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Home to the production of Tim Burton’s ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ was the grand, resilient and historic city of New Orleans, some of whose well-preserved homes and buildings date back 150 years. The Louisiana metropolis is rich in vampire lore — it is home to Interview with a Vampire (and its many sequels) author Anne Rice – and, says producer Jim Lemley, “there’s something fascinating and edgy about New Orleans.” François Audouy designed the production, grounding the film in historical reality while providing majestic and richly textured sets, including the aforementioned Southern plantation and locomotive hurtling to Gettysburg.
Another key figure in bringing Lincoln’s world to life is legendary cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, ASC, a five-time Oscar-nominee for his work on such films as ‘The Natural’ and ‘The Right Stuff’, and whose many other notable credits include the luminous ‘The Black Stallion’ and ‘Being There’. Using the “new” to capture the “old,” Deschanel employed digital photography and high-tech Arri Alexa camera to give the film the proper period look. “Timur [Bekmambetov, director] and I wanted to make a movie about some real historical events, so we looked at a lot of photos from that period,” says Deschanel. “In most of those old photos everything is perfectly in place, but we decided to give the cinematography a certain roughness, with more imperfections than perfection.”
Deschanel’s painstaking methods produced magical, if sometimes delayed results. Benjamin Walker remembers, “I’d be sweating in my [old-age] makeup and prosthetics, and Caleb would be worrying about an unlit candle. And I’m thinking, who cares about the candle? And then you’d watch the dailies, and go, oh my god, that candle makes the scene. I’m transported to a different world and time. It’s only happenstance that there are vampires there.”
The combination of rich period atmosphere, a unique perspective on America’s 16th president, and the army of the undead he’s hunting, makes for a motion picture experience like no other. For the writer who gave birth to it all, Seth Grahame-Smith, the film’s release caps a journey that began with his best-selling book. A key element in capturing Lincoln’s personality was making sure his humor came through. “He could be the life of the party, and was an exciting and entertaining man,” Grahame-Smith sums up. “I think he’d love our movie.”
“I always enjoy exploring something new with each film, something I haven’t seen before,” adds Jim Lemley. “Even though it’s a little bit crazy, the film stays true to the essence of the man.”
More than anything, ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ springs from the essence of two filmmakers – Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov – who are masters at looking at something in ways never before imagined.