ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
 

This page was created on May 7, 2004
This page was last updated on May 7, 2004


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ABOUT THIS FILM
The Story Of The Story
Following the phenomenal success of both The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, imaginative writer/director Stephen Sommers was casting around for a change of pace. He was seeking an equally intriguing idea on par with those behind his worldwide hits, but something different. Eventually, he became compelled with a concept that would continue to exploit his superlative skill of presenting intriguing characters involved in exciting action stories, told on an epic canvas with decidedly up-to-date sensibilities. His keen storytelling sense led him to a deep well rich with characters primed for a revitalized action-adventure comeback.

The filmmaker states, “People had been kidding me, saying, ‘Hey, you did The Mummy, so when are you going to do Dracula?’ But that seemed limiting and already done. So I was thinking that it would be cool if all of the classic Universal monsters could be brought together somehow.”

That idea stayed with Sommers and drove him to re-examine the classic monsters from the studio’s canon—the cinematic hallmark which had helped turn Universal Studios into a Hollywood leader more than seven decades ago. Sommers set out to breathe life into these iconic creatures and set them in an vividly rendered world, brought back from the dead (as it were) through the use of unsurpassed production values, the latest in visual effects technology and a breathlessly paced, action-filled screenplay rooted in both re-invention and a keen appreciation for its inspirational ancestry.

“I didn’t pitch it before I started writing it, because I wasn’t sure I could write it,” he says. In the script, Sommers was determined to link the existences of the monsters, giving them involved, on-screen relationships far beyond mere coincidence or happenstance.

“I wondered how I could take these legends and have it so their characters and stories all intersect. The connecting premise needed to be both true to the characters’ popular mythologies and organic at the same time—I couldn’t just have a hero taking on the three monsters for no reason. Then it struck me: What if Dracula had a life-anddeath reason for needing Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster? Memorable villains always have really good reasons for what they’re doing. For a story like this to be interesting, there has to be a motivation behind the evil. His simple need to kill people for their blood has been so established and explored in films and books. So as soon as I hit on what might be driving Dracula, what his motivation was, everything started to come together,” Sommers explains.

Comments Bob Ducsay, producer/editor and 15-year filmmaking partner to Sommers, “The single greatest thing about Stephen is he’s a wonderful storyteller. For him, story is everything. As much as he infuses his movies with action, visual effects and production design, what stays foremost when he’s making the movie is ‘what’s the story here?’ And that starts with his characters.”

The writer/director continued his welcomed homework into the legendary characters (returning to the Universal films from the 1930s and ‘40s) and decided not only to look beyond the accepted mythology, but to also bend the rules when it came time to customizing the characters for his larger-than-life canvas.

“What I tend to do is look at these myths and then try to explain them. For instance, we know we can’t see Dracula’s reflection, so my natural curiosity as a filmmaker asks, ‘Why?’ If the mythology doesn’t provide an answer, then I supply one of my own. I realized that Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula and The Wolf Man could all exist in the same world—the setting for all of their legends is Eastern Europe around the same time. Then I would come across something else, like when I read that werewolves were supposedly the guardians of vampires during the day. I started to be really excited by the potential of a film that could include all of these ideas and storylines.”

The ultimate linking piece to Sommers’ narrative puzzle lay in a character created by classic author Bram Stoker within the pages of his monolithic 1897 work of monster fiction: Dracula.

Sommers continues, “I read the book about 20 years ago. In Stoker’s novel, Van Helsing is 60 years old and his first name is Abraham. He’s been a character in countless movies, but no one’s ever done a movie centered on him. I needed to find a way to make him my own. I changed his first name to Gabriel and I made him younger and cooler…in a sense, I made my Van Helsing the younger brother to Stoker’s character. He’s now working for an ancient, secret society as a bounty hunter. He’s a gun-for-hire, a mercenary who is out to vanquish evil—and Count Dracula is evil incarnate, so he makes a very attractive quarry for Van Helsing.”

While this more adrenalized version of Van Helsing would serve as both a classic movie hero and crossroads for all of the monsters’ stories, Sommers went a step further by painting the character with equal amounts of light and darkness.

He adds, “I gave Van Helsing a motivating back story. The character, as I imagined him, doesn’t know who he is or where he is in his life. He doesn’t remember anything about his past. And while Van Helsing is a hero, he’s also the most wanted man in the land. He kills monsters that people are starting not to believe in any more—we’re nearing the end of the 19th century and the dawn of a more reasoned, enlightened period. When Van Helsing kills a werewolf, for example, the monster turns back into a human at the moment of his death. Van Helsing is left standing over the body of a gentle old man. So, people naturally have some serious misgivings about Van Helsing and what he’s up to.”

The Good Guys
To realize his vision of bringing these time-honored characters together into one believable, adventurous story, Sommers knew he needed a dynamic hero. “Initially, I wasn’t very familiar with Van Helsing,” says Sommers, “but I loved the idea of his character—he was, in every respect, the original monster hunter.”

Trained by monks and mullahs from Istanbul to Tibet and equipped with an awesome arsenal of monster-killing weaponry, (“creep-stoppers,” as the director called them), Sommers fashioned a younger, hipper, cooler Van Helsing, feared by evil in all its forms, as well as by some of the innocent, who see only a brutal murderer.

Even before the script was written, Sommers was creating the character and story with only one actor in mind. “We were adamant about getting Hugh Jackman from the start,” says Sommers. “He’s the only guy we ever wanted.” Sommers’ Van Helsing had to be both tough and a romantic, “someone that women would love and guys would trust,” and Sommers and Ducsay felt that Jackman was the guy.

“And it doesn’t hurt that Hugh’s also six-foot-two and 210 pounds of solid steel,” adds Sommers.

About to begin production on X2: X-Men United and preparing to headline the Broadway musical The Boy From Oz (scheduled to begin when X2 production wrapped), Jackman received an early draft of the script from Sommers.

“It was a rare opportunity to be in a project like this. As soon as I read it, I could visualize it strongly and I thought I could really bring something to the role,” says Jackman. “I always wanted to do a big action movie like Errol Flynn and this project had that huge, epic, action-adventure quality to it. It’s a boyhood dream of mine to be in a movie like this, with such scope.”

In sync with Sommers and Ducsay, Jackman saw the character as the classic outcast. “Van Helsing is a reluctant hero,” elaborates Jackman. “He’s very much the outsider, carrying out solitary missions for a secret worldwide organization. When it comes to battling monsters, this is what he was born to do. He’s got a great gift for it. When he’s in a battle situation, everything just becomes calm and still—fear doesn’t enter into the equation.

“In his quest to find Dracula, he’s hoping to find a key to his past—hopefully put the jigsaw of his life together. Then,” continues Jackman, “he comes in contact with a woman who gets under his skin.”

