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CBS uncloaks 'Vampire Bats'

Gannett News Service

14 October 2005


Lucy Lawless Vampire Bats"Vampire Bats" seems cozily distant from the harshness of realism and real life.

"It's good fun," says Lucy Lawless, who stars in the CBS movie on Halloween eve. "Not everything has to be deep and meaningful."

Except that sometimes, real life finds you. A week before filming ended, the cast and crew had to flee from Hurricane Katrina.

"I had bought, at considerable expense, hurricane insurance," says producer Frank von Zerneck.

He needed it. The filming concluded in Nova Scotia, 1,600 miles from where it started. Chances are, viewers won't notice that. They'll just see the latest attempt at loose, popcorn fun.

"CBS had been doing fairly traditional, mainstream films," von Zerneck says. "They decided to mix them up a bit."

So he made "Locusts" and "Spring Break Shark Attack" for last season. "They both did very well with younger audiences," he says.

It was time for a "Locusts" sequel with the same stars and writer.

A few years after the locust attacks, Maddy Rierdon (Lawless), a specialist in voracious insects, wanted a simpler life. She got a college job and moved to Louisiana with her husband (Dylan Neal) and their two daughters.

Life was peaceful -- until vampire bats attack. Brett Butler plays Lawless' sister-in-law, with Timothy Bottoms as the mayor.

This is classic turf, von Zerneck says. "When you say 'bats,' an image comes to mind. They're odd and they fly and only go out at night."

If you can claim humans have altered them by messing up the ecology, you have a story. And New Orleans may be the logical site.

"It's a very attractive place for backgrounds and the architecture is incredible," von Zerneck says. "There's nothing else like it ... and there's a huge (film) industry there with all the professions."

Besides, actors find it a fascinating place to temporarily live.

"You have to get used to it," Lawless said, midway through the shoot. "You'll have people running down the street in the middle of the night, saying, 'I'm going to cut your (bleeping) heart out.' But it's such a magnificent place and I love it."

At the time, she was on her own. "I'm going around this huge house by myself," she said then. "My family has all gone back to California."

Lawless, 37, and her husband (Rob Tapert, the producer of her "Xena" series) have two children, ages 3 and 6; she also has a teen daughter from her first marriage. The whole clan settled into a rented New Orleans home -- for a while.

"It's hard to be mothering if I'm working nights," Lawless said later. "I was sort of a hag in the day; I couldn't do either job well."

The others left and Lawless stayed, savoring New Orleans. She and producer Jill Tanner talked of jointly buying a New Orleans home for family vacations.

Then the winds came.

"I was going to plod it out," Lawless says. "It seemed very adventurous ... besides, a lot of people depend on you for their living. You can't just leave."

Von Zerneck started to have doubts on Aug. 27.

"Saturday morning, it looked very serious," he says. "My people had been up all night, so they needed to sleep. But we had to do something."

He got a bus for most of the people; some took cars. Lawless was one of the final four "Vampire Bats" people to leave and that included an accountant and a producer who wisely took the stocks of film that had already been shot.

The weather became fierce, Von Zerneck says. "As Jill (Tanner) put it, 'It's raining sideways.'"

Still, it was pleasant to reach Baton Rouge, La. "Forty of us stayed at the bed-and-breakfast ,where everyone was absolutely friendly and warm," Lawless says.

Von Zerneck hoped to return to New Orleans. "Then, on Tuesday, the levee broke and that was it."

The entire group retreated to Nova Scotia where his company was just finishing "The Hunt For the BTK Killer."

There, the final week of the film was shot. Far from the real horrors of Katrina, they returned to the fictional ones of "Vampire Bats."


Program details

-- "Vampire Bats."

-- 9-11 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 30), CBS

-- Did you know: Lucy Lawless' musical career peaked when she was a New Zealand teen. "When I was 16, I was doing 'South Pacific' on stage and had the best time. But I sort of lost interest."


Click here for more information about the movie