Who is Scott Leberecht? First and foremost, he's an incredibly cool guy and it was my utmost pleasure speaking with him.
But he's also an artist. Working his way up through Industrial Light and Magic, he created imagery in some of the biggest films of the last two decades: "Eraser", "101 Dalmatians", "Spawn", "Flubber", "Sleepy Hollow" and "Inside Man". He did storyboards for "The Wild"... and now, he's got a feature-length film written, directed and edited by himself (with production from "Blair Witch Project" alumnus Eduardo Sanchez).
If you have not seen this film, see this film... then come back for the interview!
GS: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you used to work for Industrial Light and Magic...
SL: That is correct. I did, but I don't anymore.
GS: How did you get hired on there?
SL: Well, I went to school at the University of Cincinnati and studied industrial design. While there, I became interested in production design for film. One of the professors there was a model maker for ILM, and I started to realize what was within my grasp. I started gearing my work in that direction and got an internship with ILM. And that turned into a job.
GS: Now, I specifically want to ask about one movie you worked on -- "Sleepy Hollow". How is that film different because you were on the crew?
SL: Of the art directors that were in the art department at the time, I may have been more well-suited for that project because I have very dark interests. I love horror movies and heavy metal, what you might call disturbing imagery. When ILM got the contract for that film, I was just thrilled. I was the person on the crew who did research into what a person's severed head looks like. So when you see a head stump in that film, I think I might have taken pleasure in the work in a different way than the others might have. I guess you could say I brought "extra effort" to that job.
GS: You're a horror guy, you know your vampire films, so I have to ask which -- if any -- inspired "Midnight Son".
SL: It's funny. I have to say no. A film I was made aware of afterward is "Martin"...
GS: That's the film I was looking for.
SL: Yeah, but I didn't know about that until a friend alerted me to it after reading a draft of "Midnight Son". And I was just amazed at how it starts and the themes it covers. My favorite film, and I give a shout out to it, is "Fright Night". That was my favorite vampire film until I saw "Let the Right One In". That came out while I was editing, and it made me feel like my movie was shit. But as far as inspirations, the two movies that were in my head were "City of God" and "Gummo". I wanted the film to feel more like a documentary than a spectacle, so I scripted away the "cool" things about being a vampire and focused on the real affliction of it, the avoidance of the Sun and the blood-drinking. Those would make it hard to be a normal person. But in other movies, they make being a vampire cool. They're never gonna die, they can fly, they're super strong and they attract hot women. So I wanted a vampire who was weak and had real problems. I wanted the audience to ask, "What would I do in that situation? How would I survive?"
GS: I'm so glad you mentioned "Martin" because I saw the similarities right away, and I'm sorry you hadn't seen it.
SL: Yeah. I thought I had seen every film in the vampire genre and I missed the one that was working with my theme. I was really going for isolation. The idea that you're trapped in a house and want to get a message to people on the outside, but you can't. A vampire's life is like that; they can't go out in the daylight, and when they can go outside nobody is there.
GS: At what stage of production did Eduardo Sanchez come on board?
SL: We had actually finished shooting and had all the footage. We had blown our budget, so we had no way to finish the film and I needed to get a producer involved to carry us to completion. Our sound designer was also doing the sound design for a film Eduardo was working on and mentioned "Midnight Son". I called Eduardo, he asked to see footage and I sent it to him. He asked to see the screenplay and I sent him that. He then agreed to produce it. So we had finished the film, but Eduardo carried us.
GS: Arlen Escarpeta appears in the film, and I've spoken to Arlen before. He's a big geek, but in your film he's a tough guy.
SL: Yeah. And that's why I wanted to cast him. At first he's the brother of the main villain, but as the story progresses his sweetness and vulnerability really come out. He becomes Arlen, the Arlen we know. But he does a great tough guy persona, too, so it worked out.
GS: The film leaves certain things dangling at the end... was it intentional to leave aspects of the story unresolved?
SL: Yes. Was there something specific you were curious about?
GS: For example, we never really find out where the illness or vampirism comes from.
SL: That was one thing I dabbled with a lot in terms of... well, here's the thing. I didn't want to tie my rope to any one thing that explained why he had this affliction. It somehow took away a lot of the power of the affliction when I gave it an origin. Say you feel sick and you go to a doctor but they can't tell you what's wrong. We're really alone in that sort of situation. And that's why I think it needs to remain a mystery to us and to the character, to keep the affliction powerful. Or use the analogy of puberty, where you're embarrassed to talk about your body. You want answers, but you don't ask. And our character drinks blood, which is disgusting. And he's on his own, without answers. That's what I wanted to capture.
GS: I have one last question, and I hate to ask it, but I know it's the elephant in the room. Who was the marketing person who presented your movie as a "Twilight" knockoff?
SL: I'm really glad you asked that question. (Off-the-record finger-pointing edited out.) That was strictly a marketing decision that I was not involved in. In the end, I did support it. I don't like the artwork and what it suggests, but I felt that it could draw in vampire fans and then take them in another direction. Rather than a strange looking or cerebral cover that would turn people off, and therefore they'd never watch it, I went along with the marketing people.
GS: I didn't want to mention it, because there is no polite way to mention "Twilight".
SL: Yeah. It comes down to the fact that marketing a movie is different from telling the story. That's the hardest part about making art, being the writer-director. The marketing people may not be telling the same story you were telling. But we have totally different goals.
GS: Thanks for your time and honesty, Scott.
SL: You, too, man. Stay cool.