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What We Do In The Shadows Interview: Taika Waititi And Jemaine Clement

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What We Do In The Shadows is a film Empire has not been shy about endorsing. So on top of our exclusive deleted scene in honour of the UK Blu-ray release, here's our exclusive interview with the directors of the much-loved vampire mockumentary, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, first heard (in part) on the Empire Podcast back in November 2014. Bear in mind that the conversation is so beautifully dry you may need a glass of blood to hand to wet your throat...

What We Do In The Shadows is out on home media on Monday, April 13.

How much fun was it to create a bathroom that’s littered with blood?

Taika: We almost didn’t use that set! We had it built and then covered in blood, but in the edit there was a good chance we weren’t going to use it.

Did someone have to blast a squeezy bottle full of blood up and down the walls?

Taika: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jemaine: But that fun was had by someone else, alas.

The production guys get all the best jobs.

Taika: And the worst. (Laughs) First in, last out. It took us nine years to make this movie, by the way. In 2005 we thought of the idea, and I don’t know when we first started writing anything – probably about four years later. We did the short straight away when we had the idea, though.

Jemaine: We’re very motivated. But yeah, as for the short, we just got some cameras, went to a costume shop and made a little short that was about half an hour long. And probably quite embarrassing, to be honest: I haven’t seen it since then.

You didn’t go back to it after you started the actual film production?

Jemaine: No, I don’t think it would have been a good idea.

Taika: The “ghost cup” joke – that was probably one of the best things that was in that short film that made it into the feature film. (Laughs)

So it won’t be a DVD extra then?

Both: It will be!

Jemaine: But we still won’t watch it.

Taika: I’m not getting that DVD for ourselves though.

Jemaine: We’re just gonna put it out. It’s up to you if you watch it.

Taika: We’ve been collecting all the stuff that can go on the DVD. I think it’s gonna be about six discs. (Ed's note: It’s actually one Blu-ray, with two hours of bonus features)

Is it true there were 125 hours of footage you had to cut down to 87 minutes?

Taika: It’s true. We could of made it a three hour film.

You reckon?

Taika: No, not really.

Are you believers then in the rule that comedy films shouldn’t be over 90 minutes?

Jemaine: I believe it. Though you say we’re 87 minutes, we’re 85 minutes actually.

Oh really?

Taika: Yeah, the credits were really long in that first version… there’s an extra joke in the new version and it’s two minutes shorter. (Laughs)

Jemaine: Shorter but funnier.

You also use the word ‘flatting’, which is a very New Zealand word.

Taika: You say flat sharing, right?

Jemaine: You can shorten it if you want. (Laughs) Does flatting mean something else here? It’s probably doing some kind of drug.

Taika: ‘We were flatting off our faces last night!’

Jemaine: I can imagine someone lying down on their face, very very high.

Taika: ‘We’re flatted!’

Jemaine (in British accent): ‘You got flatted last night!’

There’s also a world of werewolves in What We Do In The Shadows. Is there any chance there'll be a short with them?

Jemaine: A short is a good idea.

Taika: We do want to do that, a short called What We Do In The Moonlight. We’d be following the werewolves around, watching how their wives chain them up at night. You know, on those special occasions.

Jemaine: That’s not a metaphor though.

The vampires also have some amazing insults for the vampires. What was left on the cutting room floor?

Jemaine: Those scenes were pretty long – they went on. Basically for those of you who don’t know, the whole film’s improvised, so those scenes with the werewolves went on for about ten minutes longer than they should have. And it took hours and hours just to shoot everything because we do 15 takes or something. And no one knew when to say cut. We would look at each other and go, ‘We’re in character! Okay, yeah keep going!’

So it was because of your commitment to the character that you couldn't actually direct?

Jemaine: That’s right, that’s the problem! Our characters aren’t directors.

Taika: Sometimes we would try and direct with our characters: ‘No, let’s go now.’ (Laughs)

‘Say that again!’

Jemaine: ‘If I were you, I would point the camera at that guy!’

How did you choose which vampire rules to follow in your mythology?

Jemaine: We stuck with the Bram Stoker rules.

Taika: Well, I think that era was where the rules came from, that they can transform into bats and so on.

Jemaine: I haven’t even read Dracula, I’ve just seen the movie.

Taika: I bought it for you, for your birthday, the book.

Jemaine: Well, I know who wrote it.

Taika: Er, no ‘cause sometimes you say Stroker. (Laughs)

Jemaine: Bam Stroker! I wanna sort this out the Bram Stroker… (Laughs) Oh crap! (Laughs) I mean in the Bram Stoker version, does he not die in the sunlight?

He doesn’t die in the sunlight, but he can go out in the daylight in a weaker form...

Jemaine: Is he allergic to crucifixes?

Yes.

Jemaine: Garlic?

Garlic is bad. Holy water is bad.

Jemaine: And stake through the heart?

Stake through the heart is definitely bad. But he can transform into dogs and so on.

Taika: We’ve gone for the movie-Dracula Dracula.

