Horror fans rejoiced at the prospect of V/H/S, a horror anthology film directed by several up-and-coming indie genre directors, centered around a band of criminals watching VHS recordings of terrible happenings. Even before V/H/S was released, the wheels already began to turn on the film’s sequel, V/H/S/2, which is currently playing at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Much like it’s predecessor, V/H/S/2 is comprised of a framing device and four short films (compared to the original film’s five). Simon Barrett (A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next), directed the film’s framing device, “Tape 49,” about a private investigator and his assistant breaking into a house and going through all those terrifying VHS tapes. Barrett also wrote the segment directed by Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next), “Phase 1 Clinical Trials,” in which Wingard starred as a rich boy whose bionic eye makes him see ghosts.
Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale (The Blair Witch Project) directed “A Ride in the Park,” which is a largely comic chronicle of a biker’s metamorphosis into a zombie and the havoc that ensues after he is bitten. And Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun) directed the self-explanatory “Alien Abduction Slumber Party,” recorded from the POV of a little dog attached to a camera. The film is rounded out by Gareth Evans’ and Timo Tjahjanto’s Lucio Fulci-inspired “Safe Haven,” about reporters to record the inner sanctum of a cult, which involves both zombies and monsters.
I sat down with the rather chatty group of Barrett, Eisener, Sanchez, and Wingard, mid-snack session, as they discussed what they learned from the first V/H/S, and how they came up with the creative ways of exploiting the “found footage” subgenre. The group also recently dubbed themselves “The Snack Pack” of horror directors, due to not only their mutual love of snacking, but the “snack portion”-size of each of their films, which add up in V/H/S/2 to a satisfying meal, but one leaving you wanting more. Perhaps dessert if you’re feeling frisky.
[The group is busy eating their lunch that was just delivered to them, mainly consisting of subs and bags of chips]
Simon Barrett: We’re just snacking it up!
Adam Wingard: Snacking hard!
Jason Eisener: Just the Snack Pack, at it again.
AW: We really need to get [our PR team] in here and get [Snack Pack] t-shirts made up.
Eduardo Sanchez: That makes it easier for people.
[I gesture to Eisener’s Hobo With A Shotgun shirt] To do more self-promotion like that one?
JE: No, I want Dunkaroos on [the t-shirt]. Or Snickers.
AW: We should get a huge Cheeto on there, like in close-up. [Laughs] So it looks really gross. It’s like really intricate-looking.
JE: She’s not amused!
I’m amused by the concept of “Snack Pack.” Why not?
AW: She gets it!
SB: She gets it, she’s just not laughing.
AW: Nobody said it was a joke.
SB: She’s like, “No, I get it – can we start the interview now?”
I mean… snacking is not a laughing matter.
SB: We take it very seriously.
JE: That’s all it’s about today! Preaching the seriousness of snacking down.
SB: Well, sometimes you need to keep your blood sugar up. That’s kind of our message to kids. And of V/H/S/2.
So… let’s start this thing. There was a fairly quick turnaround between V/H/S/2 and the first V/H/S. Why another one so soon, and how did you each get involved? I know Adam and Simon, you were both involved in the first film.
AW: It just kind of worked out that way. Right after the Sundance premiere of V/H/S, the film was already wildly more successful than any of us had imagined. Mainly because we hadn’t imagined anything. It was a project that was kind of created in slow motion and was put together one piece at a time. And then at the end, it was hard to even judge what we had because it came together in this very strange way. As soon as it premiered and did well, it’s so easy to do a project like this because it’s basically just a couple of short films. And all of us just basically had an opening. It just worked out, so we just said, “Let’s do this right now!” And aim for Sundance again.
SB: It really did all just fall together. Basically even around the time we were even conceiving the sequel, we put together the team that would make it. Everyone was either finishing a feature or gearing up to do their next feature. And everyone was like, “Oh, okay!” I feel like this is fairly unique in cinema, that there’s a sequel that wasn’t shot back-to-back with the original, to wait until the first film premiered before you started thinking about the sequel, but nonetheless, the sequel is going to be released before anyone can think to desire it. [Laughs]
I think some people are going to be confused, since a lot of them just became aware of V/H/S a couple of months ago and the sequel has already played festivals. But we knew if we didn’t do it now, we wouldn’t be able to do it. Especially since Adam and I have our next two features lined up now and we’re getting kind of stressed out. [Laughs] But last year, we were figuring out when You’re Next was going to come out, what our next project was going to be, and it was the perfect time to be like, “Okay, we learned a lot of lessons from making the first. Let’s take advantage of that and do this again.
