As the Fall draws closer, it is always nice to have a little fright in the air. This year, horror fans have something to be very excited for as some of America’s top genre filmmakers have been gathered to create a thrilling new anthology called “V/H/S”. The POV, found footage horror film follows a group of misfits who are hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house in the countryside and acquire a rare tape. Upon searching the house, the guys are confronted with a dead body, a hub of old televisions and an endless supply of cryptic footage, each video stranger and more inexplicable than the last. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with director Adam Wingard, writer Simon Barrett, and producers Brad Miska and Roxanne Benjamin to discuss breathing life into this truly spine-tingling project!
For the uninitiated, what initially sparked the idea for “V/H/S”?
Brad Miska: The idea was originally to do this as a television series. The main producer, Gary Binkow, thought it would be really cool to do it as a movie. Both Gary and myself, really wanted to work with Simon [Barrett] and Adam [Wingard]. They had a small window of time before they started shooting “You’re Next”. After Simon had written his script and we were all really excited about it, they just went off and did their thing. From there, we built it out and started piecing it together over the course of the next eight or nine months. It was a really interesting way to make a movie!
From your standpoint as a producer, what was the biggest surprise for you in bringing this project from script to screen?
Brad Miska: You always hear about people spending years and years trying to get movies made. Surprisingly enough, this was one of those things were the collective was doing the Bloody Disgusting Selects label and Gary wanted to do a movie that was ours that we could put out within the mix of all these movies that we were acquiring. This concept that I had kinda seemed like a no-brainer! I didn’t look at it as a no-brainer, I always kinda looked at it as a cool idea that needed to be fleshed out but other people who saw it had a grander perception of what it could be. Simon really took it to a new level and it went really, really fast. To be honest, it caught me off guard with how quick that it all went down.
You got some great directors together for this project. How did you select who you wanted to work with on it?
Brad Miska: I have a massive list of filmmakers that are under appreciated or unknowns or who are well appreciated and I am just friends with through the site [www.bloody-disgusting.com]. We just went one by one down my list talking to people. It is a very safe project for anyone to do because you get to experiment, do your own thing and there is no one hawking over you the whole time making sure you do something different from what you wanted to do. It made for a very easy and fun process, the actual filmmaking process. The difficult stuff came later in trying to assemble it all and making it interesting, unique and have it make sense without being three hours long. That is how it all came together.
What can you tell us about the writing process for you work on the film?
Simon Barrett: I worked on two parts of the film. I wrote two parts of it and both came from Brad’s initial ideas. I think my creative process on this can be pretty much summed up as Brad kinda explaining an idea to me that I don’t quite understand. I go home and I don’t quite understand what Brad just said but I kinda have this other thought that sounds a little like it, so I will just write that and see if he likes it. Then he was happy![laughter]
That happened, ironically, both times. Both of the segments that I wrote, they are both very different but the one thing that is the same about them that other people have kinda pointed out is that they both kind of hint at larger mythologies that they in no way explain. That is kinda where that came from. I mean, Brad and I know the backstories of those segments and hopefully there are enough clues in there that audiences can get it but at the same time, we wanted it to be ambiguous enough that people think about it a little bit.
What was the biggest challenge for you on the project?
Simon Barrett: Adam and I have talked a little bit about the wraparound. Originally, we had the idea to make the wrap around feel very authentic and aggressive, kinda like old skate videos or shocking videos on the net, like kids defacing stuff and assaulting people. We wanted it to feel very authentic as far as look, so we filmed it on old consumer cameras. We filmed parts of it on an old VHS camera that I have had since I was thirteen! We ended up breaking during the course of the film. [laughs] I think one thing we discovered while doing the wrap around was it was hard for audiences to come back to characters that they have so little empathy for. That was a learning experience. Plus, there was the process of figuring out what the feature film was going to be. The idea of filming the wrap around first, before anyone else filmed anything and not having any idea what filmmakers we even going to be involved at that time was a challenge. At the time we filmed the wrap around, the only other filmmaker that we thought was going to be involved ended up not being able to do the project. [laughs] Then Ti [West] got attached and we had worked with him on “You’re Next” and then Glenn [McQuaid] shot his part. Ultimately, the wraparound had to be adjusted to fit what other people had done. There were a lot of challenges but over all it was just a matter of staying flexible, being willing to adapt to what is happening and being receptive to that spirit of creative collaboration.
What was the most satisfying part of this project from a directorial stance?
Adam Wingard: For me, going into it, for years I had always had discussions with friends about doing found footage stuff. I have a friend who was always saying “You should do this as a short.” or something like that. My feeling about found footage stuff was always I didn’t understand how you could really put your own imprint on it. The style of the film is already dictated by the script, so what is really there to get excited about? What I realized was that it is a completely unique process every time. The more customizing you do to that and don’t just rely on whatever the gimmick is of the short, you are able to really put yourself in there as much as you want as a director. It was an interesting and unexpected thing where before I had this preconception about not being able to be an auteur within the found footage style. Then in doing it, you realize “Oh! Each one of these is a unique snowflake, if you will!”[laughter]
What was it like to see this film for the first time with an audience?
Brad Miska: For me, it was the worst day of my life!
