Script to Scene: How ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ Riffs on Vampire’s “Rough Rules”

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This episode of FX’s vampire mockumentary sees the show’s ensemble take a trip to Atlantic City, where Nandor, Laszlo and Nadja suddenly find themselves in big trouble. “We’re always thinking of pieces of vampire lore we haven’t spoofed on the show,” says Emmy-nominated writer Sarah Naftalis of the rule of vampirism that requires the bloodsuckers to keep ancestral soil in their coffins — without it, they cannot rest and their powers will fade. This scene, which takes place in their hotel room as they discover their individual collections of soil are missing, sets up the major conflict of the episode.

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What We Do in the Shadows

“The research on this show is different than it might be on other shows,” says Naftalis, who admits that she learned the rule about the ancestral soil in the writers room. She says that sometimes research comes from “websites with lime green fonts against hot pink backgrounds,” and the seriousness of the lore often sparks heated debate among the writers. Naftalis says they write with this general notion in mind: “What are the rough rules that have stayed consistent in all the many vampire iterations?”

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“The show is so deliciously silly,” says Naftalis. “Sometimes we rely on our characters’ reactions to tell us what’s the big deal. For most of us, some dirt going missing wouldn’t be big — but for them, it’s literally life and death.”

What We Do in the Shadows

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Colin Robinson, who survives by draining others of their energy with his vexatious personality, is often the bane of the other vampires’ existence. “There’s something funny about how Colin usually intentionally makes the vampires’ lives worse,” says Naftalis. “But here, he makes a true mistake.”

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The show’s mockumentary format, which offers Colin a chance to confess to his mistake, also provides a flashback to what he was doing when the hotel housekeeper vacuumed the vampires’ soil. “This grew out of a wonderful day in the writers room [when we] rewatched casino commercials that had burned into our brains growing up,” Naftalis says. “We loved the idea that what Colin wants to do on a trip is to simply watch the monotonous scroll of the hotel’s TV channel.” She notes that the vampires never learn Colin is the reason for their plight: “We have the camera pointing the finger at Colin, who just waves it away. It’s moments like these that are so fun to write in this style.”

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Another fun aspect of the show for Naftalis is the supernatural elements, allowing for a lot of creativity. “It’s a funny thing — the reality of the logic that you’re being held to is stuff like the ancestral soil,” she says. But that logic doesn’t apply to the moment when Laszlo unsuccessfully attempts to turn into a bat. “Our visual effects team is so incredible. You can write with the freedom and visual parameters of an animated show.”

What We Do in the Shadows

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“It’s also always very fun when the vampires take strong stances for absolutely no reason,” says Naftalis of Laszlo’s anti-sparrow stance. “I don’t know why Laszlo hates sparrows, but it’s fun to imagine how he arrived at that.”

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Script to Scene: How ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ Riffs on Vampire’s “Rough Rules”

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