The Austin Chronicle has an excellent piece on director Philippe Mora‘s experiences in Prague while shooting Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf. He talks about the legendary Christopher Lee, having to explain 1,000 punk extras to a military general, and the challenges of shooting a three-way werewolf sex/transformation scene. (more…)
An iconic example of body horror introduces the most famous werewolf transformation in cinema: David Kessler stares in terror as the palm of his outstretched hand slowly elongates. The claws haven’t appeared yet, but it’s not David’s hand anymore. Sculpting that hand was one of Tom Hester‘s first assignments as a make-up effects artist. (more…)
It’s worryingly easy for me to forget that this site is on the Internet, and that anyone can read my posts and respond. That includes random Googlers, werewolf fans like you, and most recently Jeff Davis, writer and executive producer of MTV’s Teen Wolf. I know I said in my last post that I was just going to sit quietly until the show came out, but now I can’t. After exchanging a few lengthy emails with Jeff over last weekend I’ve learned a lot about the show that’s not immediately evident in the slick trailers. I want to share some of that info with you so that like me, you might find something that gets you genuinely excited about the show.
A thousand words of casual one-to-one correspondence paints a much clearer picture than a handful of quotes in an interview, and I came away from these emails no longer worried that the show might be helmed by the same kind of ham-fisted chart-watchers that turned 2010’s “The Wolfman” into a tone-deaf creature effects spectacle. When Jeff’s first email arrived on Friday afternoon I was expecting a shot in the arm in the form of cut-n-paste PR copy. What I got was a friendly, earnest offer – “Would love to talk about the show,” he wrote, “and give you some more info if you’d like. Maybe put some of your fears to rest!”
Wait, what? Isn’t this the guy who got a six-page article about his show in the New York Times? Let me check the header graphic… yep, still says “Werewolf News”. Still just a WordPress blog. Why in the world would the guy who created Criminal Minds care what I think? Nevertheless, I wrote back, explaining that I wanted to like the show, but “when I read the PR, or try to suss out the story from the trailers, everything I see says ‘this is not meant for you, 30-year-old guy who likes monsters… This is for teenagers who are too cool to like Twilight but who still want to see hunky werewolves with their shirts off.'”
Jeff’s response was surprisingly unguarded.
I have to admit the Teen Wolf previews so far are shrewdly targeted toward the Twilight crowd. Before writing the pilot script I actually read the first two books in that series. I wanted to see what the appeal was. But the movies… I couldn’t finish the first one.
Okay, fair enough. I couldn’t even get 50 pages into the first book. But does this marketing effort mean that the show is really going to be Twilight with no vampires? Apparently not! Writes Jeff:
One of the things I’ve told the network over and over is ‘I’m not doing Gossip Girl with werewolves.’ I’ve said it many time but The Lost Boys has really been our paradigm. That twist in the end when the kids realize that Max is actually the head vampire and has been after their mom all along was just goddamn perfect. That’s the kind of storytelling we’re going for.
He also commented on that whole “using ‘Teen Wolf’ as a recognizable brand” thing I took a dig at him for in that earlier post.
What the New York Times article didn’t put in was that I also said “corporate branding aside, when I sit down to work with the writers on the episodes we don’t think to ourselves ‘how can we pad Viacom’s bottom line’ but how can we tell a great story?”
With so much concern for authentic storytelling, then, why is the show being marketed like this? He didn’t come out and say so, but in talking with him I got a sense that the creators of new TV shows don’t have much control over how networks market them. What Jeff sees as The Lost Boys with werewolves probably looks more to MTV like an investment to be marketed to a profitable demographic as broadly and enticingly as possible. So let’s leave the marketing to the marketers. What about the show itself?
One of the most reassuring things Jeff shared with me was his opinion of The Wolfman. That’s the one that jaded me, I told him, and I imagine a lot of other werewolf fans feel the same. I was so excited about that film, even after Mark Romanek left as director, and the final product was such a compromised piecemeal let-down (other than Rick Baker’s work) that my defensive reaction was to feel like a chump for having been so excited in the first place, for ever having trusted Hollywood to “get it right”. Turns out, the guys in charge of Teen Wolf felt the same way about it, and aren’t about to make the same mistakes.
Russell Mulcahy (my director and co-executive producer who you probably know is a genre nut) and I went to The Wolfman as soon as it came out. What a shocking disappointment. Somewhere along the development process you knew they were trying to go for what Coppola did with Dracula. But there was just no style. No story. And the end was two hairy guys wrestling in a living room. But knowing studio politics and development hell I feel for the guys behind the camera. I’m sure they had the best of intentions and were probably just as disappointed as the audience.
