V/H/S is the latest release to capitalize on the found-footage craze. The anthology film is structured around a group of criminals who are hired to break in to a desolate house and retrieve a mysterious videotape. When they arrive at the house they find the owner dead in his recliner, facing a stack of TVs and a massive pile of videotapes. In order to locate the correct video they begin watching the tapes one by one, each being a segment in the film. These shorts include new interpretations on a monster, a masked stalker, a killer in the woods, a ghost story and some good ol’ Satanists; effectively providing a snapshot of the horror genre. V/H/S is directed by Adam Wingard, Ti West, David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg, Glenn McQuaid and newcomers Radio Silence.
During the press conference for the film, I was able to sit down for a one on one phone interview with Adam Wingard, director of the wrap-around story “Tape 56”. During the interview we discussed his approach to the found footage subgenre, the benefits of collaborative filmmaking, and taking a break from horror for Dead Spy Running. In addition, we also talked about You’re Next, The ABCs of Death, and a lot more. Hit the jump for the full interview.
Your segment in V/H/S “Tape 56” is the wraparound segment of the film, what are some of the challenges of filming a story in that format?
ADAM WINGARD: The main challenge of doing a wraparound is you’re not just you know keeping up with your own story beats and your own pacing and just trying to create this self-contained story, .It’s something that has to really wrap around the other shorts and be interwoven with it. On top of that the extra added challenge unfortunately was the fact that the only time we had to do ours was at the very beginning of the year, which meant that we were the first thing that was literally shot for this movie. So when we first went in to it we actually shot the wraparound with the idea that it was going to be shot for three shorts, but possibly a fourth. When all was said and done they ended up with five shorts. So we had to do some creative tinkering to kind of make it work. But ultimately, you know, in the end- the Radio Silence short we kind of ended up putting more towards the end, and letting the wraparound kind of wrap up a little earlier in a different way. Mainly just because that short, if anything, had a more effective ending and who are we to try and push ourselves past that, you know?
A lot of these guys on the movie, you know, Ti West, Joe Swanberg, obviously Simon Barrett, you work together so often and in so many different capacities, how does having that unit of talent affect the way you make movies?
WINGARD: Well, it’s just a good, kind of, comfortable database. Especially for if you want people to help you out, or you want actors, you know, nobody is union SAG or Directors Guild or anything like that. So, you know, it’s a free interchange of talent that can be utilized. Which is why something like these anthology movies, and you know, V/H/S isn’t the only one coming out this year, There’s also The ABCs of Death, there’s The Theatre Bizarre, blah blah blah, there’s just so many coming out now and there’s more being filmed. And the whole reason is because of the fact that you know a lot of people are kind of banding together as collectives and things can be done on a lower budget with bigger results. So it’s kind of that buddy system of everybody pitching together that really makes these types of projects possible.
When you work on a low-budget movie you get a lot of freedom, but if you do a studio movie it’s probably a little easier to get things done, how do you measure up the pros and cons of low budget filmmaking?
WINGARD: Yeah, I mean, you definitely have less oversight in lower budget stuff, but that’s not always a great thing. Sometimes it’s good to have some oversight. Because sometimes you’ll be doing something and somebody will point something out to you that maybe you overlooked, or maybe you’re not putting as much effort in it as you should. Because sometimes it just happens and you don’t even realize it’s happening and sometimes that can steer you in the right direction. The main draw for low budget, for me, is just the actual creative aspect of it, wherein you know, it forces you to think outside the box a lot of times. Sometimes that can work against you, but sometimes that can work in your favor. And I think the whole thing about found footage in general, is its pretty- it lends itself completely towards that kind of creative low budget thinking, because that’s really where the whole movement came out of. Because, you know, it’s made with consumer cameras for the most part and things like that. So anybody can really do it and you don’t need like, great cinematography techniques or anything like that to be able to pull that off accurately, you just need a sense of tone. And while that’s a hard thing to pull off as well, it doesn’t take as much technical skill from the other end.
Like you said, pretty much anybody can make a found footage movie, and as a result there are so, so many of them. What was your approach to making yours unique?
WINGARD: My whole thing from the start was kind of looking at the things that bugged me about found footage stuff, which was like a sort of lack of authenticity. Like, I don’t like it whenever the Hollywood studios- they do found footage stuff, but it always just feels kind of like, why are these people filming themselves? Why are they using basically like, really nice cameras and pretending that they’re bad cameras? So like, to me it was always about starting with the authenticity of it. So, we wanted to give ours a real snuff film kind of look with using real VHS camcorders, you know? And we wanted to really have that kind of bad tracking and glitchy feel.
The camera, for instance, that we used was one that Simon had since he was a kid, and when it came time to shoot I asked him if he had a camcorder and he brought this one up, and it turned out that it was the exact same camcorder that I grew up using. Which is really funny because back in the day- I mean this is like a big VHS camcorder where you actually put in the VHS tape, and it’s got the huge battery on the back, and if you bump the battery during filming the hole image kind of glitches up and there’s this interesting kind of analog fuzzy thing that happens, you know? And back in the day, shooting martial arts films in my backyard with that exact same camera, if somebody bumped the battery during the take then it was like totally useless, and it was like “Damn it, this crappy camera!” You know? But now on this project, I’m literally shaking the battery as were going because we want that look. Because it just adds more atmosphere and texture to the image.
