Q&A: Kevin Fermini on ‘Viola vs. The Vampire King’ and Super 8 Filmmaking

Interview by Byron Bixler

Kevin Fermini directing on set

Kevin Fermini directing a scene on set

Kevin Fermini is a senior Cinema & Photography major at Ithaca College and Filmic contributor whose thesis project is a quirky vampire short shot on Super 8 called “Viola vs. The Vampire King.” Last week, he joined the Cinephile Delinquents podcast (the official podcast of Filmic Magazine) for a special Halloween-themed episode in which we discussed a trio of horror films as well as our early experiences with the genre. In addition, he took the time to take part in an interview about his upcoming film, his cinematic influences and his aspirations going forward.

Byron Bixler: Around the same time that I contacted you to come onto the show, I heard from someone else on campus about this project you were doing — this Super 8 vampire film. Tell us a little about this. What is it about?
Kevin Fermini: Well, this is my senior thesis film that I’m making to graduate here and it’s called Viola vs. The Vampire King. It’s a script that I wrote over the summer that was kind of an amalgamation of images that I had come up with in my head over the course of my time here studying film and I was thinking: “Okay, what’s a premise that I can write where I can make all of these things come together cohesively?” So, it’s kind of a dream project for me where it’s all these visual gags and special effects things that I’ve always wanted to do coming together into one thing. It’s been super fun to work on.

The film is about a girl named Viola whose older sister gets kidnapped by a vampire and she decides she’s going to go after him and kick his butt. We got a good mix of horror, some comedy, a lot of visual gags, because I love visual gags, fantasy elements, action — just a whole mix of everything that I love.

And yeah, we’re shooting on super 8 and I’ve been messing with a lot of experimental animation — direct animation, painting on the film, stop-motion, stop-frame animation. Just last weekend, actually, I did a wax face melt. There’s a character in the film whose face melts off, so basically, I got a skull, painted wax muscle onto it, tendons, skin and then put it under a hair dryer cranked on high and did single frame, taking photos of it until it melted away to the skull.

That sort of visual effects process — is that something that you’ve had experience with before or is it just figuring it out as you go along?
It’s a little bit of both. I’ve always been super interested in makeup, prosthetics and special effects. I love practical, in-camera effects, which is part of the reason why I love horror movies so much — it’s all the creativity that goes into it in that department.

I started doing special effects in my sophomore year, where me and a friend of mine made a compressed air cannon to shoot blood for a scene that we needed to do. So, I just fell in love with it.

A lot of it has been new to me for this film. I’ve never done direct animation before, never really done stop-motion since high school, but it’s coming along and it’s working pretty well so far. I just love the hand-made feel. I wanted things to look professional, but at the same time, seeing the work that went into it, seeing the seams that hold up the flying monster or whatever adds an extra level of charm to it.

Absolutely. Yeah, you said (earlier) you loved the Evil Dead movies and I’m seeing the Sam Raimi thing here.
Yes! The Evil Dead — Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead — is probably my favorite film of all time. It has a super special place in my heart and I love it really just because when you watch it, you think “These people were so young, they had so little money, and working within their means, they made such an effective film.” The makeup is just falling off the actors in certain parts, you know, like I said before about seeing the seams? But it’s almost kind of inviting to see like, “Hey, this is what we were messing with, this is what we tried to do.” It doesn’t always work, but in the film as a whole, it ties together and it has this almost surreal, nightmarish level to it — the fact that continuity is constantly shifting so much between shots and the makeup is flying everywhere, people are bleeding red, black, all these different colors just flying everywhere. I love The Evil Dead.viola-vs-the-vampire-king6So, what stage of production are you in right now?
We’re in post-production right now, so the film is shot. We’re still waiting for some film to come back from the lab, which is nerve-wracking, but most of the film has been returned. Watched through it all, we’re good. Everything came out exposed. Everything looks really saturated and colorful, which I love.

Another thing with The Evil Dead too, is: I love horror movies that aren’t afraid to be colorful. So, that was something that I really wanted to go with on this and Super 8 is a great medium to capture that on because it’s so saturated and rich, and it has this really dreamy, kind of hazy look to it that I think compliments the film really well.

Sarah Schum as Viola

Sarah Schum as Viola

Yeah, I was wondering about that decision to shoot on Super 8, because it seems like a lot of people will go for the 16mm or standard digital. But, working with Super 8 — have you done that before?
Yeah, my friends and I shot a short — just, like, one reel — film last semester on Super 8 basically just as an excuse to see if this camera that I got from eBay was working. And it worked, and it looked great, and it was super exciting to know that I had a film camera, something that I could afford to shoot film on. So, that was what most of the decision was based on — well, okay, that makes me sound like a hack. (laughs) But it helped having Super 8 because one, it was affordable, and two, I just love the look of it. Things are kind of undefined, and colors bleed into each other, but it gives it this nostalgic, dreamlike look that really is just what I love.

