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Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2016: The Cast and Crew Talk The Stakelander

The most intriguing mysteries and surprises in life can often times be the most fundamental motivators that capture people’s attention and compel them to seek answers. That’s certainly the case for both the characters in, and fans of, the captivating Stake Land sci-fi movie franchise. A stunning announcement was made in mid-June that a sequel to the original enthralling film, which was released in 2011, had just finished shooting in secret. Viewers are surely curious to see how the humans in the post-apocalyptic series have continued to defend themselves against the perplexing vampires in the new action sequel, ‘The Stakelander.’

The horror follow-up, which was directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, was written by Nick Damici, who also penned the script for ‘Stake Land.’ Jim Mickle, who directed and co-wrote the first installment with Damici, returned to the franchise to serve as an executive producer on ‘The Stakelander.’

‘The Stakelander’ is set a few years after the events of the original film. With the zombie apocalypse still plaguing the world, the remaining humans have continued to evolve as skilled fighters. Martin (Connor Paolo) has been living on his own for months. His wife and daughter were killed by the Brotherhood, an extremist cult of humans who worship vampires, and their new vampire leader, The Mother (Kristina Hughes). Martin’s home town of New Eden has also destroyed by a revitalized group of vampires.

So Martin decides to track down the original vampire-slaying legend and his mentor, Mister (Damici), who kept him alive a decade ago, when the apocalypse began, and ask him for help. Martin hopes that Mister can help him find and kill The Mother and her followers who were responsible for the death of his family. Along the way, Martin also decides to rescue a feral young girl, who’s simply known as Lady (Laura Abramsen), from a group of men who are more interested in organizing fights amongst, than saving, humanity.

Martin, Mister and Lady then locate some of Mister’s old friends, including Bat (A.C. Peterson), and take refuge in their camp that’s designed to keep the vampires out. But with The Mother and her vampire followers growing more powerful, and preparing to assault Martin, Mister and their allies, both sides must prepare for the ultimate brutal showdown between humans and the vampires.

The post-apocalyptic sequel had its Canadian premiere on Wednesday night at the Scotiabank Theatre during the 2016 Toronto After Dark Film Festival. The Toronto screening took place after ‘The Stakelander’ was released as a Syfy original film in the U.S. on Saturday night.

Several members of ‘The Stakelander’s cast and crew, including Paolo, Abramsen, Peterson, Berk, Olsen and Glass Eye Pix producer, Peter Phok, who also produced the original movie, for a Q&A following the Canadian premiere. Among other things, the actors and filmmakers discussed how their primary goal was to find continuity between the first film and its follow-up, and how they appreciated having Mickle’s story as source material. But they also wanted to expand Martin and Mister’s apocalyptic world, and create their own story of how the protagonists’ would defeat the vampires. The cast and crew also discussed how the characters all have backstories that influence their decisions, but their histories weren’t always completely revealed, which served as a way to maintain their mystery.

Phok started the Q&A by noting that “We made the first film with (producer) Larry Fessenden. (Fassenden and the other producers at Glass Eye Pix) always wanted to make another movie in the series, and we talked about it for a long time. The rights for the film rest between us and Dark Sky. They came to us last year and said, ‘We want to do a sequel.'”

So the producers decided to speak with Mickle, and see if he was able to return as the director of the potential ‘Stake Land’ sequel. But he was writing and directing “the show ‘Hap and Leonard’ on Sundance TV in the U.S. He was pretty committed to that, but he didn’t want to stop us from moving forward. So he gave us his blessing to go out and find a director, and we ended up finding two directors,” Phok explained.

“I have known Dan and Bobby for awhile. I know a filmmaker who works with them, Chadd Harbold, who’s an associate producer on this film. We were hanging out one night, and he asked me, ‘What are you up to?’ I said, ‘I’m looking for a director for the ‘Stake Land’ sequel,” Phok also divulged. Harbold told his fellow producer that he had worked with Berk and Olsen “for awhile. So I gave them the chance to pitch some ideas, and they knocked it out of the park.”

While ‘The Stakelander’ features some of the same characters and themes as its predecessor, the sequel can also stand alone in its storytelling. During the development of the story for the follow-up film, Olsen explained that “our primary goal was to find some continuity between the initial film and this one. But we also wanted to do something a little bit bigger with the sequel. We felt like we had to expand the world. We made sure the continuity existed, but we also spun it off” to create its own story.

