Were in the middle of a vampire renaissance, one which has taken us to Detroit, Tangier, Marthas Vineyard, Iran and New Zealand. Its been lush, its been romantic, its been visceral, its been violent and in the case of What We Do in the Shadows, its been very, very funny.
There arent many truly great vampire comediesmaybe this itbut What We Do in the Shadows status as one is both quickly realized and hard to argue. Co-writers, co-directors and co-stars Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement have crafted something physically hilarious across many styles and subsets. Its witty, its silly, its a great comedy, a great horror-comedy and a great mock doc all at once. The filmmakers and ensemble richly bring their characters to life in both performance and design, the latter of which is captured in terrific faux doc style. Shadows doesnt simply use the mock doc for confessional quips, but nicely choreographed, immediate sequences capturing straight lightning.
Shock spoke with the filmmakers about the film, its aesthetics and a lot of what we didnt end up seeing at all.
Shock Till You Drop: Id love to start with the chase sequence in the house. Its very dynamic, with a funhouse atmosphere.
Taika Waititi: We actually ended up doing this really boring thing [laughs], which is we made a list of all the ideas we wanted to do in this chase scene. A lot of stuff didnt make it into the sequence because it looked really cheap. With every shot or little gag, wed just trybecause we had a really small set and low budget, so we had to find sneaky little ways to transition and make things feel like one shot or longer pieces. So whip pans, Id use that as a cutting point.
Jemaine Clement: So it looks fluid, but its actually just a shot here and then edited together.
Waititi: A lot of the time, it actually looks quite good, like when he falls down the stairs. Thats inside the studio and then wed do these quick little pans and stuff. Then, wed cut to hes running outside and gets bitten. We kind of didnt storyboard at all, but we knew that we had to piece these little bits together somehow.
Clement: Then we added stuff for the reshoot, like the cat with my face.
Waititi: Originally it was going to be three cats with our faces, but I think we could only just get one cat [laughs].
Shock: Was there anything else in the film that you felt as dynamic about?
Waititi: I think all of those technical things were really fun, like the revolving room. We spent a lot of time shooting that. We had it built especially for this one tiny little piece of the film.
Clement: We had a few set pieces, but then as we went on, we ran out of time to do them as we imagined them. So, like the ball, we wanted that to be full of
Waititi: Freaky, grotesque-
Clement: Vampires, and be really threatening.
Waititi: In the end, it just looks like people go, big box of costumes, and put on whatever you can and well just shoot this! [laughs]
Clement: And so we had to go for a different way. Well play up how parochial it is, rather than how scary it is.
Shock: So you had a desire to make it physically scarier as a film? Would you like to make something even more horror?
Clement: One of the other film ideas we talked about at the same time we came up with this was more a monster, American Werewolf in London, being really scary with some jokes. Weve become really silly with some scares.
Shock: It seems like a more even balance of comedy and fright is something you could pull off.
Clement: Yeah, and now that we know a little bit about FX. Neither have us had worked with FX before.
Waititi: We were really learning as we went.
Shock: How difficult was that?
Clement: Our Visual FX Supervisor, Stan Alley was really great. He would just say, cant do it, or easy. Thats how we would choose what we did. The bat fight, originally we had written that as them running up the wall of buildings, like 30 feet high and throwing each other around. Hes like, Cant do it. What if they turn into bats? Easy.
Shock: Were there similar conversations with the werewolves?
Clement: Now that I know how to do those FX, like whip pans, we couldve had some really cool transformation stuff. We didnt know until editing it. We ran out of time.
Shock: It seems youre very endeared to the characters and the archetypes they recall. What was your own affinity for vampire cinema or horror?
Waititi: Im not a huge horror fan. I dont know all the films, but definitely films like An American Werewolf in London. And The Thing is one of my favorite films.
Clement: The guy who did our werewolf prosthetics, he had just done a few werewolves before and we were using bits he had used before. If we had it made, we wouldve had the motors and things.
Waititi: He had one motor.
Clement: It was very useful! We could mix some things. We put digital eyes in our werewolves so their eyes moved, which I had seen in a making-of of Lord of the Rings. Sometimes weve talked about doing a werewolves one, but it would probably be more expensive, because werewolves are harder than vampires.
Shock: It seems there was so much unused, do you want to continue on with these characters?
Clement: Weve had maybe two ideas. One, of them going back to Europe and seeing how its changed. One, of following the werewolves and seeing their story. I was thinking that, you know in this movie Scars of Dracula which Ive talked about a lot because its my first vampire movie, they resurrect Dracula. Were talking about maybe doing that with Petyr. They have to go back to Europe and resurrect Petyr and then fall in trouble with the really serious vampires of Europe and its a whole different scene.
Shock: What did you learn from engaging with the mock doc?
Waititi: I didnt anticipate how long it would take. We edited for 14 months. And then we played at Sundance, and then went and did some more editing, and did some more shooting. You could just keep going. Its really fun, but to make it really satisfying, you have to create quite a deep world for the characters; give them backstory and history. So many little moments are only onscreen for a couple of seconds, but they all help. One example is, theres a photo of Petyr on a boat journey to New Zealand, which is probably on screen for one second. And the set that we built, the deck of this boat and all the rope and stuff of this old sailing ship. It was this huge thing that was built for a photo that was gonna be in the opening credits for two seconds. Usually, youd make the deck or the boat, youd just shoot a whole scene there.
Clement: Imagine, before Photoshop, with Zelig. What it would have been like to doctor all those photos by hand. I think its good for subtlety. When youre not subtle, it stands out. Its good for capturing tiny reactions and things like that.
Shock: You had wanted a running gag with the opening of Vlads door. What else was there?
Waititi: We shot a bit that I really like, which is I open the door and Jemaines go these eyeinstead of nipples, hes got eyes on his chest.
Shock: Like in Gothic?
Clement: Exactly, but no one got that.
Waititi: I think it just weirded people out. We had this conversation about being concerned about Deacon, this whole conversation at the door and the whole time hes got these eyes looking around. Its really odd, but I really loved it.
What We Do in the Shadows is now playing. For those in NYC, Jemaine Clement will be at the Landmark Sunshine for Q&A’s after the 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. shows on Friday, February 20th and Saturday, February 21st. For more, see Shock’s Kalyn Corrigan review the film here.