The Bite's On: What We Do In The Shadows (2014) by Tina H.
I am sitting in a shadowy room somewhere downtown Toronto watching a private screening of What We Do In The Shadows; a new horror-comedy film by New Zealander comic duo Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (Academy Award Nominee, Two Cars, One Night) - who both wrote, directed and starred in it.
This mockcumentary is set in Wellington, New Zealand which follows three vampires ‘living’ together as flatmates (that’s roommates for our North American vernacular). A camera crew is granted permission to film them before the Unholy Masquerade Ball -- a ball for the Undead and Non-human citizenry of Wellington to converge for bloody cocktails and deadly dancing. With the arrival of ‘fresh blood’ new vampire Nick and his human best friend, I.T. Specialist Stu; the vampires are thrown into the modern world of computers and internet, martial arts and 'fresh virgins' at the local nightclub. All batty mayhem ensues.
Twenty minutes into the film, What We Do In The Shadows has aspects which remind me of "An Interview With A Vampire" having a sleepover at “The Osbournes” -- but heavy on the mid-century Euro accents, and possibly with more leather pants.There are moments of absurd hilarity where the vampires have a meeting to discuss housework misappropriation using a chore wheel. There are also poignant moments too. Imagine the normalcy of everyday interactions dealing with interrelationship conflicts, regrets and longings. Now throw in a few vampires who's been around the block a few centuries; it makes for very unhappy, unfulfilled vampires.
The humour really comes from seeing the different vampires and their egos, earnestly attempting to understand and balance our real world values with their old world charms - and failing dismally. As Deacon, one of the vampires confidently asserts with a grin, "When you become a vampire, you become sexy!"
Based on a short film project Clement and Waititi created back in 2005, actual filming only began in 2012. I chatted more with Jemaine Clements who plays the vampire Vladislave, and Stu Rutherford who plays himself, a human I.T. specialist that 'helps people put their computer systems together'.
---------------- How did the idea of a vampire mockumentary came to be? ---
Jemaine: Taika and I…a couple of times played vampire characters, once on stage at a bar, at comedy night and once at a party we went to - a Halloween party - where no one else was dressed up as anything.[Laughter] Even then it looked funny, just vampires walking around and everyone else was normal…which was kind of the whole idea of the movie. But separately I wanted to make a vampire movie and Taika wanted to make a mockumentary movie.
---There was a sense that the Vampires were bored. They struggled to keep to their ‘old ways’ but ended up doing more ‘normal human things’. The introduction of ‘fresh blood’ Nick and human I.T. Stu gave the Vampires a new ‘lease of life’ and perspectives. Were the Vampires having a mid-life crisis and did they find the meaning of life? ---
Jemaine: When we first had the idea, I don't think so but by the time we filmed it we were middle-aged [laughter]…so it did seem that the idea of…you know….what have you done with your life and when will you let things go and move on. So it did keep coming to be more of that than what we original had thought. I think some of the vampires dealt with their issues…but my character is still stuck doing his thing.
--- The film was primarily based on ‘improvisation’ and that you seldom shared the script with the cast. Certainly with the character Stu, there was no specific script developed for him - it was entirely based on the actual persona of Stu Rutherford (Rutherford was a roommate of Waititi and was asked to be in the original 2005 short film). ---
Stu: They kind of go like this…here's the script [motions hands forward and back quickly]. Yeah I never really got much. There were a couple of scenes that I was kinda told what to do but apart than that, they would just say "go to that room, sit down and be yourself".
Jemaine: Yeah. Not very often we shared the script…if it was complex like if there were two of the characters talking to each other, we'd show them the shape of it…say the Werewolves…in the van on the way to filming, we'd let the Werewolves see the script….[laughter] one of the very few times.
--- So you ended up with a large amount of footage from the improvisation. From the extra footage, how did you decide which scenes were funnier, and which to keep in the movie? ---
Jemaine: Well most things we wrote ended up in the movie. A lot of times we thought about what our favourite comedy movies are, especially the big, wacky comedies….like Monty Python's The Holy Grail and Spinal Tap….those kinds of movies.
--- Stu, there was a particular scene when you were teaching the computer and internet to the Vampires; you had a perfect look on your face when I.T. people are dealing with non-IT people. ---
Stu: The Vampires were a bit slow. Yeah…I still work part-time in I.T. At that time [shooting of the movie] I was doing the exact job I said I was doing in the 2005 short film. At that time, I was basically working part-time in I.T….doing twenty hours a week…helping people set up their systems.
---Jermaine, there were a couple of scenes between the Vampires and Werewolves, which reminded me a lot of the Westside Story, between 2 gangs. Did you think about adding any original music? Would you consider making a musical-movie? ---
Jermaine: No, it wouldn't fit into the documentary I think, it would be too weird…but maybe if someone makes a stage version, they can do that. Yeah, I hope so. I really want to.
--Any new projects on the horizon?---
Jermain: [Stu…you going to take out the viruses out of my computer?] [Laughter] Yeah…me and Taika pitched a show to HBO, they got us to write a few episodes of the idea. So I am writing that at the moment…and Taika is too.
Stu: I am working on a lighting system with a friend, he is a photographer. So we are building the platform…basically it's like a thing to make special effects…so it's kind of combining film with software development and hardware.
What We Do In The Shadows premiered recently at the Toronto International Film Festival's Midnight Madness, and won the People's Choice Award. A win for all vampires still living in the shadows.