People often wish to seek solace and comfort in others around them, particularly in times of distress and need. But when they fail to make these connections, even during circumstances they can’t control, their will to live quickly declines. That’s certainly the case with the main character, Jacob, in the new horror-drama ‘Midnight Son,’ which is now available on DVD.
‘Midnight Son’ follows Jacob (played by Zak Kilberg), a young man with a rare skin disorder that forces him to avoid exposure to the sun. His mental and physical health begin to deteriorate as his symptoms worsen, which leads him to drink human blood.
Jacob falls in love with Mary (portrayed by Maya Parish), who is just as damaged as he is. But his hope worsens even further when local police begin to suspect he’s involved with a series of grisly murders.
The horror-drama’s scribe and helmer, Scott Leberecht, who made his feature film feature film writing and directing debut with ‘Midnight Son,’ generously took the time recently to speak with us over the phone about the movie. Among other things, he spoke about where he came up with the inspiration for the script, the casting process for Kilberg and Parish and how working as the visual effects art director on several films helped in the transition to becoming a screenwriter and director.
ShockYa (SY): ‘Midnight Son’ is your feature film directorial debut, after helming such short films as ‘Under Dog’ and ‘Natural Selection.’ What was the transition process like, going from short films to feature films?
Scott Leberecht (SL): Well, I would say that mainly it’s about stamina, and the ability to keep the concentration and energy for 28 days, rather than four or five. With the short films, it isn’t very long. With a feature, it’s very intense and long. I would say stamina, for one thing.
The other thing is, keeping the story in my head the whole time. It was a little more difficult to remember that what we’re shooting today is going to be the result of a seed that was maybe planted in an earlier scene, that we’re not shooting for another 10 days.
So having a bigger story was a challenge that I hadn’t experienced before. I had to explain to everybody why we were doing things the way we were doing them, and keeping them in my head.
SY: Like you said, you were used to only having four or five days to shoot your short films, as opposed to having the 28-day period for ‘Midnight Son.’ Did having only a month provide you with enough time to shoot everything you wanted to include in the movie?
SL: Yeah, absolutely. We did end up shooting a little bit over that 28 days. We had to have everybody come back a year later, after I had a chance to edit. It was a little nerve-racking, because everybody had lost a lot of weight after the original shoot. A year later, I was saying, let’s all get together again for a week and do some more shots and a little bit more.
We got a lot, and I thought we had gotten everything we needed. But once you get into the editing room, you realize there are little bits and pieces that would tell the story better. If you can, you have to go get those.
SY: Besides directing ‘Midnight Son,’ you also wrote the screenplay. Where did you come up with the idea for the film as you began writing it?
SL: Well, it started when I was living in San Francisco. There was a house on my walk home everyday that was abandoned. The windows were boarded up from the inside.
But someone had taken the time to paint paintings on those boards, so that it would like nice or something on the window. I would always walk past it, and it was so odd and interesting. I thought, maybe the house isn’t abandoned, maybe somebody’s in there, trying to connect with the people walking past the house during the day.
That’s what made me start to think. I was intrigued by the idea that someone was trapped in a house, or trapped in something that made them want to connect with people on the outside, but couldn’t for some reason.
That’s what led me to start thinking about this idea about a melancholy vampire who’s very lonely and wants to connect. He can’t, because he can’t come out during the day. He could only come out when everyone’s asleep. So that was the real genesis of the idea.
Then I started thinking that would be a unique way to tell a classic vampire story, rather than make him powerful and sexy and something cool. I wanted him to be something unique and vulnerable.
SY: Did you find that writing the script for ‘Midnight Son’ helped you in your directorial duties?
SL: Yeah. For me, I think I’m a director first, and a writer second. But the way things are, in terms of being able to finance a project, you really do need a script. A lot of my ideas aren’t something that we need to find writers who have written scripts.
I don’t have the money to pay anybody to write a script. So you just have to do it yourself. I always had the intention to direct the film. The writing part was something I had to do to get to that.
SY: What was the casting process like for the main characters in the film like?
SL: Zak Kilberg, who plays the lead character (Jacob), happened to see a website I created in order to generate interest in the film. It had some artwork and photos I had taken that I put up online. He emailed me randomly one day while I was in San Francisco and he was in L.A., saying that he thought he would be good for the part.
I liked his pictures that he sent along, so I contacted him back. I told him I would like to meet him. He came up to San Francisco, and he had some friends up there, and we got together. He auditioned, and I knew it was him, and that he was the one. I auditioned other actors, but I always liked Zak the most.
Maya (Parish, who played Mary) was someone I had seen in film school at a screening of several students’ short films. I saw her in one of my colleague’s short films, and thought she would be perfect for Mary.
I was writing the script at the time, so I approached her after the screening. I told her that I had her in mind for my first feature that I was making. She liked the sound of it. But then it took me another three years to finish the screenplay.
So I called her out of the blue, three years later, and said, hey, do you remember me? She remembered me, and I said, I finished that script. I’m ready to shoot, and I want you to play Mary. She was excited.
SY: You served as the visual effects art director on several films, including ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Spawn.’ Do you feel your experience as an art director helped you once you started writing and helming films?
SL: Yeah, absolutely. The thing that was kind of fascinating about the transition from visual effects to actual story-telling and film-making was that I realized that what I was involved in in the visual world was called spacial art. It has to do with form and space and putting things on canvas, and what they look like, and how do you make it look right. There’s a science to it, almost like you’re a detective, and you’re trying to make things look real.
When you transition into being a story-teller, you realize that is a completely different world. It’s more about rhythm and music and dance and pacing, and how to build to a crescendo, and carry an audience. I didn’t really deal with that stuff in visual effects. You were just trying to make the image look right. So I had a lot of learning to do.
But my visual effects and art backgrounds really helped in the communication process with the crew and everyone involved. I could get everyone excited about the film by drawing pictures. They would instantly communicate the ideas, instead of trying to express them with words. So that’s were the art background really paid off. I used art to communicate a lot on set, and in pre-production.
SY: ‘Midnight Son’ premiered on FEARnet in January, and was a hit at such film festivals as FrightFest and Toronto After Dark. What was your reaction when you found out the movie would be playing at these film festivals?
SL: I was really excited, those were great film festivals. After Dark was one of my favorites. I was there for the whole festival. Adam Lopez (the festival’s director and founder) was amazing, in terms of his commitment to his genre. So I was extremely happy to get in there.
We had a bit of a concern throughout almost the whole making of the film, with just where it would fit. The only strange thing about my film is in terms of where does it belong, because it has so many dramatic aspects to it. There’s psychological aspects and horror aspects, which was a main part of it. But it was also a character-driven story.
We were afraid that no one would want it, and know what to do with it. They didn’t know to call it a horror movie. Some people wouldn’t even know to call it a vampire movie, because it doesn’t have a lot of the aspects that vampire movies have.
It was definitely scary at first when we were submitting to film festivals and distribution companies. We were afraid that everybody would be confused, but it seemed to strike a cord with a lot of people. Our fears went away fast.
SY: What was the reaction among audiences when you screened ‘Midnight Son’ at the festivals?
SL: Almost across the board, we’re getting amazing reviews. People just loved the film. I couldn’t be happier. I still can’t believe how many people connected with it. I’m really happy that people, in a weird way, wanted the same thing I wanted. While filming the movie, I felt it was something I wanted to see on the screen that wasn’t being made. So I made it.
It’s nice to know that there were a lot of people out there who had that same feeling. Everybody’s sort of tired of the same old vampire movies. In making something different, I think people are really being relieved of that same old vampire movie.
Written by: Karen Benardello