Anna Valerious is a gypsy princess and monster hunter in her own right—one of the last living members of an ancient family committed to the pursuit and destruction of Dracula in order to lift a curse that’s hung over her family for generations. “She’s far from a damsel in distress,” says Sommers. “We needed a great actress with a tough inner strength, someone that had the rare ability to play period and, at the same time, be funny, sexy and strong.”

Ducsay agrees and adds, “Because a romance flourishes between Anna and Van Helsing, it was important that Anna wasn’t simply a hard, bad-ass character. There needed to be a softer side to her.”

The filmmakers found everything they were they were looking for in actress Kate Beckinsale, who says, “I love action movies with girls. I think it’s unusual to find a role in an action-adventure where the girl actually has something to do. My character, Anna, has a real vendetta with Dracula. There’s a whole family curse that’s been going on for hundreds of years—unless she kills Dracula, her family will remain in purgatory forever. So the stakes are, needless to say, quite high for her.”

The actress—who showed she could do more than hold her own in the recent action movie Underworld—continues, “Then along comes this character, Van Helsing, into her life and her world. Thanks to Stephen’s writing, Anna doesn’t suddenly become this dopey, heaving-bosom girl. She and Van Helsing remain equals right up to the end, which I think is refreshing.”

With genuine affection for her co-star, Beckinsale adds, “There’s something very solid about Hugh—you immediately trust and like him. You totally believe he’s somebody that will be around ‘saving the day’ for a long, long time. And he’s not too hard to look at, either.”

Jackman echoes the feelings and says, “Kate is funny, probably due in part to growing up with brothers. These action movies, for her, are mainly about ballsy women. She looks incredible, almost like a princess, but trust me, she’s tougher than most girls I know. She’s physically very able, which is terrific.”

“I don’t know what ‘chemistry’ is all about,” says Sommers. “But when we put Hugh and Kate together, suddenly we had two great actors in front of the camera and it was magic.”

“There’s nothing you can do to guarantee chemistry. We were fortunate to have it between Hugh and Kate. Together they make an incredible pair,” agrees Ducsay.

The Bad Guys
And nothing brings two people together like a common goal—or in this case, a common foe. For Van Helsing and Anna, they find themselves bound together in their shared pursuit to overthrow Dracula. And the classic vampire would prove a challenge of a creative sort for Sommers. “I have to admit, it was kind of scary,” he explains. “I mean, the character of Dracula has been done nearly to obsolescence. I put a lot of effort into providing new dimensions to this character and then I happened to get lucky—I got Richard Roxburgh.”

The Australian star, who had received worldwide recognition for his role as the scheming Duke in Moulin Rouge!, seemed to Sommers as the perfect actor to bring a refreshing spin on a familiar villain. Sommers explains, “The movie takes place in the 1800s and Richard plays Dracula like a kind of privileged rock star—in a really good way. There’s something sexy, twisted and cool about the way Richard inhabits the role. There’s just something that Richard does that just sucks you in.”

Says Jackman, “It’s such a treat for me to work with Richard because he’s a fellow Australian. I first saw him onstage doing a play called Burn This when I was 21. I remember his performance so vividly. People used to ask who I look up to as an actor, and I’d say, ‘Richard Roxburgh and Geoffrey Rush.’ When I told Steve this, he said, ‘Perfect, because you guys are enemies and I want there to be that feeling of awe as well as competition between the two of you.’”

Roxburgh took the challenge of tackling the oft-interpreted character in stride and offers, “In film, actors are always called upon to do roles that have been replicated. It’s not a lot different than having to go onstage and claim those lines again—lines that everybody is familiar with—especially if it’s Shakespeare or Chekhov or, in this case, Stoker’s Dracula. What interested me was trying to play the character with humanity. After all, he lived. He was a man and actually, kind of a great man, a warrior, at one point in his life. Those are still elements that remain in his character…that and a sort of wonderful malevolence.”

Turning to revitalize another filmic legend—Frankenstein’s Monster—Sommers and his team decided to acknowledge the iconographic look of the creature while trying to add sensible new elements as well. Sommers offers, “Everyone thinks of him as this lumbering, menacing giant, but then you say, ‘Wait a minute—there’s something behind that.’ He’s really the Elephant Man, or the character of Lenny from Of Mice and Men—a misunderstood creature that, because of his appearance, makes people assume the worst. In the original story, he was this child/man who didn’t mean to kill anyone. At the end of the day, you felt sympathy for him—that’s the thing you forget if you haven’t seen the movie in a long time: how tragic and sad he is.”

As with his other characters, Sommers found creative inspiration in the classic look memorialized in the early Universal films when building a 21st century take on the monster. “We wanted to keep the flat head and the bolts and the massive shoes, but wanted to enhance it all, take it further. Our Frankenstein also has a tracheotomy. At one point in the movie, his head splits into pieces. He also has a belt made of ball bearings and we find out he doesn’t have a spine—he can just pivot on his ball bearings.” And, like Mary Shelley’s original monster, this Frankenstein can communicate intelligently.

The actor that rises from Sommers’ laboratory table in the role is critically acclaimed actor Shuler Hensley, who received the Tony Award for his portrayal of another dark, misunderstood character—Jud Fry from Oklahoma! (a role he also performed opposite Hugh Jackman in the original London revival). Sommers and Ducsay went to see the Broadway production; two days later, Hensley came in to read for the role of the monster and was cast immediately. “Shuler just did a knockdown job,” says Sommers.

Hensley felt that in the subsequent tellings of the tale since the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Monster has often been portrayed incorrectly. The actor explains, “He is one of those creatures that has a good side to him. Because of circumstance, he’s forced to become something he wouldn’t have become otherwise. Once you get past his exterior—the shock of his physical body—what’s on the inside begins to be revealed.”

Hensley says he was particularly drawn to the way the monster is written in Van Helsing—as a sympathetic character and one of the movie’s heroes. Sommers explains that both Van Helsing and Anna are accustomed to dispatching monsters—“taking care of them before they take care of you.” But Van Helsing has a sixth sense when it comes to evil and understands that even if someone looks like a monster, he may not necessarily be monstrous. Even though Anna only sees his frightening external appearance, Van Helsing sees what is underneath and comes to rely on the giant to help him in his cause.

Like Frankenstein, the werewolf is one of several creatures associated in the public’s mind with the vampire, all of them occupying the same fog-shrouded, moonlit Eastern European landscape of legend. According to Sommers, “After watching the original The Wolf Man, I thought that this character was a really tormented soul—he wants to be a good person but he just can’t help his nature. You feel a lot of sympathy for him. He’s a decent guy who doesn’t want to be doing what he’s doing, but with every full moon, he cannot stop his transformation.”

