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

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