2014 Tribeca Film Festival Filmmaker Interview: Onur Tukel (Director – ‘Summer of Blood’)

Brooklyn writer-director Onur Tukel stars in ‘SUMMER OF BLOOD‘, a black comedy about relationships, attraction, commitment, and the true meaning of ‘eternity.’ Eric, a misanthropic, emotionally-stunted New Yorker, finds himself on the brink of a premature mid-life crisis when he rejects his career-woman girlfriend’s marriage proposal. Stuck at a dead-end job with no allure in the dating pool and even less in bed, Eric has all reason to lose hope. But that all changes one fateful night when he runs into a vampire in an alleyway. The next day, Eric finds his confidence invigorated and his stomach in an excruciating pain that can only be subdued by one thing: blood.

With self-effacing humor and biting wit, Tukel pokes fun at the frustrating nuances of humanity that perpetuate even when we’re no longer human. Featuring Anna Margaret Hollyman and Alex Karpovsky, and a few vampire threesomes for good measure.

Summer of Blood‘ screens as part of the Viewpoints selections at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday, April 24 & Saturday, April 26, 2014 in New York City.  We sat down with the films Director Onur Tukel and spoke about the film’s development, the nature of friendship, and much more.

Find More Information & Tickets to ‘Summer of Blood’ at the 2014 Tribeca Film FestivalHERE

What was the first aspect of, what would ultimately become, ‘Summer of Blood’ that you developed the script around?
We knew we wanted to make a vampire film because they could be lucrative.  We were making low budget, dialogue driven movies and I know a lot of friends who are making really cool emotionally driven movies about relationships and what not.  These do not really make any money, so we wanted to do something with a genre film because the chances for it to sell are better.  We knew we were never going to make a lot of money so it was not about making as much as possible though.  We thought we would make something to, at least, have potential to reach out to a subculture.

The idea stemmed from this very aware fear I have at 41 about having a family.  At the same time I am in NYC living a dream.  I have a day job but I am also able to make low budget films and have been lucky enough to get a couple of childrens books published.  Being in NYC for 3 years, I am inspired.  To express yourself and be inspired takes time, is gratifying and is somewhat lonely.  If I had a family or a child, I would have to make more money and would not have the time to express myself.  I am living this constant choice whether I will be a selfish artist the rest of my life or am I going to be someone who thinks about others.  Ultimately it is a better way to live, to think of others.

You mention you wanted to do a genre film. What is is it about the vampire genre that drew you to it, specifically?  Do you have past favorite vampire or genre films?
I made a vampire film in my 20s called ‘Sergio Lapel’’s Drawing Blood’.  We sold it to Troma very quickly.  It was the only movie I ever made money on and it was a vampire film so I thought I should do it again.

In terms of the actual mythos of vampires themselves, I have never been a huge vampire fan but there are particular films which influenced ‘Summer of Blood’ like ‘Vampires Kiss‘ with Nicholas Cage.  It is not a traditional vampire film as it is more psychological, but I am drawn to the absurd notion of an insane, self centered lunatic.  There is also a film by Larry Fessenden called ‘Habit’ from the mid 90s.  It is about a man who’s health starts to deteriorate after a relationship with a woman. I thought it was a metaphor for AIDS initially but now I don’t think it is.  Also, Woody Allen’s ‘Deconstructing Harry‘ and Rick Alverson’s ‘The Comedy‘ were about narcissistic people who ridicule everyone around them. Their problems are nothing compared to the broad scheme of things.

I read Ann Rice’s books as a kid but never sought out any underlying themes or text there.  I am more of a werewolf guy. For me, werewolfs represent the primal, suppressed nature of mankind, as well as the rage that comes out when you lose control.  Which I think is amazing!

Being an NYC based filmmaker, what is it about being here that ultimately helped getting this film completed?
When you can be on the streets of NYC with a couple of Canon 5Ds is great.  These cameras are so inconspicuous you don’t even need permits anymore.  There were times police came up to us asking if everything was cool and I am sitting there covered in blood with my teeth in.  To be on the streets of NYC you get a million dollar production value with strangers walking by or a subway in the distance.  Just being in NYC gives you so much production value.