A werewolf first enters Van Helsing when Anna Valerious’ brother, Velkan, tries to use himself as bait to capture one of the creatures. Unfortunately, the plan goes horribly wrong and the young prince is attacked and bitten by the very beast he’s hunting. Velkan must deal with the fact that he, too, will become a Wolf Man, since the bite of the creature has infected him with the curse.

“I think we all have our own ‘wolf’ we’re trying to suppress—one that we’d like to let loose now and again,” says actor Will Kemp, who plays Velkan. Primarily a dancer featured in leading roles in several works by pioneering British choreographer/director Matthew Bourne, Kemp welcomed the change of pace, particularly the physical challenge of playing Velkan as he transforms into The Wolf Man (the final creature being the domain of CGI).

He reflects, “When I first read the part, I thought, ‘Oh, great, I get to run around here and jump here—how heroic.’ Then as I read further I thought, ‘Wait, who is actually going to be doing this?’ I was in harnesses, flying around the woods, swinging from trees, running up walls. My training helped tremendously, but the filming, the different stuff I had to do was absolutely abnormal. But then how wonderful to have a chance to be in such an abnormal process.”

Director Sommers recalls, “Will was one of the first actors we saw. He came in to audition and was just spectacular. He had a real power to his performance. He can do things with his body that are just uncanny. He’s a dancer as well as a really fine actor. We knew we had to have him as our doomed prince.”

Kemp was most interested in his character’s journey from man to wolf. “The fact that I make this transition from a pampered royal into this great big, scary werewolf seemed like great fun,” exclaims Kemp, “and the way in which the creature comes from within was a major hook for me.”

Sommers continues, “There are some definite twists to our Wolf Man. This is not just a guy in a suit sprouting hair from his pores.” Through a combination of advanced makeup and physical effects along with computer-generated imagery, Velkan does not so much turn into The Wolf Man as the creature emerges from within the man, literally ripping through Velkan’s flesh. “It really is a curse,” adds Kemp.

Back at Castle Dracula, there is more than just the Count to contend with—three beautiful and bloodthirsty Brides who will stop at nothing to help their master in his plan to subvert human civilization and rule over a world of havoc, fear and darkness. Sommers took his cue from Stoker: Van Helsing enters Castle Dracula to kill the deadly beauties at the end of the novel.

Producer Ducsay remembers, “We brought three very different women together with three very distinct looks from different parts of the world. We wanted them to be very beautiful, but they also had to be able to act and handle very physically demanding roles.” He adds with a smile, “These three were totally into being vampires.”

The filmmakers found their first Bride, Aleera, in Spanish actress Elena Anaya, a recent recipient of the Goya Award (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscar® for her daring role in Sex and Lucia). Sommers reflects, “Elena sent us a video tape from Madrid. When I saw her audition, I thought, ‘She’s out there…she’s sexy, gorgeous and a little insane. Perfect!’ I flew to London to meet with her. She just came in and knocked it right out of the ballpark.”

Sommers recalls his London casting agent bringing in Silvia Colloca to read for the role of a second Bride, Verona, that same day. “Not only was Silvia physically right for the role,” he says, “but she had this regal walk about her, and the way she speaks English, with her accent, felt so worldly. Silvia was perfect because I’d always imagined Verona to be the wife and the other two Brides as being more like Dracula’s mistresses.”

As he was flying back from London, the director remembers wondering if they could discover a third actress to play the final Bride. The search for the remaining vampire Marishka proved more difficult than Sommers first imagined. Sommers saw Marishka as the youngest of the three women, a bit coquettish and unsure, but vicious when she needed to be. After months of looking, Sommers finally found her in actress Josie Maran. He recalls, “Josie walked in the door and that was it.”

A Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model and recognizable face of several national advertising campaigns, Maran has also starred in independent films. “Van Helsing is one of the greatest experiences of my life...there’s something very special about this project. And the excitement of the action takes you away from all of the chill in the world,” Maran concludes, speaking both figuratively and literally about executing some of her own stunts—clad only in a sheer costume while shooting on location in midwinter Prague.

Fellow Bride Colloca sums up the relationship between the trio this way: “They’re very good friends, but there’s a very delicate balance. Marishka’s really the little sister. Verona knows she’s the queen and Aleera’s very jealous—she’s always looking for the Master’s undivided attention. There’s a lot more to it than three gorgeous girls out for blood.”

Bride Anaya adds, “Basically, we all live together—rather happily—like a family. Aleera’s very protective. When the family is threatened, she becomes concerned that Dracula wants more brides, so she tries to stop that. She’s determined to be the last one standing.”

Kate Beckinsale muses, “There’s a wonderful mix with the three Brides, three different personalities. You have the really controlling one, the worldly one, and the somewhat unpredictable one, with all of them trying to be first in Dracula’s eyes. So when he starts to get interested in biting Anna, well, it’s kind of worse than high school.”

The Other Guys
Everyone knows a great arch villain needs a great henchman and, in finding yet another way to interweave the characters’ stories, Sommers writes the classic Igor, Dr. Frankenstein’s original lab assistant, with a dual allegiance—his real master is Count Dracula.

Kevin J. O’Connor, a regular fixture in Sommers’ films and horror genre devotee, says he had several inspirations that helped him piece together his own version of the familiar toadie. “Ironically, I’d done a lot of my own research through the years just as a hobby. I was a huge fan of the old Universal monster movies. I was also inspired by ‘70s illustrated magazines like Eerie and Creepy—they had these incredibly beautiful covers that showed the twisted stances of the monsters I remembered. And I watched Lon Chaney, Sr., the silent movie actor, and loved the sort of twisted physicality he brought to his characters.”

All of this research helped O’Connor play Igor as if he’d had his neck broken, something the actor and director decided upon. They also decided that his back story was rather shady and sketchy—apart from the known fact that he was a grave robber. O’Connor continues, “Being around monsters and corpses for so long has sort of crept into Igor’s brain—he’s not all there.”

Just as every villain needs a good henchman, every hero needs a faithful sidekick. In Van Helsing, that job falls to a newly-created character named Carl (named after Carl Laemmle, founder of what became Universal Studios, by Sommers), a young friar trained in the ways of monster hunting and expert at creating effective weaponry against them; he’s also charged with assisting Van Helsing and assuring his safe return.

As Sommers explains, “Carl is a key character in our movie. He’s more than a walking depository of monster lore. He’s ‘us’ in the movie. He’s our eyes and ears and the means for exposition. He has to be capable and, at the same time, bring some humor to it.”

Sommers cast another Australian in the role—actor David Wenham, a veteran of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. “David Wenham is considered one of the sexiest men in Australia. When I got his audition tape, not only was his performance great, but his look was perfect—definitely not the ‘sexiest man’ look.” The actor had hunched up his neck, taped his ears to make them protrude and given himself an incredibly bad haircut. “He just really looked the part,” laughs Sommers.

