Walking on Water (2018) : Bulgarian director Andrey Paounov s documentary about environmental artist Christo s attempts to complete his first major project after the death of his wife and long-time collaborator Jeanne-Claude: “The Floating Piers,” a floating yellow walkway on Italy s Lake Iseo. It’s Certified Fresh with a score of 100% on the Tomatometer. The Souvenir (2019) : Writer-director Joanna Hogg’s #MeToo-relevant story about a film student who finds her voice as an artist while embarking on an emotionally fraught relationship with an older man is 93% Fresh. All Creatures Here Below (2018) : David Dastmalchian and Karen Gillan star as impoverished Angelenos whose criminal act sends them on the lam. It’s at 86% on the Tomatometer. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2018) : Taissa Farmiga stars as a young woman who is one of her few family members to survive an arsenic poisoning. She’s making do – until her controlling cousin Charlie (Sebastian Stan) arrives. Based on the Shirley Jackson novel, this film is 86% Fresh on the Tomatometer. Photograph (2019) : The Lunchbox’s Ritesh Batra directs this romance about a shy street photographer in Mumbai who asks a woman to pose as his fiancée in an effort to appease his grandmother. Amaurosis (2017) : In the Hands of the Gods’ Gary Sinyor writes and directs this mystery drama about a couple grieving the loss of their son. Trial by Fire (2018) : Jack O’Connell and Laura Dern star in director Edward Zwick’s adaptation of the true story of a death row inmate and the woman who fought to get him free. Aniara (2018) : This sci-fi fantasy film about humans who don’t cope well when they leave Earth for a resettlement on Mars falls mostly flat with a 47% Tomatometer score. Perfect (2018) : Steven Soderbergh executive produces this film about a troubled man who gets reprogrammed to help with his dark thoughts. Things don’t go as planned for the characters or for the film itself, which is at 29% currently. The Professor (2018) : Johnny Depp plays a college professor who lets loose when he finds out he has six months to live in this dark comedy. Critics give the film a failing grade of 0%.
It wasn’t Jemaine Clement or Taika Waititi’s idea to turn their cult-favorite comedy What We Do in the Shadows into a TV show — you have producer Scott Rudin to thank for that — but once you watch the premiere of the new FX series, you have to wonder if it was fated to become a TV series all along.The Certified Fresh WWDITS show follows a similar framework as the film: It’s a mockumentary about vampire roommates (Matt Berry, Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetriou, Mark Proksch) and a devoted familiar (Harvey Guillén), but the action moves from New Zealand to New York City. These aren’t big city vamps, though — they live on Staten Island, a place with the same low-key underdog quality that New Zealand has.(Photo by FX)Like the film, the series focuses on the more mundane aspects of vampire life, which means there’s a lot more interpersonal spats than epic vampire battles.“When we were making the film we had joked about making, like, a ‘Housewives of’ series [where] you could go to different places and do different groups of vampires,” Clement told Rotten Tomatoes and a small group of reporters one December afternoon on the series’ Toronto set. “So as soon as I was on the phone and someone was saying, ‘What if we made a TV series of this?’ that immediately came into my head, and I knew it would be different characters in a different place.”Aside from the Real Housewives reality series, read on to find out what else inspired the vampires’ transition from film to television, including what other pop culture inspired WWDITS (two very non-vampire-related documentaries might surprise you), what vampire rules the characters live by, the difficulties of night shoots, and more.Vampire Influences(Photo by Byron Cohen/FX)The first step in creating a vampire universe is to figure out the rules of this vampire world. Executive producer Paul Simms and co-EP Stefani Robinson said they’d consult the original film frequently, and they also drew from seminal vampire movies like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Interview with the Vampire, and even the Twilight saga for inspiration.“[Interview] is always in conversation in some way,” Robinson said. Plus, “I was sort of the target demographic for Twilight when that came out — I was in high school when that came out — so I have pretty extensive Twilight knowledge, I would say. It’s been fun re-watching all these movies.”Clement and Waititi’s favorite vampire films include Scars of Dracula, Fright Night, Salem’s Lot, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Let the Right One In. The rules of the WWDITS world come from plenty of years of vampire movie-watching, and Clement and Waititi know them front and back.“Taika and I are both fans of vampire movies, and when we d get people to improvise in the film, we were more surprised that people don t know the vampire rules like we do,” Clement said. “We thought everyone was a vampire nerd.”On the non-vampire side of things, they looked at the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster and the classic Grey Gardens to tackle roommate dysfunction and life in a dilapidated mansion.Vampire LawThese vampires have powers we didn’t see in the movie, but they’re pretty standard — they can’t go into private property without being invited, they can’t see their reflections in mirrors, stuff like that.