Richard Dees is a cynical tabloid reporter whose motto is “Never believe what you publish and never publish what you believe”. Merton Morrison, its editor-in-chief at the tabloid Inside View, confides a case to him about a bloody murder in a rural airfield, committed by a passing aviator who thinks he is a vampire and registered under the name of Dwight Renfield. Dees refuses but reverses his decision when two more murders are committed in another airfield, the victims drained of their blood. He recovers the case from Morrison, who in the meantime had entrusted it to the novice reporter Katherine Blair, and leaves in the footsteps of the killer aboard his own light aircraft.
Dees gathers accounts, pays bribes and even profanes a grave for the purposes of his investigation. He senses that the case is stranger than it seems and receives messages telling him to stop his investigation. Dissatisfied with Dees’ attitude, Morrison sends Katherine Blair to conduct her own parallel investigation. Dees offers the young woman to join forces to hunt down the killer.
They find his trail at the Wilmington airfield and, as he no longer needs her, Dees abandons Katherine to continue alone. He lands at Wilmington and finds Renfield’s Cessna Skymaster with dirt inside and the interior covered in blood. The airfield seems deserted but Dees finds several massacred people. After taking photographs, he goes to the bathroom to vomit and is surprised by Renfield, who reveals his face and turns out to be a vampire. Renfield destroys his photographic film and forces him to drink a little of his blood, which gives Dees visions of all the victims coming back as zombies. In a trance, he attacks the bodies with an axe and is shot by the police officers who arrived on the scene with Katherine. She sees Renfield get on his plane and take off but, adopting Dees’ motto, she publishes an article that portrays Dees as the killer.
NIGHT FLIER is the first project to be filmed by New Amsterdam Entertainment, Inc. However, its two producers, Richard Rubenstein (THE STAND) and Mitchell Galin (Stephen King’s GOLDEN YEARS) who are also the primary owners of New Amsterdam, each have long careers in TV and films, and a strong connection to multimedia star Stephen King.
In the late 1970s Richard Rubinstein was writing a column on videotape for a magazine called Filmmakers Newsletter, which he described as “sort of the 16mm indie filmmakers bible. I was the first videotape editor because I had been shooting documentaries with the first Sony port-a-packs which came out in late 1969.”
“I met George Romero at the introduction of the foreign sales agent who represented George, Irvin Shapiro. The magazine assigned me to interview George. We started talking and that discussion lasted on the order of 12 years and five pictures.” Rubinstein and Romero formed a company called Laurel Entertainment which they took public in 1980.
The decision to make a film of The Night Flier was a joint decision by producers Richard Rubinstein and Mitch Galin of New Amsterdam Entertainment, with King’s approval. Director and co-scripter Mark Pavia got the assignment on the strength of a short film he sent to both King and Rubinstein, a sort of homage to director George Romero. Once they had a script there was an almost two-year period of planning and fund-raising. King had written an earlier script himself for a potential TV movie that never got off the ground. “Steve acted as a story editor and made some notes,” said Rubinstein. “This is the only time I have seen him operate that way because he is generally more hands-on. If Steve is going to really get involved in the script he is really going to get involved.”
Rumors circulated in the industry about the production of The Night Flier long before the project was bestowed upon Pavia and O’Donnell. Ferrer remembers hearing about it, too. “I understand there were two other attempts at adaptations of The Night Flier. Stephen tried one initially and gave up after 40 pages. And then I believe someone else tried it, taking the existing short story and making it into merely the first act of the screenplay which, to tell you the truth, kind of made sense to me.
O’Donnell and Pavia also give some back story to the vampire character, played by Michael Moss (COBB). He was converted to vampirism about the turn of the century, and chooses to wear formal clothing of that period. This is partly a tip of the hat to the classic images of vampires as is the name he uses, Dwight Renfield, the name of the character in the original novel Dracula played in the Bela Lugosi film by an actor named Dwight Frye. His M.O. of flying a sinister-looking plane from air field to air field results from his fascination with human flight, which he was able to follow from its earliest steps.
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR MARK PAVIA
When did you hear from them about writing The Night Flier?
