Cinematographer D.J. Stipsen admits he was surprised to receive an Emmy nomination for “What We Do in the Shadows.” “The premise of the show is to make it look as mockumentary as possible,” he explains. “So it’s not going to be a D.O.P. showreel kind of thing.” Nevertheless, it looks like voters “loved all the hard work” that went into it. Watch our exclusive video interview with Stipsen above.
Based on the 2014 horror comedy movie of the same name, this FX series revolves around three centuries-old vampires (Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou) sharing an apartment in Staten Island. Stipsen also worked on the feature with writers/directors/stars Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, both of whom produced and directed for the small-screen version as well. “When we were making the film, nobody thought it would be such a huge hit,” Stipsen admits. So when it was adapted for television, the budget grew substantially.
But even though they had more cash at their disposal, Clement and Waititi wanted the show to “stay true to its roots, which was to make it a mockumentary. So there were certain things that we wanted to use — like a light on top of the camera — to remind the audience that there was a crew following these vampires. I guess it’s more like a ‘Cops’-style show and less like a documentary in that sense.”
The duo also wanted the show to have an improvisational feel, so they left the actors somewhat in the dark about what exactly they would be doing on the day of, from line readings to blocking. “As a cinematographer, that’s incredibly hard,” says Stipsen. “The whole set has to be lit” so the performers “can go anywhere they want, and we have to follow them.”
Besides his current Primetime Emmy bid for Best Cinematography (Single-Camera Series, Half-Hour), Stipsen competed at the Daytime Emmys earlier this year for his work on “The New Legends of Monkey.” He has also shot shows including “Dispatches from Elsewhere,” “Fresh Eggs,” “Wellington Paranormal” and “James Patterson’s Murder Is Forever,” as well as the film “3 Mile Limit” (2014).
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