Into the Shadows
From the rap scene of Atlanta to the romance of Man Seeking Woman to vampire roommates, Stefani Robinson makes it all seem easy.
If you watched the finale of What We Do in the Shadows, you know it ends with a pretty big twist.
One imagines the writers have the aftermath to that sudden reveal carefully plotted for season 2. Right?
"I don't know anything about season 2 yet! I wish I did. We haven't started writing it yet," Stefani Robinson, who serves as a writer and co-executive producer on the FX Network series, admits with a laugh.
"The biggest thing to tackle is the thing with Guillermo being a potential vampire hunter. We'll see where that goes," she adds.
For those who haven't yet caught up with the series, What We Do is an Office-style mockumentary that follows a trio of Old World vampires who are living together on Staten Island, along with their familiars.
Foremost among the familiars is Guillermo (Harvey Guillen), a long-suffering sidekick to Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), who feels underappreciated but who dreams of being a vampire himself someday. Guillermo serves Nandor and his roomies -- traditional vampires Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and psychic vampire Colin (Mark Proksch) - as they navigate the realities of New York City's southernmost borough while clinging to their ancient ways.
In the finale of the 10-episode first season, Guillermo takes a DNA test and discovers a genetic link to the Van Helsing family. But the vampire hunter of Dracula fame surely never existed, he tells himself. Although, he muses, vampires turned out to be real....
"It ended up being a pretty juicy plot twist, I think," Robinson says.
It's a twist that wasn't in the cards when the series began, she admits.
"We didn't know that was going to happen," she explains. "It was just something that came up in the writers' room."
She's as eager as the show's fans to see how it plays out. Robinson says writing for season 2 will begin in early summer, with filming likely to follow in the fall.
Robinson likes vampires, and she notes with a laugh that she was among the target demographic of the popular Twilight series of books and movies.
She's lost count of the number of times she read and watched those installments in vampire lore, she says.
"I grew up as a fan of the classical vampires," she says. "From Dracula to Interview with a Vampire."
To research the series, she says, "we bought a lot of interesting literature," ranging from the science of vampires and reference works on their long history in folklore and literature to a hodgepodge assortment of novels and short story collections.
"They're outcasts, in a way," she says. "They're very flawed -- there's a loneliness to them. A longing and loss, the burden of being immortal. It really weighs on these characters. You're powerful, but you're not able to just step outside and enjoy the world."
But, while many recent depictions of vampires have been serious, horrific or romantic, What We Do takes a comedic slant.
"It's a 2019 Addams Family, in a way," Robinson explains. "It's very spooky and strange. It's dark, in its way. But ultimately, it's a family sitcom. It's these friends living with each other, dealing with each other, and living with the burdens of everyday life."
And why not, she asks. "Honestly, I'm surprised that vampires are still resonating today. It has been done to death. But this combination of them being vampires, but also lovable flatmates -- it's an interesting concept."
The mockumentary format works well for the series, Robinson believes, "because it's a medium that makes the audience feel a little bit more involved. Connected. Just like The Office, or Parks & Rec. They feel like everymen, and there's a comfort level there that doesn't feel as scripted."
Taking that format and making it about supernatural characters is even better, she says.
"It starts with the idea that it's just a bunch of roommates living together. Then you add in the supernatural element. The special effects, the gore. I haven't seen this done before."
The series was inspired by a 2014 movie of the same name. The film was written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who also starred in the movie and now are writers and directors of the series.
But, while they are set in the same universe, the film and TV series don't share any of the same characters, Robinson says. In fact, she says the film serves as a road map for the series, without employing the same plot points.
What We Do in the Shadows is Robinson's third major writing credit. She also wrote for Man Seeking Woman, a romantic comedy that ran three seasons, and Atlanta, a racially charged comedy-drama series starring Donald Glover about a couple of cousins in the Atlanta, Georgia, rap scene.
Shifting gears isn't a problem for Robinson.
"I don't know that it's hard for me," she says. "It's not something I've really thought about ... but in terms of the shows that I've worked for, I think that I just like the work. And the work dictates what I'm doing.
"I loved working on Atlanta for so many reasons, but totally different reasons than why I loved working on Man Seeking Woman. I don't think too much about the differences in genre that these shows have. I just respond to the story, respond to the people making it."
For What We Do, Robinson says the actors help inform her writing process.
"What gets me in the right headspace is writing for them, getting their voices stuck in my head," she says. "Getting them good content motivates me. And, honestly, I'm trying to make them laugh, because they make me laugh. They are so funny, so talented."
It's a collaborative environment, she says, that encourages the actors to take the script and run with it.
"We like to see where it takes them," she says.
Robinson, a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, says it's still "a surreal thing" to ponder.
"If I dwell on it too much, it will blow my mind," she says. "I haven't totally internalized it yet. It's a crazy dream come true.
"It's a huge honor. It continues to feel like a very important thing to me."
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