IGN interview

Fly with the Conchords

We talk to the director and one of the stars of HBO's Flight of the Conchords.
by Travis Fickett

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US, August 14, 2007 - During the Television Critics Association event held in Beverly Hills, HBO threw a party for the press and brought cast members from many of their shows to the event. It took place at the W Hotel, a trendy and posh establishment in Los Angeles. HBO pulled out all the stops, including igniting a ring of fire on the surface of the swimming pool. It was never clear what this meant to signify, or if it was just meant to be "cool." More than once that evening, a partygoer mimed jumping into the ring, but sadly nobody actually took the leap.

One of the series the party was intended to promote is the new half-hour comedy Flight of the Conchords. Conchords, for those who don't know, is a series based on the live performances of a "two man novelty band" out of New Zealand. Flight of the Conchords is Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. The two seemed a bit surprised to be as popular as they were at the party, which included the likes of Larry David and James Gandolfini.

What follows is our talk with Jemaine, one half of the Conchords and then James Bobin, co-creator and director - who could be called "the other third" of the group (the math is a bit fuzzy on how it all works).

IGN TV: When it came time for you to do the TV show, did you work out the look of the show with the director?

Jemaine Clement: With James? No. When it comes to how the show looks and everything, Bret and I have never even talked about it. We've never even mentioned it. That's all between James and the Director of Photography. Occasionally on the videos we'll have a say, or we'll have an idea for a video or something. But sometimes we're totally surprised by what the video is going to be. We write the script and there we'll imagine what it'll be, but we're not responsible at all for the style, that's more James.

IGN TV: You've said that you're a fan of They Might Be Giants, is that a big influence for you?

Clement: Yeah sure, I definitely enjoy their music.

IGN TV: And yet the Conchords seem to be all over the map, you guys seem to be avoiding being pegged as a particular style.

Clement: Well on stage it's just us playing with acoustic guitars and that brings a cohesion to the sound because it's steel string and nylon string guitars.

Jemaine Clement in HBO's Flight of The Conchords By Nicole Rivelli/HBO

IGN TV: How about the electronic stuff you guys are playing on the show, are you playing there?

Clement No, not all of it. We'll usually play guitar and Bret plays a little keyboard, but sometimes we'll get drummers and bass players. Though Bret is quite good at the drums and I'm okay at the bass, but we'll get someone else to do it if we don't have the time.

IGN TV: Are you planning any guest musicians for the show?

Clement: Not to play music, no. But we got Daryl Hall to do a cameo on an episode.

IGN TV: Is that something you're looking to do more of as the show grows?

Clement: We've thought of it, but never organized it. And then Bret and I were doing a scene and we were talking to this real tall guy and in the script it was a part for a woman and then we realized we were talking to Daryl Hall. And we thought "Oh my god, it's Daryl Hall!"

IGN TV: So are you based in New Zealand?

Clement: Well we wrote the show here, and then we shot in New York. Then we were back here for some post production, and then back to New Zealand. And then we'll be back here if we go again.

IGN TV: Any idea when you'll find out whether you get another season?

Clement: With HBO it's usually at the end of the first season.

At this point, Clement was whisked away by someone, presumably a publicist or other handler and taken deep into the throng of people and never seen nor heard from (by us anyway) again.

However, we did manage to find co-producer, co-writer, co-creator and director James Bobin, who Clement had created with the look and style of the show. With so many hyphenate credits attached to the show, Bobin is quite clearly the "third Conchord" as far as the series goes. We started the interview by talking about the preview screening HBO held at an equally strange event in an abandoned space rented out for events in Echo Park.

IGN TV: So were you at the preview screening in Echo Park?

James Bobin: I was. I hid but I was there. To show the show for the first time to a crowd of "hipsters" for the first time is terrifying. It's the hardest crowd in the whole world because laughing isn't cool. I was pleased that they laughed at all, it was amazing. Professional partygoers are terrifying people. Get a job I say!

Flight of The Conchords - HBO television show By Nicole Rivelli/HBO

IGN TV: Let's talk about the music videos, which have really gotten this show a lot of attention. It seems that sometimes the songs are happening in the scene, other times it's not at all, how do you go about deciding how to frame it?

Bobin: It's really a case by case basis for us. My goal with the videos is always to incorporate it as naturally into the show as possible. We're in the long shadow of Tenacious D and I didn't want to show two guys playing to a bemused audience weird songs. I wanted to do a show where the songs are part of the story, where the songs help the story move forward and are an addition to the story and not a distraction from the story. So generally what I've tried to do is make their songs fit into a narrative. The Conchords have a number of songs that fit well with that, and some that don't fit at all. We decided very early on that songs that are narrative songs, like "Beautiful Girl" which is the classic case, where the story happens in the song. The story progresses, so you can use that. "Boom" is just about a boy and girl meeting, so you can go away from the story and go into a video sequence. So it is a case-by-case scenario, but it is always aimed at fitting the song as organically as possible into an episode.

IGN TV: It also seems like you've been deliberately avoiding parody and not aping any specific style.