“We go basic ’70s-’80s vampire movie roles with a bit of ’30s,” Clement said. “They can turn into bats. They can t go in the sun. They don t sparkle in the sun; they die.”Some of the rules are less obvious, like Waititi’s favorite bit of vampire law he found while researching: “One way to get rid of a vampire if he s in your village is to steal his socks, fill them with garlic, tie them up, and throw them in the river. He’ll be forced to chase his socks, to go get his socks back. Then, he ll get the socks and obviously they ll be full of garlic. He s going, ‘Ahh,’ stuck there on the banks of the river.”A new technological twist is that vampires’ fingerprints don’t register on digital devices, so they can’t open iPhones or digitally sign for a very important delivery (like a package they’ll receive in the first episode). While the rules are pretty clear-cut, the more obscure ones complicate matters when the actors improvise something that won’t work.“Often on set we’re like, ‘that s right, they can t do that.’ And I think most people probably wouldn t care if you ever made a character go for a swim in the ocean, but they officially aren t allowed to according to vampire law. They re not allowed to go in salt or sea water,” Waititi said.(Photo by John P Johnson/FX)If Clement’s around, he’ll correct the mistake.“When we have the actors improvising stuff, if I’m listening I ll go, ‘They can t swim’ if they improvise it,” he said. “‘Couldn t do that.’”Said Simms, “Jemaine is very particular about the rules. If they eat human food they get sick, but leeches they can chew on or suck on to get the blood out but the actual leech meat they can’t [eat]. … The one that has affected the show in the most frustrating way is the idea that vampires need to be invited in somewhere. Because we’re always writing scenes where we’re like, ‘OK, they go into the house,’ and Jemaine’s like, ‘hold it, they need to be invited into the house.’”Ultimately, the rules are helpful in making the story as interesting as possible.“It s good to have limitations. It makes it harder for them,” Clement said. “Because vampires have so many powers, they also have to have weaknesses.”While Berry’ Laszlo, Novak’s Nandor, and Demetriou’s Nadja all have traditional vampire backgrounds, Clement created a new piece of vampire lore in “energy vampire” Colin Robinson (Proksch), a day-walker who doesn’t feed on blood, but rather sucks the life out of people. Think the most boring person in your office who you’d never want to be caught next to at the water cooler, then multiply that boredom by at least 10.In researching whether vampires existed, Clement came across people who would talk about an energy vampire in a psychological context.“But I just thought, what if it was supernatural as well? Yeah, that s been really fun to do,” he said.Transferring to TV(Photo by John P Johnson/FX)Adapting a film into a television series isn’t as easy as it sounds, despite the fact that there’s already a creative framework to go with.“People think of it as TV as being smaller-scale, but it s actually larger because you have to have so many different stories,” Clement said. “That part of it is hard, but it s also the fun part [because] next week we re doing a different story. I love that.”And while certain story lines will have full-season arcs, the 10 episodes are mainly standalone half-hours that establish the new characters and the new world in which they’re living.“Remember how TV used to be where you could turn on an episode of Bob Newhart and watch, and you didn’t need to know what happened before or after? There are still elements in the first season that are season-long arcs, but we’re thinking about it in terms of 10 episodes,” Simms said.“I hate it when TV people go, ‘It’s like we’re making a 10-episode movie.’ No you’re not. TV is better than movies anyway,” he joked, “so why would you want to make that comparison?”Moving to Staten IslandWhile the pilot was filmed in Los Angeles and the series was filmed in Toronto, the What We Do In the Shadows show takes place on Staten Island (a place where no one on the cast or crew is from, and most of them have never been). Clement visited while writing the pilot, but the writers’ room had a built-in expert.“One of the writers, Tom Scharpling, his wife is from Staten Island and anything we have to ask [about being] authentic, we have to ask Tom,” Clement said. “They get really stupid like, ‘Would you see a cow like this in Staten Island?’”Why Staten Island, though? The vampires made it to America, but didn’t get very far in to the country.“You could almost say Staten Island is the New Zealand of New York. It’s kind of the forgotten borough that not many people live in,” Simms joked. “No, but [it’s] quainter and not as glitzy and glamorous [as Manhattan].”Nocturnal Schedule(Photo by Matthias Clamer/FX)One downside to a show about vampires: all of the action takes place at night, which means anything that’s not filmed on the show’s Toronto soundstages must be shot at night.“We ll often go from 5 p.m. to 6 a.m., depending on when the sun rises. So that s the bit that makes you want to cry,” Clement said.Clement directed a few episodes of the season, as did Waititi (who was directing the episode Rotten Tomatoes was present for filming), original film star Jackie van Beek, and Jason Woliner.Finding the Cast(Photo by John P Johnson/FX)While most of the WWDITS film was improvised, the show is fully scripted — but with plenty of room for the comedian cast members to play around.