Why Taika Waititi returned to the Shadows

Publish Date
Friday, 22 March 2019, 7:54AM

By: Karl Puschmann

As a storyteller Taika Waititi has been lurking in the Shadows for almost 15 years. He and co-creator/co-conspirator Jemaine Clement first introduced us to the mundane world of vampires back in 2005 with a short film titled What We Do In the Shadows.

Shot as a mockumentary, the 30-minute movie followed a group of vampire flatmates as they went about their day. The pair did it all themselves, writing, directing and acting. They enlisted friends to star and those who bothered to turn up were cast. With a reported budget of $200, Clement would later describe the short as, "alright".

It was alright enough for the pair to secure funding for a proper, feature-length film. Which they did nine years later in 2014. Titled What We Do In the Shadows, and shot as a mockumentary, the film followed a group of vampire flatmates as they went about their day.

Again, the pair did it themselves, writing, directing and acting, and the friends who turned up were cast. One mate helping out behind the scenes didn't even realise he had a big part in the movie until he saw it.

The film was a sleeper hit. A cult favourite. It did well at the box office and, over the years, gained in popularity. TimeOut's review from the time called it "Fangtastically funny,".

There was talk of a sequel tailing Wellington's werewolves. It's working title was We're Wolves, which is pretty good, but it was never made. Instead, the pair would eventually produce Wellington Paranormal, a TV spin-off on TVNZ 2, just last year.

This mockumentary followed the film's hapless cops, Officers O'Leary and Minogue, as they investigated the capital's supernatural activity. It was really funny and the Herald's review called it, "one of the best show's of the year,". TVNZ agreed and a second season was recently confirmed.

Now the pair have spun-it-off again with a new TV series. Titled What We Do In the Shadows, and shot as a mockumentary, the show follows a group of vampire flatmates as they go about their day.

So, after all these years and all these various incarnations what is it about the Shadowsworld that keeps Waititi creatively inspired and interested?

"Paying my mortgage off," he laughs. "But in a creative way."

"I was always worried that after doing anything for 10 years you'd run out of ideas and end up being one of these sad people who'd be on the 'where are they now?' list. But I feel even more motivated and that I've got even better ideas now."

"I'm always trying to do something that makes me feel more uncomfortable and a bit unsure of the result," he says. "Shadows is quite a safe move for us because we've done it before. But all the other things I'm working on, they're all potential career enders."

This is an obvious reference to his upcoming movie Jojo Rabbit, a film set in WWII-era Germany which he wrote, directs and stars in... as Hitler. A "potential career-ender" indeed. So why tempt fate, why do it?

"I think that's a good space to be in creatively," he answers. "Feeling like the next thing you're gonna do is going to be the last Jenga block in the tower you've been building for the last 10 years."

He's described this American version of Shadows as a "safe move," but it could be a bloody mess. America has fumbled in adapting a number of cult properties over the years, like Spaced, Red Dwarf and The I.T Crowd.

The big difference here is that Waititi and Clement are driving the whole project. They're executive producers, both directed episodes and Clement even wrote a few. This all ensures the pair's unique comedic tone could successfully cross the Atlantic.

But why did they really want to return to the Shadows?

"We kind of did and we didn't," he says, before explaining why they decided to stay behind the camera and not resurrect their vampire creations Viago and Vladislav.

"We didn't want to return as our characters because it felt it might just be sad for guys in their mid-40s to still be dressing up as vampires after all these years. It was nice to be able to concentrate on creating the show, directing it and shaping it without having to also dress up in ridiculous clothes and put teeth in and look ridiculous all day long at the same time."

He says on top of everything else, acting in the series would have been exhausting.

"We were both smart enough to know that it would be better for us in the long run to not be in the show. To put all that pressure on some other actors."

And what actors they are; Fonejacker's Kayvan Novak stars as Nandor, the award-winning stand-up comedian Natasia Demetriou is Nadja, while the brilliantly hilarious Matt Berry (The I.T Crowd) rounds off the new vampire trio as Laszlo.

But Kiwi fans need not worry that these new vampires cancel out our local ones.

"In the show our characters are still around, they're just not in the show," confirms Waititi. "They're still in New Zealand while the show is going on in America. They exist in the same universe. "

Does this mean there's a chance of an Avengers style, epic crossover with our vampires, their vampires and the Wellington Paranormal cops all coming together?

"The part of me who wants to pay off his mortgage is definitely open to the idea," he jokes, before hinting. "But there's a chance that there could be some crossovers..."

Now, with only a week before the show swoops on to screens how's he feeling? Nervous about how it will be received at all?

"Oh, no. No. Hollywood's killed all my feelings and sense of nervousness. I'm numb to most things now," he laughs.

Did he ever think that perhaps, after all this time, the mockumentary format might be getting a little tired?

"We had Fred Dagg, he's one of the first, then This is Spinal Tap. It was tired by the time The Office came around. By the time we started doing it we were really scraping the bottom of the barrel. I'm amazed people still watch mockumentaries," he admits. "But there you go."

Why do you think people are so into Shadows?

"It's because of the subject matter. We [originally] wanted to make a documentary on something you couldn't make a documentary on. Most mockumentaries are more boring than normal documentaries. Normal documentaries are fascinating, but for some reason people decided to make mockumentaries on things that are just not interesting."

The normal lives of vampires. An interesting, comedically rich, idea that's come a long way from that first $200 short film. Did he ever imagine it would last this long, spawn multiple spin-offs, go global?

He thinks for a second and replies, "Ahh... No."

"I was saying to Jemaine while we were shooting the film, 'Man, I'm not sure we're gonna get an hour and a half out of this two-minute sketch idea'. It seemed like a great idea, but if I was to watch something like that I'd be like, 'Yeah, I get it. Vampires who flat together. Do I really want to watch it for an hour and a half?'. But it turns out people do. And, weirdly enough, they even want to watch TV shows based on the same idea. It's not our fault. We're just gonna milk this idea for all its worth. We're gonna keep going until they pull us back."

Until that mortgage is paid off?


This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you