Bobin: Well we have a huge respect for music. The guys know a lot about music and I'm a huge music fan. My dad was a DJ in the '60s in England, and I've always had a huge amount of respect and love for music and the music video genre. So I always think of what we're doing as homage rather than parody. A parody is more one note where homage is a loving thing, where you love this music and is about respect.

IGN TV: It also ends up being more of your own thing, and stands on its own.

Bobin: Well yeah, the joke is what they're singing about so what the video looks like is by the by. We're certainly influenced by a number of '80s pop videos, or even '60s pop videos. We highlight music that we like that might have shot videos in the past, so we have quite a broad range. From Petshop Boys to Serge Gainsbourg and there are things coming up in the future that are a bit weird, so there's a variety of music.

IGN TV: With your narrative videos you'll shoot them right within the scene, but with something like Boom it seems much more involved as it's a separate entity all together.

Bobin: Yeah, we shoot those separately. It's a tough thing to make because it's a musical comedy. We have to shoot a sitcom and two music videos in five days. If you're shooting a video for a pop group you have two days alone to do just that, so working against time all the time. So I like the videos to be part of the scene, for example with "Think about it" which is a song that happens as they're going from their flat to meet with the muggers. So you can shoot that relatively quickly. You do want the music videos to look nice, but at the same time you want them to feel like they're part of the real world. So when we mix the show when we go through the songs we like to add the atmosphere of the real world into them. They're never clean music, they always have car horns going off or talking in the background because we need it to live in the real world, as that's very important.

[At this point in the interview, Jemaine Clement comes over to express disbelief that a woman who interviewed him ACTUALLY thought he was Sascha Baron Cohen doing a character. She apparently had figured out otherwise by the time she had met him. Clement was a bit distraught at this fact because "It means my actual persona is simply ridiculous."]

IGN TV: So how did you meet the Conchords?

Bobin: The Edinburgh Comedy Festival many years ago. There's a festival every year with over 2000 performers.

IGN TV: And how did this collaboration start?

Bobin: Well, I met them then through a friend of mine named Demetri Martin, who is a great friend of mine. He introduced me to these guys and we hung out quite a lot, then we just stayed in touch and they got their own show on HBO called One Night Stand, and HBO knew of me through Da Ali G show, and then after One Night Stand they were developing this show and HBO said "Who do you have in mind for a director?" and they said James Bobin, and HBO said "We like him too, he sounds perfect." So they both came up with the same idea, which was me. So we started working together to decide what the show would be. It was always going to be a translation of their live show into a TV show, and the question in my mind was how that would be the most naturally achieved. To capture their live performances, which are about two innocent, sweet and naive guys who happen to be very funny and put that onto TV. And hopefully that's what I've achieved with this.

IGN TV: And how did the character of Murray come about?

Bobin: Rhys is a friend of theirs from London. He's from New Zealand obviously, but he's a stand-up who gigs in London. They did a show last year in Australia where Rhys played their manager, so it came from that. (Note - JB posted on the forum and corrected this, explaining he meant the BBC radio series and it seemed to have been misunderstood. Read the thread here for the correction ) I wanted to change the character for this show because I wanted him to have a job. I thought it would be funny if he had another job, and did the managing on the side. But obviously he doesn't give a shit about the real job and wants to be doing this instead. He came about through that, and he's a really funny guy. Really funny in real life too. He's the one who causes the most trouble on set, as he makes Jemaine laugh quite a lot. If you watch some of the takes, there's lots of cuts because Jemaine is laughing all the time during Rhys's improvisations. You'll see Jemaine laughing quite a bit. Eddie Pepitone, who played Bret's boss when he worked in "signs" had an improvisation that had Jemaine laughing through the whole thing. Jemaine is bad at "corpsing," but he got a lot better. Rhys still makes him laugh though.

IGN TV: And you said Rachel Blanchard got involved through an English show?

Bobin: Peep Show, which is a great show about two guys in their 30s who live in a flat together. I guess we're inspired by that show, because it is a pretty nonchalant style about "this is how the world works these days." I recommend it very highly, you should get it on DVD. So we'd seen Rachel on that, and I had auditioned her for something before and so when the part came up, we thought of her. She's very pretty and very funny which is a rare combination. And she's pretty famous anyway, she's in Snakes on a Plane for God's sakes! She's seen the guys live and said she was a fan, which was a big help. A lot of the people we got on the show have seen the guys live first and wanted to be on the show.

HBO Flight of The Conchords By Nicole Rivelli/HBO

IGN TV: Any plans for more guest stars coming up?

Bobin: Season 2 maybe. This season it's really just our comedy friends. A lot of guys from the New York comedy scene. Will Forte from SNL will be on. Demetri Martin is in the show, he'll be coming up.

IGN TV: Does Demetri play any music?

Bobin: A little bit, not very much. Can't talk about it, it's secret. We have so few secrets in the show and we always give them away. Every title of the show gives away the storyline. It's a fundamental error we've made, before even airing the show we've given away what happens in the title!

Taken from IGN

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