Taika Waititi talks about the making of What We Do in the Shadows

I LOVE What We Do in the Shadows, the 2014 horror-comedy mockumentary starring Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, and Jonathan Brugh as three vampires living together in a modern-day Wellington, 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 quotes.

Waititi began by explaining that he and Clement came up with the idea in 2005 but their writing process was “excruciatingly slow” and took six-seven years, and in the end, they didn’t show the script to the actors as the whole thing was essentially improvised.

Explaining how they shot it, Waititi said:

“We knew going into a scene what we wanted to do, and so we’d get the cast in and go – ‘OK so in this scene…’ like for example Stu came in one day and we said, ‘Stu just lie down here on the grass,’ and we just started pouring blood all over him. And he was like, ‘Is my character dead?’

“So we didn’t tell anyone really what was happening to their characters, just because we really wanted it to feel like a documentary. So we would say, ‘Here’s the goal from the beginning of the scene to the end of the scene, you have to get this achieved. Your mission is to convince this person to do this or murder this person, or something.’

“So we built the interior of the house and we pre-lit everything so we could go into any room we wanted, and because we had three cameras running all the time, sometimes we’d say, ‘Well we’ll just stick with this character,’ and halfway through the scene – most of the scenes were ten minute takes, fifteen minute takes – and halfway through the scene maybe a character would go, ‘F**k this, I’m out of here,’ and walk and then the camera would follow them into their bedroom and just sit with them as they were fuming about something and then they’d come back.” 

It meant that when it came down to editing, the team had “150 hours of footage” that they need to get down into a 90-minute movie, but that was hard because every take was very different. That explains why the edit took 14 months!

Waititi also spoke about getting the balance between comedy and story/character moments just right:

“In What We Do in the Shadows we did cuts where we had to concentrate on the story at the expense of a lot of the jokes and then we did another cut where it was all jokes and not much story, and neither of them worked. The one that was full of jokes no one cared about the characters and they were on the phone like, ‘It’s funny, it’s always funny but I just don’t care about the characters and I’m on the phone.’ And the story version was just boring.” 

He explained that he always hosts test screenings of his films for his friends and makes a note of where he needs to make changes:

“We always test, I’m always testing my films. Sometimes you don’t even need to ask them questions afterwards, sometimes it’s just being in a room with some other people and what I’ll do is watch my films and make a note of the time when I feel embarrassed and then that’s my notes. At one hour I felt pretty s**tty like I really wanted to disappear in a corner – and then I know to go and have a look at that section.” 

Here are the full highlights from Waititi’s BAFTA chat.

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  1. […] Here’s Taika Waititi talking about the making of What We Do in the Shadows […]

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