By Alexandra Donald
Just when you thought the vampire genre was dead and buried, six feet under – along comes riotous undead mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows. Chronicling the misadventures of four vampire flatmates in a Wellington share house, I sat down for a chat with co-director, writer and star Taika Waititi and co-star Rhys Darby.
The film borrows from a wealth of influences from different genres, which Taika happily details – “Jemaine [Clement, co-director and writer] and I have always loved the horror genre – some of my favourite movies are The Lost Boys and Fright Night – all those fun eighties movies, American Werewolf in London, The Thing – all those awesome horrors with cool in camera special effects, we grew up with all those. And we’re both such fans of comedy, so why not combine two things that we love – horror and comedy? And vampires. And werewolves. And Wellington. Five things that we love.”
Each of the film’s vampire characters is also the result of a very specific influence. “There are so many different archetypal vampires from film and different media, so we always thought we should all be different types of vampires that people recognise. So mine’s the Interview With A Vampire one, the dandy one – Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt mixed together. Jemaine’s is basically Gary Oldman, lifted straight out of Dracula, but with a little more of a Don Juan Demarco, I think. Johnny’s character is the Venice Beach, Lost Boys vampire, and then Nick comes along and he sort of copies Johnny’s character – but there’s definitely a danger of him veering off into Twilight vampire.”
The film was an extremely collaborative process throughout the entire shoot, which Rhys describes as a thoroughly enjoyable experience. “It was quite collaborative really, with all those involved, all the actors – a lot of them weren’t even actors – but they all got a chance to put their input into it. It makes such a difference, rather than one or two people going ‘we’ve got an idea, and this is how were gonna do it, this is my vision!!’ It makes it so fresh.”
Taika adds “Jemaine and I wrote the story, and as long as we had the story we knew where the scenes were going to go. We’d invite the actors in, they’d sometimes have no idea what was going to be happening that day – we gave them very little pieces of information and then just ran with it. We’d often do ten takes, fifteen takes, until we felt we had enough that we could use in the edit, and we had what we wanted and that’s pretty much how it went. There were no rules besides just keep going, keep trying to make it funny.”
The edit of the film took 14 months, with duties split between both directors. “We’d take breaks because after a point, you just can’t stand to look at yourself or anyone else in the film,” Taika says. “I’d come back and change everything that he changed, and it bounced around like that for a while – and then it was a rush job when we found out we got into Sundance!”
As for what they hope their audience takes away from the film, Taika says “I just hope they have a good time, that’s all it is. When we were a couple of weeks into shooting and doing something ridiculous, Jemaine said to me ‘we just have to remember that the world needs stupid stuff sometimes’, and it’s true – because we can get so hung up, being filmmakers, the kind of stuff we make going ‘I’m going to change the world with this!’ – we’re changing the world with this but in a different way. There’ll be kids out there, like I was at 12 or 13, who’ll see this and it’ll inspire them – and they’ll say ‘you can do that, I didn’t know you could do that!’ That’s the cool thing, seeing how it can brighten up their life by injecting their lives with a little but of silliness.”
Rhys adds, “Never underestimate the importance of the ridiculousness and the silliness – it takes you away from all that serious crap that you have to deal with every day. I hope this film is the sort of thing that a lot of people will end up buying, and after a terrible day at work or a sad event it’ll be something they can chuck on and brighten them up – and they’ll go ‘oh life’s not so bad after all, look at these idiots!’”
What We Do In The Shadows is currently in cinemas.