Taika Waititi stands proudly as one of New Zealand’s finest exports of the 21st century. The Academy Award winner would rise to prominence with his 2007 comedy Eagle vs Shark, giving him the platform to create other titles of the genre including Boy, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
The unique styling of the Raukokore native would see him appointed by Marvel to take control of the Thor property a few years later. It would be a meteoric rise for the director, writer, producer and actor, but it was ‘overnight success’ many years in the making.
For prospective filmmakers in New Zealand who want to know the tricks of the trade from the Jojo Rabbit director, he does have some points of wisdom that he has recognised himself and passed down from his peers.
One of the keys for Taika Waititi to really hash out his concepts and venture forward with confidence is his keyboard on the computer and his pen when he has a pad of paper available. “One of the tricks I’ve learned is to keep writing no matter what,” he argues. “Force yourself to write and write and write. There might be times where I have no idea what I’m going to write.” Although he admits that it is the loneliest part of the job within the filmmaking process, it is the best method to tapping into that creative streak and exploring facets in the script that could not be discovered through other methods.
Those who don’t know the filmmaking process could deem reaching out to peers and colleagues as a weakness. Given the amount of money and egos involved in the project, it can be easy to venture forward in the belief that the director, producer, writer, actor, editor or cinematographer knows everything about their role. Taika Waititi does not follow that school of thought, admitting that he reached out to fellow Kiwi Peter Jackson for advice.
Just as he was given the opportunity to jump from comedic indie filmmaker to taking the director’s chair for the 2017 Marvel blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok, he told the award winner that he was daunted by the prospect. “Hey man, I don’t know what the f*** I’m doing,” he remarked to Jackson. “How do you do one of these big movies?”
The Lord of the Rings franchise director would advise Taika Waititi to just follow the script – metaphorically and literally. Once the call sheet has been formulated, then every participant at every level of the project understands what is expected of them and where they fit into the framework. While there have been many alterations with the movie making process, this is a principle that Jackson believes remains true no matter what.
Existing outside of the comfort zone is not something that many filmmakers will want to embrace. Once they have defined a role, they enjoy staying inside those boundaries. For Taika Waititi, creating a movie is about tapping into heightened senses and exploring new territory. “I like to find things that seem dangerous to me,” he remarked. “Things that feel that I’d be nervous for most of the time that I’m making it.”
It might sound counterintuitive because making something terrible and not knowing about it remains one of his greatest fears in the industry. “Every project I’ve gone into, if I feel like this could be the end of my career, then it’s been a really good experience,” he told Elijah Wood and Daniel Noah.
That bold and unapologetic philosophy has allowed Taika Waititi to realise his talent, even when his own doubts and reservations threated to derail his progress.