Simon Barrett: Brad was crying! [laughs]
Brad Miska: I had a full blown panic attack because for me, my website is my baby. It is everything to me. This other stuff is just fun where you are able to hang out with your friends and make a project. My reputation was on the line. If people hated it or if everyone hated it, then it makes me look really bad and the site look really bad, so I was really scared. Obviously, not everyone is going to like it and that is fine but if the mass majority of people just despised this film, it would have been really embarrassing. The fact that it was pretty well received at Sundance let me be able to watch a second and third screening of it at Sundance and enjoy it. The initial night was not a lot of fun for me! [laughs]
Adam Wingard: We finished the movie just a few weeks before Sundance, like the week before the festival. It really came right down to the wire, so we didn’t really have time to test the film out or play it in front of an audience. That was literally everyone’s first time seeing, when we showed it in front of a crowd at Sundance. We had no idea how it was going to be received. It seemed it was received better and better with each showing and it started off really great! I think everyone involved was really surprised with how well it went.
Roxanne Benjamin: We were literally on the plane with the HD tape sitting in my lap on the way to Sundance! [laughs]
Simon Barrett: Ideally, I hope I have a festival experience where I don’t spend the entire premiere worrying whether or not the HD cam is going to play correctly through a theater’s sound system. That is the weird thing about the world premiere of your film, I mean, we enjoyed it a lot more than we expected to and it got such a positive response and that was an unexpectedly great surprise, but when you are in the moment like that it isn’t relaxing. I mean, I spent the entire time worrying about the sound mix. I don’t remember much else about that night except for worrying! [laughs]
I know it is a little early in the game but as you said the project has been well received. Any thoughts on a potential sequel or prequel?
Simon Barrett: I think we have to wait and see how people respond to it. I think from a writing perspective, there is a lot of mythology there that I would love to revisit. It seems like there are definitely some cool ideas that we could explore but at the same time, there is nothing concrete yet.
You all have very different and unique backgrounds. What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to those looking to make a career in the entertainment industry or the horror industry specifically?
Simon Barrett: Adam and I have done some weird classes where we have talked about this! [laughs] Working in genre can be really great because it forces you to deliver a certain kind of entertainment aspect. Things have to happen when you work in genre. I think the best idea is to try to be original. Try to do something you haven’t seen before but keep within genre, you are still entertaining people and you are not just doing something totally experimental. Other than that, with the internet now and the way things are, there is a lot to be said for just getting out there and making movies. Adam’s first feature was made for $3000.
Brad Miska: That’s the important thing. So many people come out to Los Angeles, I think it is important to be out here, but they come out here with a script under their arm, a passion project, and they just talk. It is just like any other job, you have to be able to show something. If you want to be a director, you have to keep directing stuff. Keep making shorts, make fake music videos for bands that you like, whatever. Watch movies of the people you admire and figure out how they made things look the way that they did and try to emulate it. While you are doing that, keep writing. Don’t just have one script under your arm. Keep writing scripts and keep reading scripts from the people you admire and learn from them. The process shouldn’t be “Because I am passionate, you should give me money to make a money.” You have to prove to people they can be confident in you.
Adam Wingard: In a way, you just have to start this thing off by learning how to make movies. You can’t expect, just because you have a great idea or a great script, that you can automatically jump into that and make it this great thing. It takes a lot of experience and trial and error. To me, I know that every time I do a movie, I feel I make a certain amount of mistakes on the movie and a certain amount of things right. With each new project, you are able to reference that. Without that reference, you have no idea what works and what doesn’t. Only through experience can you do it and getting experience in film doesn’t cost a lot of money. You know, consumer, prosumer formats can be easily borrowed or bought for cheap and you can have stuff that looks really great and it doesn’t cost you a lot of money. There is no reason why you shouldn’t go out and make movies because that is the only way that you are going to get better at it.
Simon Barrett: I am always annoyed when I am on Kickstarter and I see people with $50,000 trying to raise $100,000 more.
Brad Miska: That is so aggravating.
Simon Barrett: I mean, make the movie for $5000! I mean, whatever you have, figure out a way to make a film for that amount. Think of what you have, who your friends are, what you have access to, who might have sound equipment or access to a cool warehouse. Then write a cool movie about that warehouse. Adam and I both came up completely outside the system. We didn’t have a lot of resources . Adam especially was able to make movies with what he had and now we are in a position where our movies are doing well. Even “V/H/S” is not an expensive film. It is a success and we didn’t have to spend a million dollars on it, so that is my advice.
That is great advice. Just one more question for you guys. Has there been any word of the folks at Asylum doing some type of knockoff, you know, like “BETA,” or something like that?[laughter]
Brad Miska: I wouldn’t be surprised if it was already done! [laughs]
Simon Barrett: The funny thing is that Adam and I have had a few of the people at Asylum reach out to us as fans. Man, if they went for that, I would be really excited! The ironic thing is that Asylum’s whole thing is that they do lower budget rip-offs of films. I think when they did the one for “Paranormal Activity,” everyone pointed out that the Asylum version actually cost more than the original! I am curious to see if they could do a “V/H/S” rip-off for less than what we spent on “V/H/S”. I mean, it wouldn’t be by shooting on VHS, we did that!
Thanks a lot for your time guys! We really enjoyed the film and are really looking forward to seeing more of you work in the future!