Speaking of hairy guys, I was particularly interested to hear more about the werewolf special effects. It’s clear from the trailers that they’re not doing the lazy “fade to a real wolf” thing, but the practical effects we’ve seen so far look pretty tame. This is a real make-or-break issue for me – even if I don’t particularly like the story, a good werewolf suit / makeup will go far. Yes, I’m superficial. Luckily, it sounds like they take the appearances of their werewolves seriously:
When we started, Russell and I knew we wanted to do makeup effects. Using real wolves just seems like a cop out. But makeup effects… after dealing with it for two years, it’s tough, believe me. We were reshooting Tyler’s makeup shots from the pilot all the way at the end of our six month shoot because we had finally gotten it to a point where we liked it. I actually will pick up scissors in the makeup trailer and clip Tyler’s sideburns myself. I’m sure I drive the makeup artists crazy.
We wanted our werewolves to have a kind of progression. Tyler Posey’s werewolf look was meant to be something a little more Pan’s Labyrinth, a teen wolf and not yet a real werewolf. Tyler Hoechlin who plays Derek Hale will look a bit more monstrous. We gave him far more pronounced cheeks, a stronger brow, sharper looking teeth. And then there’s the other one… the one you only get a glimpse of in that extended trailer. That’s a combination of creature FX done by KNB (Greg Nicotero) and CGI done by EdenFX. Russell and I spent a lot of time on the design for that werewolf. And it’s damn expensive to get it right. We want it to be scary as hell.
Jeff was generous enough to share a picture of this “other” werewolf with me – the creature attached to this hand. The details remain top-secret so I won’t share the picture or give away any specifics, but trust me when I say it’s fucking awesome. You know me, I’m a werewolf snob, and this thing warrants a pipe, smoking jacket and snifter of brandy. Jeff could have saved himself a whole lot of typing if he’d just sent me that image on Friday along the words “This is coming. Shut up and wait.”
That’s just what I’m going to keep on doing anyway, in fact: shut up and wait. For all of this encouraging information, I still haven’t actually seen the show… but I do feel way better about it. Jeff’s earnest, affable emails did put many of my fears to rest, and in a way that made me feel like he genuinely cares about this stuff on many of the same levels I do. Maybe these details will do the same for you.
I asked him if I could quote our correspondence for this post, and his response was immediate: “Yes feel free to post stuff from our conversation. If it earns us more viewers and fans I’ll do anything. Shooting the first season of the show was the best professional experience I’ve ever had and I’d kill to do it again for a second season.”
I bet you’ll get that chance, Jeff.
Oh boy, it’s Oscar time, and if you’re a blogger for a major media outlet and you haven’t got something to blog about, you’re fired. The Carpetbagger‘s Melena Ryzik is no slouch– last week she posted an interview with Oscar nominee and Werewolf News perennial favourite Rick Baker. There are no earth-shattering revelations, but it’s a good read nevertheless, especially if you’re interested in the ways crepe, human and yak hair can be combined to wolf out one’s face and body, even the relatively hairless Benicio Del Toro.
“There was a lot of handling of hair, where we actually have a lot of loose hair that’s glued on the actor’s face. It’s almost a lost art in the makeup field, but it’s something that I perfected because of my love of Wolfman.”
I was also pleased to read about Baker’s disdain for Hollywood’s current love affair with buckets-of-blood horror filmmaking.
“I’m not a fan of slasher movies, of what a modern horror movie is,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of ‘let’s see how we can kill the people in the most graphic ways.’ Zombie gore doesn’t bother me, but when it’s just somebody killing another human being in a graphic way, I’m not a fan of that.” … The gory stuff is really easy to do, and I found that out as a kid… the gory stuff doesn’t impress me.”
Amen! Give us realistic monsters to be afraid of, not boring deranged humans. Read the full interview here.
I recently had a chance to email some questions to the creators of the werewolf comic Feeding Ground, and writers Swifty Lang and Chris Mangun were kind enough to respond in detail. Read on for a deeper look at the care and detail that’s gone into constructing the world, characters and mythos of Feeding Ground.
Andrew: Feeding Ground is influenced by the imagery of Mexico’s Día de los Muertos and the aesthetics of EC horror comics. EC’s Tales from the Crypt comics were loaded with zombies, vampires and other “classic” American monsters, and Mexico’s myths are about creatures like the duende, the culebre and everyone’s favourite, the chupacabra. When putting together the story for Feeding Ground, what was it about the werewolf that stood out against such a diverse array of monsters?
