Interview: V/H/S Gang Talks Delivering Smiles With Your Shrieks And The Nostalgia Of Past Technologies

Editor, Festivals; Los Angeles, California (@RylandAldrich)
Interview: V/H/S Gang Talks Delivering Smiles With Your Shrieks And The Nostalgia Of Past Technologies

The long awaited found-footage horror anthology V/H/S is available on VOD today (and coming to theaters on October 5th) from Magnet. Directed, written, and produced by some of the top names in indie horror, the film has been a hit at Sundance, SXSW, and every other fest it's played (see our review here). Way back at Sundance, we had a chance to sit down in the cold with many of the filmmakers involved in the film back at the very beginning of their journey.  Published now for the first time is our talk with directors David Bruckner and Glenn McQuaid, writer/producer Simon Barrett, producers Brad Miska and Roxanne Benjamin, and actress (and filmmaker in her own right) Sophia Takal.


TWITCH: Can you talk a bit about planning for the anthology format? Was the number of shorts always planned? Any rules and regulations for the filmmakers?

ROXANNE BENJAMIN : We kind of just wanted everybody to have fun with it. It was, like, take this idea of found footage, POV, whatever, and make it something new and original. Shoot on stuff that would make it interesting.

BRAD MISKA: It was originally going to be three segments and the wrap-around. We were just having fun, and it was just kind of like, "Well, what about these guys, and what about these guys, and what about these guys? Yeah, fuck it. Let's just do them all." And then, all of a sudden, everyone was making a segment, and we were like, "Well maybe one will suck. It'll be terrible and we can cut it."

ROXANNE: But then they weren't.

BRAD: And then they weren't. We were, like, "Holy crap. This is too long."

ROXANNE: But then we were, like, "Screw it. We'll just make it longer."

BRAD: But there was a rule that there had to be a reason that there's a camera.

Ahh, like the sex tape in the wrap around? Was the failed sex tape idea always in there?


SIMON BARRETT: That was done in the very beginning. That was actually my first idea that it would be taped over a failed sex tape. Right away I knew I wanted to do something that felt really different and authentic. I didn't want it to be like a bunch of smart, X-Files people tracking down the tapes. I wanted it to be a bunch of total jackasses going around and assaulting women, and then somebody hires them. There was originally a lot more to that sex tape. Like she leaves and then he starts masturbating in front of the camera. That was one of my first ideas, and that comes from the fact that we ended up shooting on a camera that I got for my 14th birthday, which means that I did, you know, its primary use... The only reason I still had it was because it was the only way I could watch my old sex tapes.

GLENN MCQUAID: For me, I was not familiar with found footage. I'd seen a few things, but I think it's an excellent format and an excellent platform just to get it out and just work.  Just by virtue of it being shot on an iPhone or Skype or whatever; the fact that you can just really go do it, and it's not gonna cost an arm and a leg is tremendously liberating. I mean, my last project was a period piece. So much went into costume and just finding the right stone wall to shoot against. This was a different ball game. It was a great experience.

DAVID BRUCKNER: And I also think everybody kind of gets this weird challenge if you're a filmmaker of, "Alright, so I want to do something. I want to do a found footage piece. It's a little meta. I want to have a little bit of fun with the fact that I'm doing a found footage piece." I'm not gonna ask a smart audience to pretend that it's real. They know it's BS. They know we're just playing with this medium and here it is. But despite that awareness, when we do that cool found footage thing, it's gonna be the realest, most severe thing you've ever seen for a moment before we wink at you in the next beat. And that's just kind of the challenge is, if you're gonna play with a genre, even if you're gonna play with that sense of awareness, you still wanna pull it off the best as you possibly can.

Not being the biggest horror nut, one of the hallmarks of the movie for me was how fun the it is to watch. It's the same with a movie like You're Next or The Innkeepers. The goal seems to be for the audience to have fun more than it is to be genuinely scared.

