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‘Carmilla the Movie’ is the niche lesbian vampire flick that Tumblr teens deserve in 2017
The stars of ‘Carmilla the Movie’ aren’t afraid to represent nuanced queer characters.
Carmilla the Movie is the queerest thing to ever happen to vampire romance and save-the-world action films.
It’s based on a webseries that, over the course of three seasons and largely in part to its queer representation, gained a loyal cult following. Three seasons followed the protagonist Laura (Elise Bauman) as she vlogged about her vampire roommate—and then girlfriend—Carmilla (Natasha Negovanlis) and their evil-fighting adventures with a band of “scoobys.”
Fans loved Carmilla and its cast of queer characters so much that they crowdfunded a feature-length film by pre-ordering streaming passes. The film became available to download online last week, and played in movie theaters in Canada for one night on Oct. 26.
Bauman and Negovanlis spoke with the Daily Dot about the release of Carmilla the Movie, LGBT representation in the Carmilla series, their unique fandom, and more.
What was it like to transition from the webseries format to a feature-length film?
Elise Bauman: I feel like we got to really give this story what it deserved. We had so much fun exploring the webseries with that format and navigating the challenges of a single locked camera. But being able to expand your world and see the characters go through the events in real time as opposed to relaying the information afterwards really put in a first-person perspective… Getting to see the characters, how they deal with things in the moment as opposed to after they had time to rationalize their thoughts around what happened.
Natasha Negovanlis: At New York Comic Con, Elise brought up this really great point that a lot of the time, Laura is presenting to her audience. She’s vlogging. And so often the way we are publicly is different than the way we may behave privately. So I think it’s really nice to get to see Laura and Carmilla’s relationship in a much more in-depth, up close and personal way, and to see them as sort of their domestic selves.
A lot of the cast and crew on the movie set had returned from the webseries, but Dominique Provost-Chalkley (from Wynonna Earp) was a new addition. What was your experience working with her?
Natasha: So I think that my character, Carmilla, has the most scenes with her character, Elle. We are ancient ex-girlfriends. She was such a beautiful, giving actress. I had a lot of fun playing with her. I was admittedly a little bit intimidated to work with her at first because Wynonna Earp is such a huge show and she’s obviously more accustomed to working on larger budget sets… I learned a lot just from her acting ability and she put a lot of work into the character.
Elise: It was so fantastic watching her work because she’s such a sweet, lovely, generous person. We would be chatting and all of a sudden she would switch into this terrifying, intimidating place with a drop of a pin. And just watching her go to work so effortlessly and seamlessly was something that I really admired about her work.
Natasha: We had a nice joke—I razzed her quite a bit because she called me Natalie on the first day. But she’s such a lovely person that she’s very easy to forgive.
How has your portrayal of a queer character (and being a part of a webseries and movie where a majority of the characters are queer) informed your own activism in the queer community?
Natasha: I’m a member of the queer community myself and I had been out before I started working on Carmilla. I identified as bisexual first and then chose to identify as pansexual or queer, but I was very fortunate in that I grew up in a very liberal household and a very liberal city—Toronto, Canada—where I’m from, so I didn’t quite understand the weight and importance of positive queer representation until I began interacting with our Carmilla fandom. And I’m so pleased that they have been so vocal about it and so welcoming. I’ve really learned a lot from them and as soon as I started interacting with them, I realized that working on Carmilla was so much bigger than me. It wasn’t just about me as an actor; it was about something so much greater and almost political in a way. So I feel like when you’re faced with this responsibility you can either step up and take action or you can choose not to, and as soon as I realized there was an opportunity to use my platform as an openly queer actor who plays a queer character for something greater, I chose to step up to the plate and I’m so lucky that I get to do what I love and be working on something that is so near and dear to my heart and also use it for social change.
Elise: We’ve been part of a world for so long where media only represented a specific demographic of people and what that teaches people is that, “oh, that I don’t have worth if I don’t see myself within that demographic of people that are being shown and portrayed.” I don’t take lightly that when people are watching the work of an actor, they’re watching themselves and they’re learning from what’s happening on-screen. And I think that our series and now our movies are really giving people to reflect in themselves and I’m really grateful to be a part of that.
Natasha: So often as an actor when you’re starting out, you don’t get to choose what you work on all the time. You sort of take what you can get. So we certainly got really lucky with Carmilla.
The fans have built a really special fandom around Carmilla. What makes your fans so unique and tight-knit?
