Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi interview: What We Did In The Shadows
We chat to the directors and stars of new vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows
What We Did In The Shadows is a real delight of a film, following a bunch of vampies who live together in Wellington, New Zealand. It’s written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, based on an earlier short film that they made, and we had the chance to chat to the pair about the project a few weeks’ back. Here’s how it went…
Thank you for coming to talk to me.
Jemaine Clement: It would be so rude of us not to speak to you if you’ve come all this way.
Taika Waititi: If you just came in and sat in that seat and we didn’t talk to you, we just stared at you.
Now, one of the things that made me curious about your film straight away is whether or not you have made something unique to New Zealand. Do you think the film would have been meaningfully different if it was made by Americans, or made by British people?
TW: If it was made by British people, it might have been similar. An American one would have been completely different, I think.
JC: They wouldn’t make it.
TW: It’s true… well, we actually did talk to some studios in America and they were interested in making it but they wanted to put proper stars in it.
But it has stars in it, doesn’t it?
TW: It’s got bright stars in. Bright New Zealand stars.
The stars of tomorrow.
TW: You can imagine the way they’d want to see it in Hollywood.
JC: Probably set in New Jersey.
Do you think the film is tied to or addresses its place at all? Does any of it come from its geography?
JC: A lot of New Zealanders have said it’s a very New Zealand film but it’s hard to tell when you’re from New Zealand.
TW: I think that the small town-ness of Wellington is important. Not a lot happens there, I’ll be honest. I’m not sure if you got that from the film. Not a great deal happening.
JC: We live there. We weren’t exaggerating that much.
TW: I think that lends itself to this, going against everybody’s idea of vampires being cool and living in cool castles. Wellington is the perfect place to set this particular film. A lot of the places we show in the film, the bars and stuff, have all closed down. It’s only been two years since we shot there but that happens quite a lot. Places just close down and close down…
JC: It’s the curse of What We Do In The Shadows.
When the film starts, we have what you were talking about there, a juxtaposition of vampire conventions with banality, and we’ve got a meeting about washing up.
TW: But a very watchable meeting about washing up.
Were you writing to theme and trying to explore that idea? Did these scenes come from a desire to explore that juxtaposition?
TW: I like the idea of seeing what vampires do when they’re not hunting.
JC: See their lives.
TW: It’s like if you watch Interview With The Vampire or The Lost Boys but what you get is the scenes they’d cut out.
JC: In Interview With The Vampire we never see Lestat saying he would never do the dishes.
TW: But Lestat would never do the dishes. There would be big arguments about that. And “One time, Lestat wore my frilly shirt and gave it back and there was blood on the collar. He didn’t even wash it.”
JC: “But I knew it was him. Who else would it be?”
Pretty early on you confront us with the fact that one of your vampires used to be a Nazi.
JC: And how did you feel about that?
Well, yes, exactly.
TW: You don’t like Nazis, do you?
Hopefully, nobody is that keen on them.
TW: There are people who like them. My advice to you, and to anybody else reading this, is to just not get into the Nazi party.
JC: Don’t wear the uniforms, don’t read the pamphlets, don’t get into it.
TW: I wouldn’t even read Hitler’s book.
But that is a hell of a thing for your film to confront us with. We see all these films about vampires and what they do is never nice…
JC: But at least they’re not Nazis, right?
You connect their evil to something that isn’t just movie evil.
TW: You see that in the first few minutes and I think it’s a good way of saying you just don’t know what you’re going to get in this film. If we’re going to throw a Nazi vampire at you –
JC: Ex-Nazi, Ex-Nazi.
TW: – then who knows where we’re going.
JC: He’s an Ex-Nazi, he’s seen the error.
TW: There were definitely Nazis who saw the error of their ways.
JC: And there was definitely a squadron of vampire Nazis.
And that’s a fact?
JC: Oh, yeah. Yeah. And we present it to you.
TW: Hitler rounded up all of the vampires in Europe.
JC: And if you don’t believe it, watch our movie…
Watch your documentary.
TW: We talk about it within the first five minutes.
JC: And then it’s glossed over.
I’ve been told to take this documentary very seriously.
TW: We fact checked everything, crosschecked, cross fact checked and fact crosschecked. Everything. Dotted the is, dotted the ts.
When you decided to make a fake documentary –
JC: A fakumentary.
– and you get into the language of the form, were you concerned about sticking to the rules, or would you break them when you wanted to?
JC: We tried really hard not to break the rules, but if we did –
TW: We’re sorry. We’re very sorry.
JC: If we did it’s because we changed something and messed it up later. But we did try to be faithful to ideas of where the camera person could be, not showing anything they wouldn’t be able to film.
But you’re admitting that if we look closely we’ll find spot some sort of violation.
JC: I can think of one, but nobody has ever picked it up.
TW: [Whispers into Jemaine’s ear]
JC: Well… we didn’t see… you know…
TW: We’re not going to talk about it because it’s a bit of a spoiler.
JC: Have you seen more than the first five minutes?
I’ve seen the whole thing.
JC: The whole thing!
Apart from the odd blink. They say you blink out about eight minutes worth of an hour long film.
JC: So you missed twelve minutes.
But you will have seen it enough times that you didn’t miss any.
JC: Unless we blinked at the same time, over and over.
TW: You could do this. [proceeds to wink one eye after the other over and over again]
That would be creepy.
JC: You should do that if you want to get the whole movie.
TW: And not miss eight minutes.
Thank you. Thanks for the viewing tips.
What We Do In The Shadows is out now.
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