“They re all good at improvising, these guys, and that was a big part of the audition. …A lot of people are good and funny,” Clement said.But “you don’t want people who are acting” or who prepare, Waititi added.Said Clement, “it feels more real if people [can wing it]. And also you just get things that you wouldn t think of planning out. Going on a big tangent and talking about some detail, you often don t do that because in a script, you re trying to be very efficient and just tell what s absolutely necessary. But it s more fun and more real when they go off onto something that you wouldn t put in a script normally.”The scene Rotten Tomatoes observed the cast filming took place in a local Toronto mansion called Casa Loma that is frequently used for film and television shoots — from Fox’s recent Rocky Horror Picture Show remake to 2000’s X-Men and many more. It would be a spoiler to reveal who the main cast was interacting with and why, but, suffice it to say, it was a good thing filming took place far away from the viewing room, because the members of the press in attendance were laughing so hard.The surprise of who the special guest stars for the late-season episode are is so worth the wait, however, and rest assured, early-season episodes feature some comedy bona fides too. In the meantime, check out a featurette from the set below to see exactly how funny Novak, Berry, Demetriou, Proksch, and Guillén are.What We Do in the Shadows premieres Wednesday, March 27 at 10 p.m. on FX.Like this? 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Addison Wright’s Hiplet: Because We Can is part of the Scene In Color Film Series, presented by Target, which shines a light on incredible filmmaking talent. As part of the series, three emerging filmmakers will receive mentorship from producer Will Packer, and their films are available to watch on Rotten Tomatoes, MovieClips Indie Channel, Peacock, and the NBC App.They have the “sexy walk;” “the pretzel;” “the dougie;” “the Vivian.” These aren’t 1950s innuendoes. They’re the dance moves performed by a special Chicago-based ballet company. Founded by Homer Hans Bryant, hiplet is a combination of hip-hop and traditional ballet performed to dizzying, intoxicating effect by a collection of incredible local dancers. Director Addison Wright, another Chicago native, decided to make a film about these viral sensations after discovering the troupe on Instagram. His eight-minute documentary short, Hiplet: Because We Can, was an Official Selection at the 2020 South by Southwest Film Festival, later became a Vimeo Staff pick, and is now part of the Scene in Color Film Series. Wright’s film, titled after the dance, fuses together a choreographed music video feel with a precise documentary style for a lively exploration of this new invigorating movement style. Though the performers’ movements speak for themselves — their swaggering strides texture their powerful, beautiful Black forms, mesmerizing the frame with an undaunted spirit — Wright interviews them, too. The ebullient ballerinas explain the pushback they’ve experienced in a classically white-defined world for their unique artistic identity, their varying body types, and their Blackness. In Hiplet, Wright casts an immersive and empathetic lens toward these talented women. He demonstrates a nimbleness in his filmmaking, capturing the balletic patterns of the dancers while oscillating between striking colorful compositions and equally magnetic black-and-white filmed interviews. Hiplet is not just an exhilarating introduction to a new, evolving ballet style, but a perfect launching pad displaying Wright’s fresh, assured voice. Here, Wright talks to Robert Daniels, a Chicago-based Tomatometer-approved Top Critic. Robert Daniels for Rotten Tomatoes: How did you first get into filmmaking?Addison Wright: I grew up during the 90s, so I was glued to the TV watching MTV and BET. I ve always been mesmerized by music videos and by directors like Hype Williams and Spike Jonze, and Little X. So early on I knew I had a passion for it. I went to Simeon High School in Chicago, where I played football all four years. I ended up getting a scholarship to Delaware State University. I played football there, and my major was TV production. I didn t have a camera in high school or anything like that, but once I got to college I realized this was something I wanted to go after. I ended up getting hurt around my junior year in college. So I didn t play football, but the team would have me around so I traveled and filmed practice and the games. When there wasn t any practice or a game, I would borrow the camera and film music videos around campus. That s when I got into learning how to build narratives within music videos. So I was taking some of the stuff that I learned in some of my classes, and applying it to my videos. That s where my passion started.(Photo by Addison Wright)Daniels: Where and when did the idea for Hiplet first form?Wright: I was on Instagram and on my Explore page I saw these Black ballerinas doing ballet a bit differently. So I clicked on it and I heard the music and saw them in the dance studio and thought these girls are dope. I was scrolling up and began seeing them again and again. So I researched online about the Hiplet ballerinas and saw some of the commercials that they were in like Old Navy commercials and Mercedes-Benz and featured in Japan and some other places.Then I saw they were based here in Chicago and I was like, whoa this is a story that needs to be told. Initially the concept was me doing an entire music video of them. I wanted to shoot it in Chicago’s South Shore Cultural Center because that was a white-only establishment a hundred years ago. And I want to place Black girls in this beautiful cultural center, and just let them do their thing in a place they wouldn t have been able to a hundred years ago. But once we got the cost