Because these characters aren’t guys who know how to use cameras, they’re actually supposed to be just total idiots who essentially just found these things, or got them out of their grandparent’s closet and so for. They’re just filming themselves screwing around. We wanted to actually make that an authentic thing. And the other aspect of it was that found footage always has like kind of a weird pacing issue where, you know, it’s sometimes unnecessarily long takes because people get into the zone of the aesthetic of “we’ve got to make this feel like it’s not edited” or whatever, but it’s always going to be edited anyways, you know? So the whole thing for me was how can we make a found footage thing that is actually paced interestingly? So we kind of added a two camera aesthetic and tried to give it a really fast paced kind of feel, so in case you didn’t like the wraparound we can get you to the other shorts as quickly as possible and hopefully you’ll get something out of it.
You mentioned The ABCs of Death and when I talked to Simon he seemed really excited about it? What was the experience like making your segment in that?
WINGARD: Oh, it was great. You know, it was one of those things where we had just got done doing You’re Next and it was kind of like the perfect type of project to take on right after that, because it was supposed to be five minutes or under so there wasn’t a lot of pressure it was just a matter of, you know, coming up with a clever idea. The whole process was really great. And actually watching it with a crowd and everything for the first time was pretty exciting as well. Because we had never seen any of the other shorts really, aside from Jason [Eisner]’s and the Dogfight one. And so it was actually a really good experience I really like the ABCs of Death thing, and if they did another one I would totally do another one too.
Did you have a favorite segment after you watched it?
WINGARD: Probably either “Y” which is Jason Eisner’s, or “L”, or…it’s more like a top three, it would probably be “L”, “y” and then maybe a tossup between “U” or “W”, I think, it’s hard to say, maybe even “D” too, because “Dogfight” is amazing. It’s hard to say, I mean, that’s the thing about that movie and that’s what’s kind of cool about it. You’re watching it and some of them you don’t like, but then the ones that you do like, they’re blowing your mind. To me it’s impossible to pick favorites because they all work so well ,and they’re all so different that they work on different levels as well. And hopefully ours stands out in the same kind of way.
You’re Next finally got a release date, congratulations.
WINGARD: Thank you.
We’re you guys surprised by the insane level of positivity that it has received?
WINGARD: Well, we were definitely hoping for that. [Laughs] I would say that we weren’t incredibly surprised and I know that sounds, you know, overly confident or whatever. But before we showed the movie at Toronto, we had a couple test screenings and these are like, you know, those kind of bullshit test screenings that every film maker is terrified of just from having read about them for years. This was my first time going into that kind of thing. But the first test screening that we did, which was a few months before Toronto, it was out in the middle of Hollywood. And it was one of those things where I was like, “This is a waste of time. This is going to be awful. These people are just going to hate it just on sheer principle. It’s a rough cut; they’re not going to understand anything.”
But then like halfway through the movie, we started realizing that people were like yelling at the screen, cheering and clapping, and standing up in the stuff like that. And I was like, “Wait a minute, what the hell’s going on here? I’m actually enjoying my experience with an audience.” Because this was also my first time doing a movie that wasn’t like, a total bummer. The movie we did before that was a serial killer drama, and the one before that was another drama mixed with ghosts, and addiction, and depression over ex-girlfriends. So this was first time we had tried to make a crowd pleasing movie, and it actually ended up having the kind of results you would want. So going into Toronto, if anything we would have been like, really angry if people weren’t going to like it as much as these weird test audiences had liked it. But it was amazing though. I mean you can’t have a better experience than playing a full packed 1200 seat theater like the Ryerson at midnight. And people were just going nuts. It was awesome.
Yeah people really have gone crazy for You’re Next and V/H/S has also received a lot of positive feedback, what do you think it is about these movies that’s getting people excited?
WINGARD: I think there’s just a real lack or vacuum of decent, you know, I guess like, smart horror movies. Not to say that we are smart guys or anything, but I think that we actually are pretty well versed in horror. And everybody’s doing their best not to treat the audience like they’re a bunch of idiots, or that they can just be happy with a bunch of clichés, or take that whole studio approach. It always feels like with a lot of these studio horror movies, it’s not that they’re trying to please audiences. It’s more like they’re trying to trick them into getting into the theaters and then they don’t care what your reaction is. But we’re starting from the indie level, where were having to claw our way to the top. Everything that we’re doing is to try to basically entertain, not just the audience but ourselves. That’s where it’s got to start. I think if you’re entertaining yourself, you’re entertaining other people. Unless like, your idea of entertainment is like, you know, kidnapping people…or being a serial killer.
[Laughs] Oh my god, no, that’s not going to work out.
That’s one of the things I liked about V/H/S, it doesn’t hand everything to you and spell everything out. It’s also nice to see a movie that takes itself seriously, not that there can’t be good self-referential horror, but it’s nice to see a movie that doesn’t acknowledge itself as a movie, was that a conscious decision?