MARK PAVIA: Two weeks after Jack O’ Donnell and I sent it out, the phone rings… Rubinstein called me! Of course I was in shock and I’m going “C’mon, this is one of my friends..” You know? And he told me how much he liked Drag! He asked if I knew The Night Flier…and of course, if you love horror pictures you love Stephen King. So he asked “Would you be interested in writing and directing it as a low-budget movie for us?” And my eyes went BOING – I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! So I said “Yes of course!” So he said “I want you to come out (to New York) in two weeks and tell me how you’re going to make the movie, if we hire you. Pitch it to us.” I didn’t know what that term meant! This is the first big meeting I’ve ever had in my life, I’m thinking baseball. Jack and I sat down and wrote out, on index cards, each scene for the movie, as I would do it. So two weeks later, they sent us plane tickets, flew us out to New York City, and it was supposed to just be a meeting with Rubinstein and Mitchell Galin, and their story editor Neal Marshall Stevens.
Now in that two-week period between their calls and the meeting, did you map out the entire new approach to the story? I know you wanted all the scenes from the short story in the movie.
MARK PAVIA: It would have been a 40 minute movie! Yeah it was with the new characters, with the new twists, and the new ending. It was a rough outline, but all the beats were there. And it worked! It was a great afternoon, but they didn’t say anything. They sent us back home the next day, but then two weeks later we got a phone call saying, “we’re going to hire you.”
And so they hired us to write the script. We did about six drafts in six months, writing fast, man. What happened though, there was a one-year delay on the production. Because Laurel Entertainment folded you probably remember this a little bit and Richard started up New Amsterdam Entertainment. At that point Laurel was owned by Spelling, it was a big whole thing where Spelling was buying up and closing everything. Luckily one of the projects they were able to “keep” was Night Flier. So when New Amsterdam reopened a year later, The Night Flier was their first film out of the new production company.
Did you write all the drafts of the script before the corporate shakeup?
MARK PAVIA: We did, but that year, I had time to really polish it up, and scout a little bit. They’d send me to scout Nashville… we ended up in Wilmington, North Carolina. We were using the time wisely. I also storyboarded the entire film, frame one to fade out.
That’s funny I was going to ask you about that.
MARK PAVIA: Because of that, I had a lot of prep time obviously. Hired a storyboard artist locally in Chicago; I shoot my storyboards, totally pre-visualize the movie. And draw little drawings in the script, and work with somebody to make them better.
Now, we gotta talk about Miguel as Richard Dees a little bit.
MARK PAVIA: Ah yes, Miguel Ferrer. Amazing actor.
How did you pitch him on the character? Ferrer is the only guy who can keep you watching for an entire film when his first line is screaming about not getting a picture of a baby’s corpse. Always keeps your interest, if not holding your sympathies.. Dees would kick a tombstone over to get a good photograph, but I couldn’t stop watching him.
MARK PAVIA: Never thought that was an issue. Only years later has it been brought to my attention. My reaction is, why do all the characters have to be sympathetic? Night Flier is a morality tale, right? That’s what I was trying to do. It’s a movie about a bad guy, who sold his soul to the devil and pays the price. That’s what the movie is, as well as a parallel between vampirism and tabloid journalism. But you never want to stand on your soapbox too tall..but if you look for it, it’s there. Stephen King created this character, I was trying to honor the King fans as well. Jack and I wrote this character, and it came time to start talking about casting. And I’ve always been a fan of Miguel Ferrer since Robocop. And he’d just been in The Stand! And that came out right when I was prepping Flier. And I said to Richard, “Miguel Ferrer!” I think I was still writing it when I said Miguel would be fucking PERFECT for this thing! And he agreed. Stephen loved the idea. So It worked out, when I was finished, we sent it to him but it turns out he was a huge Stephen King fan. He jumped at it, it was actually quite easy to get him. He GOT it, you know? He’s a fan like the rest of us. He understood what it was trying to do.
When I’ve watched it, I was always intrigued. Thinking about what it would take for this character to decide how much is too much, and if he was ever going to get his soul back. And I was noticing lately a lot more of the parallels between Dees and Dwight (the vampire pilot of the title). Both loners, both attracted to blood, both sold their souls in a sense.
MARK PAVIA: I agree, it was intentional in the writing, and visually I’d try to support that idea. There’s a shot in the bathroom when Dwight is standing behind him, there’s a shot of Dees where it frames Miguel so the cape kind of goes around Miguel… the whole idea of – they’re both vampires right? They both feed off the blood of others.