Of his character, Wenham offers, “Carl’s an inventor, a modern thinker—at least within the constraints of the 19th century and the abbey where he lives. He’s not the outdoors type, but he’s forced into a situation where he has to go along on this dangerous journey. Van Helsing and Anna have been out there in the world fighting monsters for quite some time, but Carl hasn’t—so everything’s a new experience for him. He’s objective and genuinely scared and fearful of situations. But he’s also willing to tackle things head-on because he realizes he’s helping Van Helsing in his mission to vanquish evil from the world.”

Wenham says the obvious attraction to Van Helsing for him was Sommers’ script. “It’s a lot of fun…a wonderful action-adventure with a little bit of comedy thrown in. Playing Carl, I not only got to work with Stephen Sommers, but I also got to play with amazing props on huge, impressive sets that are straight out of a fantasy land.”

About The Production
Writer/director/producer Sommers, producer/editor Ducsay and executive producer Sam Mercer continued to seek the best and brightest in equally pivotal roles behind the camera. To create the enormous, populous landscapes conjured in the screenplay, a mighty village-size team of motion picture artisans (final ranks numbered upwards of 1,000 crewmembers) were brought together, including: five-time Academy Award®-nominated director of photography Allen Daviau; previous production designer on both Mummy films, BAFTA-nominated Allan Cameron; Oscar® winner for her costumes in Age of Innocence, Gabriella Pescucci; Grammy-winning and Oscar®- nominated composer (and The Mummy Returns veteran) Alan Silvestri; Industrial Light & Magic’s (ILM) visual effects supervising gurus, multiple Academy Award®- nominated SCOTT SQUIRES and BEN SNOW; special effects makeup team KEITH VANDERLAAN, multiple Oscar® winner GREG CANNOM, and BRIAN SIPE; stunt coordinator R.A. RONDELL; and longtime collaborator of Sommers and Ducsay, second unit director GREG MICHAEL, along with countless others.

Sommers knew that this massive, action-oriented, period-set project (calling for more than 70 sets) would require well-oiled, symbiotic relationships between every production department. He offers, “I have a hard time classifying this movie. It’s got action, adventure and an epic drama, along with tons of special effects. It’s very much an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of movie.”

The decision to shoot primary location work in Prague came about for a variety of reasons. Ducsay elaborates, “We shot just slightly over half of the film in Prague, using practical locations there, along with soundstage work. We were able to take advantage of situations where we needed extras, and Prague offered us a number of things we wanted: cold, gloomy weather for the exterior shots; an incredible pool of extras with the right regional look; and the existing and amazing structures that date back centuries.” Executive producer Sam Mercer adds, “We were able to take advantage of the culture and history that’s so readily available. Much of the architecture and some of the customs from 150 years ago—when our story is set—still exist here. We wanted to take our audiences into this world, and Prague provided it.”

But while some locations could fit into Sommers’ fantastical vision of 19th century Europe, a great many of the sets would have to be constructed, some on location in the Czech Republic at Prague’s Barrandov and Prague Studios and some on Southern Californian soundstages: Playa Vista Stages in Los Angeles (500,000 square-feet of former Hughes Aircraft Corporation hangars) and Downey Studios in Downey, CA (250,000 square-feet of a former NASA/Boeing facility). Perhaps most spectacular was the re-creation of an entire Transylvanian village, built in Kunratice, just outside of Prague, that harkens back to the medieval period, replete with town square, two graveyards and more than a dozen hyper-Gothic structures, including a steepled church. Ducsay comments, “The largest soundstage sets that we have are at Downey Studios—the interior of Castle Dracula’s entrance hall, along with the two towers and its bridge. Dracula’s entrance hall was built outdoors as an exterior because the set is so large, but it’s actually an interior set. We had to shoot there only at night, because the scenes involving the set don’t take place in the daytime.”

Cameras started rolling at Prague’s Barrandov Studios in January, 2003, on the constructed set of the clandestine armory, where Van Helsing receives not only his marching orders, but his arsenal and assistant, Carl. The cast and crew continued with additional soundstage work before setting down on their first location in the massive interior of a 15th century fortress roughly 90 kilometers outside of Prague in Tabor; the setting is the headquarters and armory of the Valerious family.

Two additional exterior sequences were executed—a street scene in the Kampa area of Prague, standing in for a Budapest street; and a scene set in a mausoleum of the Olsany Cemetary, doubling for the Vilkova Palace graveyard—before moving to a deconsecrated cathedral, the historic St. Nicholas Church, to film the elaborate sequence of Count Dracula’s ball inside Vilkova Palace.

Initially scouted as a reference point to acquaint filmmakers and designers with local architecture, St. Nicholas was eventually chosen as the scene for the massive ball thrown by the Count. Mercer remembers, “It started with a familiarization trip, when we brought Stephen over to show him the city and its people. St. Nicholas was an interesting example that we wanted him to see. Stephen said, ‘If Dracula threw a party—remember he’s a cool guy—where would it be?’ It turned out to be St. Nicholas.”

To convert the former house of worship into a macabre setting for Sommers’ idea of “the most amazing masquerade ball ever,” all of the pews had to be removed (working in tandem with a local heritage society) and an enormous dance floor laid over the existing rough concrete. Screens were constructed to hide the confessionals and decorate the space, and the room was further dressed with candelabras and mirrors—the statues were all left in place. Dressing the historic building proved challenging, as nothing could be fastened to any of the existing structure, prompting camera, grip and electric crews to revise their customary filming procedures. More than 1,400 low-heat, oil-burning candles were created for on-set—traditional wax candles are not allowed in the church; on the upside, this problem-solving solution also eliminated the need to monitor the continuity of the candle burn.

Even with all of the inherent challenges facing filmmakers, which included the indoor temperature hovering well-below freezing (“I’m surprised we don’t all look blue in this scene,” smiles Beckinsale), the beauty of the landmark served perfectly as the circus-type atmosphere dictated by Sommers. He comments, “If Dracula threw a ball, what would it be like? Probably really twisted and weird, with everything there—flame throwers and jugglers, wire acts and tightrope walkers.”

Preparation for the sequence involved the concentrated efforts of all departments, particularly: costumer Gabriella Pescucci, who dressed upwards of 270 performers; composer Alan Silvestri, who composed two of the scene’s musical tracks prior to shooting, utilizing a 115-piece orchestra; and Cirque du Soleil choreographer Debra Brown, who created two “very theatrical waltzing” dance sequences. Actors Beckinsale, Roxburgh and Anaya spent three weeks in dance rehearsals. Of the 250 local extras employed, 100 were some of Prague’s finest ballroom dancers, dance being a customary part of a Prague education; nine circus acts were also involved in the scene, as well as four performers from the famed Cirque du Soleil, including a contortionist, a trapeze artist and gymnasts.

