Dead & Beautiful interview with director David Verbeek

Yen Tsao as Alexander - Dead & Beautiful - Photo Credit: Jesse Hsu/Shudder
Yen Tsao as Alexander - Dead & Beautiful - Photo Credit: Jesse Hsu/Shudder /

Dead & Beautiful is Shudder’s latest original film. It follows a group of wealthy young, spoiled adults who turn into vampires after a night out in the town, changing the course of their lives forever.

1428 Elm spoke with director David Verbeek about how he went about casting the movie, what he hopes audiences take away from it, where he came up with the idea, and much more.

Dead & Beautiful interview with director David Verbeek

Dead & Beautiful
Anna Marchenko as Anastasia, Aviis Zhong as Lulu, Philip Juan as Bin-Ray, Gijs Blom as Mason, Yen Tsao as Alexander – Dead & Beautiful – Photo Credit: Shudder /

1428 ELM: Can you tell me where the idea for Dead & Beautiful came from?

DAVID VERBEEK: It all started a long time ago when I was living in Shanghai about ten years ago. Around that time, what was in the news a lot in China and very much in the public eye was the “Fuerdai,” the second-generation rich. They were quite a phenomenon because you could see them in the nightlife, in the clubs. You started to see around that time more and more Lamborghinis and Ferraris on the streets.

Many times they’d get into the news because, for example, there would be things like illegal car races on the outskirts of the city, and sometimes people would get hurt, like villagers and bystanders that would get in a hit and run by expensive sportscars.

So that generation started to get a bad rep at that time. Seeing them myself sometimes in the nightlife and hearing those kinds of reports, I just had the idea to do something about them as a generation.

Since in the Chinese language vampires, jiangshi, very rich people are  sometimes referred to as jiangshi or “blood-sucking ghost” or “bloodsuckers.” So at some point, I thought, what would it be like to make a film where this very particular generation of Chinese youngsters literally turns into vampires.

That was the original idea, but because of the Chinese censorship, you can’t do any tales of superstition, including ghost stories or undead or vampires or zombie stories. It’s all not possible. I had to find a creative way to find a way around making a film where it suggests these things are real.

That’s really what inspired me to make the plot the way it is right now, that is really just a game that the super-rich, elitist circle of youngsters play with each other to entertain themselves.

Dead & Beautiful
Yen Tsao as Alexander, Aviis Zhong as Lulu – Dead & Beautiful – Photo Credit: Shudder /

1428 ELM: Dead & Beautiful is filmed in a way that makes it look glossy and expensive. How did you decide the way you wanted the film to look on camera?

DAVID: We ended up shooting the film in Taiwan which is also where I still live right now. I’ve shot several films in China and a few in Taiwan afterward, as well. One of the reasons I was in Taiwan more and more is because it’s basically free China. There aren’t censorship limitations here. I took a lot of my inspiration from mainland China, but we had to get pretty creative to film the same kind of luxury and grandness here as you would expect in mainland China.

There is a wealthy generation of Taiwanese. There is just a cultural difference. They don’t like to exhibit their wealth in the same bombastic way. People here who have insane amounts of money, you wouldn’t suspect it at all. They dress very casually and drive very normal cars. So we really had to go look for those kinds of things here. It wasn’t very easy.

For example, if we wanted to find a villa, the most exquisite villas here were nice places, but they’re not that grand. I think that kind of contributed to the look of the film because finally what we did was we just decided to go over the top. Like we won’t actually find a villa at all for the main characters residences, we’ll actually find an exhibition hall where they hold public events where no one lives, but we’ll just set design it as if someone lives there.

Same with the airport. The airport here wasn’t that modern, and I really wanted to have that Chinese feeling of a hyper-modern airport which the government put hundreds of billions of dollars into. We could only achieve that by finding another piece of architecture and making it look like an airport. So actually the airport in the film right now is something we dressed as an airport in post-production, but it’s an opera house. It’s one of the most prestigious in the south of Taiwan.

The things that we were looking for weren’t necessarily here, the same as in the restaurant, that building wasn’t really like that, we just green-screened it. We had to be creative to create that sense of luxury, and in doing so, it became maybe even bigger because it was all fake. Another thing is that I, myself as a director, have a very distant style. I use very wide lenses, and they were creating an alienating feeling from the audience.

