Exclusive – Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi Talk What We Do in the Shadows
What We Do in the Shadows is a wicked new mockumentary from a couple of the guys who brought us “Flight of the Conchords” – Jemaine Clement (who co-created show) and Taika Waititi (who wrote a few classic episodes). In this cinematic ensemble cast, they play vampire flatmates who quarrel over dirty dishes, discuss fashion throughout the ages, go clubbing, and of course bite necks.
We got to sit down with the guys and pick their brains on everything from the acceleration of time to David Soul’s preferred method of transportation.
Jemaine Clement: I’m Vlad. (Gestures to Taika Waititi.) He’s Viago.
Dread Central: Well, hello! I’m so glad to see you out in the light of day. The two of you had a hilarious story about how you stumbled onto this project, which you told at the AFI Fest last year. Very funny, but we here at Dread Central are all about the hard-hitting, serious news. So, how’d you really come up with the whole idea?
JC: Really, seriously? We just wanted to make a documentary about something that you couldn’t document. You know? We’d talked about a few of these kind of ideas. Whether it’s a documentary about an alien invasion where you follow the aliens who are trying to invade the U.S. and their problems and their organizational hassles, and trying to do this, you know, that kind of thing. We wouldn’t have been able to afford that.
DC: Yeah, fangs are cheaper than spaceships.
Taika Waititi: We should still do that.
JC: Okay. Looks like that project’s back on!
TW: Yeah. Just the way he described it, I’m interested again.
DC: What reactions have you gotten from non-genre fans to this vampire tale?
TW: A lot of the comments that we’ll see on Facebook and stuff are like, “I hate these kind of movies, but this was okay.” [Laughs]
JC: High praise.
TW: People seem relieved that it’s not like a lot of the other vampire stuff, you know, “Vampire Diaries” and Twilight.
JC: Or even vampire comedies.
TW: Just a change I think for them. But if you know about genre movies, then there’s more for you, because we stick to the rules. We got a lot of great response at the Stanley Film Festival last year. It’s a big horror festival in [Colorado] that’s for the die-hard horror fans who know their stuff, and they all really appreciated it… all of the little in-jokes and stuff and the references to classic horror stuff that we put in it [were the biggest hit].
DC: I can imagine! What were your movie inspirations for this film?
JC: Well, obviously Nosferatu, We have an ancient vampire who’s kind of… I’m not a good drawer, but I was drawing these pictures for our make-up person as a reference.
TW: You are a good drawer, man.
JC: Thank you, man. It’s kind of mixed Nosferatu with the main vampire in Salem’s Lot, and they’re just the same. [Laughs] You know? Kind of. Yeah.
DC: You should’ve had a David Soul cameo in your film!
JC: Yeah. Too far for him to travel, I think.
DC: Hm. The “Starsky & Hutch” Gran Torino probably wouldn’t make it all the way to New Zealand. Okay, so for each of you – what would be the best and the worst things about living forever?
JC: As a vampire or just-?
TW: Just being immortal. If I was immortal, like a god, like one of those immortals, it would be a bit more fun.
JC: -than a vampire. Vampires are actually, you know, they’re described as immortal – vampires – but they’re very vulnerable. Even the most basic thing that keeps the world going, sunlight, will kill them. Fear, for a lot of the day.
TW: Yeah. If I were a Greek god, or any god really, things like sunlight, you can still enjoy those.
JC: You can enjoy them. Bask. But you know how every year you get older, the year seems to go faster and faster? I can’t imagine what it would be like once you reach a thousand.
DC: Yeah, like that book [Zimbardo and Boyd’s] The Time Paradox. On the bright side, you probably wouldn’t get bored because every year would seem like minutes.
JC: Yeah. I mean, things would change so quickly. But also, you know how you might say, “I’m going to see a friend.” And now I can easily get to a year and go, “I still haven’t gone to see that friend.” But with vampires, you’ve got time.
DC: What if your other friends are vampires as well?
DC: You kept them subtle, but you had great makeup effects and blood. What was it like to be saturated in gore?
TW: I don’t know how many liters, about 50 liters of blood? You try to work it out. A lot of blood was used, obviously, in the murder scenes
JC: Only in the two scenes really-
TW: Feeding scenes. I always loved, growing up, [playing with] those blood capsules [you bite on]. And I loved playing games and dressing up as a vampire covered in blood. And so, even just seeing it… and I love Monty Python. Stuff like the knight, when he gets his limbs cut off.