One is literally no longer human, and one is just about at that point.
MARK PAVIA: It’s an interesting point, in the airport massacre, he finally freaks out. You know? Dwight’s pushing him… “How far? How much more?”
That was one of the things I wanted to ask you! Dees kind of walks into the bear trap at the end, and I was wondering was that massacre “bait” for Dees, or just a bigger strike/feeding?
MARK PAVIA: I would say both! But I think Dwight’s interested! “How far will Dees go? When does THIS guy stop?” Now the end of the short story doesn’t have that ending. In the end, Dwight goes “Now don’t follow me.” And goes away in the plane… and Dees watches him leave. And I said ‘We can’t do that! That’s not a movie ending!” Everything from the moment where Dees leaves the bathroom, that’s my original stuff. Well you also need that ending for Katherine, that’s her character arc that’s completed with Dees dying and her taking the story, framing him for the deaths..and starting to turn into him, ethically.
During the development, were you still in communication with King? Was he on set?
MARK PAVIA: Stephen would read every draft, gave me notes, very involved. Almost to the point of a producer, but he didn’t take a credit. Some people think King didn’t have anything to do with the movie, that’s bullshit. Every decision he was aware of, and approved.
Now Jack was your co-writer and co-producer, what was he there for on set, in terms of working relationship?
MARK PAVIA: As far as writing, we were writing partners, I would direct the writing and we would write together, same room..pump it out- and on the set, he was kind of like my guy. In terms of dealing with the day-to-day production difficulties. Working with the line producer. Stuff like that.
What was your feeling on how the shoot went? It’s much “bigger” than the average indie.
MARK PAVIA: You make or break a movie in prep right? Because it was so elaborately planned visually, and I stuck by my boards, it actually made the production a very smooth one. Richard would later tell me he and Mitchell were up in New York waiting for all the problems most sets have to start… and nothing happened! I actually ended up bringing the movie in a day early, and under budget. Richard was in shock because it was my first feature. It was this blessed project! They just gave me so much freedom to make my movie.
Can you tell me a bit about working with Miguel on set?
MARK PAVIA: You’ve heard this before, but it’s all in the casting, right? Half your battle is there… and I had the perfect actor for the perfect role. So I don’t need to teach Miguel how to act.. My thing was keeping the mood of the set consistent for him so he could go where he needed to go, encourage him to go even further, just kind of guide him along this dark journey. He was willing to follow me and he did an amazing job. He had fun, he likes to play, he thought I was insane, he liked how prepared I was. It was an exciting relationship.
Is he one of these guys who easily snaps out of the dark mood when you yell cut?
MARK PAVIA: Yeah. Beautifully trained actor. Julie Entwisle was like that as well.
Any particular visual inspirations for the look of the movie?
MARK PAVIA: Not really, just letting my imagination go. I knew I was fortunate to be doing a Stephen King movie as my first film, it was such an honor. For the producer of Dawn of the Dead! It meant a lot then and does even more today. Visually, I just dug deep into my imagination to see what I can do on that schedule – I had 30 days to shoot it-they were so happy that we brought it in on 29. I know I wanted to keep (the look) it cool, not too blue, but we shot it during one of the hottest summers ever. I nearly collapsed from heat exhaustion on one day- I went down once. All over the set you hear “Director down! Director down!” (laughs) I was like “I’m OK, let me sit in the AC for a half hour!” (laughs) We also dealt with a hurricane, lost one day of shooting, and had to fit a lost day into half of another day.
In the original story is there any backstory to the vampire, Dwight? The movie hints at it through photographs.
MARK PAVIA: As far as history, nothing in the short story… my take on the movie was this film was about Richard Dees, but we said “let’s hint! Let Dees find a book (on Dwight)!” Keep the mystery as to who this guy is. But that’s for the sequel.
I love the moment in the ending where we get a glimpse of Dwight when his face ISN’T monstrous. For me, that gives you all the backstory you need in his acting. That regret…
MARK PAVIA: I wanted to just show a glimpse of humanity, and see that he wasn’t… some movies might make him gleeful, (that he did Dees in and got away with it) and I wanted to show he wasn’t necessarily happy with the way he has to live his life. It’s out of necessity. I thought if we just have this one moment visually, with that music, you might pick that up. (composer) Brian Keane did a great job.
