I am a huge jPod fan and, as such, I have made an effort to stay on top of the careers of the brilliant actors who starred in the short-lived, sorely missed television series. Whenever possible, I do what I can to help spread the good word for these talented young folks. Through their exploits, I’ve stumbled upon many wonderful shows that I may not have otherwise had a chance to see. Recently, I discovered that Torrance Coombs (John Doe on jPod) was starring in a new short film. The trailer (which isn’t available to embed yet so you’ll just have to follow the link to see it) tweaked my interest.
Sam has always been obsessed with vampires — from the time he was a child watching them on children’s programs, to when he was a college student reading horror novels on the side. On Sam’s 21st birthday, a mysterious gentleman offers him a peculiar career choice: become an assistant to a real-life Vampire. Intrigued and enthusiastic, Sam takes the job and meets Simon Bolivar, a 400-year old Vampire. Everything about the Vampire does hold some truth to it; a truth followed by a dose of hard-reality. Sam soon realizes that it is not so pleasant to serve his corrupt and neurotic behavior. Told from Sam’s point of view, the Familiar is for anyone who has ever pursued a dream only to watch it slowly twist into an unrecognizable nightmare. Be careful what you wish for… it may come back to bite you in the end!
I commented on the video and the Familiar creator Kody Zimmermann and I started chatting. After he shared some background info on the show, I was downright intrigued.
I’ve worked in Vancouver’s film industry for 13 years now with a long string of job titles, most containing the word “assistant” in them. Once, I was an assistant to a Hollywood actor. Someone whose work I admired, an artist who took his craft serious. But what unfolded was three months of sleepless nights, insane requests and an endless glimpse into the more shallow recesses of humanity. I started empathizing with the Renfield character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula; just another dutiful lunatic serving the will of a bigger evil.
Familiars — like Renfield — are spoken of in vampire myths. But like real-life assistants, not many people pay them any attention. But still, they compelled me. What kind of person would actually serve a life-sucking fiend? I guess anyone who complains about Mondays or is guilted into working the weekend kind of knows that answer already.
My story was found.
Aiding me on this journey was my good friend/collaborator Riley Walsh. Our mantra was to do it as cheap as possible while maintaining some form of professional integrity. We were both unemployed guys with mortgages hoping we could get a helping hand from friends and contacts. What we received was humbling; a true testament to how generous and gracious this industry can treat its own.
We conscripted Jennifer Nick as our co-producer; she got us audition space at the Men in Trees production office, spear-headed our festival circuit campaign and started researching funding grants. Riley approached Mark Freeborn (production designer of Final Destination III and X-Files II) to advise us on our design strategy. Mark and his team went beyond our expectations, introducing us to production designer Alistair Bell, giving us a literal ton of construction flats and then building our sets with them.
Riley procured a very generous Grip and Lighting package from William F Whites, a Sony F-900 camera package from Sim Video, a sound stage at North Shore Studios as well as enlisting the help of Sharpe Sound Studios for a professional sound mix pro bono. A crew of industry vets heeded our call for help: people who usually get paid $600-700 a day were coming out for us for free to do a five day gig.
What’s more, our cast was amazing. Torrance Coombs of The Tudors and jPod became our main character, Sam. The vampire was Paul Hubbard, more known as Ford’s “Random Celebrity Guy.” We had a great ensemble with Rachel Sehl, Luisa Jojic, Brock Shoveller and Art Kitching who did double-duty as our Nosferatu and a victimized Jogger.
We shot our first two days in Stage 8 at North Shore Studios, a place I went to for 4 years as an office assistant. It was exhilarating to go there in a director’s capacity. The Taylor Manor, a local film friendly and empty old hospital, acted as our vampire den for the next two days. Our last day was spent in a couple of shops in North Vancouver, ending along a picturesque boardwalk with the Vancouver cityscape as our backdrop. I was grinning ear-to-ear watching our vampire sucking blood and stealing some dead guy’s pants. It’s a rush to see something you wrote down on a computer happening right there in real life.
Riley and I set out to take this a step beyond the usual limitations we’re accustomed to. We wanted to make a feature film within the short format. I guess when no one is handing you that chance, you go out and make your own luck.
I think we got it.
With all the “romantic” rewriting of vampires in books, films and television these days, it’s nice to see someone showing the bloodsuckers as the bad guys they are supposed to be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the sultry vampire (Frank Langella was smolderingly sexy even to my 8-year-old self when I watched him in Dracula for the first time) but today’s vampires are shallow and pose no true threat or danger. Getting bit by today’s vampires is like getting a hickey — it’s unsightly, but no real harm done, and there’s no stigma attached to it.
The modern creatures are empty and untormented the way the traditional vampire used to be. There were, after all, two kinds: the monster and the victim. When I think of vampires, I always remember the lines from Sting’s “Moon over Bourbon Street”: “It was many years ago that I became what I am. I was trapped in this life like an innocent lamb…” and “I have stood many times outside her window at night to struggle with my instinct in the pale moon light. How could I be this way and I pray to God above. I must love what I destroy and destroy the thing I love…”
So, here’s the Familiar, a regular guy who buys into the whole modern concept of how cool vampires are and learns his lesson the hard way that giving up being human could also mean giving up your humanity. I can’t wait to see this show, and you can be sure I’ll be posting the trailer as soon as it’s available.
22 minutes / 2009
HD Video / 16:9 (1.78:1)
Torrance Coombs as Sam
Paul Hubbard as The Vampire
Rachel Sehl as Alice
Brock Shoveller as The Old Gentleman
Jason Harder as Holland
Luisa Jojic as Penny
Josh Blacker as Virgil
Art Kitching as The Jogger & The Nosferatu
Suzka Mares as Vampire’s Escort
Rosette Sharma as Call Girl
Written, Directed & Edited by Kody Zimmermann
Produced by Riley Walsh
Producer — Kody Zimmermann
Co-Producer — Jennifer Nick
Director of Photography — George Campbell
Production Designer — Alistair Bell
Costume Designer — Ivan Lehner
First Assistant Director — Riley Walsh
Music by Richard L. King
Special Effects Make Up — John Healy/Healy FX
Audio Post Production by Sharpe Sound Studios Inc.
Visual Effects Supervisor — Chris Buffett