News

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement on Revamping Cult Film Favorite What We Do in the Shadows for TV

Find out how Real Housewives, Metallica, and Twilight influenced their FX television adaptation.

by | March 27, 2019 | Comments

It wasn’t Jemaine Clement or Taika Waititi’s idea to turn their cult-favorite comedy What We Do in the Shadows into a TV show — you have producer Scott Rudin to thank for that — but once you watch the premiere of the new FX series, you have to wonder if it was fated to become a TV series all along.

The Certified Fresh WWDITS show follows a similar framework as the film: It’s a mockumentary about vampire roommates (Matt Berry, Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetriou, Mark Proksch) and a devoted familiar (Harvey Guillén), but the action moves from New Zealand to New York City. These aren’t big city vamps, though — they live on Staten Island, a place with the same low-key underdog quality that New Zealand has.


WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS season 1 keyart (FX)

(Photo by FX)

Like the film, the series focuses on the more mundane aspects of vampire life, which means there’s a lot more interpersonal spats than epic vampire battles.

“When we were making the film we had joked about making, like, a ‘Housewives of’ series [where] you could go to different places and do different groups of vampires,” Clement told Rotten Tomatoes and a small group of reporters one December afternoon on the series’ Toronto set. “So as soon as I was on the phone and someone was saying, ‘What if we made a TV series of this?’ that immediately came into my head, and I knew it would be different characters in a different place.”

Aside from the Real Housewives reality series, read on to find out what else inspired the vampires’ transition from film to television, including what other pop culture inspired WWDITS (two very non-vampire-related documentaries might surprise you), what vampire rules the characters live by, the difficulties of night shoots, and more.


Vampire Influences

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS -- "Pilot" -- Season 1, Episode 1 - Pictured (l-r): Natasia Demetriou as Nadja, Matt Berry as Laszlo. CR: Byron Cohen/FX

(Photo by Byron Cohen/FX)

The first step in creating a vampire universe is to figure out the rules of this vampire world. Executive producer Paul Simms and co-EP Stefani Robinson said they’d consult the original film frequently, and they also drew from seminal vampire movies like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Interview with the Vampire, and even the Twilight saga for inspiration.

“[Interview] is always in conversation in some way,” Robinson said. Plus, “I was sort of the target demographic for Twilight when that came out — I was in high school when that came out — so I have pretty extensive Twilight knowledge, I would say. It’s been fun re-watching all these movies.”

Clement and Waititi’s favorite vampire films include Scars of Dracula, Fright Night, Salem’s Lot, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Let the Right One In. The rules of the WWDITS world come from plenty of years of vampire movie-watching, and Clement and Waititi know them front and back.

“Taika and I are both fans of vampire movies, and when we’d get people to improvise in the film, we were more surprised that people don’t know the vampire rules like we do,” Clement said. “We thought everyone was a vampire nerd.”

On the non-vampire side of things, they looked at the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster and the classic Grey Gardens to tackle roommate dysfunction and life in a dilapidated mansion.


Vampire Law

These vampires have powers we didn’t see in the movie, but they’re pretty standard — they can’t go into private property without being invited, they can’t see their reflections in mirrors, stuff like that.

“We go basic ’70s-’80s vampire movie roles with a bit of ’30s,” Clement said. “They can turn into bats. They can’t go in the sun. They don’t sparkle in the sun; they die.”

Some of the rules are less obvious, like Waititi’s favorite bit of vampire law he found while researching: “One way to get rid of a vampire if he’s in your village is to steal his socks, fill them with garlic, tie them up, and throw them in the river. He’ll be forced to chase his socks, to go get his socks back. Then, he’ll get the socks and obviously they’ll be full of garlic. He’s going, ‘Ahh,’ stuck there on the banks of the river.”

A new technological twist is that vampires’ fingerprints don’t register on digital devices, so they can’t open iPhones or digitally sign for a very important delivery (like a package they’ll receive in the first episode). While the rules are pretty clear-cut, the more obscure ones complicate matters when the actors improvise something that won’t work.

“Often on set we’re like, ‘that’s right, they can’t do that.’ And I think most people probably wouldn’t care if you ever made a character go for a swim in the ocean, but they officially aren’t allowed to according to vampire law. They’re not allowed to go in salt or sea water,” Waititi said.


WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS -- "Pilot" -- Season 1, Episode 1 - Pictured (l-r): Kayvan Novak as Nandor, Harvey Guillen as Guillermo, Matt Berry as Lazlo (John P Johnson/FX)

(Photo by John P Johnson/FX)

If Clement’s around, he’ll correct the mistake.

“When we have the actors improvising stuff, if I’m listening I’ll go, ‘They can’t swim’ if they improvise it,” he said. “‘Couldn’t do that.’”

Said Simms, “Jemaine is very particular about the rules. If they eat human food they get sick, but leeches they can chew on or suck on to get the blood out but the actual leech meat they can’t [eat]. … The one that has affected the show in the most frustrating way is the idea that vampires need to be invited in somewhere. Because we’re always writing scenes where we’re like, ‘OK, they go into the house,’ and Jemaine’s like, ‘hold it, they need to be invited into the house.’”

Ultimately, the rules are helpful in making the story as interesting as possible.

“It’s good to have limitations. It makes it harder for them,” Clement said. “Because vampires have so many powers, they also have to have weaknesses.”

While Berry’ Laszlo, Novak’s Nandor, and Demetriou’s Nadja all have traditional vampire backgrounds, Clement created a new piece of vampire lore in “energy vampire” Colin Robinson (Proksch), a day-walker who doesn’t feed on blood, but rather sucks the life out of people. Think the most boring person in your office who you’d never want to be caught next to at the water cooler, then multiply that boredom by at least 10.

In researching whether vampires existed, Clement came across people who would talk about an energy vampire in a psychological context.

“But I just thought, what if it was supernatural as well? Yeah, that’s been really fun to do,” he said.


Transferring to TV

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS -- "Pilot" -- Season 1, Episode 1 - Pictured (l-r): Kayvan Novak as Nandor. CR: John P Johnson/FX

(Photo by John P Johnson/FX)

Adapting a film into a television series isn’t as easy as it sounds, despite the fact that there’s already a creative framework to go with.

“People think of it as TV as being smaller-scale, but it’s actually larger because you have to have so many different stories,” Clement said. “That part of it is hard, but it’s also the fun part [because] next week we’re doing a different story. I love that.”

And while certain story lines will have full-season arcs, the 10 episodes are mainly standalone half-hours that establish the new characters and the new world in which they’re living.

“Remember how TV used to be where you could turn on an episode of Bob Newhart and watch, and you didn’t need to know what happened before or after? There are still elements in the first season that are season-long arcs, but we’re thinking about it in terms of 10 episodes,” Simms said.

“I hate it when TV people go, ‘It’s like we’re making a 10-episode movie.’ No you’re not. TV is better than movies anyway,” he joked, “so why would you want to make that comparison?”


Moving to Staten Island

While the pilot was filmed in Los Angeles and the series was filmed in Toronto, the What We Do In the Shadows show takes place on Staten Island (a place where no one on the cast or crew is from, and most of them have never been). Clement visited while writing the pilot, but the writers’ room had a built-in expert.

“One of the writers, Tom Scharpling, his wife is from Staten Island and anything we have to ask [about being] authentic, we have to ask Tom,” Clement said. “They get really stupid like, ‘Would you see a cow like this in Staten Island?’”

Why Staten Island, though? The vampires made it to America, but didn’t get very far in to the country.

“You could almost say Staten Island is the New Zealand of New York. It’s kind of the forgotten borough that not many people live in,” Simms joked. “No, but [it’s] quainter and not as glitzy and glamorous [as Manhattan].”


Nocturnal Schedule

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS -- Pictured: Kayvan Novak as Nandor. CR: Matthias Clamer/FX

(Photo by Matthias Clamer/FX)

One downside to a show about vampires: all of the action takes place at night, which means anything that’s not filmed on the show’s Toronto soundstages must be shot at night.

“We’ll often go from 5 p.m. to 6 a.m., depending on when the sun rises. So that’s the bit that makes you want to cry,” Clement said.

Clement directed a few episodes of the season, as did Waititi (who was directing the episode Rotten Tomatoes was present for filming), original film star Jackie van Beek, and Jason Woliner.