One thing I wanted to ask you about – not sure how much was the MPAA or just clever editing… When Dees has the hatchet and hacks his way out of the crowd, as nasty as it seems, you don’t really see any hatchet impacts… it’s all through kickass sound design.
MARK PAVIA: I had to take out a couple hits due to the MPAA – I’m talking frames, but I had to take out a couple. But I actually felt it was wet enough. That was hilarious shooting that scene watching the KNB guys squirting the fuck out of Miguel with these fire extinguishers full of blood!
Did I imagine it, or was Miguel’s neck wound from being shot meant to resemble the wounds Dwight gives his victims when he drains them?
MARK PAVIA: That was intentional. You’re the only person who’s picked up on that!!
I noticed that the first time I saw it!
MARK PAVIA: Yeah I thought people would notice that too but they didn’t! When he gets killed, it’s by the same bite/wound Dwight WOULD have given him.
Now I saw the film on HBO before in the theater! Was that always the plan?
MARK PAVIA: No, we made that movie completely independent of Hollywood. Richard using the same financial partners he had on a lot of his previous movies like Dawn of the Dead. He actually went back to Alfredo Cuomo- one of the main investors in that- he actually used the exact same contract as Dawn of the Dead- scratched out “Dawn” and put in “The Night Flier” which I always thought was cool. We finished the movie and showed it around Hollywood, and everyone in Hollywood wanted it! All the major studios wanted it. But at the time, like you said, it was just bad fucking timing (for horror). Nobody had any openings, maybe one period where they’d pick up movies- and at the time all the slots were filled. Now we got some serious offers, particularly from Paramount, who wanted the movie – but they said we’d have to wait a year to a year and a half. Richard made the decision not to wait. We had a strong offer from HBO and it became a world premiere there, which was an honor. They did an amazing job with it; it also did really well on DVD. Did great numbers on HBO, and then New Line saw it and made us an offer to release it- in a limited capacity in the major markets. It didn’t do a lot at the box office though; there wasn’t really advertising behind it. It’s a shame because I really think if it had come out 3-4 years later, it would have been very different.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Moss lounges in a chair a comfortable distance from the blood- spattered set, where costar Miguel Ferrer is gearing up to confront his nefarious nemesis in a shadowy showdown. While director Mark Pavia and co-writer/co-producer Jack O’Donnell confer about camera setups, Moss kicks back to reminisce about his favorite screen vampire. “I really like Frank Langella’s Dracula a lot,” the actor says. “I loved his ability to bring so much royally, or dignity, to who he was. To some extent, I think the Night Flier feels the same way. He has to warn Miguel in this movie, ‘Look, don’t mess with me. Don’t follow me, or I’ll eat you whole.’ And he means that. He has a dignity about him that says, ‘Man, I’m one powerful S.O.B., but I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to destroy you. Don’t make me do that.’ He’s enamored, in a way, of the fact that he’s still in the tuxedo and cape. Even though he’s a pilot, he’s formal in his attire and in his presence and stature, like Langella.”
But unlike Langella’s Dracula, the creature known as Dwight Renfield (an Inside joke for aficionados of the 1931 Universal film) eschews classic vampire niceties for the down and dirty tactics of modern-day monsters. Moss describes excitedly. ‘The fangs that come out are huge! There’s one fang at the top of my mouth and one at the bottom, and together they cut the main artery and vein in the sides of the neck. That’s how he feasts. He doesn’t make two little bite holes like in the past. We go right for the jugular!” The monster FX are being provided by KNB. “We have the biting effects, and we have great monster effects on some of the other people in the airport,”
Moss reveals that Pavia and O’Donnell goosed King’s original concept in order to shoehorn in more vampires and effects. Moss backpedals slightly, adding, “Stephen King doesn’t make it so far out there that we’re trying to believe that the vampire ends up creating a whole clan. It’s more like he feasts and moves on. There are some things that happen as a result of that, and we see that at the end of the movie. I don’t want to give too much away, but we do feel a presence of other vampires coming about.”