There’s a scene where two characters turn into bats and have a ‘Bat fight’ – was this a case of jumping up off the ground and then fixing it all in post?

Taika: That’s exactly what happened. Our special effects people are very good. I mean, Wellington’s full of people who do special effects and they just tell us, ‘No, you’ll be fine, you just jump, you’ll be fine – we’ll fix it. There’s no problem.’ They’re used to saying that to Peter Jackson.

Jemaine: ‘Oh yeah we’ll fix it Peter, we’ll fix everything.’

How did Peter Jackson help with the production?

Jemaine: He was a great help and he lent us a lot of gear. The exterior of the house was his old office, a big scary house.

Did he demand some sort of quid pro quo in return?

Taika: I don’t think we could help much on The Hobbit. If he was interested, we would gladly offer. Yeah I think he’s pretty sorted out.

Jemaine: I think he should have a cameo in What We Do In The Moonlight.

Taika: He would actually love to do that. He loves dressing up as zombies and things like that.

He dressed up as a weird evil clown for Comic-Con.

Jemaine: That’s cool.

Taika: But we all could, couldn’t we? We could dress up as a clown and go but it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

Jemaine: I heard a story – not sure if it’s true, though – that Johnny Depp was at Comic-Con once and wanted to go walking around the floor. So he got his assistant to buy him a Jack Sparrow costume and he wore it about and everyone looked at him like, ‘What a dumb Jack Sparrow costume!’

Taika: ‘He just got it from a toy shop.’

Could you tell us more about the origins of Stu?

Jemaine: When we made our short film, Stu was Taika’s flat mate.

Taika: Flat sharing mate, please.

Jemaine: Yes, flat sharing mate.

Taika: Flat sharer. (Laughs)

Brits say “flatter”.

Jemaine: (Laughs) Okay, he was Taika’s flatter, and we were shooting some scenes with the vampires and we said, ‘Stu, you should, do you wanna come along?’ And he really is like he is in the movie, a very helpful guy.

Taika: He held gear and carried backpacks full of stuff while we were doing it.

Jemaine: Then we said, ‘Do you wanna be in the scene just sitting with us?’ Then we just liked the way he stood out from the rest of the vampires. So normal. So very normal. And I think he’s a bit of a star back home now.

Really?

Jemaine: Yeah. He was in IT before he did the movie… and now he’s back in IT. But he’s just the most famous IT guy in New Zealand.

You’ve been going round a lot of festivals recently, have you been enjoying it?

Jemaine: We went to Transylvania a few weeks ago, that was great. There was a very small, very fun festival.

Taika: We actually pleaded with them to let us come to that festival. They’d heard of Jemaine but they had no idea about our film. They probably thought it was a joke.

Jemaine: But they were clapping along to the soundtrack and we all had a good time.

Where did you find Viago’s voice, Taika?

Taika: He’s partly this guy I once met when I was travelling: a German guy who just had a very high-pitched voice.

Jemaine: What was his name? Don’t worry, he’s not gonna hear this.

Taika: Phillip. He called himself Mr Happy.

Jemaine: It’s getting more specific now.

Taika: He’s a really cool guy. He came to stay in New Zealand once as well.

You speak German in the movie Taika, did you learn it for the film?

Taika: I spent a lot of time in Germany back in the ‘90s and so I know only a few phrases.

Jemaine: The scene where Viago speaks German with his old servant is the only scene that isn’t improvised because Taika had to memorise it.

Taika: I had to do what a lot of actors do, which is memorise some lines.

Wow.

Taika: Six or seven lines.

Interesting.

Taika: What you do is you read the script, then read it again and again until it’s committed to memory, and then when the cameras are on, you gotta turn it on.

Jemaine: And then you’ve got to say the words.

Taika: Yeah. You gotta get at it from inside of your brain, the memory part of your brain, and get it out of your mouth.

Jemaine: That’s something I can do, you know.

Taika: And the way that it’s edited cuts all around the bits where I’m looking off from the webcam I'm facing to a big bit of paper right next to it, with those lines on it.

Jemaine: Oh. I’m disappointed now.

Taika: No, I knew that. I was surprised you said you memorised it. I was thinking ‘That’s a lot!’ (Laughs)

There are a lot of vampires in films and on TV now, was that a worry over the long production period?

Jemaine: When we first suggested the idea we were like, ‘Ah vampires? That’s pretty ‘70s!’ And after a while we were like, ‘Ah vampires are cool now’ and then ‘Ah vampires, yeah!’ Then people started rolling their eyes when you mentioned what you were doing. And eventually it was late enough that people were ready to make fun of vampires.

Taika: I was just worried that someone would do this idea first.

Jemaine: Well, someone did. There was a Belgian film in 2010 called Vampires, which is a documentary about vampires.

Taika: So someone did it! (Laughs)

There’s a Lost Boys reference in What We Do In The Shadows, so the vampires in the movie clearly watch vampire movies.

Taika: Yeah, they have to watch an edited version with all the crucifixes taken out. They have one of their minions go through it on VHS tape. They take out the end where the vampire dies usually, too.

