How do you help bolster Wilmington’s waning film industry?
With trailer park vampires, naturally.
A locally borne campy take on the centuries-old mythical bloodsuckers has, at its core, a serious mission to support area actors and crew left reeling from lack of work and bring jobs back to the Port City.
The creative team behind “The Vamps,” a TV comedy concept, has just launched a month-long Indie GoGo campaign to raise $35,000 toward the creation of a pilot episode.
It’s an idea that has long lived in the mind of Devin McGee, perhaps best known as the perpetual bad guy, Xavier, on “One Tree Hill.” A decade ago—and inspired by a real-life pair of Russian comedians—McGee and his father, Bobby, began playing with the idea of old-world husband and wife vampires living in modern America.
What started as a throwback to “Elvira Mistress of the Dark,” evolved over the years into a scripted narrative approach but, as it often happens, McGee said the project “went by the wayside” as other jobs and roles took priority.
But a few years ago, he shared his vision with friend Jonathan Landau, a Wilmington-based producer and director.
“We just took the foundation and made it stronger and made the arc of the characters more pronounced,” Landau recalled. “We would just sit around and talk and all of the sudden, we had like four seasons worth of stuff, had created seasons worth of storylines and plot.”
Think “The Munsters” meets “True Blood” and you’re still not quite on the pulse of the dysfunctional family of the undead developed by McGee and Landau, along with his wife, producer and actress Marty Landau.
In the fish out of water sitcom, a ruling clan of vampires is forced to temporarily relocate from Romania to a trailer park in, fittingly, the small western North Carolina town of Bat Cave after the patriarch, Harry Vamp, develops a disorder never before known to his kind—dementia.
As they hide Harry’s condition from competing vampire rulers seeking to overthrow his reign, the Vamps also search for a medicinal cure believed to be found living only among the weeds in the “redneck states of America,” Jonathan said.
Rather than just tell the story to potential Indie GoGo backers, the trio decided to actually show the colorful characters and the proposed TV show plot through a short film called “The Vamprentice,” a spoof of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice.”
“We can also use that to send to execs to demonstrate the characters without us having to travel around the country,” Jonathan noted.
With a Trump look-a-like—played by “OTH” alum Cullen Moss (“The Walking Dead,” “Iron Man 3,” “The Notebook”)–at the head of the conference table, the Vamps are there to pitch a reality show about their kooky family—parents Harry and Hillary, their daughter, a sullen teenage grandson, a flamboyant and dapper concierge, a herbal enthusiast nephew and a slightly suspicious childhood friend who hints at becoming a source of conflict.
As he has watched his brainstorm organically blossom into a production, McGee is actually glad he kept it on the back burner for so long.
“That allowed me a decade of building this network of contacts that we wouldn’t have had if we tried back then,” he said. “Now, we were able to do this passion project to create a pitch piece.”
That passion has come from members of the tight-knit local film industry community who have rallied behind the project, hoping, as McGee and the Landaus are, that “The Vamps” will be picked up and become a source of steady work. “The Vamprentice” was shot in a day using all local screen and behind-the-scenes talent.
“We’ve lost what big film industry used to be here…,” Jonathan said, citing the state’s change in tax incentives. “Our main goal is to create something from scratch and shoot it here locally for, hopefully, the international market. A lot of resources are thinning out now…we’re trying to keep [actors and crew] here.”
McGee, Jonathan and Marty said they’ve watched many of their friends move elsewhere—namely, Atlanta—for jobs, or leave their families behind for months at a time to work.
“I hate to see our friends having to do that,” Marty said.
Marty has felt the sting, too. As the photo double for Melissa McCarthy in “Tammy,” she was set to take the role again in the movie’s sequel–until production relocated to Georgia.
“Ninety percent of what I audition for is in Atlanta,” McGee added. “I’m constantly having to go out to Atlanta, which means I’m supporting the Georgia economy.”
Rather than follow the exodus or wait around for things to pick up, the “Vamps” team is aiming to take it into their own hands.
“We’re a family and a community and everyone is pulling together,” Marty said. “This is grassroots…The film industry here has been good to us and we want to try to stay here.”
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.