Credit: Ron Batzdorff

Best friends bonded by an ancient tradition — one a full vampire who ranks pretty high on the food chain, the other a half human, half vampire bound to protect her — and a prep school filled with the usual teenage dramas with a twist: You must fight to survive.

Does this sound like Twilight? We didn’t think so.

Although the film features our favorite fanged friends, the Vampire Academy series is a totally new take on the vampire legend — and a fresh face in the competitive world of movies based on YA novels. Director Mark Waters talked to EW about his 2013 film and how it will set itself apart in a crowded landscape.

Twilight was about a naive person who knew nothing of a certain world, basically discovering that this world existed and totally being indoctrinated into it and falling in love with a vampire, which is interesting,” Waters said. “It’s also different from Harry Potter in that sense. This is about two people who are deeply embedded in this world, and the audience is the one who is taking the journey of being transported and learning about it for the first time while the characters are deeply, deeply in it and trying to just live and survive day to day within this world.”

Waters also told moviegoers to get the image of brooding vampire teens out of their heads: These characters aren’t all doom and gloom.

“I find a lot of YA movies … are almost kind of navel-gazing in a sense of sincerity and self-importance. I think the nature of this material is that it doesn’t go that direction. Even when things are deadly serious, they are still really kept interesting and kept in a place where we never lose that wit and humor, which is kind of the thing that my brother and I like to do in all movies.”

Waters’ brother Dan wrote the script and made a big effort to keep the vibe similar to that of the books.

“I think the big difference tonally from the other movies that you could say are kind of globally put under the YA genre really comes from that humor and subversive wit that comes from my brother’s writing and from Richelle Mead’s book themselves.”

Recognizing that fans of Vampire Academy will likely prove impossible to please (as with every literary fandom facing a film adaptation), Waters said he didn’t really try.

“I think every person who reads the book has their own images that come to mind when they read it, just like I do and part of my job is. … I read things and imagine them and then kind of start trying to kind of take what I imagine and make it visual for everybody else to see. It just happens to be my personal vision, and every person’s is going to be different, every book reader.”

So who was the director looking to get the stamp of approval from?

“As soon as I signed on to the project, my brother and I flew up to Seattle and sat down with Richelle Mead and talked about all of the books. … The good news is that she loved the screenplay and thought it was hilarious and thought it very much captured her books while still kind of adding, making things more cinematic and putting the action on steroids — but never straying too far from being loyal to her storylines and loyal to her characters.”

Mead, the author and inspiration for the movie, was on hand for every question Waters had about the story — from uniform designs to hair color of the characters. She was even invited to set for a week, to see her imagination come to life.

Part of that vision paired the usual drama of high school and being a teen with actual mortal peril and high-intensity action scenes. Waters said he loved fusing the two and creating a unique blend of drama.

“It just so happens in this movie that the stakes and the drama and the intensity of it is real in the sense that, yes, they’re going through classic things about ‘does this boy like me or not,’ ‘is this girl out to get me,’ but at the same time underplaying all of this is a true life-and-death saga because they are vampires who have predatory, evil vampires out to kill them. It makes everything very potent because … there actually is real, scary stakes and an urgency going on at all times.”

Check out the first teaser trailer for Vampire Academy below, and head to theaters on Valentine’s Day to catch the action:

Vampire Academy
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