Of all the monsters and myths, both of Latin origin and of the EC horror ilk, none carry the capacity like the werewolf to act as a kind of metaphor for the human will of the people pitted against the pressures of this politically charged region. Inherent in the character of our werewolves is this complex transformative struggle between the powerless and the powerful… between the solitude of choice and the need for pack “belonging.” In this harsh landscape, men are forced to change themselves, to join gangs, leave their family, and even kill to survive. The werewolf only amplifies this in a way that makes this human transformation more visible. A zombie couldn’t hold up in this device, it’s just not a social monster or a “thing” consciously dealing with the depth of human choice and consequence. The story of FEEDING GROUND traverses the experience of a broken down society, one that has failed to provide for basic human needs and continues to wrong those that live within its borders. Where our story and monsters hopefully takes the reader is where our characters must go within themselves, through brush and beast, in order to move their lives, forget all their belongings, cross harsh terrain only to belong to a society that may or may not treat them better.
The modern superstitions surrounding Mexico’s were-coyote-like nagual seem to be a mixture of pre-Columbian Aztecan myths and European werewolf myths introduced by the influx of Spanish culture during the Colonial Period. How did these pre-existing myths, ancient or modern, influence the writing for Feeding Ground?
While our comic acknowledges a rich back-story of the historic collision of pre-Columbian and European myths present in this region our comic is set firmly in the present. It deals more with modern themes such as Capitalism, which has created new circumstances for both the rich and the poor and thus requires new acts of rebellion, new kinds of myths. But, at the same time, Pre-modern myths were an outgrowth of slave economics and created very specific desires, most importantly freedom and the promise that the oppressed could one day live a better life. Our story is influenced by this struggle, not only to believe in this myth, but be the driving fuel behind why ordinary men and women leave everything behind, to walk towards what history has called the “Promise land.” The idea, for those that there is no greater freedom than the ability to transform one’s circumstances (or body), to have a will stronger than the modern man, or even wreak havoc on the town that wronged you or someone you love is very appealing.
A few months ago, Swifty mentioned that werewolves were “the least represented monster” during the “Horror Renaissance” of the previous decade. There was certainly a lack of compelling werewolf stories and movies during that time. Why do you suppose that was? Is it harder to tell an interesting story about werewolves than it is to write about other horror creatures?
Swifty: Werewolves have been beholden to specific rules of transmogrify that are limiting as opposed to liberating. The conception of the moon as catalyst and silver bullets and wolf’s bane as destructive agents have created a lumbering monster that is at best horrified by its own existence and at worst has stripped the agent of free will completely. Without the choice of transformation there is an absence of moral questioning. That is an insipid beast. This has also led to individuation of the creature that is frankly clumsy. This beast seemed to fall out of fashion because it had been marginalized as a creature with both limited ability and visual inventiveness. Something like the Predator was frankly way cooler. A werewolf never appeared sillier than Jack Nicholson leaping from window sills in Mike Leigh’s Wolf.
I think an equally fair question is why was horror marginalized to a fringe between the mid-eighties and mid-nineties? The werewolf has worked in a comedic context (American Werewolf in London) and also as a metaphor for puberty (Ginger Snaps) but with the destruction of the concept of the pack, family loyalty, obligation you are no longer exploring what is most fascinating about a group dynamic; the basic need for individuation among a mass and culpability. This conceit is something wrought with drama. The pack versus the individual was tackled with incredible success in my mind in the book Sharp Teeth. Obligation to a group and the need for security amongst the huddled is something so primal and universal that it transcends being human, and is linked directly to the animal world. This is a horrible thought in its own right. The werewolf presents the opportunity to reflect the neediness of existence, and the compromises we make to belong.
It really depends on what one finds interesting. If one is out to create senseless splatter, which is the norm among most horror, a horror of the body, as opposed to exploring monstrosity and internalizing the effect of change, the task becomes more difficult. Axe wielding, brain chomping, teeth gnashing, they can all be conveyed in a very visceral manner. What one has to be more delicate about is maintaining that shred of humanity amidst the ability to cause so much destruction. Establishing a believable pecking order and flushing out all the politics of group dynamics is probably the greatest challenge. Think how difficult it is to get any human group to communicate effectively and portraying that dynamic with honesty. Now add unmitigated primal urges.
Werewolves are commonly used in storytelling to represent the dangers of indulging in man’s baser instincts (whether we’re talking about “man” as a species separated from its origins in nature, or “man” as the biological sex generally more prone to violence and “animal” behavior). You’ve said that with Feeding Ground you’ve “created a new werewolf mythology that specifically relates to gender (our women kick ass)”. Without giving any spoilers, can you explain a little more about your werewolf mythology’s basis in gender? Señora Busqueda definitely has some kick-ass strength, whether she’s defending herself or doing what’s necessary to keep her family safe… it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see her as a mama wolf protecting what’s hers.