WINGARD: I feel like that’s the kind of thing that’s been done. We’ve seen that, it had its time and place and burnt itself out. There’s been different phases of horror since the whole Scream thing; we’ve gone through the whole torture-porn thing. Arguably, I guess we’re in the middle of this half found-footage, half whatever. I think the thing about us though, even though we’re definitely thinking about entertaining people, and I think that our movies have a sense of humor, and You’re Next especially is a good example of this, where it’s definitely part dark comedy, but it’s never winking at the audience, saying “This is a movie.”It’s always along the same ride that the audience is on. If that makes sense.
WINGARD: It’s serious but not too self-indulgent serious, or taking itself too seriously.
So you have Dead Spy Running coming up with Warner Brothers, that’s pretty exciting. What are you most excited about working on this project?
WINGARD: I mean obviously it’s a really cool opportunity to do a bigger budget project for a studio, which is something that I’ve never really done before. And that’s something that like, whether most filmmakers want to admit it or not, when you grew up that’s kind of what you wanted to do, you want to do a big budget action movie for a studio like Warner brothers. So that’s a great thing, you know, that just means there’s a lot of different toys and stuff to play with. At the end of the day though, I think the most exciting thing is the fact that the studio and the people over there are trusting us, not just with another obvious project follow up, which would be another found footage thing or another home invasion thing. But they’re giving us an action movie, which is kind of what we actually wanted to do after You’re Next. And that’s the kind of thing where, that’s worth a lot to us; just because we definitely are always going to be making horror movies, but we also done just want to be known as horror filmmakers. Guys like David Cronenberg, they can kind of step in and out of it. They can do their own thing, they can come back and do something kind of bizarre and you know disgusting, then he can do a crime film, or whatever, or a drama. I hope we can have the same kind of flexibility with our career, where we have the options to do other types of movies that interest us. But even with action movies and stuff like that, I think there’s always going to be an element that will appeal to genre fans, so you know I don’t think it’s going to be a huge departure to see this. I think it’ll totally make sense when people see it.
Do you think you’re going to carry over a certain amount of violence?
WINGARD: I mean, it depends. With this one it’s probably more of a PG-13 type thing, but I feel like with a PG-13 you can definitely get away with a lot these days. It just means that it won’t be as gratuitous and gory. But I think for us, this project is going to be more about intensity and suspense, and just pure entertainment really. You know, it’s going to be more in the tone of the Mission Impossible movies. A different stylization. Not quite as big-budget. [Laughs] But you know, that kind of fun factor. There’s definitely violence going on screen, but it’s not gratuitous.
We don’t want it to feel like the kind of thing where were doing a studio movie, so now were totally holding back. But at the same time it’s the type of movie were making for a type of audience, so all those are considerations that have to be made. Just like when you’re making a horror movie, sometimes the considerations go in the opposite way, and you’re like “Wait a minute, did we forget to throw in some gore here, or something? Did we forget to throw in a jump scare?” It just goes in the opposite direction. But it will be interesting to see how that is, because it can be a crutch, you know, relying on things like violent set pieces. Because I know when I watch You’re Next, after seeing it like a million times it’s still an entertaining movie, because it moves really fast, but I always find myself thinking, what the next gory set piece coming up? Or an action scene. And I have a feeling it will be one of those kind of things when it comes to doing an action project it will have to be, instead of “what the next gory set piece?” It’s going to have to be the action scene that’s coming up is that will keep my attention, you know?
October can be a really fun month as a horror fan, is there a horror movie that you watch every year to get in the Halloween spirit.
WINGARD: It’s kind of like a guilty pleasure for me, and my girlfriend hates it. But, for some reason I end up watching Event Horizon every year, I don’t know why that is, for the last three or four years. It’s definitely one of my favorite horror movies; I don’t think it’s like a great movie or anything. I just always get in the mood for that one around Halloween. Then there are those other staple movies, like your Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Shining. And then if there’s anything good coming out, which has been kind of spotty the last few years; if there’s something good definitely. But now that I live in LA, I just moved to LA this year basically or late last year, so I’m hoping there’s going to be good actual 35MM screenings of classic horror movies and so forth.
Yes. Right on. Have there been any horror movies from the last couple years that you thought were exciting?
WINGARD: Yeah, a lot of foreign ones like Ils or Them. I really liked Inside. Then on the American side I would say I really liked The Strangers. Basically, all home invasion movies.
[Laughs] Yeah, seriously.
WINGARD: [Laughs] Which is why I think we ended up doing a home invasion movie; which, you know, You’re Next is totally different than those. But, you know, on top of that there are actually found footage movies I liked. I liked the first Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield I really liked. But, I just feel like they’re so few and far between, I feel like they come like maybe once a year these days. I feel like we’re in kind of a down cycle for these things and maybe it will pick up again kind of like they did in the early 2000’s.
That would be great. Well thank you very much for your time.
WINGARD: Thank you.
V/H/S is available to watch on VOD and expands theatrically this Friday.