One of the buzzed about movies at the Tribeca Film Festival this season is Bushwick filmmaker Onur Tukel’s Summer of Blood, a vampire mumblecore rom com that Vulture describes as “what might happen if Woody Allen and Lena Dunham found themselves collaborating on a Roger Corman movie.” The Dunham comparison is apt: Tukel co-starred in Alex Karpovsky’s Red Flag and now Karpovksy (Ray from Girls) appears in Tukel’s movie, as an office drone who watches his neurotic, lazy manchild of a co-worker descend into insatiable blood lust.
The film – shot mostly in Bushwick and Tukel’s former neighborhood, Greenpoint – is a hilarious twist on a horror genre, a la Shaun of the Dead. But it’s also a rare thing: a rom com that, like Tukel’s previous film Richard’s Wedding, is peppered with non-stop zingers and talky, raw dialogue that seems rooted in the director/leading man’s real life (hence the Woody Allen comparison). It’s a movie that – yes – you can really sink your teeth into.
We spoke to Tukel today, following a premiere party last night that lured Karpovsky and others to the Brazen Fox in the East Village.
Is there something about Bushwick that lent itself to a vampire film?
“Bushwick vampires” sounds good but when you’re making a movie this low-budget you’re basically a slave to whatever locations you can get. I knew I could use my apartment and that if we had some of the killings happen around my apartment we could use it as a home base for Fred Vogel, who did the special effects. It was all about being practical and efficient and shooting quickly [over the course of 9 days, with two cameras].
Were there particular films that influenced this?
The quintessential movie that I loved in the ‘80s was An American Werewolf in London – it was the most perfect blend of horror and comedy. There were four movies in particular that influenced this, which is Vampire’s Kiss with Nicolas Cage, which was made in the late ‘80s; Larry Fessenden’s Habit, which was a really good, gritty indie movie that I think took place in New York in the early or mid-90s; Rick Alverson’s The Comedy, because it’s just about a solipsistic madman who basically takes nothing seriously out of fear of death; and then Mary Harron’s adaptation of American Pyscho. And Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry was an influence, too, because it shows a completely unhinged, very angry and very bitter side of him. Although my movie isn’t very angry, it is about a narcissistic idiot and I kind of identify with the narcissistic idiots in [those movies].
To what extent does the film serve as a snapshot of the Brooklyn filmmaking community?
I wanted to feature a lot of cameos and guest roles with actual filmmakers from New York: Dustin Defa is a New York filmmaker who did a film called Bad Fever – he plays the vampire who bites me. There’s another New York filmmaker, Zach Clark, who I bite and kill with Dustin later in the movie. There’s cameos from Drew Tobia, who just directed a beautiful New York film called See You Next Tuesday, and there’s also Jonathan Caouette, who directed the movie Tarnation, and Walk Away Renee. I wanted to feature them as a wink to say, “Look we’re all in New York making movies and hopefully we’ll continue to do that.”
Do you feel like you’re part of a Brooklyn “scene,” though?
One of the production companies behind the film, Factory 25, is based in Park Slope by a guy named Matt Grady. He curates all these terrific films that are emblematic of this great low-budget indie film scene in New York and outside of New York but primarily on the East Coast. A film I made two years ago is on that label along with Dustin Defa and people like Sophia Takal, who did a movie called Green. I don’t know if I feel like I’m in any scene but then you’re at the White Reindeer wrap party and you see familiar faces at all these screenings where we’re all doing the same thing – scrapping together as much money as we can ($20-, $40-, $60,000 – no money) and trying to be supportive of each other’s work.
You worked with Alex Karpovsky before he became known for his role in Girls – has his newfound fame caused more interest in the movie?
Well, first, I used to make movies on film with bigger crews and dolly track and jib arm and all this stuff, and we’d have proper production and production schedules. I met Alex Karpovsky at Sundance 2011 and he cast me in Red Flag and that movie was made with a tiny crew of like four people. We were on the road for nine days shooting that movie.
Being a part of that process and seeing how he worked, how he focused more on performance and talking intimately with all the actors who were in it and trying to form a foundation based on everyone’s input, that influenced me greatly when I went off and made my first New York movie, Richard’s Wedding.
Alex was just about to shoot the first season of Girls after we shot Red Flag, so he didn’t know what was coming for him. But now that he’s a celebrity, basically, yeah it puts more attention on my movie. There’s definitely more press that are interested in Alex and what he’s doing. I think it gives our film credibility but not as much as you’d think.
What’s being in Tribeca like? Is it really stressful, or are you just enjoying the ride?
When we got into Tribeca we were excited that it surpassed our wildest expectations about what would happen and then as it got closer to the festival I started getting more nervous because I thought there are limitations to this style of film, it is guerilla filmmaking, and Tribeca shows very polished Hollywood movies with big Hollywood movie stars. There was an inferiority complex of showing our movie alongside all these better-crafted films.
The week before the festival it was awful: I was finishing the film and watching it and watching it and hating everything about it, just nervous about the premiere. Then we had the screening and it was terrific. It was amazing and fun and magical and then the next day we have two reviews and it’s ecstatic to read a positive review and I told myself I wouldn’t be bothered by negative reviews if it’s a fair, good review, but reading a biting review of the movie where it feels like they didn’t respect…. It bothers me.
To be honest with you, we hope we can sell the movie and get our money back, so there’s the stress of that. This is a market, so there are buyers here at the market, but you get nervous because no one’s buying movies anymore for anything like what the filmmakers pay for it.
It’s funny that this is coming out at the same time as Jim Jarmusch’s intelligent vampire comedy. Have you seen it?
Jarmusch is a singular filmmaker, I probably wouldn’t watch a movie like his before mine because I would be too self-conscious about how brilliant it is. There was a movie that was at Sundance this year called What We Do in the Shadows by some of the cast members of Flight of the Conchords and it’s supposed to be a really wacky vampire comedy. I’m really, really curious to see that movie because that’s more along the same style of our film — an absurdist vampire movie – as opposed to Jarmsuch who’s going to be dark and heavy and existential and probably A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which seems very artsy and interesting.
In addition to being a vampire movie, this is also a rom com – albeit an unconventional one where the characters sometimes aren’t even likeable. To what degree did your own dating life play into it?
I’m 41 and I have to make a decision at some point about whether or not I want to get married and have a family because I’m sort of at that crossroads. I’d like to have kids one day but then again I like my bachelorhood, I like being able to travel and go wherever I want. This freedom and time to do things like make independent low-budget movies and paint and work on children’s books because I do some of that. Summer of Blood really is about the choice that someone has to make: do I want to live a life of selfishness, or do I want to live a life of giving to someone else?
What about the sex scenes? Were you nervous about them?
We all knew that was going to be fun and playful. I knew there wasn’t going to be any nudity in the movie, so I knew it wouldn’t be exploitative. I didn’t want to have any female nudity without male nudity – I’d have to be completely exposed, and I’m just not comfortable doing that. I think while my mother’s still alive I’d be afraid to show myself completely naked in a film.
“Summer of Blood” continues April 18, 24 and 26 at Bow Tie Cinemas in Chelsea; tickets here.
Also at Tribeca: In Five Star, Keith Miller’s Leading Man Is a General in the East New York Bloods