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Interview: Yana Gorskaya Sinks Her Teeth Into Making ‘What We Do In the Shadows’

What We Do In Shadows runs deep in the veins of Yana Gorskaya – or is it the other way around? Either way it works because the talented director/editor has not only helmed 17 episodes of the vampire mockumentary series, she has also edited more than half of the episodes to date – 29 in total. Gorskaya’s connection with the franchise does not end there. It actually goes back to the very beginning in 2014 when she edited the Taika Waititi / Jermaine Clement‘s original film from which the series derived. So, to say she is familiar with it would be an understatement.

The series revolves around a group of vampires living among humans in the suburbs of modern day Staten Island. It is essentially your basic undead fish out of water story. The household consists of Kayvan Novak as Nandor The Relentless, his familiar (servant) who longs to be made a vampire himself, Guillermo, played by Harvey Guillén, along with Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and her husband Laszlo Cravensworth (Matt Berry). Also haunting the premises is Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) an energy vampire who drains victims not by drinking your blood, by boring or irritating them to the point that they lose the energy to live – he’s like a walking DMV. It is a stellar cast of comedic actors across the board.

Gorskaya received her second Emmy nomination, an honor she shares with fellow editor Dane McMaster for the episode “Go Flip Yourself”. The episode puts our favorite vampire brood at the center of a home renovation show where their Staten Island mansion is ambushed for a surprise makeover. The episode captures all the tropes seen on popular home transformation shows, from the music and graphic overlays to the cinematography, editing, and sound effects. The level of detail found in every shot would make it tough to differentiate the series’ phony home renovation show from a real one – that is if not for the presence of a few vampires. It is a bloody good time.

Awards Radar spoke with Gorskaya about her work on the series including her Emmy nominated season four episode. It did not take long to see how serious she takes the art of earning a laugh. When it came to “Go Flip Yourself” she knew it was crucial to capture all the qualities of the home repair genre they were emulating. “We didn’t want to make fun of reality TV,” clarified Gorskaya, “we wanted to make a really good reality television show, to the best of our ability and in our schedule – like creating an entirely new show.”

“WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS” — ‘Go Flip Yourself” — Season 4, Episode 8 (Airs August 23) — Pictured: (l-r) Kayvan Novak as Nandor, Natasia Demetriou as Nadja, Matt Berry as Laszlo, Harvey Guillén as Guillermo. CR: Russ Martin/FX.

“I pay attention to the details. I don’t like it when fictional television aims for something else and misses. So we do a tremendous amount of research, and every department does, to get all of the beats of that right. So on “Go Flip Yourself” I was already in love with reality television, and had been watching a lot of it, especially during the pandemic,” explained Gorskaya.

“Immediately, when I heard we were doing a meta episode that was going to be in like an HGTV show, I was like, ‘Please let me do that.’ I have a lot of friends who work in reality television, I called all of them up and was like, ‘How do you shoot this? What kind of lighting kit are you carrying?’ I connected them with my DP, I gave him episodes to watch. Dane McMaster with whom I edited this episode and I’m nominated with is brilliant, and also a fan of reality TV. So he went and watched a bunch of stuff and started a bible of… the toolkit of reality TV editing, so that we could hit all the tropes, of you know: speed rounds, and slow motion and the dissolves.”

“WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS” — ‘Go Flip Yourself” — Season 4, Episode 8 (Airs August 23) — Pictured: (l-r) Kayvan Novak as Nandor, Natasia Demetriou as Nadja, Matt Berry as Laszlo, Harvey Guillén as Guillermo. CR: Russ Martin/FX.

That level of detail is what separates What We Do In The Shadows from so many other series. There is not an element of what shows up on screen that is not been mined for humor. To accomplish this it takes a team effort across the board starting with the writing. “I would say the thing that every single department on this show is so stellar and bring so much creativity and humor and care to their work that we get these wonderful scripts. Then every department is thinking, ‘How can I top it? How can I make this funnier? What can what’s the visual flourish?,’ said Gorskaya.

