V/H/S Filmmakers Talk About Found-Footage Anti-References, Where to Go From Here, and Creepshow [INTERVIEW]

Is there a euphemism for stalking? There’s gotta be, there’s a euphemism for everything! Whatever that euphemism for stalking, harassing, badgering, irritating, or bothering might be, I would say that’s the relationship I have on the Internet with most of the people involved in the making of V/H/S. I heard about the idea of it back in February, and ever since then, I’ve been looking forward to it, but it was only somewhat recently that information came out regarding a release. Before that information was released, however, I was regularly tweeting Magnet Releasing (the ones responsible for distributing the movie), Roxanne Benjamin and Brad Miska (the producers of the movie), as well as Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard (the writer/director of some of the segments). When it came time to interview them all to promote the VOD release of V/H/S, I figured I would hear my introduction of, “…and he’s from The Wolfman Cometh,” which would be followed by moans, groans, and the line going dead. Luckily, they stayed on the line and let me talk about V/H/S, as well as allowed the conversation to veer off the tracks into Creepshow territory.

Wolfman: Where did the idea for V/H/S originate and how long had you two been working on this idea?

Brad Miska: I’ll let Roxanne take it. (laughs)

Roxanne Benjamin: Well, that would definitely be a Brad question. Brad has been working with The Collective and Bloody Disgusting for quite some time and about two or three years ago we launched the Bloody Disgusting Selects label, being independent horror from around the world, releasing it theatrically and on DVD and all of that here in the states, and Gary Binkow, the main producer of the film, had been talking about maybe doing some productions with the brand. That’s kind of where the genesis of it started, and then Brad brought it to him, this idea of doing what wouldn’t necessarily be an anthology but…do you want to take it from that?

Miska: I wanted to do a TV series about a bunch of kids that stumble across a vault of tapes that maybe a government-type person was holding. Gary, at The Collective, who co-owns our site, he thought it would be really cool to do as a movie and then maybe take it from movie form and try to make it into a TV series, which I was cool with. I worked with Adam and Simon before on A Horrible Way to Die, and I really wanted to work with them again and would work with them forever and ever and ever if I could, because they’re the greatest guys ever. Gary really wanted to work with them, too, because he was really impressed with what they did, so Simon wrote his own concept based on my concept and we all loved it. They had a short window before You’re Next so they went off and shot [the wraparound story “Tape 56”) right before they went into You’re Next, so that was probably really chaotic for them.

It sounds like Simon and Adam had the insider connection, so how did you decide who else you were going to approach to be involved? Were there people hesitant about getting involved with a found-footage anthology?

Miska: Funny enough, I don’t think anyone we approached pushed back. I think almost every single person we approached was into the idea, it was just a matter of timing or whether or not they could do it for a budget, because we were keeping it really low budget and indie. It was a lot of people that I knew through the site, either people that I was friends with or had talked to or had done something that I thought was really interesting that I wanted to work with, like Radio Silence. We just kept going at people and getting pitches and some people couldn’t work it into their schedules and then others did and they ended up making the movie with us. It was a really long process, it took eight or nine months, we kept doing segments as we were going along instead of coming up with a bunch of scripts that we liked and then everyone shot it at once, so it was a really unique way of going about it, very experimental. It caused a lot of good problems, trying to figure out how to put it together, but I like that it has a chaotic feel to it.

Calvin Reeder in “Tape 56”

So, Adam and Simon, you made the movie not knowing who else was going to be involved?

Adam Wingard: When we started it, we actually started shooting it with three or four segments being in between our wraparounds, and we ended up with five sections, so our process was kind of always in support of everybody else. Our job as the wraparound story was to kind of complement and almost be invisible once the movie really got going and kept you involved. We had to kind of react to that and it was definitely an ever-changing process.

What were some of the difficulties with that, not wanting to go too over-the-top with one style or worrying about if it would be too similar to what anyone else was doing?

Wingard: Because we did ours first, we didn’t really have to worry about that. We did ours, so all the other filmmakers at least had a reference point to what the in-between story was, so I think some people might have used that as a guide of where to take theirs and what not to do. I think people’s script submissions and treatments, everyone knew the format that was going to be used for the segments, so we could tell someone not to shoot with this camera because it’s already being used in this other thing, if we needed to. Which, I don’t think it really came up in this film at all, it just all kind of worked out.

These characters (in “Tape 56”)are absolutely detestable and have nothing of value to them.  Does that make them easier to create or more difficult?

Simon Barrett: I guess one of the things that initially kind of excited me about this when Brad first mentioned it was the idea of doing an old-school structure with a very current style. Obviously I was riffing on the old Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt kind of anthologies where everyone, at the end, it turns out that they’re all in Hell because you hear about the horrible things they’ve all done. It’s kind of a classic motif to have the characters in the wraparound be bad people. At the same time, we couldn’t really have any plot twists there and it was more about making it feel authentic.

