions With STAKE LAND Director Jim Mickle

Jim Mickle is taking the sexy out of the vampire. No more forbidden love. No more glamour. No more of anything but fangs and blood and violence. Mickle's Stake Land (premiering Friday, Sep 17 at Midnight!) takes to the big screen for the first time Friday and the director was good enough to answer a few questions about his latest creation and his producer / mentor Larry Fessenden.

How long would it take one of your vampires to eat the entire cast of Twilight? Would it begin to sparkle after doing so?

My hunch is the Twilight cast would be too bland for our vamp's taste buds. Our guys are more of the meat and potatoes, blood and viscera kind of crowd.

Your vamps seem like a much darker, more primal take on the vampire mythos. Did you use anything in particular as a reference point when setting the tone and style of your creatures?

The main goal with our vamps was to make them scary again. Keep them feral and nasty, and not go down the romantic, sexy road with any of them (though one of our young vamps is very cute, even with teeth). Nick Damici (the lead actor and co-writer) and I are both big Richard Matheson fans, so I'm sure the "I Am Legend" novel found its way into shaping not just the attitude of our creatures, but the world as well.

From the scenes I’ve already seen it appears that there’s a layer of political commentary in the film that goes beyond just the creature action, can you describe the world that the film takes place in a little more?

"Stake Land" takes place in an apocalyptic America overrun by vampires. Political and economic downfalls have all but emptied out the major cities, and survivors are clinging to small locked-down towns to survive. Besides vampires, the real threat is a fundamental, militaristic, faith based group that's out to cleanse what's left of the country. We basically tried to envision a US that couldn't recover from its very divided path, dropped in a vampire epidemic and let the story evolve from that world.

This is two creature features in a row for you, what’s the appeal?

Honestly it's kind of an accident. After "Mulberry Street" I told myself "no more creatures. Something smaller scale next time." And then the opposite went and happened. We had a few very different scripts and pitches, but once Larry Fessenden got involved, the enthusiasm and drive for this particular story was kind of impossible to rein in. Then the momentum of the characters and their relationships trumped all and I found myself back behind the camera looking at teeth molds and blood tubing all over again! The beauty is that although both films would make for a very cozy double feature, they couldn't be more different in most regards. At the end of the day, it's all about the characters and the world.

You’ve got Larry Fessenden on board as a producer for the film, what has he taught you as a young filmmaker doing genre films?

I'd say it's more of a philosophy with Larry than any one lesson. He leads by example and encourages (and sometimes demands) that you follow your own instincts as a storyteller, and that's what has led to such a diverse collection of films under his roof. In a way, he becomes the muse for all these little overachieving films. It's rare to find people with a deep, genuine love and admiration for the genre, who can still see filmmaking as this magical event of creating an illusion, even after being in the business as long as he has. And he has this scary ability of selling a budget limitation as a good thing that will only make for better choices in the final film. So when you put a guy like that in a producer capacity, it's very easy to let that energy trickle down through every aspect of making a film. One of his first great lines to me as a director ended with "I'm not bringing you in to make "Terminator 4" Mickle. I'm bringing you in to give it a heartbeat." He said it with his old-timey, cigar-chomping, producer guy voice, but it made it very easy to make the film the right way after that.

With Stake Land literally finishing post production right about now there is still no proper trailer for the film but if you want a brief taste you can check out the initial teaser - cut together with raw footage from the first few days of shooting - below.

Stake Land screens:
Friday, September 17. 11:59PM Ryerson
Saturday September 18, 12:15PM Scotiabank 4
Sunday September 19 9:00PM AMC 2

You can purchase tickets from the official TIFF website.

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