Opening in theaters this week is V/H/S/2, the follow up to the 2012 festival hit V/H/S, which presented a collection of POV shorts as the disturbing set of footage found in an abandoned house full of VHS tapes. The second installment brings in a new round of filmmakers, including Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, to continue the mythology of the mysterious tape collection. It makes perfect sense that Sanchez and Hale would join in on what’s shaping up to be the ultimate found footage franchise. After all, their first feature The Blair Witch Project kicked open the door for films like Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield that popularized the found footage subgenre on a massive scale. Their contribution, “A Ride in the Park”, is the most concise, self-contained short in the second film and has a terrifically clever narrative hook that never leaves you questioning the camera justification. V/H/S/2 also feature shorts from Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto, Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, and Jason Eisener.
During the press day for the film I jumped on the phone for an interview with Sanchez and Hale. They talked about coming on board for the second film, Jaime Nash’s script, making a single-camera POV film, and the return of the anthology. We also talked about their creative partnership, how found footage has changed since Blair Witch, their new Bigfoot film Exists, and more. Check out the full interview after the jump.
EDUARDO SANCHEZ: We were at SXSW with Lovely Molly, I guess a year and a half ago, and I know Brad [Miska]. We knew some of the people and V/H/S was there. I didn’t get a chance to see it, but we heard a lot of the buzz about it. We met up one night and we just started talking about possibly doing a segment. I was immediately interested in it. It’s just something that I just wanted to be involved with. My biggest thing, and I think Greg is the same way, we just didn’t want to be the weakest link in the chain. We just wanted to try to step up and try to teach these whippersnappers a thing or two about found footage. You know, it was pretty easy. Once Jaime [Nash], the writer, came up with the idea – because that was another thing that Gregg and I made sure. We were like, “We would love to do it, but we want to come up with the right idea before we totally commit.” Luckily Jaime came up with the idea pretty immediately and everybody loved it. Everybody on the producer’s side and everybody on the creative side loved it so it was fairly pain free after that.
I love the idea of it. It’s just so concise and self-contained. It’s pretty much the perfect set up for a found footage anthology piece. When Jaime hands you a solid script like that, where do you go from there? And a bit more broadly, how did you approach the pre-production?
GREGG HALE: Well with this…Ed and I fell in love with Jaime’s idea right away, and his first pass on the treatment was really close to what we ended up with. So it was a pretty easy process going from the treatment to the script. The thing that we did mostly with the script was just kind of making sure that we hit these different emotional beats. We liked that it was fun, and violent, and gory, but ultimately it came around to have this bittersweet, hopefully kind of emotionally real ending. That’s really what we concentrated on, just making sure that the script was right.
Pre-production-wise, these were pretty low-budget shorts so a lot of it was figuring out ways that we could pull of stuff that looked good for not a lot of money. So we really concentrated on getting a stunt guy involved early and getting makeup effects involved early so that we could figure out the best way to pull these things off without spending a lot of money. That’s really what we concentrated in the process was those more logistical concerns, because felt so good about the script. The creative was pretty straightforward. We didn’t do anything unique with the zombies. The zombies kind of look how you expect zombies to look, so we concentrated on the practical side of getting everything done.
When you have that single-camera, locked POV set-up with the GoPro on the helmet, does that simplify the shooting, editing, all that, or does it become more complicated?
SANCHEZ: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that you can get away with things that – for me, it’s not really a quicker shoot, but you don’t have to think about the camera angles besides the very pragmatic story side of it. Like, where would he be standing? Where would the camera be shooting? That’s all you really had to worry about. So to me it’s a little bit liberating, but you did have to kind of think through – it does require a unique attention for what you’re doing. But mostly it’s basically making sure that it makes sense, that the audience can follow the action, and how you set up all this action with long takes because you can’t really cut as much. You can cut, but you don’t have the luxury of cross-coverage and a lot of cameras covering the same thing. So you kind of just have to put your head in that space and try to make it as dynamic as possible with basically one camera. Other than that, to me, it’s not easy, but it’s not incredibly challenging either. It’s just trying to come up with a cool way to make it look and then just keep it pragmatic, make it make sense with what’s going on in the story.
