You can instantly tell the batshit insane Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the work of Timur Bekmambetov, who also directed Wanted, Night Watch and Day Watch. We were lucky enough to speak with Bekmambetov — and he told us what weapon he can't wait to shoot in super-slow-motion next, plus why he got in trouble for throwing fake horses at Abraham Lincoln.
And the Wanted director also told us his unshakable rules of film-making.
We've seen you do slow-motion action sequences featuring bullets, gun blasts and now an axe and a whip in this movie. What weapon do you want to play with next in slow motion?
Timur Bekmambetov: Oof, next? I don't know what the next movie is, you found a tricky way of finding out the next movie. [Laughs] I just came from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf called the Abraham Lincoln, we screened the movie there. It was a premiere. And I saw the aircrafts taking off from the deck of the aircraft carrier. This is a weapon I want to play in slow motion next: jets and drones.
You do make beautiful slow motion action scenes. What is the appeal of that type of pacing to you?
Because action, real action, is so quick you can't understand the drama of the fight. You need to slow it down. Good fighters, they are so professional and quick, you can't see what's happening. It's very important, the fight is like a dialogue. Everybody has a line, and an answer. It's either a very quick, messy piece. Or you need to slow down to understand what I said to you, and how you will respond.
Do you hate shaky cam?
No — in the movie, I couldn't use it, because of 3D. No I think it's really important. I think the camera movement is really important for the action scene, it helps the actor to act. The camera movement helps express and allow the actors to understand emotionally what's going on in the scene, and get into the rhythm on the scene. If it's a fighting scene, you can not use a static [camera]. It's not what you feel because you're in the fight.
Speaking of fights, there was one big fight scene in this movie during a horse stampede, in which a vampire throws a horse at Abraham Lincoln, who catches it and starts riding it. Was that difficult to film?
And the other character catches the horse, he protects it. It was a whole conversation with the studio about this horse, and throwing horses. It's the only time when the studio was trying to knock on the door and say, "Mmmmm, let's think about it." And I said, "You see what's happening, the bad guy is mean to the animal. But the good guy, Lincoln, he protects the horse." I changed it. It was not in the original storyboard. He caught the horse and the horse rears back with him, and he continues to fight on this horse.
You have nudity and violence but they said no you can't use the horse?
You can cut a human being in pieces and it will be OK. You can do that easily, but don't touch horses. And all the horses were digital. Did you feel that they were not real?
I thought a few on the outside looked real. I mean, I know the one that they threw wasn't real, I have to know that — I'm an adult. But I thought some of the outside horses looked real. Weren't some real?
No, no there are no real horses. There was a day, when I shot with the horses. And the special organization protecting animals was there, the woman from the organization was with us. And we were shooting the scene and she said, "Eeeh you need to wet down the road." What do you mean? I need the road to be dry, there was no rain in the day. It's not right. She explained that, "No you cannot ride horses on a dusty road." And I said, "What do you mean." And she said "because the dust will hurt horses eyes." So I said, I'm not shooting horses anymore. I understand now why the Western disappeared in this country, because you cannot touch horses. America loves this genre.
What are the rules of these vampires, because they are walking around in the daylight?
They invented sunscreen. 19th century vampires invented sunscreen [which is in the movie, hidden in certain places] just to protect our skin. And from that time on, they can walk outside. Another rule is a very important rule we invented. I think it opened the door to new mythology about vampires which is a vampire can not kill another vampire. They need a human being to fight with each other. This concept is great, and I feel it has potential. Many movies could be based on this concept.
How did you get the visual effect with the vampire's eyes glowing like cats' eyes? And will that only be apparent in 3D?
Yeah, it's only in 3D. It's a secret 3D trick that we invented. There's a lot of things that we invented. There are particles in the air [in many scenes there are drifting particles of dust or water] I was pushing everyone to do it. The particles helps give off the feeling that it's a real world. They're everywhere, small pieces just helping you believe that you're there.
How do you make a movie like this without it becoming a comedy?
There's a very simple rule. When your character is below you (you know more than the character) then it's a comedy. If your character knows more than you, then it's a heroic epic story, superhero movie. It's what I know about the rules. For me it's a rule. If you know exactly what your character knows, it's a drama. In this story you are behind or with the character.
What other rules do you follow as filmmaker?
Oh there are a lot of rules. I agree with (I think it was one of the Warner Brothers who said) we can not underestimate the bad taste of our audience [Laughs]. It's great. It's what I'm doing, all the comments on my movies I read in newspapers from critics about how it's "too much." What he's doing is too much. I agree with them, but I'm not making movies for critics, I'm making movies for the audience. And my audience has very strange taste.