Interview with What We Do in the Shadows's Jermaine Clement & Taika Waititi
In the hilarious new mockumentary WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (our review here), the frighteningly talented Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi give us a very in-depth look at the daily lives of vampires living together. The many issues they face include getting into clubs, paying rent and making sure all involved keep the place clean from blood and do their chores. It is a darkly funny and at times, surprisingly sweet comedy with the very impressive twosome of Waititi and Clement taking on writing and directing duties.
I recently had the great pleasure to chat with both of these fine fellows. In one of the most chill interviews Ive ever had, we talked about where the idea came from, creating the special effects and just how many vampire references show up here - dont worry, there is no sparkly vamps in this flick. This is some seriously funny stuff - and the character of Stu is one of my favorites! WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is a wonderfully witty film and it opens in limited theatrical release this Friday! Look for it Its a bloody good time!
Taika Waititi: I love them and we knew there are definitely other people out there who love them.
Jemaine Clement: This is how much I love vampires. When I was ten I started my own gang, called The Vampires. Wed bike around on BMXs, except for me I had an old Chopper. We had plastic vampire teeth, the ones with the hinges, and wed drive around going, (in a Transylvanian accent) I want to drink your blood! (laughs). We also had a bow and arrow, a real one, but we never used it. Sometimes other people, Id let them use it.
Thats kind of awesome.
TW: [When] THE LOST BOYS [was released], I asked my mom to buy me a trench coat like Corey Haim wears in that movie. It wasnt really like a boys trench coat, it was like a womans one with big shoulder pads. I mightve looked like Glenn Close from FATAL ATTRACTION.
Its a good look, though.
JC: Its a good look for you.
TW: I had the poofy hair.
With Flight of the Concords, youve done musical theater. What brought you to create this story, base it on vampires and create this kind of real world situation?
JC: At the same time me and Bret [McKenzie] were doing Concords, Taika and I had a comedy duo as well. We would do lots of theatrical stuff, big stage stuff.
TW: A really small stage. A lot of our props were made of scotch tape and bits of fishing wires and stuff. Wed drag them across the stage. (laughs)
JC: At some point we had a conversation about - you put all this work in and when you finish theres nothing, you know? Its just finished. Some people saw it and some people didnt.
TW: Just some sweaty clothes and half-broken props that youve got to fix for tomorrow night. So we were talking about doing something, recording something, a short film. This was actually one of the first ideas we had for a film about ten years ago. Its just taken us long to get it done.
What was the biggest obstacle?
JC: We got busy. Me, Bret and Taika, we all did theater in Wellington. You dont get a lot of money for it but it was really fun. Youre sometimes hungry. We were all really, really skinny.
TW: A lot of checks bounced. Just for pizzas and things. (laughs)
JC: There was a little Asian restaurant I knew that still had the old credit card system where you have to - the machine goes zip zip (motions a transaction) like that. Some weeks Id have to go there to eat because I didnt have any money on my card. Around this time, we were doing theater. Me and Bret were doing shows and stuff. Me and Taika were doing shows. Taika made one short film. I think it was the same week, in the same month anyway, Taikas short film was nominated for an Oscar and me and Bret were asked to do a special on HBO. Suddenly, we were all busy all at the same time. And you know, thats why its taken so long to do this. And also, when we first did it, there was a digital screening, a digital funding initiative, where we got the money to do it. We had to give it back. [We said,] Were going to America now.
TW: It was $150,000 maybe.
JC: It was very small, yeah. We thought it was a huge amount. Then we got too busy and we had to give the money back. Its probably way better that we didnt do it.
I love that there are so many references here from NOSFERATU, to LOST BOYS - that line is one of the funniest lines Ive ever heard, with the worms and the spaghetti. Was it difficult to find those? Did you just kind of think, Lets [reference] every vampire movie ever made?
TW: Thats been a thing that weve loved for a long time the most -
JC: Wed do it when we were out eating, you know, with Chinese food. Youre eating maggots!
How much was actually written and how much was improv?
TW: We wrote a really long script and then we didnt bother showing it to the actors.
JC: We just wanted it to be naturalistic. Especially since its about the supernatural. Were trying to make the supernatural real. So we wanted real performances.