Finding the Cast

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS -- "Pilot" -- Season 1, Episode 1 - Pictured (l-r): Mark Proksch as Colin. CR: John P Johnson/FX

(Photo by John P Johnson/FX)

While most of the WWDITS film was improvised, the show is fully scripted — but with plenty of room for the comedian cast members to play around.

“They’re all good at improvising, these guys, and that was a big part of the audition. …A lot of people are good and funny,” Clement said.

But “you don’t want people who are acting” or who prepare, Waititi added.

Said Clement, “it feels more real if people [can wing it]. And also you just get things that you wouldn’t think of planning out. Going on a big tangent and talking about some detail, you often don’t do that because in a script, you’re trying to be very efficient and just tell what’s absolutely necessary. But it’s more fun and more real when they go off onto something that you wouldn’t put in a script normally.”

The scene Rotten Tomatoes observed the cast filming took place in a local Toronto mansion called Casa Loma that is frequently used for film and television shoots — from Fox’s recent Rocky Horror Picture Show remake to 2000’s X-Men and many more. It would be a spoiler to reveal who the main cast was interacting with and why, but, suffice it to say, it was a good thing filming took place far away from the viewing room, because the members of the press in attendance were laughing so hard.

The surprise of who the special guest stars for the late-season episode are is so worth the wait, however, and rest assured, early-season episodes feature some comedy bona fides too. In the meantime, check out a featurette from the set below to see exactly how funny Novak, Berry, Demetriou, Proksch, and Guillén are.

What We Do in the Shadows premieres Wednesday, March 27 at 10 p.m. on FX.


Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.


