New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi makes his feature film directorial debut with the twisted romantic tale, Eagle vs Shark. The movie follows the dysfunctional relationship between the lovely but shy Lily (Loren Horsley) and Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), a nerdy video store clerk in training to beat up a guy who once terrorized him in high school.
Was transitioning from the world of short films into feature films difficult? Was it different than you expected?
“It was actually - being on set, the actual production – wasn’t as difficult as I thought it’d be. But, yeah, the initial transition was a little hard. Just going to the pre-production stuff and just realizing just how much work is involved, and the planning and all the decisions that have to be made. Actually, once you’re on set, then basically everything kind of gets concentrated into the moment and there’s not much else to really concentrate on but the actors in the scene, which is a really nice feeling. Just all the preparation and the editing afterwards and stuff that really takes it out of you.”
What’d you learn from this experience that you’ll take with you on the next?
“What I would like to do next time is to try and get more time. Sometimes I think more money would help, but more time is the key thing for me. Just having a little bit more time for this, for each stage of the process - for the script stage and for the pre-production stuff and also for shooting. We didn’t have as much time in the actual shooting so a lot of times we had minimal takes and stuff. It was time. For the next film it would be nice to have a little bit more.”
How long was the shoot?
“It was 25 days.”
That’s very quick.
“Yeah. So it was very fast and we were all rushing around and just trying to fit as much as we could into each day. I mean, this film still survives really well because you just work with what you’ve got. But if I can get it the next time, then I’m just thinking I’ll try and find a little bit more.”
Do you think that having such a short time to shoot the film actually was beneficial being your first film because you couldn’t stop and over-think things?
“Yeah, yeah. I think a lot of limitations like that do help you. They help you come up with new and innovative ways to do things. And yeah, I think that just having hardly any time at all, it teaches you the worst possible scenario that you could come up against, and you need to deal with it right from the very beginning.”
Did the short schedule force you to leave out anything from the script?
“I shot everything I wanted to shoot. I was really lucky to get all that. After the editing I actually left a couple of scenes out and the film became shorter. The very first cut of the film was about just over two hours – maybe just over two hours, and that was the first assembly of the film. And then it got sort of shorter and shorter and shorter until it became just under ninety minutes.”
How did you decide what to cut?
“It was really just about concentrating on Lily as the main character and seeing the world through her eyes and experiencing the story through her point of view. There were a lot of other scenes with other characters that I think in the end turned out to be quite exploratory, which really didn’t need to be there. Like, a lot of stuff was explained I don’t think we really needed to know. I wanted to just concentrate on the relationship between Lily and Jarrod.”
How much did the script change over the course of time? Did you always have the beginning, middle and end in mind throughout the process?
“I definitely had the beginning and the end pretty set in my mind. And then the middle really kind of went through the main changes and I think that’s where the rewrites of the script [were done]. But a lot of the film hasn’t changed since the first draft. Much of the changes were from just, I guess, shifting events and things around in the middle and trying to make the story flow a bit better.”
Why an eagle and why a shark? Why those two creatures?
“Because they’re both solitary animals who sort of circle around and around in their respective environments looking for something. And in the case of the characters, they spend their time circling around looking for human contact; looking to be accepted or looking for something else. That’s really why those two animals were chosen. Not because of any specific symbolism but just because they each represent, I guess, a sense of solitude and longing.”
How difficult was it for you to not push Jemaine Clement’s character so far that he loses the support of the audience? Was it hard for you to walk that line where he doesn’t completely alienate viewers?
“It was difficult. One of the big concerns was how likeable this guy was going to be. It wasn’t really making sure that people liked him, it was more just making sure people could, I guess, empathize with him a little and could recognize that there were reasons for his extremism. He had come from a family where he feels he doesn’t fit in and he feels like he needs to be someone else. I think because it comes from a place of truth or something, then people do recognize it, you know? I think a lot of people can recognize paths of these characters and situations from their own lives because the film deals more with the true human condition than other films that are sort of more broader comedies.”
Do you know someone like Jemaine Clement’s ‘Jarrod’?
“Yeah, for sure. I think we all know some people like this. Some of these are probably just more extreme versions of people we know or extreme visions of ourselves. I think everybody feels like they don’t belong somewhere or that they want to be something else. They want to be somebody else. I think many of us are very lucky to have accepted who we are. I think part of the human journey through life is to find acceptance of the self and be happy with the body you’ve got.”