"They like the fangs."
Vampires have been a staple of cinema for a century, starting in 1922 with Nosferatu, F. W. Murnau's silent horror film, to Universal Classic Monsters' Dracula in 1931 and onward through Twilight mania to today, when bloodsucking fiends remain as popular as ever. Look no further than Day Shift (on Netflix Aug. 12), which stars Jamie Foxx as a vampire hunter in modern day San Fernando Valley.
But, like every vampire flick worth its fangs, Day Shift puts its own twist on the lore: Vampire hunting is a business where fangs are big money. Foxx, Snoop Dogg and Dave Franco star as union hunters trying to make ends meet, kill-by-kill and fang-by-fang, until they come up against a vampire with a vendetta of her own (played by Karla Souza).
Following an Academy screening of the film, host Shawn Finnie sat down with members of the cast and crew of Day Shift — including Souza, producer Yvette Yates Redick, stunt coordinator Lee Chesley, and hair designer/head of department Andrea Jackson — to, ahem, sink our teeth into the making of the movie.
"We change the rules with this one," says Redick. "We kept building on the mythology and the lore, and then, [director] J.J. [Perry] just added that much more. And then, Chad Stahelski came on [as a producer], and I think we built something that no one's ever seen before."
A vampire-hunting story is only as good as its vampire villain, which is where Souza comes in, playing an "uber" vampire and real estate agent who invents a sunscreen that allows vamps to step into the daylight. Aubrey San Fernando, as she's known around the Valley, is an undead businesswoman trying to build an empire — but she isn't above seeking vengeance when Foxx's Bud Jablonski stakes the wrong vampire.
"The plethora of vampire movies is there," Souza says of the movies she looked to in developing her character. "Everything from The Lost Boys to Only Lovers Left Alive with Tilda Swinton... So, I did my homework. I saw the Twilights, because they mention them in the film and I hadn't seen any of that. And then I kind of had to throw it away."
"I saw all of the vampire films, but it was more the humanity of her and her need to claim space," she adds. "That is what I connected to as a woman."
And then she donned her fangs. "J.J. was showing me [videos of] animals eating their prey, and I was, like, getting so fired up!" Souza remembers. "But the lisp was so hard! I was like, 'You're going to suffer!' And Jamie would [laugh]! Also, they were very pointy, and you can't close [your mouth]. I drew blood a couple of times, because of it."
"Action used to be a man's world. And now you're talking to four women that felt empowered in this process, and that's pretty awesome."
Bringing the undead to life on-screen was equally challenging behind the scenes. Jackson, who headed the hair department, was not only tasked with creating looks for the actors but also had to perfectly recreate those looks multiple times over for stuntpeople, contortionists, and a couple of decapitated heads too. (This is a vampire movie, after all.) "We had to do the head by itself!" Jackson laughs. "That was fun."
The stunts themselves required everyone involved step up their game, considering Perry was making his move to the director's chair after a 30-plus-year career as a stuntman on franchises like Fast and Furious and John Wick. (He's credited in the movie's trailer as "the guy who taught John Wick how to kick ass.")
The movie does deliver on all of the high-octane thrills you'd hope for: Gun fights and sword fights alike, high-speed chases involving massive explosions, and practical stuntwork done with the cast whenever possible. But the team wanted to bring something new too, so they enlisted the top contortionists in the industry to turn the vampires in Day Shift into supernaturally bendy beasts unlike anything that's appeared on-screen before.
"He knows so much about movies and action. And he was like, 'I want to see something new. I want to see something dope,'" recalls Chesley. "I definitely felt spoiled, because it was like, 'Go be free! Do what you want to do!'"
At the end of the day, everyone involved hopes the movie packs equal parts horror and comedy, plus action set pieces throughout the movie. "Feeling that adrenaline combined with that laughter, it's just like this visceral experience. And that's Day Shift," Redick teases.
But the women also took something more from their experience on Day Shift.
"We were doing an escapist, popcorn, fun movie," Souza says, "but it has so much more power in all these stories that you're hearing [about] the ways that we work, and how we're feeling like we're given that permission, and we're taking up the space as women. Action used to be a man's world, and now you're talking to four women that felt empowered in this process — and that's pretty awesome."
For more about the making of the movie, as well as about representation in genre movies, the influence of breakdancing, and everyone's favorite Snoop Dogg story from the set, watch the full panel interview now.