Highlights from Taika Waititi’s BAFTA screenwriting lecture

On Saturday, writer/director/actor Taika Waititi stopped by BAFTA’s London headquarters to deliver their annual screenwriting lecture. However, Taika being Taika, it did not take its usual format. Find out more inside.

The Thor: Ragnarok director is known for his comedic style and sense of humour so it was no surprise to see him treating the lecture almost like a sketch. The session opened with a screening of his short Two Cars, One Night, but there were sound issues and we couldn’t hear the dialogue, so Taika entered the auditorium and began criticising his piece from the door in the dark, before going onto the stage and messing around with the curtains, talking the entire time. He then said they might as well cut it short, so the movie ended.

After that, they are supposed to stand at a podium and deliver a lecture about their screenwriting process. Taika, who didn’t bring any notes, made a performance out of how unprepared he was and kept stalling before actually getting into his lecture after five minutes or so. I couldn’t tell if he was super confident or overcompensating for nerves.

The lecture portion is supposed to last a good chunk of time before the Q&A but he asked BAFTA’s Mariayah Kaderbhai to come up and start it sooner. He definitely seemed more calm and confident during the sit down part of it and seemed to take it more seriously.

That being said, he said a lot of interesting things so here are the highlights from his lecture:

– He found his own weird style of comedy as sitcoms in New Zealand at the time were basically just copies of U.S. shows

– He never dreamed of being a filmmaker and only started on that path in his late 20s. He’s glad he gained some life experience working a range of normal jobs because he draws from that experience in his writing. He reckons if he wrote his first feature at 21 it would have terrible

– He wrote his first short as a play initially but then a producer suggested he make it into a film

– Taika went to the Sundance Labs to develop his first feature Eagle vs. Shark

– regarding Boy, he prefers non-professional child actors to professional adults because it is pure, they don’t need any prep or talks about motivations etc

– In Hunt for the Wilderpeople, he adapted a book for the script but he changed it radically to fit his own style. The book was not funny

– He wrote the first draft for it in 2005, before he shot his first feature, and it was super depressing and without jokes and when he returned to it he realised the world needs something fun

– He began co-writing What We Do in the Shadows with Jemaine Clement in 2005 but it was a very slow process and took about 6-7 years. In the end, they didn’t show that script to the actors and made them improvise. They only told them what needed to happen in the scene and what they needed to achieve by the end of it. They would run each scene multiple times so they ended up with 150 hours of wildly different footage to edit

– They tested some scenes out on friends and family. Scenes that were too story-driven and scenes that were just about jokes didn’t work, they needed to be a mix of both. He tests out all his films and notes when he starts to become embarrassed – that’s when he needs to make changes.

– He was nervous about working with a studio on Thor: Ragnarok, but he knew they wouldn’t have chosen him if they didn’t like his style. The script had been written by somebody else but he had it in his contract that he could edit it and he made many changes to inject his voice, style and comedy into it. The character of Korg (that he played) was massively upgraded.

– He wouldn’t let people direct things he had written

– With upcoming Star Wars TV show The Mandalorian, he just focused on directing and wasn’t tweaking the script all the time

– He advises people to stick to their vision as many people with more experience will want to give their input, but it would be wrong to listen to them. Stick to your instincts.

– He likes working with the same actors because there is a shorthand and no BS on set. It makes his job easier and he writes scripts with them in mind.

– He sometimes has songs in mind when he writes a script and occasionally he’ll add them in, but can’t always afford them!

– When writing a script, he will start with the beginning and the end and have a general outline of beats and scenes to work from. He will slot these in where they need to go and then find a way to glue them all together

– He shot Jojo Rabbit this year but wrote it in 2011

– He’ll write a draft of a script and then put it away for years and look at it again and think “who wrote this shit?” He will throw that one away and write a second draft based on his memory of the first – meaning he remembers the bare bones story. He believes it’s a good filter system as it really shortens the script down. He’ll then add in tonal stuff.

– When he’s acting and directing, he won’t watch himself back. He has a team he trusts who will tell him if a take is bad. He will only take on silly, supporting characters who don’t carry the story or have any emotional weight.

So that’s it! As you can see, he said A LOT. The talk was very funny but when he got down to business and was serious, he really was interesting and gave great insights into his process. I will be doing a separate post about Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows so stay tuned for that.

Trackbacks

  1. […] about Cuaron as a person but he was a very nice, warm man with a brilliant sense of humour. Like Taika Waititi, he wasn’t prepared for the lecture portion of the event (to be honest, it seemed like he […]

  2. […] New Zealand. So naturally, I was very interested to know what Waititi had to say about it during his recent BAFTA talk, so here are some of his best […]

  3. […] his BAFTA screenwriting lecture, Taika Waititi, who became known for writing, directing and starring in his own comedies, touched […]

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