One of the styles that was really interesting were skate videos and the crazy “sharking” videos that are on the Internet, and kids just running up and videotaping each other punching people in the face. That, to me, is really scary and it felt like, if we were gonna do a found-footage thing and make it authentic and new and to separate our film immediately from the rest of the found footage horror that’s out there now, that was the kind of style that we wanted to get into, was this really intense and crazy stuff. And Romain Gavras’s video for “Stress,” the Justice song, was also a big reference point. We wanted them to be real anonymous thugs who would just be dumb enough to film themselves doing horrible things to people, because that’s what they do, and what we kind of discovered, because we filmed the wraparound story first, we didn’t quite know what the project was, so after you watch a 26-minute short, and then you come back to our guys, audiences are kind of like, “Oh yeah, these fuckers.” To that extent, we try to make films for really intelligent horror fans and we do our best to make films that people enjoy and that they feel like they get their money’s worth and I feel like that might have been one thing where I made a mistake, because people hate them so much. But at the same time, we just wanted to open the movie in an aggressive way, and we know that two minutes into the movie, you don’t know what it’s gonna do next, unlike most other found-footage movies, where after the first 40 minutes, it hasn’t done a single thing that you haven’t seen a million times. We definitely wanted them to be really aggressive and unlikable, just so the movie would feel unpredictable and like it could surprise you, which hopefully it does.

Taken from The Devil Inside, an “anti-reference”

Simon, you just listed a few different references, and Brad, you mentioned the idea of a TV show like Tales from the Darkside or Tales from the Crypt, for everybody, what were some of the other anthology movies or found-footage movies that you used to help inspire the tone of V/H/S?

Miska: The only references we really used were anti-references. A lot of filmmakers try to make homages to other films, like, “Oh, well, we’re gonna make the next Paranormal Activity,” we went and looked at everything from the perspective of what we hate about these movies. One of the things that we hated was that movies like The Devil Inside treat the audience like they’re stupid, like we believe it’s real, and then have to end it with a link to a website, and not even have a third act, which is incredibly insulting. The idea was to do something that was fun, not make you feel like shit, end it with an upbeat note, and have clear reasoning for everyone to be filming. We were inspired by bad decisions.

Barrett: I think anti-references is a good way to put it because, without naming certain films, we just felt like we didn’t want to do something that had been done before. Hollywood had made a couple of found-footage movies that had a really inauthentic look to them because they were clearly filmed on the RED ONE with professional lenses and overlit to give it a consumer-video look but it didn’t quite look right. Adam, right away, wanted to shoot this on the cameras they were supposed to be using. Some of it was shot with an old iPhone, some was shot with a VHS camera I got for my 13th birthday. On a more positive note, I do want to mention, Adam’s never seen this film, and I’m not sure if Brad or Roxanne have either, but when Adam first started talking about shooting part of the movie on VHS, I’d just seen Trash Humpers on 35mm, which was shot entirely on VHS.

Benjamin: I’m very familiar with Trash Humpers.

Barrett: Oh yeah, that’s right, your buddies distributed it. That’s right, I forgot. Anyway, I had just seen Trash Humpers, which was shot on VHS and edited with two VCRs and then blown up to 35 mm and it just looked so cool. The way that old analog video had a look that’s so different from any kind of video now, so as soon as Adam started talking about it, I knew exactly what he meant.

Helen Rogers in The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, segment written by Simon Barrett

Were there any unexpected challenges you faced in the process that gave you a new appreciation for what so many other found-footage directors have done? Did this experience change your opinion on found-footage movies?

Miska: I don’t really have a problem with it, I think it’s just a perspective, just a different filmmaking perspective.

Barrett: One of the things about V/H/S that kind of, in a weird way, cracked the found-footage code, is that it’s shorts. All the stuff that found-footage movies bogged down in, like why the characters are filming, characters screaming at each other to stop filming when their lives are in peril, you’re able to avoid all that stuff if your movie is 15 minutes long as opposed to 90. Part of it was trying to come up with really original ideas of stuff people hadn’t seen before of reasons why people are filming these situations, but it’s a lot easier to do that in the short-film format than it is in the feature format. Adam and I have very recently turned down feature found-footage projects because I don’t feel like we have anything else to say in that regard. It gives me an appreciation for films that do it really well because it’s just been done so many times since Blair Witch and so many of those films follow the same Blair Witch pattern that I am very impressed by the ones that do something different and surprise me. And [REC] obviously is a big reference point for modern found footage, too.

Speaking of “Tape 56,” whose idea was Calvin’s mustache?

Miska: That definitely came with the package of Calvin.

Barrett: If you know Calvin Reeder at all, I think you will know that was Calvin’s idea. It was difficult to work around his schedule, but we were really excited to have him involved. We’d admired Calvin’s work for a very long time and Adam and I had even tried to get him involved in some of our earlier stuff but it had never worked out so we were really excited when he was able to come out and be the lead in Tape 56. I think 100% of his dialogue in that is improvised, he’s just really good.

