Eagle vs Shark Loren Horsley, Taika Waititi InterviewPosted by: Sheila Roberts
From New Zealand comes a wickedly offbeat love story â€“ a funny, fractured romance between two total misfits, woven into an all-consuming quest for revenge, and shot through with the strange, sweet hilarity of the human condition. "Eagle vs. Sharkâ€ introduces the original and delightfully different vision of writer-director Taika Waititi, a young Kiwi comic star, who won an Academy Award nomination for his short film "Two Cars, One Night,â€ which premiered to acclaim at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.
It all begins with Lily (Loren Horsley), a lonely oddball and fast-food waitress who happens to be a hopeless romantic. Then thereâ€™s Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), the man of Lilyâ€™s dreams, another lonely oddball and video game clerk, who has spent the last decade plotting ultimate vengeance on a bully from his high school past. When these two connect at a â€˜dress as your favorite animalâ€ party â€“ she as an anemic Shark and him as a fluffy-headed Eagle â€“ itâ€™s a match that seems made in outcast heaven.
Clearly, Jarrod and Lily are not your typical romantic leads. Yet what sets "Eagle vs. Sharkâ€ apart from other quirky comedies featuring endearingly eccentric characters is Waititiâ€™s sensibility â€“ which turns up beauty in the most surprising places, humor in the most ordinary of activities and small but resonant victories in the middle of lifeâ€™s most overwhelming adversities.
A bit of a renaissance man, Waititi first came to prominence in New Zealand as part of a comic duo known as "Humourbeastâ€ with Jemaine Clement. He went on to be named New Zealandâ€™s Best Stand-Up Comic, while simultaneously developing careers as an accomplished painter, photographer and filmmaker. His short film, "Two Cars, One Night,â€ about three children who befriend one another after being left by their parents in the parking lot of a New Zealand bar, established his style of deftly mixing humor with a warm sense of humanity. That film garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short, and Waititi went on to direct another fiercely original, award-winning short, "Tamu Tu,â€ about a squad of Maori troops making the best of a bad situation in an abandoned house in WWII Europe.
Spotted by many as the future of New Zealand filmmaking, Waititi was invited in 2005 to workshop a full-length feature in the prestigious Sundance Directorâ€™s and Screenwriterâ€™s Lab, which have a strong track record of turning out exciting new films from emerging talents. He soon became the first person in the history of the program to be invited to develop two projects there, one of which became "Eagle vs. Shark.â€
Loren Horsley has worked extensively as an actor and deviser in theatre, radio and film for over ten years. She has held lead roles in the NZFC feature film "Kombi Nation,â€ the television series "The Insiders Guide to Happiness,â€ "The Strip,â€ and "Atlantis High,â€ and has had guest roles in "Zena Warrior Princessâ€ and "Young Hercules.â€ Her theatre credits include lead roles in "Under Milkwood,â€ "Top Girlsâ€ and "When Sun and Moon Collide.â€ Loren is a founding member of the Wellington Artists charitable Trust (WACT) and the filmmaking group, The Chapel Collective, who are currently in post production with their first project, "Songs for a Dead Dog.â€ Hereâ€™s what Taika Waititi and Loren Horsley had to tell us about their new film:
Q: Were you worried about non-New Zealanders getting the humor?
Q: How was it in New Zealand? Did you have people watching as you were filming scenes or did they not they care?
LOREN HORSLEY: New Zealand is a really oddâ€¦weâ€™re not even going to look at youâ€¦
TAIKA WAITITI: New Zealand. Weâ€™ve got a thing called the tall puppy syndrome in New Zealand where if anyone is doing really well, itâ€™s quite common to try and bring them down -- like cut them down and say, â€˜Youâ€™ve been to the moon? So what? I mean plenty of people have been to the moon.â€™ Even before â€˜Lord of the Ringsâ€™ a lot of films were made in the cities and stuff and they were a few other American productions made there and I think a lot of people really donâ€™t really care about seeing a production. Obviously, anywhere you go, thereâ€™s always somebody who likes to just look but also I think in New Zealand the chances of actually seeing a star are so slim. People kinda just think, â€˜Well who am I going to see, like some guy from a New Zealand soap opera who I see in the supermarket anyway.â€ So those sorts of things are never really a huge deal:
Q: So what are you both working on next and what have you done since this?