DC: So true – ‘It’s just a flesh wound!’ as gore is shooting out everywhere.
TW: So all that stuff was just really fun for me. I really liked it.
JC: -And horrifying for me. I’m a hemophiliac. Not true. But okay. So the Petyr character was designed by Don Brooker who is based in New Zealand. He’s from Australia. And Ben Fransham, who plays Petyr – he’s the Nosferatu one. He does a lot of makeup work.
TW: We have some photos, actually, of him doing Petyr up.
JC: He’s good with movement, and he’s lean.
TW: He’s like our version of that guy –
DC: Doug Jones?
JC: Yeah. Doug Jones. He’s New Zealand’s Doug Jones.
DC: You have so many bits of vampire lore that must have been fun learning about when writing What We Do in the Shadows. My favorite was you guys were trying to get into the nightclubs, but you couldn’t because a vampire has to be formally invited inside.
JC: I remember watching Fright Night — and I loved that movie Fright Night — when they go into the club. They’re hiding from him. And then the vampire — Jerry Dandridge — it’s a funny name for a vampire, isn’t it?
DC: It’s so sunny-sounding!
JC: Yeah. Anyway, then he’s in the club too. And I remember just briefly being distracted going, “How did he get in there? Who invited him into there? You know, my God, does it have to be management? Was it a bouncer?” And these are the kinds of things that sometimes I would get distracted by, watching movies thinking about these things, and that‘s what we’re trying [with our film]. Even, off and on, we’d think about ghosts and their clothes. Why are they wearing clothes? Did the clothes die too? So you know, we were trying to talk about these things that don’t make sense and try to make them make sense. We had stuff that didn’t end up in the film, but we did shoot it – about what happens when they turn into a bat? What happens to their clothes when they turn into a bat? And how do they fit?
DC: Right. It’s like “The Incredible Hulk.”
JC: Yeah. Do they fly out of their clothes? Then they’d have to fly back up the pants leg, put the shirt on. Or do they order the clothes in several sizes?
DC: As you can see, I’m wearing my David Bowie shirt – in honor of my favorite “Flight of the Conchords” episode. I’ve heard a little about a comeback in the news. What’s up?
JC: We’re just going to do a tour.
DC: So it’s not a revival of the TV show? Just think: You could maybe have two groupies, instead of just the one.
JC: That would be great if we could get two groupies. Taiki and I are writing a TV show, but Bret [McKenzie] and I are playing live. Our most fun thing to do is the tour. But while we’re touring, we try and think of other ideas too. We’re just going to write a few new songs, revive a few old songs, and go to theaters around the country.
DC: How fun! What’s the new TV show that you two are working on?
TW: We still kind of don’t really know what it is yet.
DC: That sounds like most shows already airing.
JC: Well, it’s an anthology comedy series.
DC: I’ll be tuning in! Thanks, guys. It was a pleasure.
What We Do in the Shadows Release Details:
Unison Films, in association with Funny or Die and Paladin, will release “Flight of the Conchords” creators Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s Toronto Film Festival People’s Choice Award-winning WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS in New York and Los Angeles on February 13, followed by an expansion into major markets, including San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., on February 20, with a continued national rollout throughout February and early March.
Unison Films will be heading up the theatrical release along with Paladin, and Funny or Die will leverage its social media and marketing reach leading up to the film’s release. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, produced by Unison Films and Defender Films, along with producers Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley, and Emanuel Michael, follows the adventures of four vampire roommates trying to get by in a modern world that’s not always hospitable to the undead. The highly acclaimed comedy sensation premiered at Sundance earlier this year and has since gone on to play Berlin, SXSW, TIFF, and AFI, winning every audience award for which it has been eligible.
Clement and Waititi, creators of the HBO hit series “Flight of the Conchords,” co-wrote, co-directed, and co-star in this hilarious send-up in which an endearingly unhip quartet of friends ranging in age from 183 to 8,000 years old squabble over household chores, struggle to keep up with the latest trends in fashion and technology, antagonize the local werewolves, and deal with the rigors of living on a very, very strict diet. The film also stars FOTC’s Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford, and Jackie Van Beek.