TW: With mockumentaries, you get told theyre waiting for the other person to do their line. Which is normal acting. The good way with how we did it was, wed be on top of each other, wed stumble and trip and not bother if they were getting it wrong because we would just do take after take. We ended up with about 130 hours of footage.
JC: It does sound like a lot but any other thing with a similar [set up is the same]. You know, really fun shoot and then really tedious edit.
How much of that is going to make it on the DVD or the blooper reels?
TW: [The DVD] has a couple of hours of extra scenes. It has our original that we made a few years ago.
JC: On that one we did our own makeup.
TW: They were skinnier versions of us.
JC: Those were in our starving days. We looked more like vampires. (laughs) That one we made for like $150, from whatever money each of us had. We used to busk and made a short film. Just going to the costume company and finding frilly shirts and military jackets and that sort of stuff.
The visual effects in this film surprised me. Theyre pretty solid.
TW: A lot of the people we got were ex-Weta or trying to get into the scene.
JC: Sometimes on their lunch break from Weta, some of the top people in the world, theyd just [work on WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS] when they were finished doing THE HOBBIT. [After] getting the dragon scales lit, they could make it better for us.
TW: We were talking at this barbecue with a couple [members of the effects team] and I was like, Man, [these shots] look so amazing! And they were like, Yeah, I guess so. (laughs) You know, years of painting out helicopters and paint out stuff in Peter [Jackson]s movies -
JC: They were pretty overworked. They were doing long hours on THE HOBBIT and they were doing our stuff in spare time. This was a real labor of love for us.
TW: It was just labor for them. (laughs)
JC: We tried to spread the enthusiasm. Were not gonna pay ourselves, were just going to put it into the budget and see what you could do. Sometimes people had fun doing it because they - on THE HOBBIT its so concentrated, what they do. They do literally work on the texture of scales and stuff like that. Very, very detailed. [WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS] is moving camera so its not so detailed. You could work on a whole scene in a week rather than a scale for a week.
Lets talk a little about the characters. They are so unique. You have the vampires, you have Petyr, who is one of the coolest characters. Hes like Nosferatu. And where the hell did Stu come from? How can you not love Stu?
TW: Well Stu - weve been saying, How could you not love Stu? for years. Even before we were doing the movie. Weve been friends with him for a long, long time.
JC: Hes an IT guy in real life.
TW: We got a friend of ours to shoot - hed never really shot anything [before] -
JC: But, later on, on that film -
TW: [The same friend] became a special effects supervisor on that film.
JC: He works for Weta now, coincidentally.
TW: So Stu was just hanging out with us, helping to carry truckloads and stuff. We just happened to - one of the characters in the short film was talking and mentioned Stu. The camera pans across to see [Stu] not acting or anything, just on his phone. We loved that so much that we built him into the short film. He became such a loved character that we decided to invite him [on WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS].
JC: We cant show you [because] we dont have the short film on us. He kind of stands out so much in that scene that we expanded it [even more].
TW: More and more we just kind of realized this movie is about Stu. The more we wrote, we were like, Lets put Stu in this scene and then it can be about Stu doing this and that. And it just got out of hand.
JC: I have to show you, we got this the other day. [takes out a picture] This is the first fan tattoo [of Petyrs face on a calf muscle]. Thats in Salt Lake City.
Do you see more adventures of Stu happening?
JC: We have had talks about it. Not seriously, but you never know whats going to come out.
Were you guys always into horror?
JC: Im not anymore now that I have a son but I used to. Kids are always in jeopardy in horror movies. You know, theres the ghost of this kid thats had this horrible, abusive life and its harder to watch. But I did love THE BABADOOK.
As much as it is a comedy, you guys are faithful to the vampire mythology.
JC: A lot of it comes from having logical questions. I loved vampire movies probably more than any other kind of movie when I was a kid. Often I would be distracted by, Okay, they had to invite [the vampire] into the house but now hes following them into the nightclub? Wouldnt someone have to invite him into the nightclub, too? Im talking about FRIGHT NIGHT. He has to be invited in. What happened there? These things stick in the back of my mind. Taikas that way as well. We dealt with those kinds of questions and try to show those other parts that you dont see in vampire movies. Vampires arent usually the main character, theyre usually the villain.
TW: Its them in their down time.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS opens in limited theaters this Friday, February 13th.