TAIKA WAITITI: Loren isâ€¦.
LOREN HORSLEY: [Laughs] Okay, you do me and Iâ€™ll do you.
TAIKA WAITITI: Lorenâ€™s got a film collective back home called The Chapel Collective and itâ€™s her and a bunch of other artists that make films and theyâ€™re currently making a feature but trying to do low budget feature films outside of any kind of studio or financial system and just concentrating purely on making a story. Sheâ€™s probably going to go back home and continue with that. Iâ€™m finishing a script based on the Oscar-nominated short and this is called "The Volcanoâ€ and itâ€™s about some kids growing up, a coming of age story, kids growing up in New Zealand in the countryside in the 80s around the time when Thriller came out. Itâ€™s a coming of age story but with my twist on it, I guess.
LOREN HORSLEY: And heâ€™s just finished doing the HBO series with Jemaine whoâ€™s in Flight of the Conchords. He plays Jarrod whoâ€™s just done the HBO series. Heâ€™s just written and directed two episodes of it just finished two weeks ago.
TAIKA WAITITI: Theyâ€™re shooting now and itâ€™s coming out the same weekend that this film comes out.
Q: What that on purpose? Was that timed?
TAIKA WAITITI: Not by Miramax. I think Miramax -- originally the date was going to be a couple weeks earlier but they put it off because there was another romantic comedy â€“ both well known actors in it. They didnâ€™t really want to compete with another romantic comedy so I have to just go out there and compete with Fantastic Four instead. [Laughs]
Q: Are you going to try to mix in your love of old school video games and arcades into your script?
TAIKA WAITITI: Yeah, well itâ€™s definitely got more of an 80s setting. I grew up in a really, really tiny town and there werenâ€™t any video games or arcades or anything of that sort. Television was the only sort of connection to the outside world and especially to America.
LOREN HORSLEY: And you used to make your own sticks.
TAIKA WAITITI: My own what?
LOREN HORSLEY: Your own video games.
TAIKA WAITITI: Yeah, yeah. [Laughs] I donâ€™t want to talk about that.
Q: Now for the million dollar question. What are both of your favorite animals?
LOREN HORSLEY: Mine just changed. Mine was baboon until last night when Taika showed me this BBC Planet Earth â€“ their latest documentary. Have you seen it? Oh my God!
TAIKA WAITITI: I donâ€™t think they were Amazonian. They were from the Philippines or something.
LOREN HORSLEY: It was a parrot.
TAIKA WAITITI: A bird of paradise.
LOREN HORSLEY: That youâ€™ve never seen before ever in your life.
TAIKA WAITITI: He flips his wings out and itâ€™s likeâ€¦
LOREN HORSLEY: He looks like a squid, but itâ€™s a bird.
TAIKA WAITITI: Black. A big black bird with like a strip of blue with these two blue things that look like eyes.
LOREN HORSLEY: He looked like was going to come over and peck me on the ??? [SOUNDS LIKE shruk??] but itâ€™s a bird that flies.
TAIKA WAITITI: Itâ€™s her favorite bird.
LOREN HORSLEY: Yup. Animal. A big bird. I took it. [Laughs]
TAIKA WAITITI: And now sheâ€™s given up baboon and itâ€™s now my favorite.
LOREN HORSLEY: The birds are amazing.
TAIKA WAITITI: A baboon that could fly would be pretty cool.
Q: Can you tell us about the HBO show and how it went?
TAIKA WAITITI: Yeah, it went well. Itâ€™s going to be hilarious. Itâ€™s going to be huge. Itâ€™s basically about these two New Zealand musicians living in New York who I guess you could say try to make it but thatâ€™s not really any of the story. Itâ€™s just about these guys from another country hanging out in New York and I guess their perspective of life in America â€“ a little bit like that TV show in the 80s. What was it called? Perfect ?? with Balki [Bartokomous].
Q: Perfect Strangers.
TAIKA WAITITI: [Laughs] Perfect Strangers. Perfect Strangers with two New Zealanders instead of an Albanian or wherever he was from.
Q: I think they made up the country he came from.
TAIKA WAITITI: [Laughs] Right.
LOREN HORSLEY: Itâ€™s outrageous.
