Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett Talk V/H/S/2, Returning to the Found Footage Format, Why They Enjoy Anthologies, Their Partnership, and More

     June 8, 2013

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If you’re not already familiar with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, you probably will be soon.  The creative duo has been vitalizing the indie horror scene with their contributions to anthologies like V/H/S and The ABCs of Death, and with their anticipated festival hit You’re Next finally coming to theaters in August and new projects already lined up (Dead Spy RunningThe Guest), Wingard and Barrett are poised to make quite an impression in the coming year.

For V/H/S/2, the team returns to the franchise with “Tape 49” and “Clinical Trials Phase 1”.  While V/H/S met with mixed reviews, the second installment has been praised as a leaner, meaner, more ambitious follow-up with higher stakes and bigger payoffs.  Earlier this week I jumped on the phone for an interview with Wingard and Barrett.  We discussed the lessons they learned on the first film, feeling more comfortable with the found footage format the second time around, what they like about working on anthology films, they’re success as creative partners, and more.  V/H/S/2 also features segments by Jason EisenerGareth Evans and Timo TjahtjantoEduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale.  Check out the full interview after the jump.

vhs-simon barrettCollider: You guys have the unique perspective of having participated on the first V/H/S and now being involved in the sequel.  Talk a little bit about how those experiences compare, and what might have been different this time around.

SIMON BARRETT: The thing about the first V/H/S is that when Adam and I first started working on it no one was really even quite sure what that film was.  That movie came about over nearly a year’s worth of people shooting their various segments.  We filmed the wrap around that Adam directed first, right before we shot You’re Next actually.  We were in Columbia Missouri, Kim Sherman just produced and we got it out of the way before we had to go film You’re Next, and then over the next several months that movie kind of gradually came together, and ended up being longer than anyone expected because it ended up having more segments than we planned for.  So it was really kind of – I think sometimes found footage works better in a spontaneous production kind of way, but it really wasn’t that planned out and you can definitely kind of tell if you watch that film.  So we knew that if we came back to the sequel we wanted to take the mythology a little further, and make sure that the movie was the correct overall running time, and make sure also that the shorts had a more organic escalation.  Basically that’s the long version of the answer, but the short version is, when you make a movie and it’s a film that you can easily do a sequel too because its an anthology and you don’t have to continue the characters and plot in the way that a traditional film does, you learn a lot of lessons from making that film.  More or less we made V/H/Sand we saw how audiences responded to it and we were like, “Oh, okay, we’ve learned a lot from this experience, we could easily apply these lessons to another one of these.”

adam wingard vhs 2ADAM WINGARD: Yeah, and when we did the first film there wasn’t a whole lot of found footage stuff in the vein of what we were doing.  So I feel like our perspective was a lot different going into than it was afterwards.  Because I had a lot of questions initially of – what are people still willing to buy at this point in terms of found footage?  How far can we go with the horror?  How mysterious does it have to be?  Obviously there was already plenty of stuff like Cloverfield and stuff, big budget versions of that that can go really outlandish, but on a low budget level I just didn’t know what you could get away with in terms of showing all kinds of crazy stuff.  Just the way people responded to it, it was like, “Oh, okay, we can really just basically do whatever we want.  We can make a normal movie from the perspective of found footage.” So going into the sequel it was pretty liberating because we knew we could just make it as insane as possible and even as cinematic as possible and that people and ourselves would actually still believe the real found footage angle of it.

BARRETT: Yeah that’s an interesting point.  I think Adam and I kind of approach every project as trying to do something different and original, and I know we definitely did that with the first V/H/S wraparound, and then ultimately the part of the film that Joe [Swanberg] directed.  The only reference point I actually had for that was Trash Humpers and actual skate videos online, but then once you’ve done that you’re like, “Okay, now that we’ve established that style lets riff on that and do something more fun with it, and try to be more creative now that we’ve gotten it kind of out of the way stylistically,”…if that makes sense.

No, totally.  I was wondering, when you make a found footage film, especially now that you have experience with the format, how much is the camera justification weighing in the back of your mind and how much room is there to play with it?

vhs-2WINGARD: The whole stylistic permanence of the short is based upon why the camera is filming.  And that’s kind of the whole thing with found footage, all your choices are based around – does this make sense why their filming?  So while you can still make cinematic and interesting things, you always have to be grounded in a certain reality of – why is the camera running?  Who is running the camera?  And finding clever ways of keeping that going without drawing too much attention to it.  Which is why, for instance, when we got a chance to do the sequel, Simon and I decided that the segment that I was going to direct would be a camera directly implanted in somebody’s eye socket, because that just takes it completely over the top.  And even then it was kind of a sci-fi concept, it was actually more sci-fi, what we came up with, and I think since then somebody’s actually done it.  We just wanted to take that kind of literal approach where it’s like, “Okay somebody’s got to be filming this for a reason, how do we make that as versatile as possible?” “Well let’s just make it your eyeball.” [Laughs]