Elise: The Carmilla fandom has gone so far beyond my wildest dreams. I didn’t even have social media at all before Carmilla started and to be able to see how people are able to connect with each other from different countries all around the world is so incredible. I think one of the best things for me about meeting fans and hearing them talk is that I hear so many stories of people having made friends or even gotten into relationships because of our show. Because they were able to go online and connect with someone who they may have never met in not online otherwise. To know that people connect so deeply to our show—I mean that’s the greatest gift as an actor. I want the work that I’m apart of to be seen by people and to know that people respond and are grateful for it in the way that they are and that their lives have shifted and moved because they’ve been apart of this series with us. That’s the best gift ever. And also, I feel so much gratitude in turns for our fans because something like Carmilla may not have gotten made without them, you know? There’s this misconception within studios and networks that outside of a specific demographic of people, those stories won’t make money. That’s been the argument for so long. And I think that we’re starting to blow up that lie that people do want other stories to be told than ones that have previously been told in the media.
Natasha: One of my favorite things is seeing the artworks they create based on us and the series. As an artist to inspire other people to create art is such a gift and it’s so cool to be fostering creativity. I’ve always felt like if I wasn’t acting I would be in such social work somehow or in politics or teaching and so the fact that we are inspiring other people to have their voices be heard as well is awesome. It’s so neat to see how they express themselves through poems and songs. Not just fanart—they’ve written songs about us. It’s great.
The trailers for the movie show the characters in period costumes. What was it like to film those scenes?
Natasha: Without giving too much away, there are definitely some interesting dreamscape type things happening. It was such a blast to get to step into Carmilla’s past. The flashbacks that we see, or the dreams that we see, are set in the Victorian era. In the era that the original novella was written in. But of course Carmilla’s even ancient in those flashbacks because she was born in the 1600s… I personally have a background in classical music and operetta and more classical music theater so I wasn’t a stranger to the Victorian outfits but I was definitely grateful that we didn’t have to wear Victorian-style undergarments … But it was neat as an actor because as an actor I’m someone who’s very attached to costumes and clothing. I find that it really changes the way that I stand or sit or move. So it was neat to explore a different side of Carmilla as well. I had to play her as the Carmilla the audience knows but also understand that in the Victorian era she would have talked a little bit differently and moved a little bit differently and she would have been forced to be very ladylike.
Elise: I am also very grateful that we didn’t have to wear corsets underneath the dresses. I did have to wear a corset in just a scene and found it extremely different to breathe and I’m so, so thankful that the world has shifted enough that I am not forced to wear confining clothes like that every day. I don’t know how people did it back then. I much prefer my athletic wear. But it was super fun to dress up. I had a dress up chest when I was a kid and I used to love pretending to be different people from different time periods as a child. So it was a fun pretend moment with everyone.
Natasha: I also feel like it’s really interesting to see a lesbian romance or have lesbian themes in the Victorian Gothic era because I almost feel like the restrictive clothing is like an allegory for the repression that females faced at that time and female sexuality and the fact that they had to be in the closet. It was really neat to flip between the very liberating clothing and time period that we have now in 2017 and to have Laura and Carmilla’s relationship to be so open and go back and experience what it was like for Carmilla to have to be very secretive about her sexuality.
What do you hope people take away from Carmilla the Movie?
Elise: I think the big theme for me in the film is learning to let go of my past, meaning that I don’t forget anything and that I look back at everything to me in my life—all the things that I’ve done and all the things that have been to me—and I learn to forgive myself and others and I learn to learn from my mistakes and know that anytime that pain is caused in me that I always am faced with a choice of letting that pain fester in me and choosing to then inflict pain on other people and help grow the collective pain of the world because I was wronged. Or choose to take the higher road and let go. I think that’s something that I especially in these times hope that people can take away from the movie.
Natasha: I hope that when people who maybe aren’t members of the LGBTQ community watch this film, that they are exposed to queer characters who are normal and who are heroes. I hope it maybe changes some people’s minds in the sense that you can be queer and also just be a human. So often in media, it sounds so silly and it sounds so obvious, but so often in media we portray lesbian characters or bisexual characters or queer women as evil or homewreckers or if they’re not, they die in stories. And I think it’s so wonderful to finally have queer characters who yes are queer, but that’s not the forefront of the story and they do get to fight evil and they do get a happy ending and they do get the girl.
For our fans, I hope that something they take away from this film is that when you are authentic to yourself and you are your true self, you can find success and you can find happiness. And I totally understand that I’m saying this from a place of privilege because I live in a place that is safe for me to be out and open, but I hope that by seeing Carmilla and Laura be authentic to themselves and embrace each other’s differences that they can see that diversity a strength.
Kris Seavers is the Evening Editor for the Daily Dot, where she covers breaking news, politics, and LGBTQ issues. Her work has appeared in Central Texas publications, including Austin Monthly and San Antonio Magazine, and on NPR.