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indieWIRE INTERVIEW | “Eagle vs. Shark” Director Taika Waititi

indieWIRE INTERVIEW | "Eagle vs. Shark" Director Taika Waititi

New Zealand director Taika Waititi ‘s comedy “Eagle vs. Shark” chronicles the quirky romance of two awkward misfits, Lily (Loren Horsley), a shy fast-food restaurant cashier, and her crush, Jarrod (Jermaine Clement), an electronic store clerk. On the day Lily gets fired from her job at Meaty Boy, she musters up the courage to attend Jarrod’s annual “come as your favorite animal” costume party. The dressy affair sparks the beginnings of a romance as well as a small journey for the pair to Jarrod’s quiet hometown, in which Jarrod plans to seek revenge on an old nemesis… Waititi answered questions ahead of the Sundance Film Festival back in January where the film had its world premiere. The film has gone on to travel the world fest circuit, picking up awards at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival and the Newport Beach Film Festival. Below are excerpts from Cohen’s iW interview. Miramax will begin to roll out the film in limited release Friday, June 15 in New York and Los Angeles followed by an expansion on June 22.

Please introduce yourself…

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 talk about “Eagle vs. Shark” and how the idea for it came 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.

Director Taika Cohen (center) on the set of “Eagle vs. Shark” with Loren Horsley and Jermaine Clement. Photo by Matt Grace, courtesy of Miramax.

Elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film, and how the cast and the rest of the production came together.

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.

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 finishing the film?

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 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.

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