BARRETT: Yeah, and there’s multiple levels of that where obviously the shots are dictated by practicality in found footage, you want to play fair with your audience, but you still want it to look scary and cool so there’s always this degree of kind of cheating.  But also I feel like the cool thing with the V/H/S series is that’s kind of the creative starting point for everything.  When we would talk to directors for V/H/S/2, when we were first putting it together…and a certain bit on V/H/S, the main thing we would want to know was how are you uniquely going to get someone filming this?  Why is the camera running?  Why is it going to continue running while scary things are going to happen without calling attention to that in any obnoxious way?  Two of the segments in the first V/H/S that I thought did a really great job at that was David Bruckner’s, who did “Amateur Night”, where the guy’s basically wearing spyglasses, which again now, with things like Google glass, [laughs] now that’s something that’s actually really in the news, is people spying on each other with glasses and how we’re going to deal with that in terms of personal privacy laws.  But also, the Radio Silence one with the nanny cam – he’s got a functioning camera on his head because that’s his costume, and that’s how were shooting it.  No one questions the idea that the camera wouldn’t necessarily have to be running for that costume to work.  I’m friends with them so them so I don’t think they’ll mind me picking on them here, you just get away with it because it looks awesome and it’s great, and they deliver it on every other level with their short.  They deliver that on kind of every conceivable level.  So we took that as inspiration, that the first person perspective works and as long as you’re kind of keeping the pace up nobody’s really going to question it that much.  That’s also the advantage to doing a short as opposed to a feature.

vhs2I’m in love with this kind of horror anthology trend that’s going on right now because I think it allows for a kind of wild creativity, and the talent is just allowed to go a little crazy with it.  You guys were a part of The ABCs of Death and both V/H/S films, what makes the anthology format so attractive to you?

WINGARD: Well, it’s a fun way to explore ideas that maybe wouldn’t be something that would hold up for an entire feature.  I come from a background, specifically, of doing a whole lot of short films.  When I lived in Alabama I would always do these 48 hour film festivals and just go out with my friends and make stuff, so I was constantly doing that kind of stuff.  But the thing about that is you’re making these shorts, and you’re kind of just making them to put them out there, and not many people are going to see them.  But whenever you’re doing a short in the context of an anthology you’re still getting all the new experiences that you want from it, and inspiration, you’re able to explore all these concepts, but you’re also doing something that people are actually going to see.  So if you really think about it it’s just a great way for short films to be seen, because even if the anthology itself is tied into a bigger story or whatever, you’re still only in charge of making a short portion of that. 

BARRETT: I like that as well, but I also think since I’m more of the writer-ly half of our partnership, I spend a lot of time – when I’m doing creative work I’m trapped in my apartment for days on end with no social contact whatsoever other than posting nonsense on twitter.  So I love just the collaborative, communal element of it.  Maybe this is different on a high budget anthology film, but on ABCs and V/H/S everyone’s just doing it for the experience, because it’s very low budget and it’s this really kind of fun way to be competitive, but also hang out and have fun with friends.  Jason Eisner and Gareth Evans are guys that we just kind of knew and wanted to work with on something, but we didn’t have that come about since we all are kind of doing our own things and then it was like, “Oh,V/H/S/2.  I just really enjoy that.  We’re based in Los Angeles, those guys aren’t, but here in L.A.  a lot of people make movies for the wrong reasons, which is not for the movies themselves but because they want to call themselves filmmakers, or get paid, or whatever.  It’s really cool to be involved in projects like ABCs orV/H/S where every single person who’s involved in it is just doing it for the sake of thinking it’s a cool project and having a cool story to tell, and just making movies for the fun of it.  A lot of times, especially in the horror genre where I don’t think a lot of us are seen as artistic independent filmmakers, for better or worse, you just don’t get that kind of communal feeling.  Everyone’s kind of off on their own, doing their own thing and a lot of it tends to be different.  With this, especially something like ABCs where there’s 26 segments, it gives you a change to really work alongside some people you otherwise wouldn’t encounter.  I find that kind of inspiring, I guess. 

vhs-2-posterYou guys have made a number of movies together at this point, what is it that keeps your creative partnerships so productive?  What makes you want to continue to work together?

WINGARD: We just kind of complement each other in a lot of ways.  Simon is just so good at staying on point with coming up with great characters and great storylines, and I’m able to take that and put my own weird spin on it.  It’s a partnership that we started out with A Horrible Way to Die, just like, “Let’s see what happens and let’s see how we jell with each other.” I think we just quickly realized that we just completed each other’s…

BARRETT: Sentences.

WINGARD: [Laughs] It just actually makes sense.

BARRETT: Beyond the fact that I feel like everything I’m not good at Adam really is, it also gives us an opportunity to work at a level at which we couldn’t work on our own.  When Adam’s editing I can be writing our next project, and we’ve kind of had a break, well if you count doing V/H/S/2 a break, which we kind of do [laughs], but we’ve kind of had a break since You’re Next.  We are getting our slate lined up now and we have several features, and one of the things that we kind of pitch when we go to producers or executives it, “Look, I know we’re busy, but here’s how we’re going to manage to squeeze this in, because there’s two of us and we can make this work.” So that’s also really awesome.

WINGARD: Also even beyond just the creative aspects of it, Simon is a very pragmatic, savvy guy in terms of actually being able to write people’s emails back to them and return phone calls, where I am not.  So there’s this whole other aspect too, Simon’s always been the hard negotiator for both of us.  Without him I don’t think I could convince anybody to give me money, but Simon, he wears ties and stuff and he kind of legitimizes us a little bit.

BARRETT: Then I go off and lock myself in my apartment with a case of whiskey and just write some insane nonsense.  It really is interesting, we’re just very respectful of each other’s creative processes, but we also – the number one thing that makes Adam and I great partners is we just want to be making movies all the time.  We don’t care about anything else, we just want to be constantly making films, and we want to constantly be making better films for a wider audience of intelligent people.  Having that priority allows us to constantly be working together.

V/H/S/2 is currently available On Demand and opens in theaters July 12th.

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