Jackman comments, “The scene is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. In this amazing space are 270 people wearing costumes made by Gabriella—each one of them better than mine! The attention to detail, the masks, the pageantry, all just amazing.”

Director of photography Allen Daviau admitted to having a slight case of jitters the day before the shoot. He explains, “Normally, in a film, I’m trying to make things look big. The masked ball was so enormous, I didn’t know how I was going to capture it all.”

For costumer Pescucci, the scene was one of the best representations of the spirit of cooperation engendered by Sommers and company. She says, “I don’t like it when you see my work too much, because in the cinema, all of the jobs mix together. This is very important—everybody works, but it is one story, one director. For Van Helsing, I was very interested in blending the two lines of fantasy and truth, which combine to form the film’s reality. For instance, all of the embroidery in Anna’s costumes is from Transylvania, all done by hand.”

Even with all of the large scale preparations, the final scene had to be completed in post—building codes forbidding any fire larger than candle flame and modifying the structure in any way (e.g. drilling holes to attach wires to the walls) compelled the filmmakers to add the elements involving the fire breather and the high-wire acts through the magic of blue screen and visual effects.

Following the ball, filming continued on the Barrandov Studios backlot, where the iconic shots of Frankenstein’s Monster holding his lifeless creator were achieved…the Monster standing atop a windmill, silhouetted against the black night sky. Exterior shots of Anna and Velkan in a forest clearing were also shot on the lands of the Botanical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, which is housed in a restored 13th century chateau and surrounded by exotic gardens and wooded areas.

An intricate and pivotal set piece even more elaborate than Dracula’s ball—the Brides’ attack on the village—was next up for filmmakers. Built outside of Prague at Kunratice, the village set was comprised of 14 houses with canted roofs, 12 additional house facades, along with rooftops, a graveyard and a church; the village also serves as the place where Van Helsing first meets Anna Valerious and, later, the settlement falls victim to a harrowing attack by countless pygmy bats.

The village design began well before Christmas of 2002, with department heads, who drew inspiration from German Expressionist art and films, settling all of the logistics and details. It took a crew of around 80 craftsmen utilizing practical materials10 weeks to build the set, which covered approximately 6,500 square meters. The resulting hamlet is, according to Jackman, “slightly off-center…something not quite right, not quite real, just enough of a slant.” Ducsay feels the village design provides “a very nice realism in an otherwise hyper-real environment.”

To enable filmmakers to incorporate the specially created Brides—a unique blend of live-action and motion-capture filming, completed with digital effects—into the attack scenes, an intricate Cablecam system was built high above the set, with wires stretched from 10 feet above ground to more than several hundred feet in the air. This system allowed a rigged camera to rocket and whip at high speeds over the set, with the cameras providing the Brides’ points-of-view as they swoop over the village, terrorizing its inhabitants.

Ducsay explains, “We thought it was very important to have the viewpoint of the Brides, so the Cablecam got used a great deal in the sequence. It couldn’t be about a camera on a miniature model set. It’s a very elaborate sequence—the Brides create a lot of destruction. There are an enormous number of physical effects, because they fly through some of the buildings. We also used about 300 extras. One of the Brides reaches for Van Helsing and picks up a cow by mistake and throws the poor animal up into the second floor. But be assured that cow was made of pixels, not beef.”

The camera supports were not the only rigging strung over the village. Wires for use in the choreographed wireworks sequences were also present above cast and crewmembers’ heads. Numerous stunts were also incorporated into the scene, including Jackman and Beckinsale flying 50 feet in the air.

One of the proudest moments for stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell was “seeing #1 and #2—Hugh and Kate—on the call sheet, doing their own stunts suspended high in the air.” He continues, “We had scenes with 10 or 15 guys flying in one shot, getting picked up and flung into buildings by the pygmy bats. On the set, we see the people flying along with special effects blowing things off of railings and knocking over carts—so that when the bat is dropped in, you’ll see it pick up the person while its wings turn over a cart. It’s a combined effort between the special effects, the digital effects and the actors. Allen [Daviau] painted a beautiful picture full of layers, even dropping in shadows for the creatures flying by.”

“Hugh and I had a great deal of fun, dangling in the air together,” comments Kate Beckinsale. “He’s so irrepressibly good-natured. It was like we got to play together in this enormous playground…not every grownup gets to do that for a job.”

To achieve the detailed flights of the Brides, Sommers had Anaya, Colloca and Maran in studio filming in harnesses before a blue screen for two weeks and says, “We were whipping them around the soundstage, 16 to 18 feet in the air, being spun and thrown and catapulted, all the while blasting air at them to keep their hair flying all around. They were such troupers.”

One unexpected development further complicated the already complex shoot— sunny skies. The cast and crew were blessed/cursed with unseasonably high amounts of sunshine, uncharacteristic for Prague in February. The called-for gray skies and roiling clouds rarely made their calltime during the three week shooting period, and production scheduled and re-scheduled in hopes of a climatic downturn…to no avail. In the end, many of the mean skies in the attack sequences would have to be supplied by the digital cousin of Mother Nature. Despite the sunny weather, however, the temperature continued to hover around 0° Celsius—freezing, thawing and then re-freezing the muddy ground.

Following the three weeks of village filming, actors and crews returned to civilization, shooting in areas of Prague that would serve as a Paris street and an exterior shot of Valerious Manor. Additional forest shooting of more of the scene involving Anna, Velkan and the werewolf attack took place in Alkazar—a secluded area requiring the cast and crew to travel to set in four-wheel-drive, off-road vehicles. During soundstage lensing of a post-ballroom sequence in the constructed set of the waterlogged catacombs (with Jackman, Beckinsale and Wenham all sporting wetsuits beneath their wardrobe, along with the director in shoulder-high waders), a surprised Sommers was serenaded by his cast and crew, who remembered his birthday.

Of Pescucci’s work, Beckinsale says, “The costumes were just fantastic, not necessarily entirely practical, however. I had to do a lot of running around in high spindly heels and corsets, as well as swim in a massive ball gown. I’ve come to think that if a woman gets through an action movie, she’s much tougher than the boys, because they tend to get to wear sneakers and pants!”

The final Prague shooting took place on the backlot of Barrandov Studios, with Van Helsing and Anna tracking The Wolf Man to just outside of Castle Frankenstein. All the while that Sommers, Daviau, cast and crew were involved in first unit shooting, the second unit crew and its director, Greg Michael, were working in tandem with the main unit—often with Sommers and/or cast members switching back and forth between units. Michael adds, “I have a running joke with Steve: if it’s dangerous, difficult or boring—meaning time-consuming or highly-technical, which would exhaust the patience or resources of the main unit—that’s what I do. Second unit production schedule for Van Helsing was challenging to say the least… nearly 95 days [principal photography ran 109 days] utilizing a crew of over 150.”