Jemaine: By the way, one of our first comments, when we got our first review online, mentioned the character Deacon – played by play Jonathan Burgh – not wanting to do the dishes and the first comment was: ‘Oh I flat with Jonny in real life he also doesn’t do the dishes.’ (Laughs)

An article online mentions that you were in a gang called The Vampires when you were younger, Jemaine.

Jemaine: That’s right, yeah. You read about my gang? Interesting. So I started a gang…

Taika: How did you get this information?

Jemaine: Have you been looking at my police records? Anyway, we had bicycles, and I had a chopper. Do you know what a chopper is? It has three gears, you know? A chopper?

Taika: Small wheel at the front?

Jemaine: But what’s important is that no-one else had one because it was a ‘70s bike and it was the mid-‘80s. And they were like ‘Woah, what’s that? It’s got gears!’ ‘Yeah, I've got three speeds, I can go extra fast.’ They all had BMXs and we’d ride around, and at my insistence and we had plastic vampire teeth. As for the people that didn’t have them, well, I would use my own pocket money to get them plastic teeth and we’d grab our teeth and ride around shouting ‘I want to drink your blood!’ to little girls.

Taika: You were little.

Jemaine: Yeah we were little as well.

Taika: Just to clear that up. (Laughs)

Jemaine: I think we sort of ruled our block.

Taika: You ruled the monster themed gang world!

When did the gang break up? What happened?

Taika: The police busted you guys up didn’t they? (Laughs) Spread you guys out, sent a few of you to juvi?

Jemaine: The police didn’t really bother us. I think they were afraid.

Was it easy to persuade Rhys Derby to be head werewolf?

Taika: I just said ‘Do you wanna be a werewolf?’ and he said ‘Okay’.

Jemaine: No, that wasn’t like that, ‘cause I spent time telling him the character ‘could be pretty cool, he’s quite manly – it’s quite a manly part!’ I remember saying at one point. And he says ‘Oh yeah.’

Who came up with ‘Werewolves, not swearwolves?’

Jemaine: You.

Taika: I think I wrote that in the script, yep. We also gave them a list of insults they could call us as we’re walking past. So we didn’t really give them the script, we just gave them a list of things they could say and then they could throw their own as well. Often they'd be the only ones we’d end up using.

And the sandwich / virgin line, who came up with that?

Jemaine: That line, that was in the script as well, wasn’t it? I said it, but I felt so gross about it that I didn’t want it in the movie – but Taika and the editor convinced me that it was a winner.

It was a year-long editing process. How did you get through that?

Jemaine: Well, there are two of us and we had three editors.

Taika: There’s just so much footage to watch…

Jemaine: So we’d do a month, then take a week out when the other person was working.

Taika: Like students would do, in a student film. We wanted to finish it, we wanted to work on it when we could and then go out and earn money. Come back and sit in a dark room, take over from the other one. Go ‘Thank God you’re here!’ Then shoot little bits here and there, you know, when you’re years older.

Was it a tough shoot?

Jemaine: Yeah, we had frustrating moments. We had some frustration, didn’t we? The lighting guy would always put lots of light coming through our windows and it would look like sunlight. ‘Oh there’s too much light, but we need to see your faces.’

Taika: Then there were some of the big days when we had lots of extras and stuff, and we were in such a rush.

When the vampires go out on the town, there are moments when slurs are shouted at your characters, ‘Homo’ and that sort of thing. Is that based on truth? How did you do that?

Taika: Actually the first one we did in 2005, it did happen. It was a rugby night, so some people – mostly men, some women – shouted homophobic slurs constantly and in the shot we recorded we just edited and used them all together. But this time, people didn’t wanna do it. I think times have changed, people are more accepting of frilly shirts.

People have been comparing this film to Spinal Tap, how does that make you feel?

Taika: Fine. Totally okay with that.

Jemaine: I don’t mind that, I like that. It makes me feel amazing.

Taika: You feel wonderful. Honoured, I mean. I’ve watched that film a lot.

Jemaine: I’m glad they compare it favourably rather than ‘They copied from Spinal Tap.’

Perhaps we should wrap this up but… Nazis.

Taika: They’re bad. They’re bad people. What do you wanna know? You wanna know about joining them?

Jemaine: If they talk to you, just say no. (Laughs) If only we’d been around in the '40s to say this, ‘Just say no. Don’t join the Nazis.’

One of the vampires in this, sort of accidentally became involved in the Nazi party. Was that a joke that anybody queried?

Taika: Yes. We said we’d see how this feels in America and it kind of didn’t feel very good. We experimented with taking it out and it was still funny, but we found we had nothing to replace it with.

Jemaine: We found it funny, but then a lot of people didn’t find it funny. I don’t know… people aren’t doing Nazis anymore. They’re all sensitive about Nazis now like you can’t even make fun of them anymore.

Can’t wait for your other spin-off short, What We Do…

Jemaine: …With The Führer?

Taika: Remember kids – just say no.