It would have been difficult for Moss to maintain a lid on that kind of secret anyway; the Night Flier set is liberally littered with corpses, partially eaten body parts and other bits of human detritus in various stages of decomposition. There’s so much theatrical blood splattered across the set that it appears to be one gigantic crimson stain. Moss isn’t distracted by the bloody trimmings. however. “The bottom line for me is that it’s always about relationships,” he says. “In The Night Flier, it’s the relationship I have with Dees (Ferrer), It’s the way I look at other people I’m killing they’re my food, so everything is a relationship for me. That doesn’t change so much. Sometimes it’s a bit of a challenge working within the confines of the mask and the different objects that are attached to my face for the jaws, the contacts for the eyes, the claws and stuff, and still have what’s going on in me get out. and not let all that stuff stop it.”
When Moss first interviewed for the title role, he had no concept of very sensual side, and a very sad side as well; you feel for them, these tormented human beings. You always kind of empathize, even though you’re going, ‘Oh my god, that’s disgusting ” For Entwlsle, the most difficult thing about making this film hasn’t been getting into her role emotionally or researching the background. but picking all the bits of sticky latex flesh off the soles of her shoes! Today was my first day on this set. and every 10 minutes I’d have to take a break.” the actress says. Since her favorite vampire interpretation is the legendary Lugosi performance, it’s not too surprising that Entwisle finds the gory goings on a bit much.
“You have to get used to the special effects that are involved.” she admits. “But getting used to the gore is difficult; I’ve never been around that before. It’s like, ‘Well, I’ve got some adjusting to do before we start shooting today, guys!’ But one of the keys to doing a successful horror film is being honest (in terms of character portrayal). There’s a lot to work with when you have all these effects going on and there’s nobody in front of you! ‘OK, this is what’s happening, he’s coming at you with this.’ For it to work for an audience, you’ve really got to be there (mentally).”
Moss confirms the film’s high gore quotient. “It’s sheer horror. We see someone who dies in a dry-cleaning the enormity of the makeup mechanics involved. To be perfectly honest, when I auditioned. I didn’t know I would be in full makeup with the jaws and stuff,” Moss explains. “All I had were the (written) scenes, which I had been given for the audition. So I immediately felt how sad this man is, to have to be immortal and fly around and land in places with some kind of anonymity and kill off people to feed, and I thought that aspect of him really was the most attractive (thing about the role). But later, when I found out about all the rest of the stuff, I went, ‘Oh, cool!’ ” The lovely Julie Entwlsle, making her feature film debut as rival reporter Katherine in Night Flier, echoes Moss’ sentiments about the subject. The public remains fascinated with vampires because they’ve always been, and always will be, very romantic in how they are done. Regardless of how gory it gets, there’s always a director’s chair and silently peers into the video monitor. An electronic bell rings, the signal that cameras have begun rolling. “Action!” Pavia calls, and two extras In police officer uniforms step forward, raise their pistols and fire at the figure in front of them. Although there are no gunshots to be heard (they will be dubbed in later), the victim stumbles as un- seen bullets rip through his abdomen, forcing him to his knees. Two KNB workers, hidden out of camera range on either side of the actor, yank on the monofilament wires to pull away pre-scored pieces of the neck prosthetic. This happens so quickly that the camera will not be able to detect the movement of the prosthetic pieces as they fly off. Unfortunately, during this take, things don’t happen quickly enough; one of the pieces remains stuck to the main prosthetic, and blood trickles rather than gushes out of the wound.
Thirty minutes later, KNB has re-rigged the gag for another take. Fortunately, this time things work as planned. Watching the action on the video monitor, it appears as if a bullet has torn straight through the actor’s neck. Almost immediately. blood begins to fountain from the wound, but something dissatisfies Pavia, who calls for another take. KNB reloads and patches the prosthetic as the rest of the crew kicks back for another break. A half-hour later, everyone returns to their original marks. Take three is almost identical to the second, but one of the cops lowers his gun, pointing it at the floor, and Pavia needs them to continue “blasting” away. On to take four and five before Pavia, ever the perfectionist, is finally satisfied that the victim has been sufficiently eradicated.
Up next is a brief dialogue scene. bag as blood fills up in it, there are a lot of maggots, and it. . .well, it’s gross! They used over 40 gallons of blood in only two days of shooting! I don’t think it’s going to reach the point of an NC-17 rating, though. (The film did indeed win an R with most of its gruesome highlights intact.) One of the main purposes of this movie is to scare the living daylights out of people, for people to come to the theater to get scared and go, ‘Holy cow, what in the world’s going on here?’ and let the horrificness of the genre stand in its gory glory.”
