Here is the full transcript of Film director Taika Waititi’s TEDx Talk: The Art of Creativity at TEDxDoha
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Taika Waititi on The Art of Creativity at TEDxDoha
Announcer: Are you ready for Taika Waititi? All the way from New Zealand. Taika Waititi, please.
Taika Waititi – Film director
Thank you. Thank you very much. My name is Taika Waititi, as she said. It’s very nice to be here, and time starts now.
Basically, I’m – this is a quick run through of what I’m going to talk about tonight. First, I thought I’d just introduce myself. So that would be the first thing where I’m — I mean, Taika Waititi. So that — there’s that done.
I’d like to just break the ice. Maybe start off with a joke. This joke, I’m just going to put it out there, it just involves me telling you that I’ve just flown in to Doha, and as a result, my arms are tired. The aim with that joke is — I’ve flown in to Doha but it was on an aeroplane in reality. And what I’ve done there with the joke is I’ve taken it further and said that my arms are tired, suggesting that I’ve flown like a bird to Doha, so that’s the backstory of the joke. Cool. It’s going pretty well.
So, who am I? Well, I kind of don’t really know that myself, often. I come from New Zealand, and I come from these two people, who met in the early 70’s. The woman is Robin. She’s of Russian-Jewish heritage, and she was a school teacher. And the guy next to her, his name is Taika and he’s a farmer and an artist. And they met and then, a few drinks later, they gave birth to a beautiful Asian daughter called Taika. And so I come from a very mixed background and as a result, I’ve always sort of had trouble kind of finding out, deciding really who I was, or what I wanted to do, and I’ve had lots of influences through my life, through both sides of my family.
I come from — one side of me comes from the country, and I went to school out there where the population of the school was 28 kids. And it’s still 28 kids. And then, I was also at school in the city — see the odds and bits — freaked out by that. And that’s me with my mum. And I don’t know who the kid is next to me.
So I always had influences and stuff and I don’t realize and I think that’s kind of moved through into my creative life where I haven’t really been able to decide exactly what I wanted to do. I’ve always been into painting and art and drama and all these different things, so, and that’s pretty much been my life. That’s my grandmother on the back of a motorbike. And this is my other grandmother. So, you know, both girls on wheels.
So TEDx asked me to speak and I had a little freak out, because you know, usually the people that talk here have invented a brain, or something, or, like, a lady had a stroke and she could suddenly see through walls and became rainman. So, I made a movie. Yeah. A good movie but that’s — You’re wasting my time by clapping. Okay?
So to stand there, I would have thought I would have had to invent movies, be the first filmmaker ever. So I had a freakout, I didn’t know what to talk about. I started thinking, what have I got to say?, and then I started making notes, vigorously making notes about what I was going to say, like here, and important ideas that were coming out of my brain and onto the page, and then I thought I was going to finally reveal all this information about myself and I really — I just really had no idea what to do, or what to say.
A little bit about having no idea and no ideas, and then I thought maybe it’s about that. Maybe it is ideas that something, obviously TED, to exchanging of ideas and perspectives, and I mean, all I’ve got guys, is creativity. That’s my job. At the moment, I happen to be a filmmaker, but it’s not my job. My job is to express myself, and to share my ideas and my point of view. It happens to be that I’m using filmmaking right now, but you know, throughout the years, I’ve done lots of different things.
I started off — my background is painting and visual art. I’m just going to zoom through all this stuff. And it’s varied from the kind of, the serious, then slightly, sort of tongue and cheek, and kind of, sometimes political but always fun. If I can try and make it fun, then that for me is what being creative is about. It’s being — it’s having fun and looking at life through the lens of a child, really. This is a game I play with the newspaper and the sportspage called: “Where are the Indians?” They’re everywhere in this picture.
So I’ve just tried to keep generating stuff. This is the illustration work I did for a while. And this is really into my time — I did a lot of performance and stand-up, and then moving into acting and photography, and fashion for a little bit. I tried my hand at animation as well. And basically, yeah, I wanted to do everything. So I wanted to try every single thing. I come from a background where people have said: “You have to have one job and stick with it.” Well, I don’t believe that. I think that in this day and age, people have things that they want to express, and you need to have a wide range of tools. And filmmaking, painting, acting, poetry, all that stuff, they’re all tools.