Marketing for V/H/S at the Sundance Film Festival

I really felt like V/H/S accomplished a multitude of things. It brought together some of the best contemporary horror filmmakers and really gave purpose to anthology movies, which I’m really happy with. Creepshow is one of my all-time favorite movies, and more recently, something like Trick ‘r Treat, I just really love that short-film format of an anthology. So what’s the future of V/H/S? Are we going to see another volume of it?

Miska: We’re still trying to figure out if there’s a way to do a TV series, it’s something that I really want to do, and that was sort of the original idea. I think there’s a lot of interesting things to be done with that. The actual mythology, this massive idea that all you’re watching is VHS tapes and you don’t know anything outside of that world, of that tape. Hopefully one day we’ll be lucky enough to get a TV show, but I don’t even know how we would go about doing that.

Benjamin: So many other stories and pitches that we got from so many other directors that we’d love to do.

Miska: Maybe we’ll do a sequel if this does well, that’d be pretty awesome.

Barrett: Yeah, but it’s gonna have to make at least $120 million at the U.S. box office.

Wait, you mean it hasn’t made $120 million already at the festivals?!

Barrett: (laughs) I don’t know, we don’t get any of that. I think everyone’s excited about continuing an idea but no one knows quite yet what that will be.

Everyone loves “The Raft” segment from Creepshow 2

Once word got out about the project, were there a lot of people who wanted to get involved that you had to turn down?

Miska: The word on this project didn’t actually get out until Sundance, and it was already done. I’ve had people reach out to me saying that if we ever made another one that they’d be interested so we have a few ideas of what we could do and where we could go with it.

Barrett: Definitely no one called up Brad to say, “Wait a minute,  a found-footage horror anthology with Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard?! You’ve gotta get me on board man!” (laughs) Now that V/H/S has come out and people are responding to it, I feel like, if we did continue working it, there are a lot of cool filmmakers who might want to be involved. It’s cool. It’s nice that people are responding to it, but you know, you mention you’re a big fan of Creepshow, which I’m sure means you’re also a fan of 30% of Creepshow 2. If we went back, we wouldn’t want to make a piece of shit. We’d want to do something that’s bigger and better, we would never want to do just a cash-in sequel. Not that Creepshow 2 was a cash-in sequel, but two-thirds of Creepshow 2 are irredeemably bad. Well, at least that wooden indian one is just pathetic. “The Raft” is amazing…

Wingard: I don’t remember the other segment, except for those two.

It was the hitchhiker one, the “thanks for the ride lady” one.

Wingard: Oooooooh, right.

Benjamin: Which is actually okay, it’s got some good scares in it.

Benjamin: I love that one!

Barrett: It’s been done a billion times. I don’t know man, “The Raft” is the best in that movie.

Benjamin: Yeah, it’s definitely “The Raft.”

Barrett: That movie is great.

Wingard: Maybe we can do a found-footage version of “The Raft.”

Barrett: Yeah, that’d be a great idea!

Wingard: Why don’t we just remake all of Creepshow but as found footage? A found-footage Creepshow.

Barrett: Do the best stuff, like the camera mounted on her dashboard when she hits the homeless guy.

Plus I’m sure that AJ Bowen would be happy to get back involved in the Creepshow series.

Barrett: I’ve never even seen Creepshow 3. AJ is VERY proud of that film. (laughs)

I’ve watched it on fast forward, and on fast forward, it’s not that bad.

Miska: That’s like every movie.

Wingard: I think that’s actually the director’s version of the film.

Barrett: So maybe Creepshow 3 is a better example, which is that whatever we do with V/H/S after this, if it’s anything at all, a TV show, sequel, prequel, whatever, we just wouldn’t want it to be a cash-in. We’d want it to be because we had a great team and we’re all really inspired, so who knows how long that would take.

From You’re Next, directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon West

Last question, which is for Adam and Simon, I know the fate of You’re Next is kind of out of your hands, so I won’t ask you when it’s coming out, but I was wondering if it was possible for me to come over to either of your houses to watch it.

Barrett: I actually don’t have a copy of it.

Wingard: Yeah, I actually don’t either.

Barrett: Lionsgate bought the movie, so…no. (laughs)

Wingard: I had a DVD for a while with my name watermarked on it and I think I left it in Alabama, so I don’t actually have a copy of my own movie.

Barrett: Yeah, you might not want to print that, that you’re leaving You’re Next screeners all over Adam’s house. (laughs) We’re optimistic about You’re Next, but we can’t say anything about it now.

So….I’ll take that as a “maybe” I can come over.


V/H/S is currently available on VOD, Amazon, and iTunes, and will be in select theaters October 5th. Go see it, it’s awesome.

Official Site
Amazon Pre-Theatrical Rental

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One response to “V/H/S Filmmakers Talk About Found-Footage Anti-References, Where to Go From Here, and Creepshow [INTERVIEW]

  1. Pingback: The Worst Best of 2013 List | The Wolfman Cometh·

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