TAIKA WAITITI: Bret and Jemaine speak in the same accent as that guy. [imitates Balkiâ€™s accent]
Q: How was working for HBO? Did they give you a lot of creative freedom? Did they give you notes?
TAIKA WAITITI: No. It was fine. They were great actually. They were all about â€¦. I mean I think the fact that they were taking a chance on these two guys from New Zealand and giving them a TV show, it shows theyâ€™ve got enough balls to let them do what they want and back them. I came on about half way through their shooting so for me the job was a lot easier because they had already established their characters and the settings and the tone and everything. So, you know, I just walk on set and say â€˜And go!â€™
LOREN HORSLEY: Be funnier.
TAIKA WAITITI: â€˜And action!â€™ No, it was totally great. Obviously with TV thereâ€™s not a huge amount of creative freedom because you need â€“ because thereâ€™s format and you canâ€™t really be as poetic as in film but still thereâ€™s some pretty unconventional humor in this show, I think. Itâ€™s pretty cool. I canâ€™t tell you what it is. [Laughs]
Q: What about the costumes â€“ making them and [to Horsley] for you actually wearing them? What was that like looking at yourself in dailies?
TAIKA WAITITI: [to Loren] How was that?
LOREN HORSLEY: I was wearing a wig so automatically I had great fun. If you put a wig on, then youâ€™re finished. I donâ€™t know if you watched any of the dailies but that costume was so uncomfortable. It was just genius. It was one of those things that felt like [inaudible] so it wasnâ€™t the nicest thing to wear but theyâ€™re beautiful costumes. The costume designer made them all from scratch. She kind of stitched around them. Taika kept on saying, â€˜No, they have to be made worse, moreâ€¦
TAIKA WAITITI: The original costumes were really well made and I wanted them to look more likeâ€¦
LOREN HORSLEY: Yeah, take a pair of scissors and ripping it [pretends to tear the costume] and she was going like â€˜What is going on!?â€™
TAIKA WAITITI: Yeah, originally it was supposed to look like these guys made the costumes themselves and we originally wanted you guys to actually make them themselves but there was just no time. Everything was like once we got into the second week of pre-production, everything spun out of control. It was like there was no time to do anything but make the film.
Q: Thatâ€™s a lot to ask of your actors to make the costumes.
LOREN HORSLEY: [Laughs] No, we were dying to. No, we really wanted to. I was really pissed off I couldnâ€™t.
TAIKA WAITITI: Yeah. That wouldâ€™ve been great.
Q: Can you talk about this next project that youâ€™re working on? Has making this movie and the reception that itâ€™s gotten critically across the world helped with financing for your second movie? Do you feel like youâ€™reâ€¦.?
TAIKA WAITITI: I think this will definitely help with the next film. The next film obviously has a bigger budget. Itâ€™s funny. The next film is actually the original script that I took to the Sundance Writerâ€™s Lab the first time I went there so the next oneâ€™s actually my first film. Iâ€™ve gotten rid of any expectation on my second film by making that first and now I can just go back and make my debut film which is going to be brilliant. [Laughs]
Q: Lower the expectations?
TAIKA WAITITI: [Laughs] Yeah, lower the expectations first...
LOREN HORSLEY: Shift the expectations.
TAIKA WAITITI: â€¦and then come down with the big guns.
LOREN HORSLEY: Itâ€™s like David Copperfield â€“ smoke and mirrors.
Q: The stop action photography part that you guys did, especially the sleeping bag scenes with the setting sun, did you guys fake the setting sun or did you really shoot for a whole day just being dragged around in the sleeping bags.
TAIKA WAITITI: Yeah, that was like about 5 or 6 hours of shooting that stuff. There were extras in theâ€¦there were likeâ€¦.
LOREN HORSLEY: There were doubles. I did it in Sundance. Thatâ€™s what Taika made us do in Sundance which was like 2 hours in Sundance and itâ€™s like Iâ€™m neverâ€¦I have a high tolerance for doing stuff but this was against all rules. Itâ€™s like you moveâ€”stop. You moveâ€”stop. For 2 hours.
Q: How many extras did you use? Did you just use one extra double each or did youâ€¦?