Moss isn’t kidding. Howard Berger of the KNB team has just finished rigging the gore-gag for one of the climactic scenes, and Pavla is gearing up for a take. With some trepidation, your reporter tiptoes around all the grue to take up a position directly behind Pavia, where a camera’ s-eye view of the action can be seen on a video monitor. Berger rigs a pair of invisible wires to a neck prosthetic worn by the actor, standing silently on his mark in the center of the set. The crew is filming on one of Wilmington’s largest soundstages, dressed to mimic the city’s own airport terminal, where climax takes place. The gray and red color scheme is accented with four huge overhead lights dressed in black cloth to mimic modernistic tastes. Much of the set was pulverized during the previous night’s shoot, the violent events of which led to the shattered windows, the gallons of blood on the floor, the bodies and parts thereof scattered everywhere.
KNB workers scurry around the set, setting up a plethora of sanguinary background props. A disemboweled carcass is dragged across the floor, entrails trailing, a half-torso is pulled into the side of the frame and a decapitated head is balanced just so next to it for added gruesome impact. Someone brings out two large buckets. In one is ordinary stage blood; the other holds prefabricated bits of rubber flesh (extremely realistic, even up close) and similar sundries in assorted sizes some almost as large as a football. Handfuls of the stuff are painstakingly placed here and there on the set it’s like decorating a Christmas tree from hell and a fresh coat of blood is painted over everything once the director is satisfied that the background gore is in its proper place.
Beyond his enthusiasm for the red stuff, Pavia has a Mario Bava-ish commitment to the mood-evoking juxtaposition of visual elements in the film frame. Everything must be properly balanced, even if most of the props being balanced are heaps of discarded flesh and body parts. O’Donnell confirms, “Mark likes strong compositions with movement, something that is very visually striking. He’s (taking time to get) all the shots he wants, he’s moving the camera all the time. It’s very stylized and very visual. There are a lot of subtle mood things, very slow camera moves, then you get flashes of big scare stuff. I wouldn’t say this film is a rollercoaster ride, at least not until the last 20 minutes then you’re gone! but maybe a slow rollercoaster that picks up a lot of speed toward the end. “But you see, there’s also some very serious drama going on,” he continues. “You still have the horror, so it all ties together into a real nice whole. We have the sexual side to it (vampire lore), the dark and sensual side. It has weird creatures of the night that you’re afraid of, but attracted to at the same time. I think that’s part of (the film’s success), this bizarre attraction to scary things. Mark brings it in big. He likes big, wide shots with the horizon, and he also likes to get in close to people to really bring the viewer into the story.” All this attention to detail means that the filming is proceeding at a more leisurely pace than might be expected on a low- budget production from a first-time feature director, but the bottom line is that, according to O’Donnell, “Everybody’s happy with the footage.”
The production lost a day when Hurricane Bertha plowed up the North Carolina coast exactly as happened with the Wilmington-based production of The Crow but luckily, no sets or props were lost or damaged. “The storm hit us pretty hard, although we only lost one day,” Pavia recalls. “I was pretty worried that we might lose some sets that we had just built, but we were lucky. We inspected them the day after the hurricane hit and they were fine. Some of the detail had gotten lost, some of the landscaping had changed, but overall it didn’t really affect us. Out of the entire shooting schedule, we were only rained on for about 20 or 30 minutes! This really was a blessed project in every way.”
Both O’Donnell and Pavia were determined to keep the narrative of their first feature straightforward: the idea was to embellish King’s original tale, not alter it. “So many short stories have things changed when they become features,” O’Donnell sighs. “You say to yourself. Why’d they do this, why’d they do that?’ Mark and I wanted to keep this film as close to the stoiy as possible. Obviously, a 40-page short story is going to need to be filled out to turn it into a feature film. First we added this weird, black crow, but we ended up taking it out. and then Stephen said, ‘Well, you need to have something, like a scary dog.’ Oddly enough, Stephen had the same idea as Mark and myself, to put in a younger rookie (Entwisle’s role) for Dees to play off of. Everyone was pretty much in agreement concerning story elements. One of the guys at Rubinstein’s New Amsterdam Entertainment said afterwards, ‘Wow, we haven’t had that good a story session in the last two years!’ ”
According to Pavia, “This whole film is a tragedy. It’s (about) a loss of innocence. Basically this movie is about a man who sold his soul to the devil and has to pay the price.”