We didn’t expect the first V/H/S to have fans… it has a couple… a dozen. We were like, “Let’s make another movie for them and try to reward that.” And, of course, out of that dozen people, only two or three are dimly aware that there’s a sequel. And of those two or three, only one of them actually wants that sequel. But we’re really excited about bringing V/H/S/2 to our fan. Singular. Our singular fan.
You’re like The Flight of the Conchords, with their single fan, Mel.
AW: Yeah, exactly.
SB: Except it’s just a sociopathic child in his basement.
AW: And it’s Simon’s basement. And Simon forces this child to watch the film over and over again. And he calls him a “fan.”
SB: And he’s confused V/H/S with Creepshow 3.
SB: He’s conflated the two films in his mind, because he eats a very poor diet of snacks. By the way, in this interview, we would like to not use the word “anthology,” we would like to use the term “Snack Film.”
SB: Or “Snack Pack.” We consider this a new form of art. Of filmmaking and of art. That is snack-based.
AW: What is the Lunchable thing?
AW: It’s more like a Lunchable film.
A Lunchable was more like a complete meal, in it’s own way…
AW: But it’s a snack-y meal though.
SB: Yeah, so we’ll also accept the word “Lunchable” to describe V/H/S/2.
And how about Jason and Eduardo… how did you guys get involved?
JE: I was following the buzz on V/H/S out of Sundance and I was intrigued because I knew some of the filmmakers and that they’d made a found footage movie that people were really excited about and critics really respected. And so I was intrigued by it. And Roxanne Benjamin, one of the producers on the film, she called me up, and she was like, “Jaybird, you can snack down harder than anyone else in Canada. We really want you to jump on the Snack Pack.” [Laughs]
And she sent me a private link to the film and I loved it. I had never seen an anthology that just worked so well together as a whole it was actually one movie. And in a weird way, the wrap-around really works for all the short films. And I love all of the perspectives. It got me excited about found footage and I thought all the perspectives were so creative and fun. There was an energy in the film that reminded me of a haunted house ride.
So I came up with an idea for the second film and I was like, “If they don’t go for it, then at least I tried.” But they loved my idea and it was something that I could get really passionate about. So yeah, it worked out.
SB: Yeah, I think since Eduardo is chewing… I feel like the two segments that people generally flag as the strongest in the first film are David Bruckner’s, which is the first, and Radio Silence’s which is the last. And both of those filmmakers approached it as they were just wearing a camera that was constantly running. Both shorts played from the POV of the camera that was constantly running. And we figured out that in the short film format, you can do that. Feature film, you can’t do that – you would wonder why the tape hasn’t run out, why the battery hasn’t run out. Why they’re still filming despite the fact that they’re in incredible danger. With a fifteen to twenty minute short, you can do that. I think we were all inspired by what [Brucker and Radio Silence] had done and we wanted to take that further. We wanted all the styles to be somewhat unified, kind of using the style that Radio Silence did, especially with all of the humor. I thought that set the bar for what we wanted to do in the sequel.
JE: Yeah, that one really rocked my world when I saw it the first time.
SB: Yeah, they were really cool and we showed them a cut of the sequel, and they were really into it. So they were cool with us ripping them off.
And using the first film as a template, where did you see room for improvement in this one?
AW: Well, mainly, making it shorter. Ultimately, the producers of the first film ended up getting too many people involved, so we ended up with a two-hour long film. And that’s a simple fix when it comes to this because we all agreed to make each part around fifteen minutes for this one. And we knew the amount of shorts that we wanted to use. We knew from the first movie that, even though the Radio Silence one was probably my favorite, it’s the fifth short. And that’s just a lot of shorts to watch.
SB: Particularly in that style. That’s asking the audience to stick with a pretty aggressive camera style for two hours.
AW: And there were just so many change-ups. Now you’re with these people, now you’re with these people. It felt like one too many times to ask the audience to do that.
ES: That film was a full meal. That goes back to the snack idea, where that was a full meal, and we wanted to make a snack-sized meal.
You wanted room for dessert with this film.
AW: Something sweet!
ES: Different flavors.
SB: All of us came out of V/H/S…
AW: Full! We came out full!
SB: We were all rubbing our bellies throughout the whole thing.
ES: And it was like, yeah, I overate.
AW: And you might have enjoyed the meal, but at the end of the day, you just ate too much of it.