TAIKA WAITITI: Yeah. Everybody was sunburned at the end of the day. We were off shooting other stuff and we just missed them with the 2nd unit crew and â€¦
LOREN HORSLEY: â€¦and they were crawling through cow dung and â€¦
TAIKA WAITITI: â€¦and they were crawling on grass patches with prickles and stuff and cow shit. It was so funny.
LOREN HORSLEY: They were weeping at the end.
Q: They were crying?
LOREN HORSLEY: Yes, seriously. And it was a little girl.
TAIKA WAITITI: It wasnâ€™t a little girl. It was like a woman. We donâ€™t use little girls. What are you talking about?
LOREN HORSLEY: In New Zealand itâ€™s kosher. They love it, those little girls.
TAIKA WAITITI: A four year old girl who can double as Loren.
Q: Well speaking of a little girl, the one you used had a Jewish star. What is your background in Judaism and what is your practice?
TAIKA WAITITI: Well, my familyâ€™s not really---we donâ€™t practice. Iâ€™m kind of half Maori and then my motherâ€™s side is Jewish as well so itâ€™s already a strange mix. But yeah, I think on my motherâ€™s side we still observe certain times of the year and stuff now and again but I was never brought up in that to really observe the faith like that. Itâ€™s interesting because for the tribe that Iâ€™m from, the Maori tribe, the predominant religion there is called Binatu which means the upraised hand and itâ€™s actually based on the Old Testament. Itâ€™s a religion where during the 1800â€™sâ€”history lessonâ€”when New Zealand was rediscovered by the white man, a lot of the missionaries and a lot of people came over and one of the theories was that the Maori tribes were the lost tribe of Israel.
And so that was like a big theory back then and there was a belief that â€¦and then a lot of tribes took on this belief and they had these mixtures of Old Testament mixed with Maori, spirituality and stuff and created these new religions which were pretty big back in those days and some of those religions and practices still survive today especially in the area where I come from and so we have the Makindave and we call ourselves the Hourai which is Maori for Jews and so the 12th of every month is like this spiritual kind of practice day. And on Marai, which is the traditional Maori community center. Itâ€™s kind of complicated and weird but it sort of makes sense that Iâ€™m kind of half-half so itâ€™s sort of funny.
Q: What have you have planned for the DVD?
TAIKA WAITITI: Iâ€™m having some conversations about the DVD at the moment. I obviously want to do commentary and we overshot this film completely and so there will definitely be some extra scenes and I think we dropped about 25 minutes of the story from the final movie. Iâ€™m not going to put 25 minutes of extra stuff on the DVD, donâ€™t worry about it.
Q: Was there a scene that you really regretted cutting?
TAIKA WAITITI: Yeah, and I put it back in at the last minute.
Q: Or any tiny bits or something that we justâ€¦
TAIKA WAITITI: There was a dream sequence actually that we shot.
LOREN HORSLEY: Sort of Ingmar Bergman.
TAIKA WAITITI: Itâ€™s a very Bergman dream sequence in black and white that was shot for the film where Lily has gigantic robotic arms from the video game and sheâ€™s on the beach fighting seagulls and that never made it into the film but itâ€™s something that I really want to be on the DVD. Itâ€™s funny; the film commission gave us this money and basically gave me complete creative control. Left me alone. The one time they came to set was the day that we were shooting the dream sequence and they turned upâ€¦.
LOREN HORSLEY: I was covered in blood.
TAIKA WAITITI: Whatâ€™s going on here? Sheâ€™s got blood all over her. Sheâ€™s pretending sheâ€™s fighting these seagulls and Iâ€™m yelling out, â€˜Okay, theyâ€™re pulling your heart out of your chest. Fight them off.â€™ And theyâ€™re â€˜your film looks interesting Taika.â€™
LOREN HORSLEY: They smiled and nodded and walked away really quickly.
Q: So what was their reaction after they saw the final film?
TAIKA WAITITI: Oh they never saw the dream sequence so they were pleased. They forgot about that. The other things I imagine would go on the DVD areâ€¦.I thought it would be really funny just to do the entire film but do the rough assembly which is like 2-1/2 hours long just to punish people. It would be really funny. Funny for me.
LOREN HORSLEY: It hasnâ€™t be released in New Zealand yet, so itâ€™s been released here first so not many people have seen it. The film commission has seen it and loved it but â€¦
Q: What was the decision behind that?