NIGHT FLIER is the first project to be filmed by New Amsterdam Entertainment, Inc. However, its two producers, Richard Rubenstein and Mitchell Galin who are also the primary owners of New Amsterdam, each have long careers in TV and films, and a strong connection to multimedia star Stephen King.
King never visited the set, which is also unusual. As Rubinstein explained, “If you had Steve here, it creates an inappropriate perception about how involved he is. My partner Mitchell is more involved in the day-to-day specifics. I tend to be his reality check, and Steve is my reality check.”
Howard Berger, one of the partners in the special effects company KNB, said he found Pavia’s book “extremely useful.” Director of photography David Connell was also surprised to get one. “I have seen storyboards, but storyboards are things to be broken. But he stuck by these storyboards. I think he had this visual style for the movie in his head for two years and it’s really helped him a lot.”
About the visual style, Connell, who admitted this is one of his first horror movies, noted, “Mark and I talked at the beginning about keeping this quite a cold movie and quite a dark movie. To me when you are making a horror film if you see everything people are not going to be scared. Suspense you put in your lighting, contrast lighting as opposed to flat see-all lighting.”
Pavia also liked to use a moving camera. “He has kept everything on the move,” said Connell. “He does a lot of slow dolly-in movement, starting in wide and going into close ups.”
The decision to shoot the film in Wilmington was primarily the producers’. “If you look at my productions dealing with Steve’s material,” says Richard Rubinstein, “I very often, for at least part of the movie, go to the location Stephen has written into the story because that’s where he wrote it, or that has some sort of connection for him. The story winds-up in Wilmington and that adds a little magic shooting in Wilmington. I believe in magic, I believe the dark woods up in Maine had an effect on PET SEMATARY.”
It is impossible to consider making a horror film in the current political climate without wondering about complaints of excessive violence. Rubinstein insisted, “I wouldn’t make a FRIDAY (THE 13TH), I wouldn’t make a Freddy (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET). In this script, there is a very sexy lady playing the lead, but there is no mixture of sex and violence in this movie. Nobody is cutting up nubile 16-year-old camp counselors in the woods. This is a roller coaster ride, very traditional and pure, a journalist’s search for the truth.”
Galin said he might allow his two preteen daughters to see NIGHT FLIER but since they visit his movie’s sets, and have seen some of the dailies, “they know the difference between fantasy and reality in the terms of the typical movie, because they have seen some of the stuff happen.”
“On the other hand I took them to see The Craft (1996) and I was the one ducking behind the seat. I mean I took them because they wanted to see it and they enjoyed it, but at the same time they said, ‘I know how that is done.’ I saw the snakes and ducked and they were laughing at me.”
In terms of cost, Rubinstein estimated “a comparable budget would be $10 million. We deferred our fees. If I paid the three of us (Rubinstein, Galin, and King) then you would have $10 million.”
NIGHT FLIER was shot without a domestic American distributor arranged ahead of time. This was a conscious decision on the part of the producers, in Richard Rubinstein’s words, “to make this movie without too many cooks in the kitchen.” It is being co-financed by New Amsterdam Entertainment Inc., Stardust International and Medusa Film. Stardust International handles distribution outside the English speaking world and Latin America.
MIGUEL FERRER ON FILMING “THE NIGHT FLIER”
Ferrer, a veteran of genre fare, explains his involvement in Night Flier with a single word: “King. I met Stephen on The Stand and we became very friendly. I first heard about the Night Flier project from director Mick Garris about a year ago. He said, ‘Hey, I understand you’re doing The Night Flier.’ I said, ‘What’s The Night Flier?’ He said, ‘You don’t know?’ I said. ‘No, I haven’t heard a word.’ He said. ‘Oh. Well, you didn’t hear it here, but it’s a really good movie and it’s going to be done by this really cool director and I think they’re going to offer it to you.’ I said, ‘Oh. OK!’