SIMON: I think we kind of wanted to make a post Paranormal Activity found footage movie. I feel like lot of found footage is still kind of doing the same thing that The Last Broadcast and Cannibal Holocaust and Blair Witch did. That's fine, but it isn't very fun. With You're Next, Adam [Wingard] and I specifically looked at home invasion movies and were like, "We love this idea, but these movies are always trying to be so hardcore and intense and disturbing. What if we had fun with the idea and took it in a more comedic direction?" And that was, I think, everyone's idea with V/H/S.


BRAD: Well we're past that as fans, too. I think as an audience people are past the Texas Chainsaw, Hostel, even Paranormal Activity. While people go to see it because they like to be scared and have fun, it takes a little bit of the fun away the way they walk out of the theater. The found footage thing is that it should be fun. Horror movies should be fun. You should walk out and feel good even if it was brutal, but it's not feeling gross like you have to go take a shower.

GLENN: The first time I saw found footage people were telling me, "It's real, it's real." I think people have gotten bored with that kind of promotion for this. As the project goes on, it just loosens up. And certainly, when the credits come up at the end, you're really let in on it. It really is a nice piece of entertainment over anything else.

BRAD: From day one, we were never trying to trick people. At the beginning, we had these conversations about how great we felt walking out of movies like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, so we even joked about using the "Play With Me" song from Extreme where they're running around the mall, we wanted to end with that kind of like a big "fuck you" to found footage movies in a fun way where it would end and everyone walks out of the movie feeling great - like they just had a crazy experience.

SIMON: We're trying to play it kind of for laughs and kind of acknowledging, look, we're not serious. This wasn't real. None of this was real. This girl that was being assaulted is our 22-year-old friend. She's a waitress in Brooklyn.

Speaking of girls being assaulted, there are some interesting portrayals of women and acts toward women throughout.


BRAD: Sophia, do you want to talk about your scene with [Joe] Swanberg where he...

SOPHIA TAKAL: Oh, where he's trying to get me to make out with him? It was really terrible. That was just true. That was just real. We wouldn't even want to make a sex tape at all. We have all this assaulting women and weird stuff going on in V/H/S, but in a lot of the sections, the dudes are assholes, and Joe really went there and played an asshole. If you look at it on the surface, it seems like all these women are fucking dudes up, and it's really awful, but the guys are kind of asking for it.

SIMON: There's like multiple, failed attempts at sex tapes in V/H/S. Ours was taped over a failed sex tape. His is one, giant, massive, failure of a sex tape.

DAVID: I actually like to argue that it's a successful attempt at a sex tape. If you think about the ending, it's actually successful. He actually gets exactly what he asks for.

BRAD: He's going to be getting a lot of sex.

DAVID: Someone in the audience, at one point, said, "What's up with all the female hating?" I found myself thinking, all the directors are male. I think it's more self-hatred. We're absolutely poking fun at our own idiosyncrasies and maybe our own hidden desires that come with all this new technology and the ways that it affects our lives. I think there're actually many very, very, very powerful moments for female characters throughout the piece. I had two guys I cast bail on me. I couldn't get men in the room to read for this stuff. They were so spooked by the script, and I had a huge line of girls that wanted to do it. We had a huge female presence on our crew. Our DP is female. Our producer was female. Our stunt coordinator is female. Our makeup and effects are all female. Girls got behind this way more than boys. Boys, it scares them.

SOPHIA: Yours is exciting to be a girl and watch that.

ROXANNE: I agree.

You've talked about found footage and the decision for that format, but talk for a bit about the decision to nostalgia route with videotape and VHS.