TAIKA WAITITI: Well, apart from the fact that I donâ€™t think we can do anything in New Zealand without getting approval from bigger countriesâ€¦.
LOREN HORSLEY: If you donâ€™t like it, we wonâ€™tâ€¦
TAIKA WAITITI: I think the main reason is for the distributors in New Zealand and Australia, it makes much more business sense for them to wait and see how a film does here and it makes their job a lot easier advertising the film in New Zealand. They can just say this is what these guys said about the film or you know.
LOREN HORSLEY: Our main paper which shows the tall puppy syndrome published our bad Variety review saying Eagle vs. Shark got a terrible review in Variety.
TAIKA WAITITI: Americans say Eagle vs. Shark wonâ€™t fly. Something like that you know.
LOREN HORSLEY: All these people were coming up to me going Iâ€™m so sorry, and Iâ€™m like what?
TAIKA WAITITI: I got e-mails from people saying, â€˜Oh man itâ€™s justâ€¦donâ€™t worry man, Iâ€™m sure the film is good.â€™ Itâ€™s so funny because itâ€™s like a big thing in New Zealand to concentrate on like the negative stuff.
Q: So did you go to Variety and try to find them?
TAIKA WAITITI: You canâ€™t do anything about it.
Q: Was it always an eagle vs. a shark and did you pick those animals because of certain symbolism?
TAIKA WAITITI: Yeah. Iâ€™m not sure about the specific symbolism of an eagle and a shark but for me they represent the loneliest of the animals. Very solo animals who areâ€¦.the pattern that they are, they both circle around looking for something. Running around and around in circles but are in just completely different environments. Theyâ€™re very different animals but also very similar as well.
Q: Whatâ€™s the one thing youâ€™d like an audience to take from this film?
TAIKA WAITITI: A receipt. [Laughs] I think itâ€™s important to me that people donâ€™t go into this film just thinking ok, itâ€™s like a broad comedy thatâ€™s good for a couple of laughs for an hour and a half and then you can forget about it. I hope that the film connects with people on a deeper level and that people realize that we are all outsiders and that this is one of the main themes for the film is that if you can connect to that fact that none of us belongs, it helps to ground you a little bit more in the fact that weâ€™re all together in this and that itâ€™s not a film where you laugh at people who are different. Itâ€™s a story about recognizing that we all are those people. Theyâ€™re just extreme versions of ourselves.
LOREN HORSLEY: If we can wake up the empathy that are part of peopleâ€™s natures, that would be good.
TAIKA WAITITI: My big theory is that humans are the outsiders in the animal world and weâ€™re like the nerds of the animal world and we donâ€™t fit in and theyâ€™re all secretly looking at us and shaking their heads and saying what are those things? When you think about it, weâ€™ve evolved so much now that I just donâ€™t think we belong here anymore. These clumsy ridiculous animals---weâ€™re not even animals weâ€™re just like strange, awkward, clumsy beasts.
Q: That sounds like your third movie.
LOREN HORSLEY: Yeah, Clumsy Awkward Beasts. Great title.
Q: Did you get to take anything from the set? Did you bring anything home?
LOREN HORSLEY: Too much.
TAIKA WAITITI: What did you take?
LOREN HORSLEY: No, you brought too much. The numchucksâ€¦our living room is like numchucks and all this samurai swords, the candles.
TAIKA WAITITI: Yeah, I took a lot of stuff.
LOREN HORSLEY: The candle. Far too much stuff. Heâ€™s been away for a month. Iâ€™ve been putting it into the attic.
Q: What did you take?
LOREN HORSLEY: Nothing I donâ€™t think.
Q: Who has the costumes?
TAIKA WAITITI: Miramax has the costumes at the moment. Theyâ€™re over here doingâ€¦
LOREN HORSLEY: People are really wearing our real costumes around. Thatâ€™s really funny.
TAIKA WAITITI: Yeah. Weâ€™re submitting the costumes to the Academy for consideration.
LOREN HORSLEY: Historical research, restoration, and considerationâ€¦
TAIKA WAITITI: â€¦for best wardrobe in 2006.
Q: And donâ€™t put it past them, you might get a nomination.
"Eagle vs. Sharkâ€ opens in limited release in New York and Los Angeles on June 15th.