With Shadowland, Wyatt Weed says that he wanted to "tackle the vampire idea dramatically and do something different."
"I didn’t set out to make a vampire film," says Wyatt Weed while sipping from a cup of coffee on a rather warm June afternoon in Webster Groves. "I set out with a much less ambitious film. That script became unavailable. Then I had a whole other idea. The idea was there is a woman who crawls out of the ground, she has amnesia, she doesn’t know who she is but she’s something different and supernatural." The idea is definitely intriguing and the final film, Shadowland, which has a week-long run at the Tivoli Theatre starting July 24, succeeds in being both a gripping movie and wonderful addition to the vampire genre.
Shadowland, written and directed by Weed, was shot in St. Louis and St. Charles and used a cast and crew of St. Louis actors. Weed himself is a St. Louis native and, after spending nearly 20 years in Los Angeles, has landed back in town with a big splash. Though the film had a budget of only $300,000, it feels like a much larger film due to Weed’s pragmatic approach to the production. The film is set primarily in present day, but much of the story is set in the late 1800s where the world was a much different place. Weed masterfully juxtaposes the two worlds by shooting present-day scenes in University City, Kirkwood and downtown St. Louis, while using Main Street St. Charles (which is perfectly preserved) as the setting for the flashbacks.
Weed says that he wanted to "tackle the vampire idea dramatically and do something different." This is definitely the case in Shadowland. Laura, played by Caitlin McIntosh (a St. Louis native and first-time actor), wakes up in the present day, unsure of what she sees around her. For once, the audience knows who the vampire is before the character even does. Weed approaches the vampire genre from a very realistic perspective, with much of the mythology rooted in scientific conjecture even though the film deals plenty with faith and religion. "Vampires shouldn’t just burst into flame when they step into sunlight," says Weed. "A vampire can exist in sunlight to some degree and just come away with a very serious sunburn. They’re not cursed by God. They’re creatures with a different genetic makeup from us who have learned to survive in a different way." It is that type of dedication to the world of the film that makes Shadowland such a unique vision.
And that distinction is important, considering the influx of vampire-based material currently permeating popular culture. When asked why he thinks vampires are so popular right now, Weed points out, "Vampire movies have always been around; they are just riding a wave. Right now they are on the crest of that wave, which is why we’re seeing so much in books, on TV and in the movies. When we started in 2006, Stephanie Meyer [author of the Twilight books on which the films are based] was barely a blip on the radar. There was no such thing as [the HBO show] True Blood. But now riding the wave has worked out best for us."
McIntosh, who has a background in dance and musical theater, agrees with her director: "That vampire lifestyle has always been attractive, that decadent and old-fashioned way of life." She echoes Weed that the vampire trend in popular culture is "cyclical and comfortable, like opening an old book." For her part in the film, McIntosh did a lot of preparation at home, studying lines and the character’s style of movement. How did she handle a character who is mute through two-thirds of the film? "My background is in dance," she says. "I’m used to being seen and not heard. So this worked out perfectly." So perfectly, in fact, that she inspired Weed to rewrite the part of Laura, turning her from a waif-like, ethereal victim into "a tougher, more modern woman who is out of her time." The change works; McIntosh is convincing as both an innocent young woman from the late 19th century and as a tough and strong vampire trying to make her way through a completely unfamiliar world.
Talk to Weed about Shadowland for even a short while and you quickly realize he isn’t satisfied ending Laura’s story with just one film. Talking about the next chapter in the story, he says, "We want to keep making films here in St. Louis and stay out of L.A. as much as possible. If there is enough interest in a sequel, it would be a lot bigger in scope. [Laura] would be on the run and in hiding. There’d be more backstory of the vampire Lazarus and how be became a vampire in Venezuela in the 1700s." He goes on to quickly outline the opening sequence, characters who will be brought back and how the church will factor in. If the second film isn’t written yet, it’s clear Weed has at least the majority planned out in his head.
The premiere at the Tivoli will be the first theatrical release of the film. "With the weeklong run at [the Tivoli], we are just beside ourselves and so happy for that opportunity to expose the public to the film," says Weed. Having won several awards at international film festivals already, Shadowland is sure to find a strong following here in St. Louis, even if Hollywood doesn’t take notice right away. And that’s fine with the director: "Right now, we’re on the local radar, but not the national radar yet. It would be nice to take L.A. money and L.A. backing and shoot movies here in St. Louis." When discussing the future, Weed is at once proud, realistic, hopeful and practical about what will happen with the film, its possible success and what is ahead for filmmaking in St. Louis. | Matthew F. Newlin
Shadowland plays at Landmark’s Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis July 24-30.