SB: But also, with the first film, we were trying to do something new with found footage. We were trying to be very authentic, in some ways. You know, in the way the wrap-around was shot. This wasn’t necessarily something we tried to depart from, but the opportunity that comes from a sequel which is to establish what this is so now we can play with it a little more and have fun with it. That also leads to a more consistent tone. Because if every piece has that sense of humor to it, then I think it’s, overall, a more pleasurable viewing experience.
It depends on personal preference though, because I’ve actually read some reviews of V/H/S/2, and they don’t like that it’s not quite as dark and as serious as the first film. But we made the sequel because we didn’t want to repeat ourselves. And the first film has somewhat of a “failed sex tape” theme and gender politics were an issue. So we were like “We did that! Let’s not do that again.” The second film allowed us to go in a different direction, which was more creatively fun. Yeah, snacking down.
AW: Snacking down.
SB: You get out of V/H/S/2 and you’re like, “I can have another. I don’t need one, but I can have one.” After the first one, you feel like you need to go for a jog.”
It’s like “Phase 1 Clinical Trials” is the film’s amuse-bouche.
SB: Yeah – exactly!
In the two V/H/S films, Adam and Simon, you both directed the wrap-around. What were some of the limitations of doing that?
SB: Yeah, mainly the challenge of making the people watching the video tapes even remotely interesting. It’s funny because I still don’t think I’ve been totally successful with that. The first film, we wanted it to feel like some crazy estate video that somebody found at a garage sale. And we were fascinated by these anonymous thugs just destroying things. But if your protagonists are anonymous thugs, it makes coming back to them somewhat of a distancing experience for the viewer. But we didn’t want exposition because that would feel inorganic and take people out of the movie. Part of the goal with the wrap-around for the first film was that the first five minutes or so uproot the viewer and let them know that we weren’t going to do the conventional found footage thing.
But there was a downside to that as well, which was that I think a lot of people didn’t like the characters or give a shit about what happened to them. And so with the sequel, I talked to Adam a bunch about that stuff and the goal was to make the characters more recognizable, the camera work more stable… give the audience more breathing room between shorts to relax a little. It’s also hard to build suspense, since they can’t watch two video tapes and have something bad happen, they have to watch a little more. And again, I don’t know if I succeeded with that.
ES: I think you did a great job, man!
SB: Thank you, Eduardo!
[They all clap]
All: Snack Pack!
[I get the one question warning from the publicist] So to make the most out of my last question, if you all can share what inspired each of the found footage concepts in your films…
ES: Well, it was basically that people tape themselves doing these bike riding videos all the time. Just setting that up and putting that guy in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. And then having him turn into a zombie, I thought, was really clever. And when I first read it, I was like, “okay, I want to do this.” It was pretty easy after that.
AW: For me, I kind of liked the idea of taking the first-person perspective thing to a completely literal level – from a character’s eye. From the first movie, doing the wrap around and all that, my whole thing that I wanted to do was make something that felt very authentic in a way. That felt like something I’ve never seen before in a horror/found footage movie. It was all about using low-fi technology and that kind of stuff. And going into the sequel, I wanted to branch out and so something different to challenge myself, because I’ve always been afraid to use VFX in movies and I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce myself to that world so I’m not afraid of it later. It was just a good time to try that. That’s the good thing about doing a short film, that it’s the perfect way to figure out things that work and that don’t work in your creative arsenal. And the best thing about an anthology film is that you’re making a short, but it’s part of a feature-length film that people will actually see.
JE: And according to [Hobo With A Shotgun writer] John Davies last night, Stevie Wonder’s eye surgery was a big influence too. [Laughs]
AW: [Laughs] That’s right, yeah. That was major. I tried to get [Stevie Wonder] to be in the movie.
JE: Mine was that I wanted to do something from an animal’s prospective and also I’ve always wanted to make a serious kid’s movie. And also play something off my own childhood nightmares, like the fear of getting abducted by aliens. And so I was able to mash all three of them together.
Was the camera strapped to a real dog at any point?
JE: Oh, yeah. It was our family dog.
Awesome! It reminded me of those vintage David Letterman sketches from the ’80s with the “Bob Cam,” when he had this fake video from his dog’s perspective.
JE: [Laughs] That’s awesome! There have been a lot of videos lately of people putting Go-Pros on their pets and that’s becoming this thing on YouTube that’s really popular. And I thought, “What if one of these dogs has a camera on him, and crazy shit goes down, and he runs?” So that was my inspiration for the film.
V/H/S/2 is currently playing at the Tribeca Film Festival, will be available on VOD starting July 6th, and opens theatrically on July 12th.