Also, there is the inspiration of being around so many artists and people doing things.  There is a healthy competitiveness to it but, at the same time, there is also a lot of support.  You go to someone’s film screening or art opening, you get a chance to ask questions about their art and they can talk about your art.  You feel vindicated without having the self importance or the delusion of grandeur that comes from a need to “make it”.  At the end of the day, why are you doing it?  Because it is an amazing feeling.  I came here to get inspired and I am totally inspired now!

SUMMER_OF_BLOOD_JASON_BANKER_3What advice would you give to filmmakers out there shooting guerilla style on the streets of New York City?
I would say do exactly what we did!

Write a script people are into; cast your friends or those who have not “broken through” yet.  I have been at readings before where there has been a combination of skilled actors I have always wanted to work with and a few who I am not sure who they were.  We would be reading and the actors who have done more or had a bigger name are checking their cell phones and not as invested into the role.  I need people who are passionate about acting and being part of something, not people who are just there.

Also, do not spend a lot of money.  Maybe shoot with 2 cameras.  Time is so important in NYC you need to do things quickly.  We cut an 18 day shoot down to 9 days with 2 cameras.

Surround yourself with people who are really passionate and into what you are doing. There is no excuse to not make movies now.  There was a New York Times article a few months back telling people to stop buying indie films. Why are they against the filmmakers?  Everyone has the ability to write a novel.  Why aren’t publishers saying there are too many novels being submitted?  If you have the accessibility to express yourself, why not celebrate that. Hollywood is making a big mistake.  They should be putting money behind promoting these films.  No one is releasing micro budget movies in hundred of cities, which could ultimately bring in money for everyone.  If Eliza Hittman’s ‘It Felt Like Love‘ was released worldwide and promoted as an important coming of age drama, people would really get behind it.  There is an audience out there.  Everything always has to be so spectacular; there is always this spectacle everywhere.  It is annoying.

How much of your written script ultimately made it into the final film?
When I scripted the film it was 110 pages.  My main direction before we made the movie was we were not going to rehearse.  I told the actors to not learn the dialogue verbatim.  They should read over it and be familiar with the talking points, but anything there should be said in their own words.  Even if there was a joke they should say it in their own words.  While we were there, if ever we were shooting and they lost their line just keep going and never cut.  We are looking for a sense of spontaneity.  Often times I would rewrite scenes as we were shooting. If the film started morphing into something different from originally intended I would start rewriting scenes.  It was quite normal that actors would get new scenes even after they had the script for 6 weeks.  Again, I said just look over it, let’s shoot it and see what the fuck happens.

For example, the last hotel room scene is about 20 pages of dialogue. I had wrote it a few nights before and we had 1 night to shoot it.  We shot the 2nd half of that scene first but that meant the sun would be coming up.  We had spent 14 hours shooting the other stuff and now 1.5 hours to shoot the first 7 or 8 pages of that scene.  At first we thought about how we did not have any rehearsal time but, again, we just said “fuck it” and shot.  We just went with it and it turns out to be one of my favorite scenes in the movie. We were so in the moment, we had no choice but to be focused.

At the end of the day, what was the most difficult part of getting this film finished?  Also, was there anything you had anticipated as being difficult going into the film but ended up not being so?
This idea of letting go.  How do you step back and not be so precious about your script.  Let’s just be in this spontaneous moment where we are all painting a canvas together.  The challenge was to have the freedom to not have any expectations.  To just go in and discover and feel. More on feeling and less on observation

Doing the blood scenes on the streets, originally we were terrified these would not work because we thought people might harass us or call the cops.  Being in Bushwick and having blood gushing out of our mouths, we saw as possibly presenting a problem. Where I live in Bushwick seems shady but it actually is not at all.  Shooting late night in the streets, there would be a lot of people walking around who turned out to be the sweetest people.  Once I walked into a bodega to get some money from the ATM while covered in blood and it resulted in my nickname around town being “Blood Money”.  There was a friendliness to the neighborhood who saw us shooting this guerilla style movie and they really dug it.

Onur Tukel is a filmmaker, writer/illustrator, and occasional actor. He co-starred in Michael Tully’s feature film, Septien, for which Tukel also created 65 pastel and ink drawings that were exhibited at the Pennington Gallery in New York in 2011. He co-starred in Alex Karpovsky’s first feature film Red Flag, and recently wrote and directed the feature film, Richard’s Wedding, which The Wall Street Journal proclaimed, “sets a new standard for laughs-per-minute in a micro-budget comedy.” Onur’s second children’s book, Rainstack!, was published by Two Lions in 2013.


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