So I found that film happened to be an amalgam of all the things I was interested in. And so I explored that for the last, sort of 6, 7 years. And I think I’ve done quite well out of it. And it’s culminated now with this movie “Boy”, which is going to become the most successful local film in New Zealand ever. But success, I think, for me, is a very strange thing, and I probably have different ideas of what success is to most other people.
Art? What is it? Is it important? I have no idea. Move on. I mean, can it do these things, can it save the impoverished ? No, it can’t, unless it’s made of food. Can it bring about world peace? Only if art is actual world peace. So it’s all about perspective for me. I’m here basically to share how I see things. If you can take one little piece of inspiration from that, and apply it to what you want to do. I don’t know how many people here are actually actively creative, then if you can take something, a sparkle or a certain idea from anything I showed you today, then, me coming here and staying at the Four Seasons is worth it.
So, I am attracted to the outsider, okay? A lot of the theme in my work is exploring this idea of people who don’t belong and I’m always inspired by the outsider artist. These are paintings by my father, who’s an outsider artist, even though he wouldn’t know what that meant, if you’re to say “you’re an outsider artist.”
And I love the naive. I love people who can see things through the, like I said, the lens of — with an innocent viewpoint, I think. So this is my dad, his perspective. He just paints things around the landscape that surrounds him. He lives on a hill, and he just paints the same thing all the time. And I love it. It’s really inspiring to me. Rousseau is one of my favorite artists. They said he couldn’t paint. If you can put paint on a brush and apply it to something, you can paint. What he couldn’t do was paint in the style of everyone of the day. This guy is incredible and I find that his stuff is actually really fun. I have no idea what he was really trying to say, but for me, this here is an incredible painting. I have no idea what’s going on with these guys.
And you know, when you take the ball away, really, it just becomes kind of weird. I mean, this guy here, I don’t know what he’s up to, back there. I mean, this is kind of weird. But I love looking at the stuff, it just kind of generates inspiration and stuff for me. This is a picture of, in my mind, a horse eating a giant hotdog bun. Guess what I see. This is actually a dialogue. This is a lion having a talk to his friend, saying “Hey Jeffrey, uh, can I borrow your guitar?” This here is called The Writer and The Muse, and, I’m assuming that the lady is the muse. Again, it’s whatever inspires you, and she inspires him.
So it’s about perspective. And on that note, this here is my interpretation of what clouds see when they daydream. So, it’s just the point of view. I’ve been obsessed with things over the years. I’ve collected lots of things from sewing machines to cameras to stamps and those things. So my early obsessions were people like Freddie Mercury and this guy, Michael Jackson. And I took this obsession probably deep into my adult years and I’m not sure if it was a healthy thing to do, but for me, it was just a natural thing. So I love the guy.
When I was about 11 or 12, I got obsessed with the Sistine Chapel, with the creation of Adam, and I started drawing it obsessively, and I just couldn’t stop. And so I just, like, kept going and kept going and just tried to draw — I wouldn’t have been my friend if I was a kid. So I just got obsessed with this sort of stuff. And again, this is the sort of thing that I look back on, and I’m not embarrassed about this stuff. Actually, I just really love the — I tend to see myself as a secret person nowadays, and I think, man, what a weird kid.
And, I changed then and it all kind of — this masterpiece called “Fawn trying to get his flute back off weird kid.” So, yeah. And then, there is an old lady gone for a walk on a sword with Robocop. So, Robocop is another thing I became obsessed with over the years, and I would just draw him again and again and again and again.
Another thing I got obsessed with when my mum survived breast cancer was cancer, and I started getting really paranoid that I was going to get it. I started thinking, if I keep thinking about that, that’s going to make it happen, and I had to stop thinking about it, and it just sort of — keep overwhelming my mind, and so, I decided if I just did this, that would get rid of it. And like, so far so good.
