Back in 2006, as the financial backing for Shadowland was being arranged, writer/director Wyatt Weed learned of the stipulation that the film must be shot and produced in and around St. Louis. After living in Los Angeles for eighteen years, the Springfield, Illinois, native and Webster University graduate gladly relocated to the Midwest.
The region rolled out quite a welcome: When Webster Groves officials realized the municipality couldn't obtain a movie permit, they shut down a few streets in a sort of impromptu "block party" that provided the cast and crew the space they needed to film chase scenes. Residents opened their driveways and bathrooms. Weed recruited a Lake St. Louis police officer to review the script and amend it to reflect actual police procedure. Merchants from St. Charles to Kirkwood to University City provided locations to create the setting for the vampire-infested town of San Carlos.
A muddied and bloodied Laura Wolff crawls out of a pit where she's been buried for more than 100 years. Sensitive to sunlight, she roams the streets in halting, unsure steps. Her life at the turn of the twentieth century comes back to her in rapid-fire flashes that she can't quite organize.
But after a stealthy makeover, Laura transforms from someone befuddled by a ballpoint pen into a strong and agile fugitive who evades a SWAT team and scores of police. Caitlin McIntosh, a one-time semifinalist in the Miss Teen USA Pageant and Hooters calendar girl from Washington (Washington, Missouri, that is), brings both innocence and a commanding presence to Shadowland's leading role.
In the hunt for the vampiress is Julian, a young priest. He's an agent of the Vatican whom Weed describes as possessing a "religious license to kill." As played by Jason Contini, the Mini Cooper-driving Julian is part Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones, part David Caruso in CSI: Miami. His ominous visions compel him to pursue and "save" Laura. "It's going to be peaceful," he tells her, "or I am going to kill you."
Though Shadowland opens with a bloody scene — Laura's been bitten with the vampire bug and is cured by a stake through the chest — overall, it's relatively light on gore and doesn't have any nudity or foul language. "We want people to realize that you can not be a vampire fan and not like horror films, and still enjoy this movie," says producer Gayle Gallagher.
"I think a thirteen-year-old girl and her mother could watch this film, and both of them would be entertained," Weed adds. "The mom wouldn't be repulsed, and the thirteen-year-old would like it. And there'd be a little bit of romance. A little bit of everything is in there."
Weed admits there are a few loosely defined plot points that are open to speculation and interpretation. After one screening in Greece, the filmmakers were amused to hear the audience constructing complicated back-stories for the characters that drew parallels between Laura's struggles in the modern world and Greece's government. "A strong female character? Yes. Do I feel there should be more of them? Yes. Political statement? No, no, no," Weed says, laughing.
Though it has screened in dozens of film festivals, including last year's St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, and picked up plenty of accolades along the way, its Friday showing at the Tivoli marks Shadowland's first official theatrical screening. That the film has been picked up by the national Landmark Theatres chain, Weed says, lends it a new kind of legitimacy.
Certainly, Weed and Gallagher hope to bring more exposure to their St. Charles-based production company, Pirate Pictures, though Shadowland's weeklong run, and, depending on its success, the duo hasn't ruled out a sequel. But they're similarly passionate about their overarching goal of bringing Hollywood-style filmmaking back to the Midwest.
And if they succeed, spotting production vans and film crews around town won't be any more incongruous than seeing a vampiress wander down a leafy suburban street at sunset, trying to find her way home.