One more question about the camera set up, since the camera was on the head of your main actor, logistically how did that work? What was the interplay between the actor and the DP?
HALE: Jay Saunders, who played the main zombie, he did everything himself except the two most intense stunts; falling down the hill and then when the zombie gets hit by the truck. He really just had a good feel for how to position things. What we would do is kind of do a rehearsal and move a long behind him, because we had no way of monitoring what the GoPro was seeing. We would kind of go behind Jay during rehearsal and make sure that he was seeing what he needed to be seen. Most of the time he kind of nailed it on his own, but then there were a couple of times when things were really specific where the DP would kind of walk behind Jay and keep his head in position so everything was framed up right. So when they had to interact during the shoot it was pretty physical, it was pretty much hands on Jays head, moving Jay’s head around.
You guys have worked together for a long time now, what keeps your creative partnership interesting and why do you choose to come back and work together time after time?
SANCHEZ: We don’t have any other choice. If we did we’d be done. [Laughs] I don’t know, Gregg and I just get along and I think we both bring a unique perspective to the partnership. I think we strengthen each other’s weaknesses. We just make a good team. It is rare to find people you can work with this long. We have very similar sensibilities; we get excited about the same kinds of films and the same kinds of projects. And then he’s very sexy so I appreciate that about him. But that’s pretty much it, it’s just the sexiness and the fact that we kind of like the same stuff.
HALE: [Laughs] Yeah, I don’t really have anything to add.
SANCHEZ: It was really interesting, the found footage thing, for a while we kind of resisted doing anything found footage. We were pointedly not interested in doing a found footage film, most because we hadn’t come up with an idea that worked for found footage. Really until Paranormal Activity – that subgenre didn’t really take off until Paranormal so I really think you have to give as much credit to Paranormal as to Blair Witch for this new gigantic surge of found footage movies.
SANCHEZ: But I also think it’s a little bit of a practicality thing as well. When we made Blair Witch we were kind of – first of all we were shooting a giant 16MM, well comparatively giant 16MM camera to the shitty little Hi-8 video cameras, and I think that the technological changes have a lot to do with it. But another thing I think is at the time we were really influenced by COPS, the TV show. COPS was the first kind of continuous, Verite, first-person thing that anybody had seen, really. But now, cut to ten years later, or whenever Paranormal came out, between YouTube and everything else you’ve got pretty much a generation of people that have grown up with things that are basically found footage being just completely second nature to them. Even though Oren Peli is not necessarily of that generation, between the audience and the upcoming filmmakers you have this whole group of people coming up that found footage is so common for them. Because of Youtube and their interactions with each other, because of the accessibility of technology, I think it’s just pretty much inevitable. And at a certain point I think it won’t even be considered a subgenre, it’s just going to be a horror film that happens to be shot in found footage mode, but that doesn’t make it a separate kind of horror film.
You did end up returning to feature length found footage with Exists. We’ve seen some still photos, but I’m curious about the status on that and when we can expect to see a little bit more.
SANCHEZ: We’re finishing up the post-production right now and we took it to Cannes, and we did pretty well in Cannes. We’re trying to come up with a plan for it, but we hope to have something, whether it’s a trailer or some kind of announcement, by the end of the summer. We’re really proud of it and we think a lot of people are going to dig it. We think it’s a really good Bigfoot movie and we definitely know there’s a market out there for that. I don’t think honestly that anybody has seen Bigfoot in a movie where he appears in and exists, so we’re very excited about getting it out there and hopefully we’ll have some news soon.
I’m very excited to see the anthology format coming back. You get such wild, imaginative filmmaking out of anthologies. Is this a format that you would like to revisit or something you see yourself doing again in the future?
HALE: I loved Creepshow and Cat’s Eye when I was a younger person, and I think that horror is really perfect for anthologies, either horror or comedy, are perfect for an anthology approach. Since 4/5 of V/H/S/2 isn’t Ed or I’s it’s easy for me to say this, but I really enjoyed V/H/S/2 as a horror fan. I think it’s a really satisfying horror experience. And yeah, I think Ed and I would be totally open to it. We’ve actually been talking to a couple of other people who are trying to get other ones off the ground. I think we would be totally into it.