The fangs come out next Valentine's Day when Vampire Academy arrives in theaters. We had the opportunity to speak with screenwriter Daniel Waters about his part in adapting the first book in Richelle Mead's popular young adult series. Waters spoke to us about the tone of the book as well as the difference between the things he could alter in the adaptation and the things Mead insisted had to stay the same. Like Christian's hair. What compelled him to adapt Vampire Academy? How does this film stack up next to the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? What changes should fans expect from the adaptation? Waters addresses all of those topics and more.
Daniel Waters is no stranger to teen drama. He penned the script for the 1988 dark comedy Heathers. Armed with some notable experience in getting into the mindset of teenage girls, Waters tackled the screenplay for Vampire Academy, while his brother Mark -- director of Mean Girls -- was at the helm for this adaptation. Mead's novel takes place at an academy for teen vampires. While some of them do appreciate a bloody beverage for sustenance, these "Moroi" vampires aren't immortal. They do age, and they're not without their souls, unlike the vicious Strigoi vampires, who hunt Morois and the Dhampirs (half-human, half vampire supernatural beings).
The story is told from the perspective of Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch), a beautiful and strong young Dhampir with a very close bond with Moroi vampire Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry). While Lissa trains to develop her supernatural abilities, Rose works hard to improve her strength and fighting techniques in order to eventually assume the role of Lissa's guard. While there are obviously some seriously supernatural elements at work in this story, St. Vladimir Academy is still a high school where teens are busy, coming of age, establishing friendships and romances, while also seeking out their own identities. One of the first things Daniel Waters spoke to us about was the multiple themes of the book and the relationship Rose and Lissa have with one another…
What compelled you to do this adaptation? Were you looking for a young adult series to adapt, or was there something about this book in particular that kind of jumped out at you?
It’s funny, only now I’m starting to think about those first days, where I was offered Vampire Academy and I wasn’t aware... Don’t be mad, but I wasn’t even aware of the book and the series until I heard about it, and for a man who’s kind of getting on the old side, to hear the words like, “Ok, hey do you want to adapt this series of books called Vampire Academy?” To me, obviously my brain went to all the wrong places of like, “Oh no, is this a Saturday morning cartoon? Is this Zack and Cody Go To Space?” It took actually reading the books --and once I read one I had to read all of them -- that I realized that this was a much more fertile and complex and interesting -- and I like things that have a lot of different tones, like I love the book Hunger Games, but to me, I’m not the right writer for Hunger Games, because to me, that’s the kind of material you just stand back and do the plot, but to me Vampire Academy is so much more than just the plot or just the mystery, that to me -- I’ve always been fascinated with female characters and female relationships -- even taking away the supernatural elements, just to have two best friend characters where one can read the mind of the other one and knows what she’s thinking and feeling at all times. To me, you can do a movie just like that, in a kitchen without any of the supernatural elements, so I was obviously taken with all material and all the potential the material had.
Well, with that in mind, I’m a huge fan of Heathers I grew up loving that movie and your brother (Mark Waters) directed Mean Girls which is another great movie that I think captured the dark humor of that brutal social hierarchy that can exist for teen girls. Is there anything like that that we can expect tonally, both on the subject of high school and teen girls, but also the humor that was kind of there in those other movies you guys did?
Yeah, my brother had been doing a lot of interviews lately where he says the word comedy. I don’t know. I get scared when I hear the words vampires and comedy. I start to think, “Hey that vampire is a real pain in the neck,” and I start to think of all these bad vampire puns and trust me, it’s never going to be a full comedy, but I do think there just is natural humor in the situation, like I just think the characters are going to be a little more witty and a little more amusing, but we’re not going to go too far with the comedy, but I definitely think it’s going to be an element.
Because to me -- and I know my brother feels the same way -- we’re a little bored of those kind of overly serious, kind of young adult movies, where it seems like -- and it’s not just the young adult movies, it’s like every movie -- It seems like every movie now had the innocent character who comes across this new world and then they start screaming things like, “Oh no, this can’t be happening. This isn’t real. Magic is impossible. There’s no such thing as a vampire,” and what I love about Vampire Academy is we get to jump past all that stuff, get to cut in line almost, like none of our characters are innocents, but even better, they’re all pretty chill. Magic is real, vampires are real, vampires doing magic is real, but that’s just another day at St. Vladimir’s. It’s just another day at high school.
I think by taking these kind of wacky wild elements and treating it like just another day at high school, it makes for, I wouldn’t say laugh-out-loud funny, but it makes for a certain kind of attitude that is really interesting and unique and does make you laugh at some times. Our motto has always been it’s all about playing the supernatural as completely natural. I think that’s fun, but it just makes it different.
Well, I definitely think there’s an audience for that too. I mean Buffy the Vampire Slayer kind of captured that a little bit and it also had its own vampire thing, where there’s this dark side that’s kind of off-set a little bit with humor, not to make it a comedy but just to maybe cut the tension…
Yeah, Buffy, I dare not look in the face of the god of Buffy. It was such a great show that to be said in the same sentence would be an honor and I think the great thing is that even Buffy had characters who weren’t in on it and things were happening behind real people’s backs. I like that there’s hardly any real people in Vampire Academy that we had a chance to create a completely different universe, which I think makes it interesting and sets it apart. It’s almost like you’re backstage at the concert, instead of sitting in the 40th row watching a concert.