SIMON: So the modern eye, the average viewer, the average teenage horror viewer sees analog video, and it has this anachronistic feel that Super 8 film or 16mm grainy film has to our eyes. It feels automatically archaic in some way. So we knew we wanted a really old video look, which, I think, now has this kind of organic, earthy feel to it. At the time, it just looked shitty, because people were shooting on video and trying to make it look like film, and it just looked terrible. Now it doesn't look terrible. Now it looks interesting. Films that are shot on the Red and lit poorly look terrible. Now it has this kind of cool, retro feel. There's this company in New York that makes this new kind of Polaroid film that works with old Polaroid cameras, and I just ordered a ton of it. When I first got that camera, I was like, "This motherfucking thing can't take a good photo to save its fucking life." And now I love it. Now my phone takes better pictures than the first digital camera I bought for $400.

But those phone pictures will be so quaint in a few years, too - the visceral response to them.


SIMON: Yeah, it's kind of culturally like this whole Hipstomatic and Instagram thing. I agree with everyone who thinks they look stupid and look like shit, and I also agree with everyone who thinks it's awesome and looks cool.  And this kind of comes back, in an interesting way, because one of those miniature, culture movements that I've had to bear witness to on Twitter that has surprised me lately is the resurgence of VHS amongst film collectors. Ti [West]'s film, House of the Devil, was released on VHS, and that was a huge hit. Now all these little films are getting these VHS releases. To me, VHS just sucks. You have to rewind it. It's full screen.  It's awful. But some people love it. People love their VHS tapes, because that's what they grew up with. This is an interesting thing that William Gibson, I'm sure, would be more articulate about is the idea that old technology has an emotion attached to it for our culture. That we have nostalgia for technological innovations that become irrelevant... I'm done.

[Simon gets up and pretends to walk away as everyone laughs]

BRAD: But what all that is, is when we grew up, you couldn't always get things when you wanted them. It's about immediacy. Now you can get anything whenever you want it.

GLENN: You think immediacy cheapens content?

BRAD: Yeah. And it also makes it more difficult to sell stuff, because you can get anything whenever you want it, so there's only so much time in a day that you could be taking stuff in.

ROXANNE: And everything becomes irrelevant.

BRAD: So people watch things for 15 minutes and move on quickly.

SIMON: The success of the Mondo posters speaks to that, as well, because a lot of those posters are only successful because of the arbitrarily enforced limitations on their availability.


GLENN: I think it's a hunter-gatherer thing, as well, because the first movies I saw were pre-VHS. I saw all these horror movies on BBC2 before we ever had a VHS player. This was the early '70s. You had to hunt down and really covet shit.

SOPHIA: For Green, we're doing DVD through Factory 25, and they do a whole art object, trying to make the DVD and the case something very special, and each thing is unique. Each one has a special thing that's related to Green, or whatever movie, so that everyone gets something special

SIMON: Yeah, Factory 25 are similarly doing the kind of Mondo thing where they package DVDs with vinyl and trying to make it a collector's object.  They released some of Joe's movies with like a vinyl 7" of the soundtrack. They released Frownland with a vinyl 12". I will say that my vinyl soundtrack of Frownland is, indeed, one of my beloved objects.

So how about something like that for V/H/S?

BRAD: I had this ridiculous idea. I know it's never going to happen, but, I think it'd be really cool if we release this, when it was going to home video, only on VHS first. Just for like a couple of weeks, and you can't get it on DVD or Blu-Ray.

ROXANNE: And only 20 of them. That'd be so cool.

BRAD: And who is gonna seriously go around and make copies of that? And, if they can, they can only make one copy every two hours.


ROXANNE: Clamshell!

SIMON: Yeah maybe we can do it through Mondo.


Our thanks to the V/H/S team. Check out the film available on VOD now and coming to theaters October 5th, 2012.



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Matt Bettinelli-OlpinDavid BrucknerTyler GillettJustin MartinezGlenn McQuaidRadio SilenceJoe SwanbergChad VillellaTi WestAdam WingardBrad MiskaSimon BarrettNicholas TecoskyCalvin ReederLane HughesKentucker AudleyFantasyHorror

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