Paul Weitz is Cirque's unlikely ringmaster

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Some people might consider Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant a very unlikely choice for Paul Weitz, the writer-director of About a Boy, In Good Company, American Dreamz and Down to Earth. However, Weitz believes that the quirky tale—which will open on Oct. 23 and follows a teenager (Chris Massoglia) who becomes a vampire and joins a traveling freak show—is thematically right in his wheelhouse.

"I think the heart of the story is how we grow through suffering and losing our preconceptions," Weitz said in a recent, exclusive telephone interview. "In this case, visually and in terms of the storytelling, I wanted to take a kid who's from a very safe and homogenous place, who has a friendship with another kid [Josh Hutcherson] who's a little bit of a psychotic, who experiences risk vicariously through his friend, and I wanted that kid to get sucked into a situation where he himself is in an incredibly dangerous and risky situation and has to get over his own prejudices. That, for me, is the core of it, how you grow through losing your preconceptions and suffering."

Though he may have been in familiar thematic territory with The Vampire's Assistant, Weitz acknowledged that he'd never contended with special effects on the level of those required for the big-screen adaptation of The Saga of Darren Shan. Certainly no one would call Down to Earth a special-effects-heavy film, and though he executive-produced The Golden Compass, his brother, Chris Weitz, directed it.

"I got comfortable with them," he said. "Basically, the thing with visual effects is you have to be OK with boring people terribly. What you do is you sit in a room and they you show a version of something and then you have to say, 'That's good, but can you please do this and this and this?' You're saying things like, 'Can you put glisten on the hair there?' or 'I'm not believing how the hair is growing there. It looks like a waterfall.'"

Weitz added, "And it keeps going on and on and on. Basically, they can do anything with the effects, though there are some financial parameters. And it's a weird form of directing. You start to feel like you're going insane, because you're picking on such small things that you're not really sure if they're just in your head. That really happens when you're creating a character whole. In the movie we have these Tiny people, who are sort of dead souls and are two feet tall. They're completely visual effects. And then there's the spider, which was completely a visual effect as well. So it's daunting at first, but then it's just grind work, I think."