Tag Cloud

BAFTA Red Carpet natural history Travel Channel 007 HBO Max Broadway Esquire italian worst 94th Oscars vampires Toys Animation quibi christmas movies sequels Super Bowl kaiju Food Network halloween tv Interview BBC One prank summer TV trophy Apple TV Plus Paramount Network Teen SXSW 2022 obituary french Countdown Sundance romantic comedy Awards Tour Family cancelled TV series Pride Month MSNBC The Witch Mystery remakes BET Awards A&E dogs zero dark thirty book adaptation TCA Awards Disney streaming service blaxploitation GIFs DC Comics Disney Holidays Best and Worst sequel harry potter spanish stoner 45 WarnerMedia Instagram Live cartoon Classic Film Mary Tyler Moore kong Best Director Trophy Talk Pacific Islander based on movie Superheroes Hallmark Christmas movies Video Games docuseries adenture debate basketball Funimation spanish language 2020 LGBTQ Lifetime Christmas movies Hallmark Crunchyroll golden globes Pop vs. mob king kong satire deadpool FX Prime Video MTV SXSW cars critic resources South by Southwest Film Festival Musicals The Purge Mudbound witnail kids canceled TV shows Nat Geo movies joker Set visit slashers Martial Arts NBA Shondaland YouTube concert Paramount Pictures documentaries chucky heist movie TV MGM Mindy Kaling golden globe awards USA Image Comics Vudu action-comedy TCA APB movie technology DC streaming service batman CMT Turner Classic Movies GoT Marathons Binge Guide Country TCA Winter 2020 spain Arrowverse El Rey screen actors guild GLAAD romance indiana jones women documentary Ellie Kemper BBC America supernatural fast and furious PaleyFest Tomatazos unscripted classics HBO Opinion venice Endgame A24 toy story cancelled Nickelodeon travel Comedy Central Fox Searchlight 2015 79th Golden Globes Awards Tumblr Biopics Drama Superheroe reviews saw screenings TLC TV One 72 Emmy Awards olympics Netflix Rocketman nfl CNN science fiction game show jurassic park know your critic Acorn TV RT21 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Paramount Plus Rock blockbuster composers Hulu Television Critics Association festivals rotten boxoffice rt archives Oscar Awards rotten movies we love 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Anna Paquin comedies See It Skip It Comedy 90s Year in Review transformers Apple TV+ USA Network zombie RT History comic book movie target hispanic comiccon San Diego Comic-Con cancelled TV shows Heroines criterion sag awards Freeform Polls and Games The Academy Emmys franchise Christmas Quiz Stephen King IFC Black Mirror asian-american animated Schedule rt labs critics edition Mary Poppins Returns new star wars movies mcc japan toronto Election First Reviews art house adaptation IFC Films PBS DC Universe Pirates richard e. Grant strong female leads TCA 2017 reboot spy thriller ABC Signature YouTube Red Creative Arts Emmys VH1 slasher Photos Netflix Christmas movies Mary poppins scene in color aapi Amazon Prime Video new york what to watch telelvision Best Actress Tubi 2017 new zealand video on demand SDCC Star Wars boxing The CW Winter TV VOD Fall TV thriller Crackle NYCC ID CW Seed OneApp theme song discovery marvel cinematic universe Comics on TV nature talk show Summer godzilla social media werewolf Avengers Valentine's Day hidden camera Best Actor ESPN American Society of Cinematographers Sci-Fi Syfy OWN Rocky TCM New York Comic Con Pixar pirates of the caribbean AMC Plus Trivia breaking bad Calendar facebook live action a nightmare on elm street zombies Box Office streamig Podcast President scorecard indie Marvel Sundance Now legend dreamworks Spectrum Originals Marvel Studios streaming Sundance TV The Walking Dead young adult Ovation Western Disney Channel Trailer lord of the rings Action films NBC king arthur wonder woman comic Star Trek Tarantino singing competition obi wan revenge dramedy biography Nominations miniseries YouTube Premium YA Film hispanic heritage month Oscars Chernobyl game of thrones Cosplay child's play razzies HBO Go DirecTV CBS crime drama sitcom all-time cats marvel comics Universal directors comics Comic Book Spring TV SundanceTV Holiday Adult Swim critics spider-man emmy awards universal monsters Captain marvel Film Festival green book james bond BET Alien WGN 93rd Oscars Reality suspense Music Chilling Adventures of Sabrina free movies 2019 Tokyo Olympics football Disney+ Disney Plus Amazon Prime BBC rt labs leaderboard FOX sopranos spinoff Ghostbusters scary Turner royal family Brie Larson Character Guide nbcuniversal TruTV book genre true crime psychological thriller Spike TNT National Geographic Premiere Dates historical drama series archives 24 frames crossover posters halloween Marvel Television The Arrangement jamie lee curtis Neflix police drama Legendary Walt Disney Pictures X-Men popular canceled comic book movies dexter festival robots Winners 2018 stand-up comedy binge ratings 71st Emmy Awards Discovery Channel PlayStation children's TV 99% versus 2021 Reality Competition casting cinemax Amazon Studios Elton John Infographic scary movies Song of Ice and Fire Cannes Comic-Con@Home 2021 ABC superman name the review gangster doctor who Bravo docudrama Dark Horse Comics Epix The Walt Disney Company feel good LGBT Amazon fresh stop motion First Look Emmy Nominations History TIFF foreign politics Masterpiece Peacock AMC Columbia Pictures 2016 aliens psycho Kids & Family Disney Plus Baby Yoda Watching Series best award winner TV Land adventure television broadcast ABC Family E! high school 20th Century Fox die hard biopic Pop TV crime Television Academy international Showtime independent TV renewals trailers Cartoon Network Universal Pictures ITV Lionsgate Extras comic books blockbusters dc Fantasy live event spider-verse E3 73rd Emmy Awards HFPA twilight FX on Hulu Pet Sematary cops disaster anthology Wes Anderson mutant Paramount Horror tv talk anime teaser VICE Shudder Sneak Peek justice league dceu Apple summer preview IMDb TV Exclusive Video space Black History Month streaming movies renewed TV shows Lifetime Fox News mission: impossible DGA australia political drama hollywood dragons Warner Bros. TBS period drama serial killer MCU Musical japanese superhero crime thriller news Focus Features Logo Grammys Hear Us Out Hollywood Foreign Press Association CBS All Access war summer TV preview Sony Pictures black Britbox TV movies 4/20 cancelled television cooking video Women's History Month Starz Academy Awards 1990s Fargo medical drama parents ViacomCBS FXX sports black comedy 21st Century Fox monster movies Certified Fresh ghosts Rom-Com worst movies diversity cults dark laika Thanksgiving Tags: Comedy Best Picture elevated horror mockumentary Lucasfilm latino hist south america finale rom-coms Writers Guild of America