Jemaine Clement, star of film and television, comedian, rock star, and Kiwi icon, is every bit as funny as you’d expect in person. He’s dry, quick, and good-natured. He and his longtime friend and fellow filmmaker Taika Waititi had conceived of their vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows (now available on Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD) years before they finally got a chance to make it. Clement talked to us recently about the long process, the idea of turning to Kickstarter for help, and even about his favorite episode of Flight of the Conchords.
Paste: In one of your other interviews, I love that while everyone was asking you about Spinal Tap and the rest of the Christopher Guest movies, you mentioned Anvil, The Story of Anvil, because I thought that just a brilliant documentary. And like you, I thought surely this can’t be true, this has to be a tribute, right?
Jemaine Clement: Yeah, there’s a lot of those funny documentaries that people are suspicious of. Like, American Movie, you know the one?
American Movie, absolutely! Fantastic. Well, since we’re talking about the DVD release of your movie, I love that there are two hours of extra footage on there, and I am hoping that some of that footage is archival footage of you on that chopper bicycle, when you were growing up. Is that in there somewhere?
Clement: Hahahaa. No, it was undocumented. I wouldn’t allow … I wouldn’t allow any kind of recording of my, uh … during of any of my gang activities. (Laughing)
Paste: Thats right, you never can tell what can come back to haunt you.
Clement: I might run for cover.
Paste: So if you do make What We Do in the Moonlight [the sequel Clement has jokingly discussed, about the werewolves in the film], maybe we can arrange an adult version of the bike chopper, and it can make an appearance there.
Clement: Yeah, that sounds good.
Paste: Tell me about the whole experience of going through Kickstarter for the theatrical release, It’s a topic that has, I think, some very unwarranted controversy around it. A lot of people have, I think, some very twisted notions about what happens when people with a little bit of a name go on Kickstarter. Can you kinda walk me through all of that?
Clement: Yeah, sure. Actually, it wasn’t actually our idea to do that; we would have been fine with not releasing it probably, or just giving it to the highest bidder, which was roulette. It started out with our producer and he convinced us, and he was right. He was trying to get us into so many theaters, or something, and he ended up getting into like twice the amount.
Clement: So he convinced us. And it was a lot of hard work, because actually, we did actually think about using our own money. And we were advised that would be an insane gamble.
Because you know people assume that we got paid to do the film. We did not pay ourselves. We did it for free. Then we paid everyone else. But Taiki and I didn’t take any money to make the film. We would have done it for a year, almost two years, for no money. Um, so it would be crazy to make no money, there is no pay, and then to just make it, but maybe not.
We also put our own money into the film. Other than to the Kickstarter thing, we didn’t have money for investment, advertising. It was kind of a way of advertising—people knew about it, were they interested. It helps in a financial way sometimes, and sometimes you know, in an emotional way.
Paste: Ondi Timoner made a short film about Amanda Palmer, who had the famous Kickstarter, and again who had a lot of controversy about it, and there is a great moment in it where Amanda is talking to the camera. She says, “And everybody who doesn’t like what we are doing this just shut up. We are allowed to do this; we are allowed to help each other. The artist and the audience are allowed to help each other, and there is nothing you can do about it.”
Clement: Yeah, if you dont like it, don’t climb up to it. And if you want you can go on a campaign to raise money to get it shut down. The “Stop the Campaign” Kickstarter.
Paste: The Anti Kickstarter. The Kickstopper!
Clement: Yes! The Kickstopper, for people who want to campaign to boycott it.
Paste: We’ll start the company tomorrow.
Clement: But it wouldn’t have played in so many theaters. It just wouldn’t have, if we had sold it. We had offers for distribution companies in the States. And they were very, very small compared to some movies playing thousands of theaters. (One was only about 100 or 160, I’m not sure.) Still [doing it this way meant] about 5 or 6 times more than it would have been.
Paste: Well, I think it is getting a lot of word-of-mouth marketing. Everyone I’ve talked to who saw it has loved it, and has just raved to their friends about it. I feel like a lot of people are finding out about it from their friends.
Clement: Yeah, yeah, yeah I think so … well, we don’t have another type of marketing.
Paste: Tell me about co-directing. It’s something I’m a fan of.
Clement: You know, it was so great. It was such an experiment for us, because we were playing with genres we didn’t know. Well, we did a test in 2005, and so we were a bit prepared from that.
Clement: But we weren’t sure about improvising a whole movie. Basically, we had a script, but we didn’t want to see it, and we weren’t sure how different things would work, and weren’t sure what the effects would look like, and so we were kind of cautious. And uh, you know, me and Clark were ourselves.
Paste: And then merging the idea—I am sure there are ways that is just starts to work out where you have different visions. Tell me about that process of molding those two visions together as you go kind of on the fly, on set.
Clement: Yeah, well, we’re talking about the year 2005. I had imagined maybe even a black-and-white, kind of, very obvious thing about vampires who have wrestled over thousands of years. And Taiki wanted to do a mockumentary. He had made another short little mockumentary. We talked about how it wouldn’t work well together because you couldn’t document vampires. But over that time, mockumentaries became big—really huge—so we thought, awwww, maybe we shouldn’t do this. Or maybe we shouldn’t make a mockumentary. And then vampire movies became big. That made it to where we would just say, “We are making a vampire movie,” and people would roll their eyes. We’d say it’s a mockumentary about vampires, and people were like, “Oh, that sounds terrible.”
Paste: Yeah, not the greatest thing for raising money.
Clement: No, no, we wouldn’t tell them it was a mockumentary while we were raising money—we just said it was about vampires.
Paste: What were some of the vampire films that were very formative to you and gave you your passion for vampires?
Clement: I saw a Christopher Lee movie one night when I woke up when I was about five years old. I walked into the sitting room, and there was a vampire movie on TV called The Scar of Dracula, I think—I’m not sure. It’s a sequel, and he had been killed in the last movie. So they are bringing this character back to life by having this rubber vat dropping blood-red paint right onto a skeleton form. And that was the start of the movie, and I was so amazed because I didn’t even know what vampires were. I didn’t know what any of these things were. It fascinated me. So that really was the first one.
Paste: That’s the thing about the vampire franchise—even if your character dies you can bring him back.
Clement: Yeah, exactly.
Paste: Well, we are all looking forward to the Flight of the Conchords tour coming. But what’s your favorite episode of Flight; do you have a favorite one?
Clement: Uhm, I’ll stick with the one, I dunno, well there is a couple. I like the one where they become prostitutes. Where they become male prostitutes. And the one where we take acid. That was fun, that was … fun.
Paste: Thanks, and congratulations on the success of the movie!
Clement: Cool, thank you.