The thing I hate is a cancer cell, and interestingly enough, it’s very similar to this picture which is a picture of a nuclear bomb exploding milliseconds after detonation. So, things that I find that are cool: Trans Ams, Samurai swords, obviously. Girls and tassels on jackets. tassels on jackets.
Things that aren’t cool. We all know it, cancer. Nuclear bombs, they’re not cool, and Nazis. So, guiltily — my other side of the family comes from, way back there, Russian-Jews, and I started when I was quite young, maybe about 12, I started to get obsessed with drawing swastikas. I couldn’t help it. And I still feel guilty about it. So every time I drew one, on a notebook or something, I would instantly feel guilty and I’d have to change it into windows. I would do this everywhere, all over my notebooks, and I couldn’t — stopped — tried to stop doing it, no, no, can’t, oh no no, the swastika. And so, windows and houses all over my books and stuff, because I thought, oh someone is going to find out about the windows, and so I had to disguise all the windows as houses, and it just became — again, it became an obsession, I just couldn’t stop. And that sort of led to this obsession with Hitler, and why Charlie Chaplin looks like Hitler? And what is it about the moustache? So you can make anything look like Hitler.
And so I started trying doing that with things, and I’ve found that it works. Freakily enough, it works on everything. And it’s not my fault, you know. It’s just that someone put that idea out there. He did it, he put — he made the moustache famous. And so, these are things that I — they’re not even — I don’t know what is the point of me saying these things to you, but I think, hopefully, there’s some sort of exchange here, and you’ll take something away.
Joke. Another joke. Knock knock. Cabbage. Just a big cabbage. Just a giant cabbage that someone’s wedged up against the front door, you’ve opened it and you can’t get out of your house because of the giant cabbage. You got to eat your way through the cabbage to get out, to freedom. Just putting it out there.
So I came up with this idea. I was obsessed with rugby. Rugby is my favorite game. And babies. I love babies. They’re my favorite of the tiny humans. So I came up with this game where you combine both things. And this is a game called Rugbaby. And yeah, I think this is just a fantastic way to get men more involved in their children. Obviously, this is the most famous rugbaby player ever, Jonah Lomu.
Some inventions I’ve made up. I really love guitar, and I don’t love having long fingernails. So I came up with the idea of an emery board guitar neck, so that when you’re playing, it shortens your nails.
Another thing I hate is when you have a tie, and the wind blows it into your eye. So I came up with the button-down tie. My invention. Copyright. And, where’s the remote control? Here it is, on the convenient remote control watch. Other inventions, variations on that, the remote control remote control. And also, the cell phone watch, more variations on the watch. And finally, I’m going to one day invent the watch watch. It’s just a watch and another watch. On top.
So I think failure is a brilliant thing. It teaches you a lot of stuff, and you end up coming up with better ideas often, when you fail at things. And I think what’s really great also is learn to embrace bad experiences, bad creative experiences, and watch bad movies, and read bad books because all of that stuff sometimes teaches you what not to do. One of the bad experiences I had was I played a stripper on a TV show once. And I remember sitting around in a green room in my g-string thinking, why am I doing this? I’m just helping someone else to realize their dream, and so what I ended up doing was I started writing my own scripts and stuff in my g-string. And then a few months later, I made a short film, and then, that went on to go to the Oscars about a year later, but I lost, so obviously, that was a complete waste of time. You know — it was me, at the Oscars, asleep.
And so success is where I’m going to leave this talk on. My idea of success is not money. It’s not getting a lot of money. I think if that’s your idea of success, then that’s great, but I think it’s not really why we’re here. I think we’re here to communicate and to share ideas and stuff, and I think that is successful. Back home in New Zealand, we have the saying Tēnā koe. Okay? It’s a Maori saying, Tēnā koe is how you say hello. What it literally means is “there you are”. If you say that to a group of people: Tēnā koutou. “There you guys are.” Okay? So the fact that we’re here, that we’re even on Earth in the first place, I think that’s success, in itself.
So, congratulations everyone, on being here, and I wish you all the best in your creative lives, and on that note, cheers, kia ora, kia ora, kia ora.