“The original is definitely a different type of movie,” Berk also emphasized. “I wouldn’t say one was better than the other, because they’re different films. The first one is set at the beginning of the apocalypse, and this one’s set further into it. So this film’s going to have more structure to what the post-apocalyptic world has become. As challenging as it was to fill Jim’s shoes, it was also nice to have his source material, and have something to build from.”

In both films, the characters all have histories that heavily motivate them to make the choices that they do. Paolo noted that he worked with Damici a bit to develop the relationship between Martin and Mister. “I think the backstory for Martin is more or less seen, as he’s been in this world for almost a decade now. The story picks up with him experiencing these horrible changes,” Paolo stated.

“I’ve been in close contact with Nick since we finished the first film, so we sort of built these characters together. So it wasn’t too much of a shift for me to go back into this role,” Paolo also revealed. He garnered a laugh from the crowd when he added, “Nick never shows up with just one script; he showed up with 15 scripts. He said, ‘We’re going to do one of these; let’s see which one it’s going to be.'”

While Abramsen played a new character in ‘The Stakelander’ who has very little dialogue and backstory in the screenplay, she admitted the process of bringing Lady to the screen “was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be…I took the script and ran with it, and created some of my own dialogue and inner monologue in my head. That was based on how I perceive everything that’s going on around me.”

Abramsen added that she feels that Lady grew up feral and didn’t have anyone looking after her. She also noted that Lady felt Martin and Mister presented her with her first opportunity to escape, and she took it.

The actress also mentioned that she had seen and enjoyed the original ‘Stake Land,’ so she was eager for the opportunity to become involved in its sequel, no matter how big her role would be in the story. “I didn’t care if I just had to waltz in the background,” Abramsen revealed, which garnered a laugh from the audience.

“There have been people who have asked me why I’d want to play the role, since she doesn’t have any lines. But as an actor, the biggest challenge is acting in silence. If you can hold up a character without having to talk, that’s the real challenge. So it was a huge undertaking on my part, but I definitely wanted to grab hold of it.”

Peterson also discussed some of the aspects that he felt inspired Bat in ‘The Stake Lander.’ His character and the rest of the human survivors in the camp “are surrounded by this apocalypse and impending doom…You drawn on your own senses of loss and isolation.”

While Bat and Mister have a longstanding friendship, the two still don’t know each other’s real names. Olsen revealed that Damici adamantly insists that his character’s name is Mister, and the screenwriter-actor won’t reveal too many other details about his character. “We tried to find out if he had any other birth name, but Nick always says his character’s name is Mister. So there wasn’t a huge effort to maintain that mystery” on the directors’ part, but they felt it aided in the storytelling.

“It was an opportunity for us to tease more about Mister’s backstory, but you still don’t know much. Maybe we’ll learn more in the future about what the past decade has been like for him,” Olsen stated. Berk chimed in, “When the apocalypse happens, you’re allowed to make up a nickname for yourself!”

Check out images from ‘The Stakelander’s Canadian premiere during the 2016 Toronto After Dark Film Festival below..

(Second from left-right): Directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, actor Connor Paolo, actress Laura Abramsen, producer Peter Phok and actor A.C. Peterson attend the Canadian premiere of their action horror sequel, ‘The Stakelander,’ at the Scotiabank Theatre during the 2016 Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

(Second from left-right): Directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, actor Connor Paolo, actress Laura Abramsen, producer Peter Phok and actor A.C. Peterson attend the Canadian premiere of their action horror sequel, ‘The Stakelander,’ at the Scotiabank Theatre during the 2016 Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

(Left-right): Directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, actor Connor Paolo, actress Laura Abramsen, producer Peter Phok and actor A.C. Peterson attend the Canadian premiere of their action horror sequel, ‘The Stakelander,’ at the Scotiabank Theatre during the 2016 Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

(Second from left-right): Directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, actor Connor Paolo, actress Laura Abramsen, producer Peter Phok and actor A.C. Peterson attend the Canadian premiere of their action horror sequel, ‘The Stakelander,’ at the Scotiabank Theatre during the 2016 Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

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As a life-long fan of entertainment, particularly films, television and music, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic. While still attending college, Karen began writing for Shockya during the summer of 2007, when she began writing horror movie reviews. Since she began writing for Shockya, Karen has been promoted to the position of Senior Movies & Television Editor. Some of her duties in the position include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, producing posts on celebrity news and contributing reviews on albums and concerts. Some of her highlights include attending such festivals and conventions as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, SXSW, Toronto After Dark, the Boston Film Festival and New York Comic-Con.

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