[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance ’07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]
New Zealand writer/director Taika Waititi‘s “Eagle vs. Shark” is described by Sundance as a “deliciously tangy, deadpan feature debut about two colorful misfits thrown into each other’s orbit.” The film is the story of Lily, a strange yet charismatic girl that often goes unnoticed. She seeks the attention of computer-geek Jarrod, who works across the way from her job as a cashier at a fast food place. After crashing his animal/video game extravaganza, she impresses him with her shark suit and gaming insight, and scores a date. She joins him on a sojourn to confront his childhood nemesis, but his self-absorption threatens to destroy her affections, though her underlying “powers” gather force as he prepares to exact his revenge. In his interview with iW, Waititi shares his utmost confidence in Americans’ knowledge of world geography, recalls a glorious symbol of the United States/Cuba special relationship, and tries his hand at the speak of the nouveau riche. “Eagle vs. Shark” will screen in the World Cinema Competition: Dramatic section at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival.
Please talk about your background and any insight about yourself you care to share…
My name is Taika Waititi. I am a human, born in New Zealand 31 years ago. That makes me…31. By day I wear clothes but at night it is a completely different story. I have no day job, or night job, yet I am always working. Strange. I was born in Wellington, which, as everyone in America knows, is the capital of New Zealand. I am a Leo which is why these sentences are constructed in an arrogant yet charming manner. I grew up in Wellington but moved around a lot, spending a lot of time in the Bay of Pigs. I live somewhere in Egypt.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
Our family was once very poor. I had to work the fields. I was picking squash and seaweed. Sometimes there were blisters on my hands and on my feet. I couldn’t walk or do handstands, life was hard. Then I became a famous actor here, in New Zealand. We were still poor. Then, because I was bored with acting, I took the many, many, many, skills I had learned on “set,” and made a big decision. The big decision was to become New Zealand’s version of Peter Jackson. I thought, “I want to tell New Zealand stories… and be rich too”. So now everything has worked out well and I am quite rich.
Did you attend film school?
I didn’t attend film school because at the time we were so poor. But my friends have told me you don’t learn much anyway. I must point ou that they haven’t been to film school either. I am a self-taught filmmaker. A big help in my self education was watching all the latest movies by Michael Bay and Brett Ratner. Now I know what to do and what not to do.
What other creative outlets do you explore?
Not only am I a rich filmmaker, but I also play many instruments, expertly. I can also paint very, very, very well. And I can also write wonderful stories.
Please discuss your film, and how the initial idea come about.
My film, “Eagle vs Shark,” is a romance. It is a small, cute, quaint, quirky, quiet, quivering film about love and acceptance. The idea came about from watching people try [to] fall in love. It is a painful and yet hilarious process. The main character, Lily, was created by Loren Horsley. Lily has such a pure soul it is hard not to fall in love with her, or at least want to protect her with a shield and weapons, so I decided that she would be the perfect protagonist for a film about love.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
I was lucky enough to workshop the script at the Sundance Filmmaker Lab in 2005, and the shoot took place in November of that year. I wanted to make a film which was simple, funny, sad, and awkward. A film that reflects the tragic characters in the story, a film that stumbles and coughs, tries to be something different then realises what it is and accepts that… A film that is clumsy yet utterly beautiful and pure of heart. On one hand this is an art film with funny moments, on the other it is a romantic comedy with a soul and no stars attached.
How did the financing and casting for the film come together?
The cast is made up of friends from my acting days. They can still act, I can’t. The financing came from the New Zealand Film Commission. A few of my uncles and aunties work there which helped to fast-track the application process.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
The biggest challenge I had making the film was making the film. The whole thing was a challenge. Development was easy compared with shooting. Shoting was easy compared with editing. Editing will be easy compared to watching it with real people in the audience. Actually I don’t want to watch it again. I’ve seen it about 80 times. I’m over it. I know what’s going to hapen, I know all the words, I even know all the facial expressions.
What do you hope to get out of the festival, and what are your own goals for the experience?
As for the festival, I hope to get some hours on the mountain, and I hope to get at least one person come up to me and say “I loved your film… y’know, I’m writing a script myself.”
Talk about the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance, where were you, and how did you react?
Like most news I get these days, I found out about being accepted into Sundance through email. I was stoked. I think I even did the fist in the air things that you Americans do. But I didn’t say “YES!!!” That would have been too much. Us New Zealanders are subtle people.
What is your definition of “independent film?”
My definition of “Independent Film” is a film which doesn’t take any shit from any other film. It’s independent, it’s not gonna listen to your film or that big, rich film over there… No way, this film is gonna do what it wants. If it wants to go out and get a job then it can. It it wants to vote, that’s cool. This film is gonna pay its own way, and it doesn’t need your charity, so go back to the hills and swim in your infinity pool ’cause this film is hanging down here in the film ghetto.
What are some of your favorite films of ’06?
The names of my favourite films are way too foreign to even attempt a correct spelling. I think the best film of 2006 was “Casino Royale.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t actually say it was a great film, I said it was the best film of 2006. Anyway, I think the new Bond is the best since Timothy Dalton. Boy he can really suck a lady’s finger!
Do you have a New Year’s resolution?
My New Years resolution is to never, ever, ever, watch my movie again.