Working in conjunction with Sommers, Michael and his crew were responsible for such key sequences as the villagers storming Castle Frankenstein (Pernstejn Castle, located on the eastern edge of Bohemia in the Moravian highlands), the local denizens watching Van Helsing and Mr. Hyde from the plaza below Notre Dame Cathedral (shot in Prague’s Old Town Square), as well as much of the breathless coach sequence.

One of the action set pieces in Sommers’ script called for Van Helsing to be suddenly thrown from the driver’s seat of a coach, landing between two of the six horses that are pulling the now out of control coach at full gallop…and Hugh Jackman would be executing the stunt.

Michael observes, “Any time you have an actor near an animal, it’s dangerous. You’re putting him in the context of an unknown—animals can become uncontrollable. And we have Hugh dangling precariously between the bodies of two horses. We obviously took every precaution. [Stunt coordinator] R.A. walked up to me and said, ‘Boy, if we do this, it’ll be one of the first times in film history where you’ve ever put a lead actor in this situation.’”

“There were six trained horses and a carriage,” recalls Jackman, “and I’m actually lying on a sheet of metal, like a big dinner tray, supporting my back with my legs dragging on the ground. As I’m holding on, I look down and I realize that there’s about a foot between the metal bar of the carriage and the ground. Slip here, and I’m dead. Plus I’m in between two galloping horses, who could decide to go different directions for all I know. I’m on the third take and I get a little freaked, and the stunt guy comes up to me and says, ‘I can’t believe you just did that. I’ve never seen any actor do anything like that.’ And I’m like, ‘What!?’ Ignorance was definitely bliss that day.”

Location And Effects
Principal photography relocated to the soundstages of Los Angeles’ Playa Vista Stages in April to film perhaps one of the most iconic scenes in film history—inside Frankenstein’s laboratory, with the Doctor declaring to the world, “It’s ALIVE!” For the scene, production designer Cameron paid tribute to the classic film, filling the lab with the familiar shapes of Frankenstein’s equipment while making the instruments more complex than their 1930s’ predecessors.

In addition to the practical Frankenstein laboratory set, Playa Vista housed Castle Frankenstein’s foyer, balcony and skylight, along with Castle Dracula’s lab, antidote room, coffin room and skylight.

Richard Roxburgh next got a taste of the wireworks with which his Brides were already quite familiar while filming the sequence inside Castle Dracula’s coffin room, where Dracula rises from his burial chamber and walks straight up the wall to join his Brides.

Sommers quips, “My problem is that I try to make every scene more complicated. In the script, I have Dracula walk up, hug his Brides and console them. On set, I think, ‘Well, that’s boring. What if they’re hanging upside down?’ I sometimes make my life miserable when I do stuff like that. And so you have to really hang them because of gravity—you can’t fake it.”

Stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell comments, “Some filmmakers would do that with visual effects or an upside-down set. We did it for real. Richard walks up a pillar, up about 30 feet, and then on the ceiling—it was all done practically. We worked extensively with Richard, Elena, Silvia and Josie to get them fluent and comfortable executing some fairly difficult moves, like diving off of a balcony. They got so good at doing the wireworks—they’d jump off and fly down, then land and walk away like it was nothing.”

Roxburgh relates, “Apart from the pressure headaches, I would get a real buzz out of hanging upside down and walking across the ceiling. I loved it.”

Further filming at the Playa Stages involved scenes played out on the sets for the foyer and the skylight of Castle Frankenstein, as well as in a tower room of Castle Dracula dubbed the “antidote” room. Then, in mid-May, filming began on the massive set of Castle Dracula entrance hall, built at Downey Studios.

As conceived by Cameron and Sommers (and based on early conceptual drawings of illustrator Deak Ferrand), the gargantuan set of Dracula’s entrance hall was only of fraction of what would eventually appear (enlarged through visual effects) onscreen.

“As Dracula’s lair almost goes into a parallel universe, I was trying to create a unique architectural look,” explains Cameron. “It derives a lot of elements from Hindu architecture, and from the architect Goudi. Castle Dracula was more of a challenge, because it’s trying to come up with a look you haven’t seen before. I wanted the castle icy, cold and violent.”

The same magic visual extension would occur on the next set, that of the tower bridge, which connects the antidote tower with the laboratory. While the actual set consisted of approximately 200 feet of bridge and one tower, the filmic image would extend the set well beyond its practical boundaries.

From Transylvania to Paris—next stop, the belfry tower of Notre Dame for Van Helsing’s encounter with the full CGI character of Mr. Hyde, high above the streets of Paris. Because of the complexity of the scene, which would combine live-action, a computer-generated character, and a practical set with visual and special effects, ‘pre-vis’ (3D animated storyboards) were created for the more than 70 shots called for in the sequence. The use of a CG character provided the filmmakers with a great deal more flexibility in the types of action that could be executed in the scene.

Once additional shooting was completed back at Playa Vista Stages—scenes played against the sets for Castle Dracula’s skylight and laboratory—production wrapped principal photography after 109 days of shooting, on the first day of July.

Well before the beginning of principal photography, many departments were involved in a heavy period of pre-production “R&D,” some of it falling to the visual effects teams and the artists at ILM, Captive Audience and Illusion Arts, charged with creating digital environments, transformations, creatures and effects that would extend the work and world produced by their practical counterparts, equally busy with their own pre-production schedules.

Production designer Allan Cameron points out, “We had to incorporate digital environments to extend the scale of the practical ones, as well as to accommodate some of the visual effects that were going on. On one of the soundstages, for instance, we built a 200-foot section of a bridge that, when completed on film, would be more than 1,000 feet long. To build something that large would have been practically and financially impossible.”

Production can indeed build a bridge—but what about a Wolf Man? Led by Van Helsing visual effects producer Jennifer Bell (who collaborated on both The Mummy and its sequel) and associate visual effects producer Joe Grossberg, ILM’s multiple Academy Award®-nominated Scott Squires (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace) and Ben Snow (Pearl Harbor, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones) were the ILM visual effects supervisors responsible for creating all of the 3D creatures populating Van Helsing. Early conceptual creature drawings were executed by noted illustrators Crash McCreery and Patrick Tatopoulos.

CGI would be responsible for the final Wolf Man, but with a cooperative effort from the CG artists, actor Kemp was incorporated into the transformation (for as long of the transition as possible), resulting in a seamless morphing from man to beast. Kemp traveled to ILM, where his body was scanned and placed into effects artists’ computers. “They can move me, turn me, blow me up, shrink me, make me do this amazing stuff. But I tried to convince them to let me change as much as I can before the computerized ‘me’ takes over,” he notes with a smile.

