Jemaine Clement Interview: What We Do in the Shadows


What We Do in the Shadows, starring Jemaine Clement, arrives on DVD and Blu-ray this week.

Jemaine Clement’s What We Do in the Shadows arrives on Blu-ray and DVD this week

New Zealand comedian Jemaine Clement first started getting attention in the States when he starred in Taika Waititi’s feature debut, the quirky indie Eagle vs. Shark, which happened to premiere in 2007 right around the time that Clement’s popular musical comedy show “Flight of the Conchords” debuted on HBO. After that, Clement’s career exploded with key roles in movies like Men In Black 3, the animated Rio and its sequel.

A few years back, Clement and Taika reunited to make What We Do in the Shadows, a mockumentary about vampire roommates, which they wrote, directed and starred in together, each playing one of the main vampires. The movie ran the festival circuit before finally being released earlier this year and became a decent-sized hit despite its independent release.

It’s likely to be seen by more people, both fans of the duo’s comedy and vampire fans, when it’s released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, July 21, so got on the phone with Clement for this short interview about the movie. And apparently, they are finally moving forward with the much-discussed “Flight of the Conchords” movie as well. In some ways, this is a follow-up to “Eagle vs. Shark.” Even though it’s very different and you each did other things since then, this is your first feature film together since making that.

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, well, that last one was his movie and this one is both of us. He’s back to coming-of-age dramas now—he’s just made another one in New Zealand.

CS: What was the impetus to do this movie? Was it a response to the slew of vampire movies that were coming out including “The Twilight Saga”?

Jemaine Clement: No, it wasn’t a response to that. We had the idea about ten years ago when we did a lot of theater shows and live comedy and we said that we’d like to make a film. We made a short film back then in 2005 that was about half an hour long. I think it’s on the Blu-ray, I’m not so sure about every country’s DVD, but the original that we made I think is on there. We just made it with a couple hundred dollars and just literally spent it all on costumes at a costume hirage place and went into the city and filmed ourselves. It had many of the same ideas and the same characters and it was kind of a test if the idea would work.

What We Do in the Shadows is a new comedy starring Jemaine Clement.CS: At what point did you decide you were going to direct and have Taika act on it because you didn’t direct any of the “Flight of the Conchords” episodes. Had you already been involved in that aspect in the other stuff you’ve done?

Jemaine Clement: When did I decide to direct it? Right away. Ten years ago when we came up with the idea, we directed the short together and we always directed our theater shows together. So that was never a question.

CS: It’s fairly low budget but you have a lot of FX, both practical and some CG. Can you talk about approaching the feature and making it for more money but not a ton of money?

Jemaine Clement: We didn’t know just how big it might be, so we thought we better keep it low budget, because New Zealand films don’t travel that much, though I think we could have thought ahead and gotten a bigger budget now. But we live in Wellington, where Peter Jackson lives, so there’s a whole industry of special FX people all through the city and we kind of tapped into those people, and they’re pretty generous with their time sometimes. Sometimes they’d be on their lunch break from “The Hobbit” working on our special FX.

CS: You mentioned doing the short, so had you been collecting ideas on how to expand it into a feature since doing it?

Jemaine Clement: Yeah we would just Email each other about it over that long period, so (it was) eight years before we started planning to shoot it. In fact, every year we’d think it was the year we were going to make it, and then things would come up, but this time we got some time and managed to get all the people from the original cast of the short that we wanted to be in it all at the same time. And then we added characters, too. Rhys Darby’s character wasn’t in the original and there weren’t any werewolves. That’s kind of the influence of “Twilight” was the rival gang of all-male werewolves. That’s one thing that came from filming when we did.

CS: Considering you two have worked together for so long, was this very scripted or improvised or somewhere in between? You obviously had time to write a full script but there’s something about being able to get into the characters and see what happens.

Jemaine Clement: We did write a full script but we didn’t show it to the actors. We would just describe a scene to them. Mainly, Taika would talk to the crew and I would talk to the actors when we got our system of shooting. I would describe what they needed to know to make the scene happen the way we wanted it to go, so that we could get the story that we had written in the script. Does that make sense? Often, more improvised movies just have a scene breakdown and we had a very detailed one and because there’s a lot of special FX, we wanted the script just in case the improv wasn’t working out or we needed to get certain things to make the special FX happen. Like sometimes they have to run up a wall or turn into a bat, so we had to be very specific about what we told them.

Jemaine Clement stars in What We Do in the Shadows.

CS: Were a lot of these other actors people you had worked with before like in the theater shows?

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, yeah or at least done comedy club gigs with.

CS: You have to wear a lot of crazy outfits as Vlad, so did you have someone you had worked with before designing the costumes for the movie?

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, Amanda Neale who also was on “Eagle vs. Shark” did the costumes, and then she was way more detailed than we expected to give some realism.

CS: Were you guys always horror fans or have horror movies you liked in particular, and was that important to include the level of gore and things you’d expect from horror movies?

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, yeah, and we’re both vampire movie fans and we didn’t really need to refresh ourselves about the lore about vampires really. We already knew the rules of the vampire movies while we were growing up. “Twilight” movies they can go in the sunlight but we went for the general rules up to 1984.

CS: I was curious about whether you might do a “Flight of the Conchords” movie, because it’s something that’s been mentioned a few times. Obviously you’re both busy, but is that something you might want to do?

Jemaine Clement: We’re actually working on a “Conchords” movie, but this was the first time we were really working on one. (laughs) We actually started writing. It’s me, Bret (McKenzie) and James Bobin the director.

What We Do in the Shadows is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, July 21.

(Photo Credit: Patrick Hoffmann/