“It’s like a Fabergé egg, every little piece of it costumes production, design, props, casting, we’re all thinking of what’s the gag? What’s the gag on the gag on the gag on the gag on the gag? And layering it. Hopefully, it’s a show that survives well on a second watch, because I hope there are things that you didn’t catch the first time through that will just be an Easter egg for you.”

“The hardest part is not laughing. I’m not always good at that – I have ever ruined to take,” confessed Gorskaya. “I try and save it up and laugh at the end. We have an ethos on our show that we will always do at least the scripted version, because oftentimes, that is the funniest way of telling you and I think probably most of the things that you love about the show came from actual written material.”

The process does not end there, because when you have the luxury of a talented cast, you need to put them to good use. “We have this gift of incredible improvisers and to rein them in would be a crime. So once we feel like we have a solid take on the scripted version – they’re so great, so we do something that’s called a ‘fun run,’ almost always given time, where they can do whatever they want. Oftentimes, that’s extremely funny, and yields the version… and oftentimes, it’s a total shit show. And we were just going like, ‘Well, okay, well, I guess we did that. Let’s move on.’

The first episode Gorskaya directed is a fan favorite and also one of my favorite episodes of television ever. Titled ‘On The Run’, the episode follows Laszlo as he goes on the lam under the guise of Jackie Daytona, a regular human bartender. He’s a real salt of the earth type who you would probably be able to identify if not for his brilliant disguise of a toothpick and blue jeans. The episode, like so many others, was a feeding ground for inspired and memorable line reads, to say the least. Just ask anyone in ‘Tuscon, Arizon-ya.’

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS — “On the Run” — Season 2, Episode 6 (Airs May 13) Pictured: Matt Berry as Laszlo. CR: Russ Martin/FX

When asked about the his gift for improv, Gorskaya explained what it can be like with such talented improvers. “Matt, I honestly don’t think he’s ever said a line the exact same way twice. His brain just doesn’t work that way. He’s not wired that way. That’s a gift. On a show like ours, that’s an absolute gift. They’re all fantastic. In that way. They’re all so quick.”

The series is so densely populated with humor as well as a cast that can improv with the best of them not everything can make the final cut. “That is by far the most painful part of making the show,” said Gorskaya. “I would say is that our scripts are long, our improv is long. There is so much wonderful material that we aren’t able to include, which is a gift and better than the opposite. But there’s a lot of really painful cuts that we have to make in order to get it to a digestible length.”

While cutting some hilarious moments is never easy, the team ultimately makes the decisions that are best for the series. “That was true in the movie, also. What we found was that, yes, there were many very, very funny things that we didn’t include, but putting a cherry on a cherry on a cherry on a cherry doesn’t make the cherry more delicious. You do have to boil it down to make what’s left. It’s funniest. So those painful cuts are are worthwhile and necessary, even though they hurt.”

Don’t worry though, some of those lost clips may be making their way to the viewers in the form of a clip-show episode. At least that is what I think I heard during my conversation with Yana. Watch the interview in its entirety to learn more about it and other topics of discussion such as the chances of a Buffy The Vampire Slayer crossover, stepping into the director’s chair only to direct Mark Hamill, collaborating with Taika and much more.

(None of this series would have been possible without the incredible work of the talented writers and actors. Awards Radar fully supports the WGA and SAG-AFTRA unions in their fight for a fair contract.)

What We Do In the Shadows is premiering new episodes of season five Thursdays on FX and the next day on Hulu.


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Written by Steven Prusakowski

Steven Prusakowski has been a cinephile as far back as he can remember, literally. At the age of ten, while other kids his age were sleeping, he was up into the late hours of the night watching the Oscars. Since then, his passion for film, television, and awards has only grown. For over a decade he has reviewed and written about entertainment through publications including Awards Circuit and Screen Radar. He has conducted interviews with some of the best in the business - learning more about them, their projects and their crafts. He is a graduate of the RIT film program. You can find him on Twitter and Letterboxd as @FilmSnork – we don’t know why the name, but he seems to be sticking to it.

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