Perhaps one of the most inventive marriages of CGI and practical effects results in the vampiric Brides while in flight. Ducsay says, “Some of the things that have to be done with a creature would be too dangerous or difficult for an actor…or just downright impossible. The Brides are a great example of combining CGI with reality. They’re executed by melding digital bodies, which have been fashioned after the actresses’ movements, onto the actresses heads in makeup—this gives us an ‘organic’ creature. We wanted a combination whereby the actors’ performances provide a level of realism you couldn’t otherwise achieve, but the fantastical elements are sheer computer creation.”

Sommers was adamant about maintaining the actresses’ faces and expressions within the final, hellish creatures as they fly directly at the camera. To accomplish this, production would shoot the scene (minus the Brides) with ILM blocking out the area where the final Brides would be. The actresses, dressed in motion-capture suits and special effects makeup from the neck up, would then film their parts against a blue screen; both live-action filming of their faces and motion-capture filming of their body movements would be executed simultaneously. Ultimately computer-generated bodies would be created, fashioned on the actresses’ movements caught during motion-capture filming, and “attached” to the live-action footage of their heads. The resulting shot blended the worlds of live-action, motion-capture and computer-generated imagery, marrying the nuance of human-generated facial expressions and body movements with the other-worldly, flying “vampire” bodies.

To facilitate this process Sommers, Ducsay and ILM designers would sit down to scheduled bi-weekly “transmissions”—video conferences between ILM and the Sommers Company—to discuss the visual effects shots within a cut of the film, sometimes with Sommers using a Barbie doll to illustrate a desired movement for a Bride in flight. Also indicative of Sommers’ approach to re-interpreting the mythology of the legendary filmic creatures is the creation of Dracula’s ultimate form…The Hellbeast, a gigantic, winged demon fully deserving of its name. The filmmaker muses, “In the old movies, Dracula turns into a bat, but I’m not afraid of bats. So I had a thought…what if our bat had a 15-foot wingspan? Now, that’d be different.” The fully-realized CG creation owes it look to a variety of design influences—ancient images not only of bats, but also winged ghouls, harpies and gargoyles.

Sommers and Ducsay worked closely with all of the designers on all aspects of the monsters’ (re-)creation. Ducsay explains, “It was a matter of being somewhat reverential to the original characters, but at the same time, being open to doing something new. Our Hellbeast is radically different from anyone’s concept of the creature. The Wolf Man designs are quite different from the Universal versions, because he is more wolf than man. With Frankenstein’s Monster, there are departures from his classic look, but we wanted to keep the feeling of the original.”

Van Helsing’s resulting Frankenstein’s Monster is truly a collective effort—early prototype sketches began with the filmmakers working on concepts with illustrators McCreery and Tatopoulos, as well as special makeup effects house Captive Audience and ILM. Once the Monster’s look was cemented, his makeup was executed by Captive Audience (special makeup effects consultant Greg Cannom, makeup effects producer Keith VanderLaan and special effects makeup supervisor Brian Sipe), the company also responsible for the special effects makeup for the Brides, Dracula and Velkan that aided in transforming them into the CG-assisted creatures (The Brides) or fully-realized CG monsters (The Hellbeast and The Wolf Man).

Shuler Hensley’s eventual makeup transformation into the Doctor’s creation took about four hours to complete (the same for O’Connor’s into Frankenstein’s/Dracula’s assistant, Igor). Hensley was enrobed in a zippered, silicon rubber body suit (three “hero” suits were created) with leg extensions, which raised the already tall actor to a standing height of about seven-foot-two; the extensions themselves utilized metal feet encased in shoes and were designed by a craftsman who builds artificial limbs for amputees. The facial makeup was comprised of nine separate molded prosthetics pieces plus a “skull” piece that allowed the actor’s own facial features to be incorporated into the Monster’s head. In addition to the Monster’s, Captive Audience also designed and completed all of the film’s extensive prosthetic makeup, including Igor’s and The Brides’.

“What was important to us was that the actor was never lost in the makeup,” summarizes Ducsay.

Sommers hopes to impress his respect for the classic Universal monster movies upon his audiences, paying homage to the films while taking the characters (and moviegoers) in new, revelatory directions. He closes, “What I like to do with my movies is transport audiences to new places they’ve never seen or imagined…and that’s what the Universal horror movies did for me. That’s what draws me to them again and again, and why I wanted to take their characters and combine them into something new. Every time I re-watch them, I see something I haven’t seen before. I hope audiences for Van Helsing have that kind of a great time.”

HUGH JACKMAN (Van Helsing) recently starred as Wolverine in last summer’s international blockbuster X2: X-Men United, starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Halle Berry and directed by Bryan Singer. His first major U.S. film appearance in the original X-Men was followed by leading roles in such features as Someone Like You (opposite Ashley Judd and Greg Kinnear) and Swordfish (starring opposite John Travolta and Halle Berry). Jackman received a 2002 Golden Globe nomination for his role in Kate & Leopold, starring with Meg Ryan.

Jackman’s career began in Australia with leading roles in the independent films Paperback Hero and Erskineville Kings, for which he received a Best Actor award from the Australian Film Critics Circle and a Best Actor nomination from the Australian Film Institute. In 1999, he was named “Australian Star of the Year” at the Australian Movie Convention. Jackman’s additional credits include the hit Australian television series Corelli and Halifax f.p.

Onstage, Jackman is currently starring on Broadway in the hit musical The Boy from Oz, about the life and songs of singer/songwriter and fellow Australian Peter Allen. Previously, Jackman played Curly in Trevor Nunn’s revival of Oklahoma! at Britain’s National Theatre (which was also broadcast on PBS’ Great Performances); his performance earned him an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. The production also received an International Emmy Award in the Performing Arts category.

Prior to The Boy from Oz, his most recent New York stage appearance was in a concert production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, opposite Audra McDonald at Carnegie Hall.

Jackman received the MO Award (Australia’s Tony Award) for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in Sunset Boulevard and a MO Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast.

With her irresistible charm, England’s KATE BECKINSALE (Anna Valerious) has captured the attention of audiences and critics on both sides of the Atlantic.

In a challenging role that broke from all previous characters that Beckinsale has portrayed, she was most recently seen starring in Underworld. The film, directed by Len Wiseman, tells a modern tale of deadly action and forbidden love between a beautiful aristocratic vampire, Selene, portrayed by Beckinsale, and her mortal enemy, a werewolf who is also the member of shrewd gang of street thugs, played by Scott Speedman.

