LINKS
2012-10-03 / Family

Midlothian filmmaker sinks teeth into ‘Vampires’ project

By Jim McConnell
STAFF WRITER


Midlothian resident Kahil Dotay (left) and veteran actor Tim Russ have teamed up to make "Vampires in Virginia," a feature-length film that will be filmed in Chesterfield County. Midlothian resident Kahil Dotay (left) and veteran actor Tim Russ have teamed up to make "Vampires in Virginia," a feature-length film that will be filmed in Chesterfield County. At some point over the next few months, Midlothian resident Kahil Dotay plans to turn Chesterfield County into a modern-day Transylvania.

Dotay, an actor and filmmaker whose recent screen credits include roles in Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” and Steven Spielberg’s upcoming “Lincoln,” has a script, director and funding in place for his newest project, a feature-length film titled “Vampires in Virginia.”

In Chesterfield, Dotay believes he also has an ideal location for shooting a movie on a tight budget.

“I know we can make a Hollywood-quality film here for a lot less money,” Dotay said. “There are some pretty cool locations, like the Mid-Lothian Mines Park ruins, that with the right lighting can be pretty scary.”

This won’t be the first movie Dotay makes in the area. He shot a short film in Midlothian – one of the locations was Capital Ale House, which was converted into a Las Vegas-style buffet restaurant – and completed the entire project for $6,500.

Dotay estimated that the same film would’ve cost $70,000 to make in Los Angeles, mostly because filmmakers there have to pay a $2,000 to $3,000 daily fee to the owners of any location where they shoot even one scene.

“People here are like, ‘Sure, I’d love to see my business in a movie,’” Dotay said. “They just want you to mention its name so maybe they can get some new customers out of it.”

Shooting the movie in the Richmond metro area also makes it possible for Dotay to tap into his list of contacts in what he described as “a pretty tight-knit film community” on the East Coast.

It’s a group of people – writers, actors, camera operators, sound and lighting specialists – with complementary skills and equipment. They come together to complete a variety of artistic projects and don‘t ask for much in return beyond gas money and a few decent meals.

Depending on each person’s availability, Dotay’s crew for “Vampires in Virginia” will hail mostly from the Richmond area. Others will come from as close as Charlottesville or as far as Philadelphia.

“It’s not a quid pro quo arrangement,” Dotay said. “We’re all just helping each other any way we can.”

As it happened, finding people capable of putting together a quality film was the easy part. Lining up funding for the project was another story.

Dotay invested $10,000 of his own money and picked up another $10,000 from a producer friend in Baltimore, but that still left him only halfway to the $40,000 he needs to make the vampire movie he envisions.

Dotay launched a fundraising campaign on kickstarter.com, a site that streamlines the process by which people can invest in a variety of creative projects. With his contacts in the movie business, Dotay figured he’d hit his goal of $10,000 in no time.

Three weeks later, he had raised just $773.

According to kickstarter.com’s regulations, you must hit your target fundraising goal by your stated deadline in order to collect any of the money pledged. Miss it by even a dollar and you get nothing. You can’t use your own money to make up the difference, either; the site has systems in place to keep participants from trying to skirt the rules.

Just 72 hours before his Aug. 31 deadline, Dotay still didn’t even have $1,000.

His project was looking like a bust. Then something unexpected happened.

A late flurry of donations swelled Dotay’s account and pushed him to the brink of reaching his goal. With less than five minutes left, several supporters increased the amount of their donations and he hit his goal with $33 to spare.

Combined with $10,000 in matching funds Dotay had lined up from an investor in California, he had $40,000 and was ready to move forward with the film.

“It was cool how people rallied around it at the last minute and wanted to see this happen,” Dotay said. “I think this is a really good project.”

So does Tim Russ, a California-based actor and musician best known for portraying Commander Tuvok on “Star Trek: Voyager.”

Dotay and Russ had become friendly when they worked on the same film in 2010. The men frequently discussed getting together again, so Dotay sent Russ a copy of the “Vampires in Virginia” script and waited for his feedback.

When he didn’t hear anything for six weeks, Dotay figured Russ wasn’t interested.

Russ, who had been busy on another project, finally got in touch and said he loved the script. There was only one catch.

“I want to direct,” Russ said.

Dotay was initially hesitant. He wanted Russ to star in the movie as an actor, but hadn’t envisioned him working behind the camera. But Dotay was impressed by several projects Russ had directed and Russ sealed the deal by agreeing to defer his salary; in low-budget films, nobody gets paid unless it makes money.

During multiple conversations over several months, as Dotay and Russ exchanged ideas about the script and found a lot of common ground, Dotay grew increasingly confident that Russ could deliver a quality film.

“There’s a certain amount of control you give up when you bring in somebody else as director,” Dotay acknowledged. “You have to trust that he’s going to have a vision, too. You have to let him direct.”

Dotay still has more than enough on his plate. As producer, he has to devise a shooting schedule that most efficiently utilizes the $150,000 in equipment he’s lined up from his fellow East Coast filmmaker friends. He’s also been busy talking to local restaurant and business owners, trying to convince them to make in-kind donations of food or other products to help him feed his crew.

“When you ask someone who’s used to getting $1,000 a day to work on a deferred salary, you have to feed him well,” Dotay said with a laugh. “These are people who work on major projects. We don’t want to come across as Podunk filmmakers; we want to represent the Richmond area well.”

Dotay said that cold-calling businesses is the most difficult part of the entire process, but necessary for anyone trying to make a $300,000 film on a $40,000 budget.

And one way or another, he’s determined to make a vampire movie in Chesterfield County.

“There are a lot of people who have great ideas that never really get off the ground for whatever reason,” Dotay said. “I have a good reputation that when I say I’m going to do something, I do it. That means a lot.”

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