In Which We Film a Course on Vampires
You may have noticed that we didn’t have a newsletter or much on social media last week. This is because we were busy being Children of the Night.
Fine, not literally, but we were deep in the vampire mindset, so much so that we needed a week of vacation to recover.
Since January, we’ve been hard at work on scripting and creating a series for Wondrium called The Real History of Dracula. You might know Wondrium/The Teaching Company for their Great Courses video classes, but they’ve recently branched out into making all kinds of educational content and streaming it, a la Netflix. When they approached us last year and said “hey, do y’all want to make a course about vampires?” we said “where do we sign??”
After months of research, drafting, practice runs in the Wondrium DC studios, and revising, we spent the beginning of September filming all ten episodes (y’all, we wrote you TEN EPISODES of vampire goodness – including one on fairy tales and vampires because obviously) in their studio.
It was epic.
It was glorious.
It was one of the most exhausting things we’ve ever done. This from people who have survived 4 consecutive plane flights, one leg of which was 15 hours – ONE – (Sara) and mutant murder mono that, for some diabolical reason, decided to come on full blast during a connection in Georgia, forcing Sara’s parents to come rescue her and take her to the ER (Brittany).
So today, we’ll tell you a little about what it was like!
CAMERAS. So Many Cameras.
Mercifully, we’re pretty used to being on camera. But what we’re used to is just our faces on our laptop cameras while running all of the (comparatively low-tech) streams ourselves. This was… a couple notches up. There were always at least three studio cameras rolling during taping. They were accompanied by the voice of god – ok, fine, the voice of Ho, our amazing director – beaming in from above/ the tech booth next door, telling us where to look, how to move, and how to adjust our jewelry that would inevitably migrate to off center. (Sara was wearing a moon crescent necklace, and every 20 minutes or so, Ho would inform her that “the moon had set,” whereupon Sara would adjust it back to center.) There were also photoshoot cameras, interview cameras, and the one camera in the middle of the set that was Forbidden To Look at, so we named it Basilisk and studiously ignored it.
Part of the reason we had multiple practice runs this year in DC before the no-we’re-actually-filming-for-real-now week was to make sure that we could actually read off the teleprompters. Reading a script off a teleprompter accurately while still sounding like a dynamic speaker/ real human being is a bizarre, very specific skill that’s really not applicable to much else. But it’s absolutely crucial for what Wondrium is trying to create: a seamless but not stilted delivery of the scripted words as written. Luckily, we were pretty good at it! But it did lead to much hilarity, because it turns out that when you talk and talk and read and read for hours, sometimes your mouth and eyeballs get a mind of their own.
Our GOTHIC Set!!
Months ago, our producer asked us for our thoughts about our set. She 100% got us – she had a VISION of what it should look like, and she made it happen – she ordered the velvet curtains herself and helped stocked the cabinet of curiosity shelves with stuff from her own house! She even oversaw the making of the screen to make sure that the raindrops on the windows were the right size!! 1000 points to Susan! We were seriously BLOWN AWAY by how incredible the set looked – and it looked even better when it was lit up when the cameras were rolling.
If you’ve taken one of our courses or listened to a lecture of ours before, you know that we usually work from notes and bullet points and speak extemporaneously. We almost never script everything word by word because that kills the spontaneity. Enter: the Wondrium paradox. Our team wanted us to sound like we were speaking spontaneously, with chemistry and interjections, while sticking to the script. Friends, it is hard to extemporize interjections without making your pristine script grammatically untidy or chasing vampires down rabbit hole warrens and then having to remerge in the exact position of entry. But we think, with the help of our director, we managed something pretty good in the end!
However, this led to some amazing interjections and slips of the tongue. Highlights include Brittany softly yelping “MAWP” in the middle of Sara’s very serious bit about vampires and imperialism (she was definitely trying to insert something very clever, it just… didn’t come out all the way?), Brittany perkily stating “that’s rational!!” when Sara was talking about how some folk beliefs included burying suspected vampires with dirt separating the head and the body (it kind of made sense in context but it… did not make the final cut), Sara pronouncing “sword” as “SWHORD,” and much MUCH more.
Y’all. We had so much makeup on our faces. While we are both red lipstick enthusiasts, and you can pry our eyeliner out of our cold, dead fingers, that’s about where our makeup knowledge ends. So trying to figure out how to do makeup for cameras was pretty hilarious. We had to, like, learn how to use foundation for this. Mercifully, our director is a man of many talents and doubled as our stage makeup master. Every hour or two, he’d emerge from the booth and attack us with powder and rice paper to de-shine us because those studio lights are intense.
On Thursday, we were asked if we wanted to film an introduction to Nosferatu, the first major vampire film. It was released in 1922 (i.e. old enough to be in the public domain), so Wondrium streams it on their platform. And, because we are lunatics, we said YES, and went back to the hotel, re-watched Nosferatu (support us on Patreon for as low as $1 and you can watch along with us – we recorded our commentary, plus a link to the film! It’s pretty hilarious, we were more than a bit delirious at this point), did a ton of research, and then recorded our impressions and some background on the film the next day! We’ve heard that Wondrium is planning to edit and release the introduction some time before Halloween – we’ll keep you posted!
We cannot properly convey to you how intense this was. We were in the studio early and had to wake up even earlier to do our hair and makeup. Most studio days were 9 hours, but that last day was closer to 11, all while being very ON and delivering high energy performances on set. By the time we left the studio in the evenings, we were basically like cars that had been out of gas for a mile but were somehow still running on fumes, caffeine, and repeated rewatchings of this video. So we’d crawl back to our hotel and eat pizza and watch ContraPoints and Munecat on the floor, then get up and do it again the next day. We took the following week off completely in order to regenerate back into human beings.
This is really only a sliver of what went into the making of this series – and we still have more work on the back end to do! But we’re really, really proud of the work we did – and we’re really grateful to our team who made the filming process so much less intimidating and so much fun.
We can’t wait to share it with you when it comes out next year! In the meantime, if you want some vampire content to get you in the mood for fall, we recommend checking out Nosferatu (and our commentary up on Patreon!), the movies Only Lovers Left Alive and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and our book club pick for October The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (surprise! You get to know October’s book a bit early!)
P.S. Creating our “CHTrax” for Nosferatu was a ton of fun and – if you enjoy them – we’d love to make more for our patrons! What do you think? What movie should we do next?