We've seen a lot of vampires, and vampire comedy, lately. But Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (Eagle vs. Shark) tap a whole new vein of humor in their hilarious mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows. We talked to Clement and Waititi about making vampires funny again.
io9: What We Do in the Shadows is based on a 2005 short that you made with Taika. Why did you want to revisit it for this feature? And why vampires?
Jemaine Clement: Well, we both like vampire movies and stories. And part of it was talking about stories that went on for hundreds and hundreds of years, and imagining what someone's dramas would be like, stretched over centuries like that. We had done some characters at a comedy club, and we wanted to do something with them. My character gets up onstage and starts talking — dressed as a vampire with the make-up on and everything — and then, there's another vampire who starts heckling me, and I ask him why he keeps heckling me over hundreds of years. He was following me from city to city around the world, heckling me.
We also wanted to do a documentary. We were excited by the idea of hand-held cameras with real-looking effects.
Now that the Twilight craze is behind us, recent films like Only Lovers Left Alive and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night are making vampires cool again. How do you feel about being part of that trend, and how did you go about incorporating references to vampire films past, like The Lost Boys, into your story?
[There do seem to be a lot of] alternative, indie vampire films, but I'm happy with that! I was surprised when I watched Only Lovers Left Alive that they were dealing with the same things we were dealing with a lot of the time … things we thought that we were the first ones to think of. Like, when does someone [who lives forever] get over something [from the past]?
[As for the film's pop culture references], we used a lot of the ones that we grew up with, and had resonated with us. And again, Twilight and sparkly vampires didn't exist then. Over the years, as we were writing it, Twilight came about, and True Blood. We discussed whether or not we'd reference some of the things from those shows or movies, because they became so huge. But part of us being able to make our film was that vampires had been so hugely popular when we went to get the money for it. It was at the peak of Twilight when we were looking to make it. And I wouldn't be surprised if the same was also true for Only Lovers Left Alive and A Girl Walks Home. For people who wanted to make vampire movies, it was a good time for all of us.
The film also has a great deal of fun with traditional vampire lore, like imagining how difficult it would be to get an outfit together when you can't see your own reflection.
That was kind of where the movie started, talking about the logic of being a vampire. We watched vampire movies, and they make such a big deal about being "invited in" places. And then the vampire would be chasing the protagonist into, say, a nightclub ... and I'd always get distracted by that. When was the vampire invited in? Who invited him in? It started off with that, in the short film. It was mainly a list of questions, the logistics of being a vampire. And then the characters and the story came later.
How much of the movie was scripted?
Taika Waititi: We scripted all of the film ... but then we ended up improvising all of the film. We didn't show the actors the script because we wanted them to be more natural in their performances, and for it to feel like a documentary, with people talking over each other and putting things into their own words. So that's how we ended up with 140 hours of footage that we had to edit down to 85 minutes, which was a long process.
The vampire flatmates share a creepy-cool haunted house of a mansion. How did you come up with the look of the place?
Jemaine Clement: A lot of it was our production designer, Ra Vincent. We just let him do whatever he liked. We had a few things we asked for. Like, we wanted to be able to fly, so we opened the ceilings, and we needed to have wires in the set. And we wanted stairways. But he designed it all.
One of the unique things about the film is that it incorporates a range of vampire types, from the freshly bitten Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) to the 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham). What was the thinking behind that?
Well, we wanted the guy who plays Nick in it. He's someone we know from the Wellington comedy scene. When we filmed [the short], he was the new guy who was doing really well, and we were kind of the older comedians, so he was perfect for the part. Petyr, we added after the short film, when we felt like we were missing some spookier things, and we thought we could get enough of a budget to do some realistic make-up.
Each vampire's history is explained through cleverly doctored vintage photos and drawings. Those elements must've been fun to put together!
Some of them we found ... if you search on "medieval pictures" you can come up with some really disturbing things. Some of them we had local artists do, and some we drew ourselves. Often, Taika and I would be spending entire mornings drawing fake medieval woodcuts.
The film's American distribution was funded via Kickstarter, and you obviously have a big following in the states. What's that like, coming from New Zealand?
Personally, I have had a much easier time getting stuff done in America or England, where there's more of a comedy tradition than in New Zealand. New Zealand's one of the hardest places to do comedy, I think.