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Writer talks ‘Last Voyage of the Demeter’

The name Bragi F. Schut may be familiar to genre fans, from Escape Room and Nicholas Cage’s Season of the Witch, but the writer is taking on something special for his next project – The Last Voyage of the Demeter.

Demeter tells the tale of a ship’s journey from Carpathia to London, based on an entire chapter from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The feature, due out in early 2023, is directed by Andre Ovredal (Troll Hunter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark).

We got the chance to quiz Bragi all about the project, which has been 12 years in the making –

Tell us how you came up with adapting the narrative of Last Voyage of the Demeter?

I originally wanted to write a horror film set in space. I’m a huge fan of ALIEN and ALIENS and I wanted to try something in that same genre. But no matter what I thought up, everything just felt like an Alien ripoff. So I shelved my plans. Anyway, when I first arrived in Hollywood, I managed to get a job working in a model shop. I became friendly with the model makers and one of the guys had his portfolio and he showed it to me. He had all these wonderful miniatures in it, things from “Total Recall,” and “Edward Scissorhands,” and a bunch of other movies… and there were these photos of this fantastic schooner with bloody tattered sails. Well, they caught my eye and I asked him what they were from, and he replied, “that’s the Demeter. That’s the ship that carried Dracula from Transylvania to London. It was used for a few shots in Coppola’s Dracula movie”… and it hit me — that was my way into an alien-type story. But instead of setting it in the future in space, I would set it in the past, on a boat.

You are extracting part of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, how will this differ from the source material?

I tried to construct the story so that it wouldn’t violate what was in the book. There are these journal entries told from the perspective of the captain, and I wanted to try to preserve those. But in expanding one tiny chapter into an entire movie, I also knew that I had to expand and invent a bunch of new material. So it was a tricky balancing act. There are a few cheats — elements I added that are not in the book— but in general I think it’s very much true to the spirit of the book and the differences can be explained in ways that don’t violate the journal entries that people know from the book.

Without giving away plot twists, this is a tricky question to answer… but hopefully when everyone sees the movie it will make more sense. There are new elements, but the story very much fits into the story that we all know and love.

We have in recent years seen this voyage chronicled in BBC’s Dracula mini series, did you get chance to see this version?

I saw one or two episodes of the BBC series (I think?) but I don’t recall seeing the ship’s journey. So maybe I’m thinking of something else. I also know that, many years AFTER I wrote my spec script, someone created a comic book mini-series with the same title and underlying premise. Frankly, I’m surprised nobody thought to do this story before. It’s kind of begging for it. But I guess we got lucky.

Andre Ovredal has proven a visionary as a director, how was he to work with on Demeter?

Regrettably, I was not on set for the shooting. I was on a new assignment and pretty busy at the time, and Andre was shooting the film in Germany and Malta, and I just didn’t have the chance to get over there. But Andre was wonderful and kept me in the loop and sent me all these fantastic photos from the shoot, which were a real treat to see. I am a huge fan of Andre’s work and was thrilled when he signed on to make Demeter. I’ve been a fan of his since TROLLHUNTER. I hope we get to collaborate on something else. And maybe this time I will be able to be there when they film it!

The film is now in post-production, is the plan still for a January 2023 release?
As far as I know, yes, the release date is still set for 2023. But the writer is usually last to know when these things change…

The cast has the fantastic Javier Botet as Dracula, given his body of work, can we expect a truly unique take on the Count?
Yes, I think we can expect great things. This version of Dracula, in my mind, always presented some interesting opportunities. Because of the journey, and the manner in which Dracula is forced to travel, he is particularly ravenous and emaciated and hungry… He is literally feeding off the crew of the ship during his journey and slowly rebuilding his strength. So as the crew is gradually weakened and picked off, and finds themselves in a worse and worse state, Dracula becomes more and more powerful… Which was a wonderful and terrible and dynamic to explore in the writing.

How was the writing process compared to say, the Escape Room series?

Ha-ha! Well, for starters, DEMETER took twenty years to get made. ESCAPE ROOM took one. ESCAPE ROOM was the fastest project I’ve ever been personally involved with. I literally pitched the studio, who said essentially, “great — we love it, how fast can you write it?” and then I wrote the script, and the producers said, “it’s great, we’re going to get a director on this.” and before I knew it, there was a director and they were polishing it, and attaching cast, and shooting it. With DEMETER, I actually never thought it would happen. There have been so many directors attached to DEMETER over the years, and so many cast, and so many abortive efforts with different backers and studios, that I had come to think of it as cursed. Like the ship.

I would see the name of my script pop up on these annual lists every so often of the so-called most “famous unproduced scripts” and it was just painful. Over the years, all the people — so many talented people — who tried to get this made — it boggles the mind. Marcus Nispel, and David Slade, and Robert Schwentke, and Neil Marshall… the list goes on and on. Anyway, when I heard that Amblin was taking a swing at it, all my walls came up and I told myself — “don’t get excited, don’t get excited…it’s gonna fall apart again. Somehow. It’s not gonna happen…” And then, somehow, suddenly Andre was in Malta and sending me photos of the ship being built, and I had to pinch myself. And it finally happened. 20 years later.

Are there any plans for a 3rd Escape Room movie?

I wish I knew. I had nothing to do with the second film, and to be honest, the franchise went in some directions that I would not have taken it, so I’m not sure that I would want to be involved in a third movie — but I really enjoyed working with the producer, Neal Moritz on the first film. He’s a very interesting, creative person. So never say never. If he rang me up and said, “hey, do you have any ideas for a third Escape Room?” I might be tempted. It would really depend on what we could do with the story…

Last Voyage of the Demeter is set for release in January 2023.

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