The cameraman I worked with for this project is very intimate actually. He likes to use close shots to be close to the characters, lots of handhelds to create the feeling that you’re in there with the protagonist. So we combined our styles for this film and used very good anamorphic lenses to have that wide feeling and a narrow depth of field but to be very close with the characters as well. But there are also very wide shots to blow up the world that it all takes place in.

Dead & Beautiful
Gijs Blom as Mason, Yen Tsao as Alexander – Dead & Beautiful – Photo Credit: Shudder /

1428 ELM: Part of the appeal of Dead & Beautiful is the strong chemistry between the actors. What was the experience like on set with them?

DAVID: One of the things that was a very big challenge was to cast this group in a way that the chemistry would come from a real place. The strategy that I had toward that was to cast people that were somewhat in real life in a similar position sociologically that they would be in the group.

So, for example, the character for Bin-Ray, he as an actor himself, is very new. He hasn’t been in any big film. He’s only done a couple of shorts. And in the story, his character is also the most newly rich. His family acquired their wealth only several years ago. It’s all new to him, so he’s kind of the new kid on the block, and he tries to be funny and goofy and do things a little over the top to get the attention of the others. He, as an actor, was in a similar position as his character in the film.

Likewise, with Gijs [Blom, who plays Mason] who comes in from abroad, he’s supposed to be this very cool and confident guy, and everything is going his way and also him as an actor because Blom is very moment becoming a celebrity. He’s in the Netflix number one Forgotten Battle, he was in a Letter for the King also on Netflix. He was kind of getting there as an actor, so same there.

And then Lulu and Alexander, those two protagonists, had real chemistry in real life that was just starting as we started shooting. But then again, Alex is actually the one who loses the girl and not actually starts a relationship with her. So I would say a lot of the chemistry in the group came from casting it so that the group dynamic would really feel that way and then just managing it.

It was quite hard also to have the film be an English-language film because there’s not a lot of people that natively speak English so that does go together with a lot of language coaching and even additional dialogue recording in post to re-record some of the lines that didn’t come out right. It was a lot of work, but fundamentally I believe the chemistry worked because the casting was done well and appropriately.

1428 ELM: What do you want audiences to take away from Dead & Beautiful?

DAVID: What is important is that essentially a vampire story is always a love story, but in this film, I want the audience to think about, if you were to re-envision the vampire identity right now in almost 2022, what would it be now? The classical vampire is someone isolated in a castle in Transylvania, and everyone is afraid of him, and he has this old wealth.

There have been so many reincarnations of that over the last few decades and so many versions within the vampire genre. I wanted to do something very contemporary with it. Okay, so who are, right now, who are the generation that at this very moment have this kind of powerful status but at the same time also are struggling with love issues because that’s also always what the Dracula thing is, a romantic thing.

What we witness in this film is even though for a group of people that have more money than they know what to do with, that doesn’t at all make their love life more simple or doesn’t make it easier for them to have a simpler, balanced life. Quite on the contrary actually, because they live in this economy where they are so wealthy that material wealth doesn’t matter to them anymore. They live all the more in an experience economy. In this experience economy, they constantly want to experience something more exciting. I think that speaks to all of us.

You don’t have to be super-wealthy to have these kicks that we’re all more and more living in an experience economy. We’re all triggered by the attention on Facebook, Instagram. Almost everyone at some point in their life is using Tinder to date around and have several different experiences instead of the way it used to be, which was much slower. I think the main point of this film is the experience economy, and that is only heightened by this super wealth, but it’s something we can all relate to.

1428 ELM: What is your reaction to the fact that this movie will now be released on Shudder and reach a new audience?

DAVID: It’s very exciting because before this I did a lot of arthouse films and they weren’t released on big platforms like Netflix or anything like that. Having done this film, I’m just really excited to see how audiences will like it and that way more people will see it. The film still had its theatrical release in the Netherlands, and it’s also coming out in December here in Taiwan.

It will come out in South Korea and Turkey as well. A few countries will have their theatrical release, but I feel like so much has changed over the last few years, especially now with the pandemic that it’s like, what is really the most important thing for your film now? Is it festivals? Release? Theatrical release in a couple of countries or even all the countries? Or is really the most important thing, what really shapes our collective consciousness nowadays, is what is streaming.

And Shudder being a platform for thrillers and horrors, I think is quite interesting for this film because so far, the feedback from more genre-oriented festivals and audiences has been very positive for this film precisely because it’s a different take on the genre that makes this film nice for a genre audience.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Dead & Beautiful is now streaming exclusively on Shudder in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia and New Zealand.