“I wasn’t familiar with the short story,” Ferrer continues, “but I went out and got it and read it, and I thought, ‘Well, this is a great story, but I don’t see a movie here,’ you know what I mean? I didn’t get it, I didn’t see what they were going to do with it. So I spoke to Stephen and Mark, and I got the script and I thought. This is a really, really ingenious adaptation.’
Miguel Ferrer plays the character of the tabloid reporter Richard Dees, who pursues the NIGHT FLIER. In the original story Dees is presented by King as cold, unsympathetic and arrogant.
When asked about the character Ferrer replied, “I understand where you would draw that conclusion but I cannot approach it that way. I think on some level if an actor makes those negative choices about a character he really locks himself into something he shouldn’t because there is nothing more boring than watching someone up there twisting his mustache tying poor Nell to the tracks.
“I think he is very intolerant of ineptitude. He is certainly a loner, very short on social skills but I think he is very, very good at what he does. I think he could have made it in the straight press, but he is fascinated with the seamy and the twisted, the darkness, that life holds.
“It is nothing I consciously do or even understand, but when I play “bad guys’ for some strange reason there is a part of the character people identify with, or like.”
To prepare for the role of the flying reporter, Ferrer spent some time with a pilot. “I used to fly, but I hadn’t been in a light plane for about 20 years and in the original draft of the script, as in the short story Dees flew a twin-engine Beechcraft. I had never flown a twin. I took some orientation in a twin and took it up a few times. I wanted to be sure I was handling the aircraft convincingly. The film uses a Beechcraft Bonanza, which is their high end single engine, the one with the V-Tail. A very nice airplane.”
About his first-time leading lady Julie Entwisle, Ferrer noted, “They’re extraordinarily lucky to stumble on to her. I wouldn’t have believed it if they told me it was her first picture. She’s great. Her instincts are wonderful.”
About her co-star, Entwisle said, “The first day of filming, I was scared to death. Mark said I looked like a deer stuck in the headlights and Miguel took my hand and offered me advice. He has been very special to me and helped me out and gave me little tricks of the trade.”
About his NIGHT FLIER’s first-time director Mark Pavia, Ferrer noted, “He is unlike any first-timer I have worked with. I have worked with some great directors, Paul Verhoeven (ROBOCOP), John Badham (ANOTHER STAKEOUT), Tony Scott (REVENGE), David Lynch (TWIN PEAKS), really, really heavy hitters, and Mark, I think, is the most prepared guy I have ever worked with.”
Ferrer expressed surprise to receive from director Pavia a three-ring binder “story boarding every shot in the movie, every single one, it’s incredible! When I go home to think about the next day’s lines or the scene, I could get inside his head and decide exactly how he wanted to shoot it and really visualize it. Or at least orient myself to the way he was thinking.”
“But there’s been no temptation on anyone’s part to, like, ‘OK, let’s kind of wink in the camera and yuk it up here a little bit,’ just because it’s a vampire movie. It’s not like that. It’s more of a rollercoaster ride than a mood piece although it is that also but it’s like a character-driven coaster ride for the first two acts, and then strap in and bring your Depends!”
“He really expanded the story from within’, he didn’t change the parameters and try to graft on a whole new deal. He took what was there and created something different from what he was offered. and I was real impressed with that. For example, Mark saw a great opportunity in the female reporter, which was hardly anything in the short story. He said, ‘Let’s expand this. Let’s make her a real player.’ Things like that. He opened them up in a spirit that was still very true to the story, yet expanded into a form that really was a feature-length script. The beginning and end are essentially the same as the story.”
Ferrer feels that this movie will be easy to accept as an extension of the real world, even though the subject matter Is true horror. “Like any movie, there’s always the danger of descending into a kind of camp filmmaking if you’re reacting to things that aren’t really there,” he says. “You know, you’re pretending.
Jack and Mark are Incredible: they’re serious filmmakers, and that’s been the best part of this whole experience, meeting and working with Pavia and O’Donnell. I think we’re going to be friends for a long, long time.”
A sequel script entitled Fear of Flying was written by Pavia and King in the mid-2000s, focusing more on the Katherine Blair character as well as the origins of the Night Flier killer. However, the duo failed to gain the required ten million dollars in financing from Hollywood studios, due to the original 1997 film being viewed as merely a minor cult hit.
Richard P. Rubinstein
Stephen King (story)
The Night Flier (short story) by Stephen King
Michael H. Moses
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