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 Jason Eisener, to continue the mythology of the mysterious tape collection. Eisener got his break in the biz when his fake trailer Hobo with a Shotgun was selected to accompany the Canadian release of Grindhouse and subsequently turned into a feature-length gore fest of the same name. His contribution to V/H/S/2, “Alien Abduction Slumber Party”, carries his trademark funhouse sensibilities, but is unique for its lack of onscreen violence. V/H/S/2 also features shorts from Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto,Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, Adam Wingard, andSimon Barrett.
During the film’s press day I jumped on the phone for an interview with Eisener. He talked about joining the team forV/H/S/2, his lifelong fear of aliens, coming up with the look of his extra-terrestrials, and making an animal perspective film. He also talked about making a film with no gore, his use of color, the appeal of anthologies, and more. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JASON EISENER: I was following the buzz of the firstV/H/S when it was playing at Sundance, and there are a lot of critics that I follow who were talking very positively about this found footage anthology movie. And I was just kind of shocked to see these critics talking so positively about a found footage movie. And then it was kind of crazy because shortly after, Roxanne Benjamin, who’s one of the producers on the movie, she contacted me and said that they would love for me to get involved with the sequel. She sent me a link to the first V/H/S, and I watched it and I loved it. I thought that the way all the filmmakers got creative with the different perspectives was so much fun. I still had some kind of reservations about doing something in found footage. I always wanted to make a kids movie and I always wanted to make an animal perspective movie and I kind of put those two ideas together and pitched them something that I thought would be fun to do and they green lit it [laughs], which was a big surprise and amazing.
That’s interesting because all the entries in the film kind of focus on a different subgenre, so they didn’t lead you in any particular direction when it comes to the story?
EISENER: No, they basically just said, “Come up with some ideas and pitch them to us.” And when I pitched them the idea, Brad Miska, who’s one of the other producers, he had always wanted to do something with aliens, and because my segment involved aliens he was just super excited about that from the get-go. I guess my idea lined up with something that they really wanted to do.
So how did you come up with the alien story? Why did you choose to go in that direction?
EISENER: Well when I was a kid I was terrified of aliens. I saw – I remember first seeing trailers on TV for that movie Fire in the Sky and it really piqued my interest. It really scared me. Then I tracked down the movie and saw it…and it kind of ruined my life for a couple years [laughs]. I kept a baseball bat under my bed because I was terrified of the idea that these creatures from another world could come and just randomly pick me, come into my room in the middle of the night, and take me away. A lot of my childhood nightmares were like – aliens are attacking my home and it’s me and my family and my friends trying to just run away, run out of the house, and trying to outrun what’s chasing us. So yeah, we kind of based it – all those kids moments, like the moments of the kids terrorizing their older sister, they’re all based on actual moments of me and my brother. And the writer who wrote the movie with me is my best friend, we’ve known each other since we were five, so we just based it on the moments that we did to terrorize my sister [laughs].
Since you’re actually afraid of aliens did you find it cathartic to make your own alien abduction film?
EISENER: [laughs] I guess so in a way, although I still probably couldn’t watch Fire in the Sky by myself at night [laughs]. I just wanted to base it off one of my own childhood nightmares and capture that same sort of feeling.
I think that feeling of being a kid really translates in your segment, so I think that definitely worked out the way you wanted it to.
EISENER: Yeah, that was cool, and what was really fun was that none of the kids really had any acting experience before. There was one kid who was in another one of my shorts and all other kids had never acted before, so I just tried my best to kind of get the kids to be themselves and get them amped up. The only hard part was trying to get them away from the crew on set, because sometimes we wanted to capture those moments that feel real and it’s hard to do that with all these people standing around, watching. So I would just ask the kids, “What would you do? What’s a prank that you guys would do?” Then they would come up with something and we would run away and shoot something, and that’s my favorite stuff in the movie.
I’ve been curious about your decision to mount the camera on the family dog, you mentioned earlier that it was something you’ve wanted to do for a while, but what made you decide that this was the right story to do that with?
EISENER: Well like I was saying before I always wanted to make an animal perspective movie. I love the Babe films, especially Babe 2: Pig in the City, and the movie The Bear. The Christmas before we shot my brother got a go-pro camera and he attached it to our pet dog on the back of his head and just let him run around the yard, and then he just cut it together and put music to it, and it was just hilarious and such an interesting perspective. Then I saw people on YouTube doing the same thing. They were just attaching cameras to their pets and then letting them roam around and I just thought that was such an awesome perspective.
Talk a little bit of the challenges of that decision, because I can’t imagine it was easy.
