Peacock recently launched its new original series, Vampire Academy, a romantic drama from executive producer Julie Plec. The 10-episode series debuted on September 15th and brings its young-adult audience a story of romance, friendship, death, sex and scandal.
The show is based on a series of paranormal romance novels by bestselling author Richelle Mead and is set in a world of privilege and glamour. There, two young women’s friendship transcends their different backgrounds, and as they complete their education, they prepare to enter royal vampire society.
Vampire Academy is produced by Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group. Julie Plec served as showrunner, writer and executive producer for the series, while also acting as one of its directors. Marguerite MacIntyre joined Plec as writer, executive producer and co-showrunner. The series’ stars include Daniela Nieves, Sisi Stringer, Kieron Moore, André Dae Kim, Jennifer Kirby and Craig Stevenson.
Editors Nate Easterling and Jaren Lopez — as well as Larissa James and Ana Lozano — were called on to lend support to the series, which was having its pilot cut by Leon Martin. Easterling is no stranger to vampire-themed shows. He worked on The CW’s Vampire Diaries and was familiar with MacIntyre from her work on the show.
Photo (L-R): Nate Easterling, Jaren Lopez and Michael Carreno
“I had retired from vampire editing, so this wasn’t on my radar,” Easterling admits. “I know these shows are huge, because I’ve done them before…And I knew that was Julie’s favorite book, too.”
While one might think that vampire shows would be driven by 'blood and guts,' Easterling says his experience taught him that they’re more about ‘heart and emotion.’
“If you’re not just devastated and crying every episode over some character’s turmoil, you’re doing it wrong,” he explains.
As a brand-new series, Vampire Academy presented a number of challenges to its production and post teams, the biggest being the creation of an entirely new world that the audience would recognize without drawing on too many clichés.
“It was a massive workload and undertaking, because it’s such a huge universe,” Lopez explains. “I think you’re seeing that a lot with the new fantasy shows that are coming out — the depth of the story in the universe, the different languages that they use and all this stuff. They really had to figure a lot of that out.”
Martin, who edited the pilot, as well as Episode 4, Episode 7 and the finale, quickly recognized the need for additional editing support.
“They were reshooting the pilot and re-cutting it, so his day was full,” Easterling explains. “Julie basically emailed me and said, ‘Do you want to do one episode?’ I was like, ‘That’s perfect!’ It happened over Christmas. This is great! I know what to do. I know how vampires operate emotionally, and so I started. And as things happened, I ended up then getting brought on to co-edit (additional) episodes.”
Lopez often works with Berlanti Productions, and Greg Berlanti’s friendship with Plec led to an interview for him.
“I started on Episode 102, and then was slated for 102, 105 and 108,” Lopez recalls. “Immediately, once we started seeing the footage coming in for 101 and 102, we kind of understood, ‘Okay, this is going to be a bigger thing. We have to go back and kind of retool.’ The scope and the scale of the universe is really in-depth, and I think that was something we started to experience immediately in post. It was a fun challenge!”
The series was shot in Spain, so for Lopez and Easterling, who are both based in Los Angeles and represented by Worldwide Production Agency, Vampire Academy was an entirely ‘work-from-home’ scenario. The show’s geographically-distributed production, editorial and VFX teams used Remote Picture Labs’ private cloud platform to efficiently transfer dailies and edit all of the episodes. Dailies were uploaded from a monastery in Spain via RPL.deliver’s Signiant Media Shuttle portal to Avid NEXIS storage in RPL.-edit. Assistant editors then organized the footage, making it seamlessly available to editors working in Avid Media Composer. Through Remote Picture Labs’ high-performance virtual workstations, the VFX team was able to share footage, bins and sequences, collaborating in realtime with the editorial team.
"We were actually remote-ing into a PC-based cloud system that was located in Burbank,” explains Michael Carreno, who worked with Easterling as an assistant editor. “The way they tailored it was — it didn’t work 100 percent, but I’d say like 90 percent — we were able to use Mac commands on a PC computer…And as long as you had the Teradici program…you can remote into an Avid station and check out the NEXIS.”
Since the show is in its first season, visual effects had yet to be developed, calling on the editors to help establish their look.
"I think in television, a lot is left to post production to try to figure it out,” says Lopez of the visuals. “I think initially it was like, ‘OK, maybe we can get around this by using sound design and score, and maybe some clever editing?’ And then I think it became very clear, once we got down the road, that this needed a little bit more VFX to solve.”
Specifically, he points to the vampires’ powers, which are eluded to in the book.
“This power isn’t quite telepathy. It’s this unique thing that’s specific to the book,” Lopez explains. “So, in order (for) the audience to really dig their teeth in and understand it, it does have to kind of ring familiar. So starting off with something that’s a little bit of a cliché is helpful for the audience to understand. And then, if you can give it a little bit more of a creative flair that’s unique, that’s kind of where we were coming from. The show is peppered with stuff like that.”
Knowing that editor Leon Martin had his hands full with the pilot, Lopez says he offered to help by cutting together sequences reflecting how these effects might be visualized, all while respecting the editor’s creative space.
“Julie and Marguerite are really great storytellers, but I think they were looking for sort of a hunk of clay to start molding, and something to start the discussion as far as what this piece of visual language would be,” Lopez explains. “And I think once we got something in front of them, they could have an emotional reaction to whatever they were seeing and say, ‘Yeah, I really like this, but I don’t like this. How do we tweak it?’”
Easterling, who began work on Episode 7, says he benefited from Lopez and Martin defining the look of certain visual effects.
“Rose can like see into the other characters’ minds,” he explains. “None of that was on the page, but it’s a key element of the show. So I luckily didn’t have to figure that out. They were trying stuff and trying stuff until they finally landed on it. And that was a really interesting part of editing that I haven’t been exposed to as an editor — inventing a style.”
While visual effects play an important role, Easterling says he was surprised by how little the show relies on set extensions. He’s currently working on a show for 20th Century Fox in which every scene incorporates blue-screen footage. Vampire Academy, he says, is much different.
“The dailies on Vampire Academy look amazing because there’s a castle in the distance, and it’s real,” Easterling explains. “The production design exists in real life. So that was really ahead of the game.”
In addition to the visual effects, music also plays an important role to the series.
“If you want to work on Julie Plec shows, you better know how to do music (and) score just right,” Easterling adds. “This was a rare situation where they got the composers involved pretty early, so they were able to compose to rough cuts, or at least give us ideas of temp tracks, and it was really good. It was nice to have music that was going to be very close to what was going to air.”
Lopez says the collective team’s open dialogue, willingness to collaborate and lack of egos made the project a positive experience.
“We were all just trying to really create the best visual experience and the best story for the audience,” Lopez explains. “This book has a big fan base and they’re very passionate, so you want to do right by the fans. There’s a movie, but I think this is a little bit of a departure from what the movie is tonally, visually and stylistically. We really were tasked with coming up with something from scratch.”