Check the Gate is our recurring column where we go one-on-one with directors to uncover the reasoning behind their creative decisions. Why that subject? Why that shot? In this edition, we chat with director Noah Segan and star Victoria Moroles about vampire rules and how they apply to their new film Blood Relatives.
A storyteller approaches a massive buffet when they attempt a vampire narrative. Depending on their goals, they pick and choose from the feast of fiction that’s come before. Aversion to sunlight? Sure. Hatred of garlic? Nah. Immortality? Definitely.
For his feature directorial debut, Noah Segan eagerly dove into vampire mythology. As a fan, he knew what he liked and didn’t like. Selecting the best bits for his film Blood Relatives became a mission to serve the story, or better yet, the metaphor. Fatherhood had recently infected his life, and he felt numerous ways about it. Joy was naturally present, but something else rose out of him as well.
Segan writes, produces, directs, and performs in Blood Relatives. It’s a run-and-gun production, an outburst that sprung from the sudden appearance of a demarcation line in his life. His character Francis is a seemingly carefree bloodsucker, meandering the United States, scoring a meal where he can. Francis’ nonchalant existence is interrupted when Jane (Victoria Moroles) tracks him down, claiming kinship.
Reluctantly, Francis permits Jane to tag along, showing her how to operate as an undead ghoul. The relationship is Segan’s opportunity to examine himself. Or, his two selves: the Segan before fatherhood and the Segan after fatherhood.
“My life feels like I have had two distinct vampire existences,” says Segan. “One was before I had kids, where I would go out with a cool leather jacket and stay out all night and swagger everywhere. I just felt very much like a cool creature of the night. Then, all of a sudden, I became a different creature of the night, because I was burping a baby from 2:00 AM to 6:00 AM and existing on Cheerios that had fallen on the floor. It felt like maybe I had two vampire experiences that lent themselves to telling this story.”
One of the pleasures of Blood Relatives is how Segan alters vampire mythology. When Francis rejects human blood, feeding primarily on animal blood, which allows him to maintain a lower profile and create a sedentary, fatherly lifestyle, his body ages. The hairline recedes, and the potbelly appears. Francis finds dad bod nirvana.
“It definitely was rooted in my own experience of looking at myself,” says Segan. “Looking at my life and acknowledging how different things have changed and the beauty that things change and that they often change for the better, even if they are different.”
Victoria Moroles connected profoundly to the father/daughter relationship Segan established in the Blood Relatives script. She responded to the confusion Jane’s appearance sparked in Francis and equally recognized the desperation Jane exuded in her plea for a familial association. Making it work on screen required warmth built between the two away from the camera. A necessary task that came easily.
“Chemistry is so interesting,” says Moroles. “When we first met, I had all these bullet points and reasons and all these things I wanted to talk about technically about the script. We got through all that really quickly. We just had this super easy conversation. Everything about our communication and the way that we approached things was open and easy, and I feel like once we set that up for ourselves, it was beneficial whenever we got close to filming.”
When writing the script, Segan always saw himself as Francis. However, when it came time to actually shoot the thing and shoot it with lightning speed (they only had eighteen days to get it done), he imagined another in the role. Pandemic realities being what they are, Segan had to step forward. If the movie were to get done, he would have to do it all. Except, he wasn’t alone, was he?
“I felt what was important was that Francis was going through something honest,” says Segan. “He was going through something that I was going through. So, I constantly was checking in with myself as Francis. Of course, my dream was to hire some really brilliant actor who was a big movie star, who could articulate all those things much better than I could. But, at the end of the day, I drew the straw. Luckily, I had a little bit of experience. Even more luckily, I was able to do it opposite Victoria, who is legitimately the best actor who I’ve ever worked with. Do I recommend starring in a movie you’re also directing? No. If you have to do it, do it with Vic.”
The two actors held each other up. Before going into production, they took a few days to get inside each other’s heads. The time was invaluable and allowed them to trust one another when rushing to make their day. In a weird way, the speed at which they were called to perform unified their positions on their characters.
“I think honestly,” says Moroles, “it was him saying, ‘I believe in what you’re saying about Jane.’ When we first talked about it, he was like, ‘Oh my god, you get it.’ I think just hearing somebody say, ‘Go be free. Go really do your thing, and I’m on it with you,’ it was really comforting. I had him on Jane’s side in that way too.”
With that chemistry on lock before production began, Segan needed a similar partnership with his cinematographer, Andrew Scott Baird. The two hunkered down, running through various cinematic inspirations. Through these conversations, they uncovered Blood Relatives’ visual language.
“I love movies,” he says, “and Andrew loves movies. And when I say that, I mean that we love movies as a specific medium. We love that there are certain tools that exist in cinema that are part of our vocabulary. So, to that end, we did a lot of the driving stuff with LED projection, which is the modern version of rear projection, which of course, is all over Taxi Driver. These sort of very cinematic looks help the audience feel like they’re in a movie.”
Announcing Blood Relatives as a movie-movie could alienate some, causing them to dismiss the genuine emotions resting in the narrative’s core. It’s a precarious invitation by the filmmaker. However, Blood Relatives is not any movie. It’s a vampire movie, and vampire movies grant certain licenses. The genre’s requirements also align neatly with various camera tricks.
“There are shots where Francis uses a certain vampire tool,” says Segan. “He’s glamouring, right? He’s kind of hypnotizing people. We do that with a mechanism where we’re doing a shot straight down the barrel of the lens, things that are very self-aware. The hope is that self-awareness of the film and the humor make people feel like they’re included. Those are my favorite movies, the ones where I feel like I’m included in the movie.”
Noah Segan saw Blood Relatives as a chance to celebrate his favorite art form. He litters the movie with nods and winks, recalling classics and not-so-classics. It was an excuse to get nerdy, to plunge into vampire lore and chow down. What he spat back out on the screen was his choice.
“The most fun parts of writing a vampire script is discovering and choosing your vampire rules,” says Segan. “The laws of the vampire. Our lead actor, Vic, is a half-vampire. So, I was able to steal from Blade, the Daywalker. Then, of course, we’ve got some really funny jokes that are related to not showing up in the reflections or in photos and stuff like that. On the other side, we’ve got some questions. Francis, he’s constantly doing the vampire thing of asking, ‘Can I come in?’ He needs to be invited.”
“I always wanted that to seem like it was done more from his Jewish neurosis,” he continues. “Not wanting to find out what would happen if he broke the rule. He knows the rule is he doesn’t get older. He knows the rule is he’s got fangs, and he lusts for blood. But I don’t know, maybe let’s not tempt fate anymore here and figure out what else might be an issue. I definitely was able to pick and choose the vampire rules and how those would apply to Francis’ existence and Jane’s existence.”
With one vampire flick under his belt, Segan has enough lore to unpack in another feature. Blood Relatives was his first stab at the genre, but possibly not his last. He left a lot of rules unanswered by Francis, but Jane could figure them out someday. Or maybe some other entirely different bloodsucker could make a feast of them.
Blood Relatives starts streaming on Shudder on November 22nd.