Vampire flatmates, Maori wizards, a campaign that mashes deodorant and the Rugby World Cup with inspirational Kiwis - Taika Waititi is not afraid of exploring the more imaginative end of entertainment. He's spent the year proving once again why he's one of New Zealand's most ingenious talents both in front of and behind a camera.
What We Do In The Shadows took the biggest box office return of all local films, turning over a healthy $2.1 million since its release in June. More than 13 million people have watched the Hobbit-inspired Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made, which he directed, on YouTube (quite aside from it being a general delight on a plane).
Critics agree, too. Shadows has been named the best comedy of the year by the Guardian, and taken out many awards at a long list of international film festivals, plus it won Best Self-Funded Feature at the NZ Film Awards last week, in a year that's been very well served by local films.
"It's been an incredible year," Waititi agrees. "I guess maybe there's usually one film to speak of, but this year there's five or six amazing films. It seems the industry is really firing. There's been Fantail, and Housebound, and Dead Lands, The Dark Horse, and Shadows. It's been really good."
And Waititi intends to help keep that ball of success rolling - he's in Auckland working on a scheme to develop scripts with Maori and Polynesian writers when TimeOut calls for a catch-up.
"We're just trying to fast-track some movies for next year, so I've been doing that all day. We've got five writers that we're working with at the moment, and we want to try and get at least three of those features filmed next year."
It doesn't matter what he's working on: whether it be an ad, a TV series, or a film, for himself, or for someone else, Waititi seems to put just as much care and energy into them all.
"It's to do with reputation I guess. In this industry that's really one of the few things you have to go on, and there's always a danger, when you take endorsement or advertising opportunities, of people seeing it as 'Oh he's sold out'. But I've got a kid, and as the old saying goes, it's not selling out, it's buying in," he explains between sips of a banana coconut smoothie.
"A job is a job for me. I come from a working-class family where my parents would do everything they could, like my mum was a school teacher, but she also had a second job ironing shirts for business people and cleaning rich people's homes and stuff, and I learned very early on that feeding your kids is pretty much your number one priority. It doesn't really matter what the job is, and there's no pride lost in going for the money sometimes, as long as you can take pride in it."
It's that kind of "all offers welcome" attitude that's seen him take on another slightly unusual film project. Waititi will be the director behind the Rexona Rise Up: Do More campaign, which aims to inspire Kiwis and support the All Blacks in the lead-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The public are being asked to share inspiring stories by creating 90-second videos which they can submit online, and Waititi is going to compile these into a film.
"I'm a rugby nut, I love the All Blacks, and I think any opportunity to just hang out with them if I can, I'll take it. No seriously, I just like the idea of making something that's inspiring, that doesn't have to feel like an ad. Rather than an advertising company trying to come up with a fake narrative, and going 'this is what we think New Zealand wants to see', we're giving New Zealand the opportunity to show us what they want to see. I have no idea what shape this thing might take."
The cut-off date to submit a video is March 1, so you've got plenty of time to work out what might be inspirational to you, and Waititi is clear that he's not just looking for sporting inspiration.
"It's nice to be surprised by people, and who they're inspired by, what makes people feel good about their country. It can be really presumptuous to assume that we're all inspired by people who run marathons or achieve great sporting feats. There are inspiring people who use their minds, who create art, who use their hearts generously, so that's what I'll be looking for as well."
He has plenty of other projects on the go right now as well though. What We Do In The Shadows is out on DVD in New Zealand, but it will be released in US cinemas next February, and actor Jemaine Clement and Waititi are already looking at a couple of spin-off options. They plan to make a television show about the cops who featured in the film, and they've got a bunch of ideas floating around for a werewolf spin-off, among other projects.
"Jemaine and I took about seven years to write this thing, and my worry is that now we've had that idea for the werewolf thing, it won't get made until 2020. Because Jemaine and I are working on a TV series for HBO, and we're trying to finish those scripts, and then there's another film idea that we've had, and then I'm trying to finish some other personal scripts as well, and it's just really about getting the time to think about the werewolf story.
"It would definitely be fun though, following Rhys and his crew around, understanding the world of werewolves."
So there's the HBO series, another collaborative film idea with Clement, a comedy series Waititi wants to make for Maori TV, a film based on a Barry Crump book, and two other features he wants to direct. And then of course there's Moana - the Disney animated feature about a Polynesian princess called Moana, on a quest sailing across the Pacific Ocean in search of a fabled island, for which Waititi has written the script. His work on it is fairly well finished, but he's not allowed to say much yet.
"It's a bit complicated because I've actually signed these telephone book-sized contracts, saying that you are not to divulge any information about this project. So what I can basically say is that I wrote the first few drafts, and then I went away to make this vampire film, and I'm not sure where they're at with it now, but it's coming out in 2016. I think the main thing with it, is that it's not massively specific to any one place or culture, 'cos obviously it'd be a bit dangerous to say 'this is a Maori story', you can't really do that. So yeah, it's really about an adventure for this young girl, who happens to be from Polynesia."
When Disney asked if he was interested, Waititi saw it as an opportunity to try something new, and see how a huge studio like Disney operates.
"Rather than having my name on anything or having the job, really the opportunity I see is learning about how they make those animations, or how they make a big-budget film, because it helps me in my own work to know what is possible, and what's involved. And then I can bring that back to New Zealand."
Yes, he's a busy man. And for that he's very thankful, even if it means he's constantly juggling.
"I feel extremely lucky, that at this stage in my career, people are listening to my ideas. It's a hard industry to survive in, and you don't get many second chances if you crash and burn. So it's a very privileged position to be in. It's nice to feel wanted, but it's also nice to feel like you've succeeded in this thing that you've chosen, making art. I understand how lucky I am to be in this position."
Who: Taika Waititi
What: What We Do In The Shadows out now on DVD, and the Rexona Rise Up: Do More campaign is under way.