back for how much it was going to be to rent that space, I knew we couldn’t do that.So we ended up finding a gym on the south side, the Grand Ballroom, which is on 64th and Cottage Grove. You won’t even notice it if you drive or walk past, but if you look up you can see the beautiful terracotta. The story grew by me going, at least once a week, to the studio to film the girls and watch them rehearse and practice just to see how they move around and to see their personalities so I would know different angles and areas to pay attention to. Homer, he s the founder of Hiplet, and I were having a casual conversation and he told me how much these girls go through. Whenever they post something online, people are making fun of them but those same people are emulating what they do. It comes from within the dance community. People from different races look at them and see how they aren t doing traditional ballet, so they talk about them. So I decided to give the girls the floor: We ll film them, but we ll also let them talk about the adversity they often face. That s what kinda changed the path of the film being a music video. That s what made me realize how I wanted it to be a short and a documentary, but with the feel of a music video.Daniels: How long was the shoot?Wright: The shoot was about a 12-hour day. We started loading around eight in the morning and we wrapped with the girls around eight o clock at night. It was a bit longer for us, but the girls were there all day. It was a lot of rehearsing. When the girls showed up, they knew what they needed and we knew what we needed to do as far as setting up lights and blocking. Daniels: I want to get back to the blocking. I think what s so great about your film is you can feel the energy of the dancing. How did you get to that point where you got the right angles to bring the live energy onto camera?Wright: My DP, Dan Frantz, and I would go to the studio where girls would be rehearsing and we would film certain parts of the performance. That was a month out before we actually filmed. We would sit down and figure out the best angle for where the camera needed to be and lighting diagrams. We also went to the ballroom and took some pictures. I knew where I wanted to place the girls. I knew some of the angles that I wanted to hit just based off of their choreography. But it was a collaboration between him and me. We were rushing against the clock to get certain things because we only had the location for one day. But my goal was to really capture the energy of the ballerinas. Make sure they re making eye contact. Anytime the camera came around, I made sure that I told them to interact with the camera. If it s near you, look down at the lens, look through it just like you re on stage and somebody makes eye contact with you in a crowd. The camera is the crowd.Daniels: And now your film is part of the Scene in Color Film Series. How did you hear about the opportunity and what drew you to it?Wright: It s funny, I didn t know anything about it until they reached out to me. And I was completely blown away. Even when I talk about it right now, I m still in shock because it s all just surreal. They said they saw the film and they really loved it. And I was like: Me, really? That s dope that they love the film. About three weeks later they gave me the details and I found it incredible. I remember making the film public in February on Vimeo and it ended up becoming a Vimeo staff pick and then went viral. A month after that was when NBC reached out to speak with me.Daniels: How are you feeling about having a producer like Will Packer as a mentor?Wright: It s an incredible feeling having someone who is a powerhouse within the industry and within the Black community as a mentor. Even hearing myself say that, it sounds unreal. Just to be able to have opportunities to pick his brain and to have the opportunity to ask what to do in this situation, in certain situations, or do you think this is a good idea, can only help my career in an extremely positive way. He may be able to give some insight from his experience. He may be able to point me into a direction that may give me more exposure. I m extremely excited to be able to just chat with him.Daniels: What guidance or advice has Will given you so far?Wright: I asked him what s his favorite film that he’s ever done, the one that left him with the most memories. He said Stomp the Yard. In a nutshell, he wanted to do that film to provide inspiration to people. Being able to hear that from him let me know I m doing the right thing. My goal as a filmmaker is to inspire people through the lens. And if it can t change the world, at least I’ll open one person’s eyes. Will also said he enjoyed the film and I was where I was supposed to be. To hear that as an up-and-coming filmmaker, as a Black filmmaker, you know, to hear from Will Packer that I m where I m supposed to be, it s extremely crazy, man. It floored me. That solidified me as a filmmaker in my eyes and in my heart.Daniels: What do you hope people take from Hiplet?Wright: I m born and raised in Chicago, and Chicago always gets a negative light put on us. I want people to be able to see these Black girls on TV, on their phones, and on their computers to see how, number one, beautiful they are; number two, how they re taking ballet in a totally different direction by not changing ballet but by adding a twist to it. I want it to be motivational for Black boys and girls by seeing someone that looks like you, that s doing something that s changing the world of ballet by shaking things up.See more shorts and meet more filmmakers from the Scene in Color Film Series.