Beckinsale was also recently seen in the ensemble drama Laurel Canyon for Sony Pictures Classics. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, the film also stars Frances McDormand, Christian Bale and Allesandro Nivola. Beckinsale portrays Bale’s fiancé who returns with him to Los Angeles and becomes seduced by his free-spirited mother’s lifestyle and by her lover, a British rocker (Nivola).

Beckinsale starred in Peter Chelsom’s Serendipity for Miramax Films. Beckinsale and John Cusack portray two strangers who meet and fall in love one night. Ten years later, when each is on the verge of marriage to someone else, they become convinced that they are soul mates and they embark on a race against time to find each other again.

Upcoming, Beckinsale will be seen portraying Ava Gardner opposite Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes in the Martin Scorsese-directed screen biography The Aviator. She will also be seen starring in the independent film Tiptoes, opposite Matthew McConaughey and Gary Oldman. Beckinsale portrays a young woman who finds out she is pregnant, but becomes concerned when she learns her boyfriend (McConaughey) comes from a long line of little people.

In 2001, Beckinsale was seen in the action epic Pearl Harbor. Directed by Michael Bay and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Beckinsale co-starred with Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Tom Sizemore. Affleck and Hartnett portrayed Navy pilots and best friends who fall in love with a Navy nurse played by Beckinsale.

Beckinsale also appeared in the critically acclaimed film The Golden Bowl for Lions Gate Films. A Merchant Ivory production set in 1903, Beckinsale starred as Maggie, the daughter of Adam Verver (played by Nick Nolte) and the wife of Prince Amerigo (Jeremy Northam). The film also starred Uma Thurman as Charlotte Stant, Verver’s wife and Americgo’s former lover. As father and daughter and the two former lovers become entwined into one family, old passions and new suspicions ignite.

Beckinsale previously co-starred with Claire Danes and Bill Pullman in the Jonathan Kaplan directed drama Brokedown Palace for Fox in 2000. She also appeared with Chloë Sevigny, Chris Eigeman, Jennifer Beals and Robert Sean Leonard in Whit Stillman’s early ‘80s ensemble drama, The Last Days of Disco, and in the British comedy Shooting Fish, written and directed by Stefan Schwartz and starring opposite Stuart Townsend and Dan Futterman.

Beckinsale played the title role of A&E’s Emma from the same producer of their critically acclaimed production of Pride and Prejudice. Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence, the film featured an all-star British cast, including Mark Strong, Samantha Morton, Prunella Scales, Samantha Bond, Olivia Williams and James Hazeldine.

Beckinsale first gained notice in the United States as the fiery, take-charge heroine Flora Poste in John Schlesinger’s sleeper hit Cold Comfort Farm. Adapted from Stella Gibbons’ wily satirical novel, Cold Comfort Farm tells the story of the young Miss Poste (Beckinsale), who, upon finding herself in dire financial straits, decides to move to Cold Comfort Farm to live with her off-beat band of cousins, the Starkadders. Upon her arrival, Flora begins to slowly transform the lives of each of the downtrodden residents in her adopted community and, in the process, learns some important lessons about herself. The film, which was originally televised on the BBC, also starred Joanna Lumley, Sir Ian McKellen, Eileen Atkins and Rufus Sewell.

Her U.S. debut was in Kenneth Branagh’s critically acclaimed film, Much Ado About Nothing, with Emma Thompson, Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington. Beckinsale portrayed the lovely and naïve Hero, who is swept off her feet by the dashing Count Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard), only to have her heart broken by a tangled web of deceit and trickery.

Additional film credits include Haunted, opposite Aidan Quinn; Uncovered; Manuel Fleche’s Mary Louise; and The Prince of Jutland, from director Gabriel Axel. Beckinsale’s roles for television have included the Hallmark telefilm One Against the Wind and the series Anna Lee and Rachel’s Dream.

On the stage, she has appeared in Clocks and Whistles, Sweetheart and in the British national touring production of The Seagull.

STEPHEN SOMMERS (Director / Writer / Producer) reinvigorated an entire genre with the release of his blockbuster Universal films The Mummy and its sequel, The Mummy Returns.

The Mummy, an action-adventure thrill ride starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, was a smash hit. Its sequel, The Mummy Returns, also written and directed by Sommers, did record-breaking business its opening weekend, grossing $68.1 million domestically and later became the first film of 2001 to cross the $200 million milestone overseas. The worldwide box office tally for The Mummy Returns has now reached $429 million.

Not to be outdone, the DVD release of The Mummy Returns registered the biggest first week in DVD history with consumers purchasing more than two million units of a record-breaking initial 4.5 million unit shipment. Combined DVD and VHS sales of The Mummy Returns have racked up more consumer sales in the first week than any other title since Toy Story 2, and DVD sales bested the biggest DVD of all time: Gladiator. In addition to Universal’s The Mummy series, Sommers was also a writer and producer on The Scorpion King, starring WWF superstar The Rock. The Scorpion King opened at the top of the box office in April, 2001, taking in $36.1 million at the domestic box office and to date has grossed $151 million worldwide. In the wake of the phenomenal success of these films, Universal Pictures signed Sommers in 2002 to a multi-year deal to write, produce and direct films for the studio.

Sommers is also set to expand the world he created in Van Helsing with the dramatic fantasy television series Trannsylvania for Universal Pictures / Universal Networks Television / NBC. Sommers will executive-produce (along with partner Bob Ducsay) and will write the initial episodes for Trannsylvania, which is inspired by the film and will introduce new characters, storylines, conflicts and creatures.

Earlier films written and directed by Sommers include The Adventures of Huck Finn, starring Elijah Wood, Jason Robards and Robbie Coltrane; The Jungle Book, with Jason Scott Lee, Cary Elwes, Sam Neill and John Cleese; and Deep Rising, starring Treat Williams and Famke Janssen. Sommers wrote and executive-produced Tom and Huck, with Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Brad Renfro.

Sommers attended St. Johns University and The University of Seville in Spain and earned a masters degree from the U.S.C. School of Cinema-Television. Sommers resides in Los Angeles with his wife and their two daughters.

BOB DUCSAY (Producer / Editor) has collaborated with writer-director Stephen Sommers on The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, Deep Rising, The Jungle Book and The Adventures of Huck Finn. In November of 2001, Sommers and Ducsay teamed to form The Sommers Company with a three-year deal at Universal Pictures. Universal’s release of Van Helsing marks their first film under the new banner. Ducsay serves as both producer and editor on the film.

Sommers and Ducsay recently expanded into television, developing the Van Helsing inspired drama series, Transylvania, for NBC. Ducsay will serve as executive producer along with Sommers on the project.

Ducsay’s editing credits include The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, which he also executive-produced. He edited The Adventures of Huck Finn, The Jungle Book, Deep Rising, Impostor, Star Kid and Love and a .45. Ducsay recently executive-produced the Academy Award®-winning short film Two Soldiers. He holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television.

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