And this being a film about this young girl that enters into this unknown, horrific world that’s so different from what she’s experienced before and really different from our reality, I want to make it a clear fantasy sort of thing.

Kind of like a Suspiria sort of thing?
Yes, Suspiria was a huge influence. So, I think Super 8 thematically fit into the film as well because it being about this world entering into this unknown, hostile world — I want it to exist almost like it could just be a fantasy or a nightmare that she’s having. But I would never pull that as a twist because that would be super lame.

Dan Levine as The Vampire King

Dan Levine as The Vampire King

Vampires have had a resurgence in the last 10 years and it’s usually the “sexy vampire.” What is your vision of the vampire in this short?
We went for a kind of Nosferatu vampire, the kind of rat-like, pretty much as unsexy as you can get. But we pulled a twist on it. Me and my actor, Dan (Levine) decided to give him this bourgeoisie, refined style. He’s very theatrical in his movements, he’s really confident in himself — kind of like Bela Lugosi, the classic Dracula vampire. Really classy, but amped up. He won’t drink blood with his teeth because that would be nasty, so he’s got a little special straw, he’s got to clean people’s necks off before he sticks it in there and starts drinking — which, I think, in a way, adds an extra level of unlikable-ness to him.

It sounds like there’s a bit of self-awareness, a bit of comedy.
Very much so, yeah.

I know you run this channel/studio called Flubflabski…
Oh my god, I didn’t think this was going to get brought up. (laughs)

Well, I was wondering, because if this film is going to be more comedic, does that style of humor- Well, if you can tell people what that is…
Flubflabski Inc. is a side project, if you will, that me and my friend Christian (Kozlowski) work on pretty regularly. We’re basically an independent film studio that produces the most cash-grab and bottom-of-the-barrel content that we can, so we try to aim really, really low. We try to make ourselves look bad as much as possible. And so, the humor’s going to be a bit different in this film. I think it’s going to be a bit more fantastical and there’s genuine work and thought being put into it, not that the Flubflabski stuff doesn’t have work and thought put into it, but let’s say this is going to be a little bit more — I don’t want to say “highbrow,” but…

Not super garbage-level? (laughs)
Not garbage! (laughs) How about this: The humor, I think, is a lot more based on the visuals, and odd juxtapositions, and odd, dreamy logic rather than just, “I’m going to eat glass on camera for money. (laughs)

What level of collaboration do you have with other people on the ideas of the film? So, in terms of defining some of the characters, do you let your actors infuse something of their own?
I love to let my actors take charge, because I definitely have a vision of what I want the character to be, but I know that I am still learning, I am still a student, and to ever assume that my vision is the only one and the right one would probably make my work terrible. So, I really like to give actors freedom — let them put themselves and their own thoughts into the character. And that’s how we got to this “bourgeoisie vampire” approach that’s in the movie — it’s through collaboration. I’m very happy to have gotten to that point because in the script, he’s just this mean, nasty, old, crotchety vampire and it read weird in comparison to the other material. We were thinking, “How can we have a fantasy world on a budget?” A lot of the film is shot outdoors in the woods, so we had a lot of heavy fog, bubbles coming out of nowhere — and so to have this malevolent creature who was creepy and made you feel uncomfortable didn’t really fit in the world. So, to have this approach to it where you still really hate the character, but it still fits in with the atmosphere around him — it was good that we came to that middle ground.viola-vs-the-vampire-king1

So, going forward — you’re a film major — do you want to be a director or do you want to go into a more specialized department? What do you see yourself doing if you had your say?
If I had my say, I’d do both. I love doing special effects and I would love to help out other people with them. At the same time, I feel like one thing that I have gotten over my four years here is that I feel like I finally have a distinctive style to my work and I want to keep growing that style and applying it to new projects and seeing where it goes. So, hey, I’ll do my work and I’ll try to pay the bills on the side.

“Viola vs. The Vampire King” will be shown in the Park Auditorium on the Ithaca College campus in December as part of the senior thesis screenings. Afterward, an original soundtrack will be added before it’s sent to film festivals and posted online.

To listen to the full Cinephile Delinquents episode that this interview was featured in, see the embedded player below. For more content from the official podcast of Filmic Magazine, check out the Soundcloud page or find us on iTunes.

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