EISENER: No, it was kind of a nightmare. One, because he’s our dog, he’s a really good dog and the most lovable – like, he loves everyone, but when it comes time for him to do what I wanted him to do, it’s like he just disagreed on everything just to piss me off. What I ended up having to do was just having to basically guide him. I had to be on all my fours just pushing him through the scenes and then once the aliens attacked – one thing I love about our dog is that he always looked like and Alf doll, so I had this Alf doll, and I used it as a puppet for the latter half of the movie [laughs].
The worst part was on the first day. The first shot in the film is the first thing we shot in the movie, where the garage door opens up and it’s the kids in the robot costumes, it’s hard to see, but dangling from the kids arms are strings of hotdogs and after every take the kids would just throw the costumes off and lay them on the driveway, and my dog would just run over and start eating all the hotdogs. So by the time we finished the first shot he had eaten something like six hot dogs, and he’s a tiny dog. I couldn’t even eat two hotdogs. It just made me sick watching it. So for the rest of the shoot he was super full and had a hard time holding himself up [laughs] so at that point I was just like, “You know what? I’m not going to put you through any more of this, I’m making a puppet.”
I’m curious about how you picked the design of the aliens, you went with kind of a classic green-man type look, did you flirt around with other designs or did you always know that’s how you wanted them to look?
EISENER: We played around with a couple of designs, but I kind of just drew what I wanted. We entertained some other ideas, but ultimately it just came down to the vision I always had as a kid of big scary aliens. After I saw Fire in the Sky I spent tons of time in the library studying every book on UFOs and aliens, so it’s just an accumulation of all the images of aliens I’ve seen and how I always envisioned them when they would bust open my bedroom door and try to take me away. [Laughs] I don’t know, I think it might have something to do with some of the imagery in Fire in the Sky, but I was always just terrified of the faceless face and no eyes that you could look into.
Your previous works have been really splattery and gore friendly, but with this you created scares out of almost a sensory overload. Talk a little bit about coming up with that method for scares and why you decided to step back from the gore a little bit.
EISENER: I think why I stepped back from the gore was because I just wanted to do something that was different, something people probably wouldn’t expect from me, and also while I was writing the movie there was this new special edition of Jaws that came out, and there was this new documentary on it. I was watching it and just getting super inspired by that movie and doing something on the water. And with the limitations of our budget I was just inspired to do something where we kind of hold back. And I always love it in horror – this being the first time where we ever tried to make something scary where you leave a lot of it up to the audience’s imagination and don’t show them very much, but give them a good time. I just wanted to show people a different side of my filmmaking I guess.
You make really vibrant films with a lot of really saturated colors. I’m curious about your attraction to bold color and how it informs your filmmaking process.
EISENER: It all kind of comes down to growing up in the 80’s and watching Saturday morning cartoons and wrestling. And those companies that were making those cartoons were borderline just making characters for action figures so kids would buy them. So they would use these really crazy color combinations to attract kids’ attention because they were just ultimately designing action figures. That’s kind of always how I see the world through color in a weird way. Like when I see a certain shade of red and yellow together I just think of Hulk Hogan. And purple, grey, and black is The Undertaker. They kind of imprinted these color combinations for the way when I look at the world, and when I see certain color combinations together it always goes back to my childhood. So I guess with Hobo, that movie very much came from our childhood. It’s the fuse of video games, comic books, the things I grew up loving, and it just made sense for it to be in that high-concept, super-saturated world. I always love it and I always kind of carry it on to my work. But also, usually everything we do – I always say when we’re coming up against creative decisions, we’re referring to the kid inside us to see what that kid would dig, and if that kid digs it then that’s what kind of rules the decision [laughs]. So I feel like everything I’ve done I kind of go into it with the same mentality I had as a kid.
Grindhouse was arguably an anthology of sorts, ABC’s of Death was an anthology, and now V/H/S/2, what do you like about doing the format so much?
EISENER: I always grew up loving anthologies. I love Creepshow, Nightmares, and Tales from the Hood, and some of those movies are my favorite films so I’ve always been interested in being part of an anthology. Also it’s just not as involving as a feature film so if you have time to do it it’s just a great way to keep filming and keep the creative juices going. And also withV/H/S I had to step out of my comfort zone a lot, so it was a challenge. It was something that I wanted to see if – I hadn’t been into found footage movies and I was like, “You know what? I’m being stupid for ignoring something that there’s obviously a huge audience out there for that loves the genre, so what can I do to make it something that I would also enjoy?” With ABC’s of Death the time limit restraint, and the big budget restraint, to try and do something interesting…and also the competition of 25 other amazing filmmakers from around the world. It was just so fun and that was its own challenge too.
What’s coming up next for you?
EISENER: It’s hard to say, we’ve been writing a lot, working on a couple script and just developing. So I’m not really sure what’s going to be next, it’s hard to say.