How much evil is society willing to tolerate in exchange for a good quality of life?
That’s a question that screenwriter David Dean’s independent full-length feature film “Ocracoke” tackles. “Ocracoke” focuses on Thomas White, a 160-year-old vampire who shipwrecked off the titular island’s coast on his voyage to the United States from England.
“It’s a new take on the classic vampire horror genre,” Dean said. “(White) made it to the shore, made a home here and just took over the town as kind of a benevolent despot … Then a detective comes to the island for a visit. And it happens to coincide with a bunch of other goings-on that turn this vampire’s world upside down.”
Dean, who’s been visiting the Outer Banks with his family for nearly 20 years, began writing the screenplay in 2014. “I just fell in love with the place and I always thought it would be a great setting for a movie.”
After COVID-19 hit, Dean attended an industry night in his hometown of Wilmington to see what was happening with the local film industry.
“I happened to meet Bea Noguera and her partner, Matt Cline, (who) run a production company,” he said. “I said ‘If you ever want to do an indie flick,’ and they said, ‘Well, we’re not doing anything else during a pandemic.’”
They put out a casting call and were surprised at the response. “What we found out was that there was a plethora of actors in the area who literally had nothing to do,” he said.
Pallavi Ram, who currently lives in Cary, was especially excited to be cast in the project.
“What drew me in was firstly the script and secondly (my character) Ilona,” Ram said. “I have always loved watching vampire movies, like ‘Twilight,’ ‘Supernatural’, etcetera. So getting to debut in one was incredible.”
Ram describes Ilona as a gypsy by heart. “(She’s) a young, free-spirited, Middle Eastern girl who is trying to find herself,” she said. “Her fearlessness is seen every time she faces Thomas White, and this is commendable. She represents the strong, independent woman.”
Ram also felt a physical connection to Ilona. “I instantly got excited to play her part as I somewhat felt the character was written having me in mind,” she said. “I felt I have a lot of physical similarities with Ilona’s character: she is described as someone ethnic, with long black hair, who came to the U.S. from overseas.”
In addition to her personality, Ram admires Ilona’s sense of agency. “Ilona has a sense of adventure and independence,” she said. “She says ‘yes’ to opportunities, and that is how she landed on Ocracoke. She did not let her family drama affect her but instead decided to make the best out of life.”
It wasn’t until the crew landed on Ocracoke themselves that Dean realized how much of an effect 2019’s Hurricane Dorian continues to have on the community. “People were so excited that anyone was interested in shining a spotlight on the island,” Dean said. “We actually have a Kickstarter campaign going to fund our ability to finish the film. We have enough money to do about a third of it right now. And then we have to raise funding to do the other two-thirds.”
The film features a team entirely from the Tarheel State. “It is a North Carolina production,” Dean said. “North Carolina has been my home since 2000. I just feel very blessed to have all the things that North Carolina has to offer.”
When Dean’s friend from another state offered him incentives to film elsewhere, he declined.
“If you’re making a film about Ocracoke, you’ve got to have it in Ocracoke,” he said. “And the pride that the actors who grew up here (and) live here have in making an independent film in their home state, it’s infectious … you know, that’s a bad term with COVID but everyone’s super pumped.”
“The purpose of getting all the crew from North Carolina is to promote the film industry back here, and to encourage local talents,” Ram said. “The camaraderie, I feel, would have been there anyways … because of how David Dean and Bea Nogeura handled everyone and made the shooting and being on set more fun.”
Those connections helped Ram during long — and cold — days.
“Everyone was incredibly helpful and friendly. Snacks, coffee, food were provided to make the whole cast and crew more comfortable,” Ram said. That way, she could focus on her character. “Knowing the context and what the character is feeling in that moment (of filming) and few minutes before that moment is crucial for me to get into character.”
After this film debuts, Dean plans on returning in the spring to film a documentary about the Ocracoke community. “I just find it fascinating that they could just move,” he said. “But they’re sticking it out. And they’re fighting. And it’s just a story of resilience. So we want to finish this project (and) use what publicity we can get from it to drive interest in the island.”
“A lot of people look to our country as being fractured right now,” Dean said. “And there’s a lot of people, look at our cast and crew, they could have sat through COVID, and just waited for it to be over … But they made a conscious decision to just get the job done.”
He sees this perseverance in the Ocracoke community. “I think we can use Ocracoke as a model for the rest of the United States,” he said. “Bad things happen that are out of our control, but you can’t just sit back and hope it gets fixed … And I think that it’s something that we don’t see a lot of places in this country right now.”
“It was heartbreaking to see on the news the effect Hurricane Dorian had on the island,” Ram said. “Seeing how the locals cleaned up, are back in business and welcoming visitors indeed show what a buoyant community they are. They fought back and had their community up and running and that is praiseworthy.”
Originally from the island of Mauritius, Ram understands the value of a close community. “It is one of the reasons why I joined this project. I come from a small island and I understand what it means to live in a small tightknit community,” she said. “While shooting, a resident lady … offered us her place to stay in case we needed it. This shows the warmth of the locals and I fell in love even more with the island.”
To be able to film, director Bea Noguera completed a certificate course on filming during the COVID era. But there were other precautions from the Centers for Disease Control they had to follow as well. “A lot of hand sanitizer, a lot of cleaning,” Dean said. “Masks are a prerequisite. We have a thermometer that is at people’s foreheads on set to make sure they don’t have a fever.”
The filming process itself changed too. Scenes with multiple players kept off-screen actors outside, socially distanced, until they were needed. “When they’re ready, they come in and the other people leave,” Dean said. “So it’s taken a little bit longer than most shoots have. But I think it’ll be worth it, you know? And it’s better to be safe than sorry with COVID. We don’t want our cast to catch it. We certainly don’t want anyone on Ocracoke to catch it. So we’re doing everything we can to keep everyone safe.”
“I hope that this is a hit. I hope that people see it, and they want to visit the sets,” Dean said. He hopes that filming at Howard’s Pub and Castle Bed and Breakfast will increase their traffic. “I just want these people to just look back at the film and go, ‘Okay, these guys made this film, it helped us rebuild our community, and we’re thankful for it.’”
Dean also wants to scare people. “It’s going to be a very, very scary film. We’re doing some unique things with the concept of vampire and vampire-ism … we’re evolving the concept of vampire movies,” he said. “I (also want) to get people thinking about … when is it time to stand up for what you believe in, and what are those beliefs?”
The contrast between evil and a comfortable quality of life wasn’t purely political, Dean said. “You see a lot of people out there who it’s all money, money, money,” he said. “Everyone has a right to be very successful, and everyone has a right to make money and to have nice things … as long as you’re not taking advantage of other people.”
“People turning a blind eye on issues, unfortunately, is what we can see on an everyday basis all around us,” Ram said. “So, this movie depicts this very idea and it’s what I hope people take from it. How each and every one of us interpret it is based on our own perspective and walks of life.”
“There’s a John Cougar Mellencamp song that says ‘You got to stand for something or you’re going to fall for anything,’” Dean said. “I just wanted this to be a fun, enjoyable ride of a film that makes people think afterwards. I’m not trying to shove anything down anyone’s throat. But if they walk away from it going, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. I should think about that.’ Yeah, that’ll be cool.”
Follow the movie production on Instagram, @ocracokethemovie and Facebook, @ocracokevampire.