Swifty: The current role of the female wolf in werewolf mythology is a reflection of both the natural order and Patriarchal thinking. ‘She’ is the property of the Alpha, and it is her as a possession that signifies status amongst the pack. While this does exist in the animal kingdom and the concept of ‘arm candy’ is definitely prevalent among human beings, FEEDING GROUND allows us to really explore and explode that conception. Women’s cycles are clearly linked to the moon, and throw in the werewolf and you are left with a hapless creature that is victim of both biology and circumstance. She-wolves, in some sense, are less powerful than the princess in the tower. So the opportunity arises to examine what makes women unique and stronger than men. Without giving too much away, choice is power and it is a direct affront to victimhood. But even more so, restraint reveals true mastery of one’s world.
Thanks for your time, guys! Issue one of Feeding Ground comes out September 29th. Check it out– I’ve read it and it’s fantastic.
And then I got involved in The Wolfman which was exciting because I was going to work with Benicio Del Toro. And I wanted to reinvent that genre and make this dark, rich, intelligent Jungian kind of piece that I was hoping could totally work as populist entertainment and yet be legitimate, like be an intelligent film that might even be critically well-received. And I just could never get on the same page with the producers about what it should be. I think they were scared of doing it the way I was suggesting. There was so much money involved that I ultimately couldn’t convince them of my idea of the film.
Read more at FirstShowing.net — the bit about The Wolfman is roughly halfway down the page.
Mark’s comments are very much in line with what Rick Baker had to say about the producers meddling and waffling on the werewolf design. Mark’s a great director, but with such spineless people in charge, had he stayed on I doubt he could have done much better than Joe Johnston did. What a shame. If only Bill Carraro, Ryan Kavanaugh and Jon Mone had trusted the people they hired.
This is a month old, but interesting nevertheless. TheTorchOnline.com has an in-depth analysis of the pilot of MTV’s “Teen Wolf” remake, including quotes from executive producer / writer Jeff Davis and lead actor Tyler Posey. There’s also a rather boring photo of Posey’s transformation. One of the most telling quotes is from Davis, regarding the design of the show’s werewolves. Apparently there will be three kinds of werewolves– Alpha, Beta and Omega, with the Alpha being the most monstrous and the Omega looking like a straight-up wolf. And what’s the driving force behind the werewolf designs?
“The way we like to put it is, the other werewolf shows and movies have werewolves you can pet,” Davis said. “We wanted to have one you could kiss.”
Oh super. I think MTV and werewolf fans like you and I have different ways of assessing a werewolf’s kissability.
Read the whole post for more information.
Hat tip: Jason
Warning: Spoilers! People are starting to get excited about “Being Human” again, what with the first season being out on DVD, shooting of the third series underway and the main cast attending SDCC for a panel this Friday. Yesterday USA Weekend posted an interesting interview with Russell Tovey, who plays dweeby nurse / reluctant werewolf George. Tovey talks about how his character has evolved as a man (and as a werewolf), the uncomfortable realities of having to film a transformation scene in the nude, and how other werewolf characters look to him for cues on how to handle their own transformations:
When I did it, they just basically stripped me, threw me into a room and said, “Scream.” [Laughs] I was thrown right in the deep end so I’ve found my own language of it. Now they watch me to see how to do it, which is a massive compliment. I always felt like I wanted it to seem the most painful thing in the world, which it’s meant to be. I thought, “You’ve got to go for this because if you don’t and you do it halfheartedly, people watching it go, ‘Well, I don’t believe that’ or ‘He doesn’t look like he’s in pain,’ and it would just ruin it.
Read the whole interview here.
Are you tired of hearing about The Wolfman yet? I’m not! Here’s a recent Hero Complex column from the Los Angeles Times somewhat dramatically entitled “Rick Baker’s ‘Wolfman’ regrets: ‘I hoped it would bring back monster movies’“. Geoff Boucher asks Rick Baker five (actually rather interesting) questions about his work on The Wolfman, and Rick brings the answers in his usual candid way.
I don’t read his tone as regret, though… it’s more of a palms-up shrug, like “well, what can you do?” I think he got screwed over by bad management and a directionless production team, and I commend him for being so relaxed about it. Read the interview and tell me if I’m crazy.
Bonus: here’s a short featurette starring Rick. When it’s not busy looking like a trailer there are some neat shots of Rick applying and touching-up his werewolf work. The spritz bottle shot makes me laugh every time.