It’s odd how things work. The day after I wrote a very negative review about a found footage movie I didn’t like, I wound up interviewing four of the directors responsible for V/H/S/2, a found footage movie that I did like.
Group interviews are always interesting given how unwieldy they can become when it’s more than three people, and this one with Simon Barrett (V/H/S), Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun), Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project), and Adam Wingard (You’re Next) was no exception. There are pockets of sense in there, but around those pockets are some weird, weird places.
With that in mind, read on as the makers of V/H/S/2 talk about snacks, becoming the Snack Pack, werewolf penetration shots, dental health issues, and almost getting killed by a tree.
[This interview was originally posted as part of our 2013 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the wider theatrical release of V/H/S/2.]
[Jason and Eduardo,] how were you contacted to be a part of this sequel?
Jason Eisener: I was following the press and the reviews coming out of Sundance for the first V/H/S, and it just sounded really interesting that a lot of people I knew were really excited about a found footage movie. So I was intrigued to see it, and Roxanne Benjamin, the producer of the film, she contacted me and told me they were doing a sequel and would love to have me involved. She sent me a private link to the original, and I was inspired by how they used that genre, found footage, in such an interesting way, with so many great perspectives. Just a lot of energy in it, it was really fun. It kind of felt like going to a haunted house ride, and I always wanted to do something kind of like that.
Once I saw it, I came up with an idea. If they’re not into it, then I tried, but if they are, then that would be amazing. And yeah, they were down.
Simon Barrett: I mean it’s notable that – Eduardo, you saw V/H/S as a link too? You didn’t see it with a…
Eduardo Sánchez: Yeah. Like, I mean, I had been hearing about the buzz, and I hadn’t gotten a chance to see it at SXSW, so then they talked with me about doing a second, so they sent me the link. You know, being the Blair Witch guy, I definitely follow what’s been going on with found footage, and I thought that they definitely pushed it in a really interesting direction. I just kind of wanted to not be left behind, you know?
And that was really my big thing with the second one: I don’t want to be the weak link, you know what I mean? And for us, for me and Gregg [Hale], if we find the right story — kind of like Jason — if we find the right story, then we’ll do it. If not, I don’t want to half-ass it, but Jamie Nash, the writer, came up with this really clever zombie idea, and I was like, “Wow, that’s really cool, and it’s really entertaining.” It’s one of these ideas where you’re kind of laughing at it as you’re reading the treatment, and I knew it was going to be a lot of fun and something we could pull off. They liked the idea, and Jamie had been talking to [producer] Brad Miska about it and stuff. It came together pretty quickly after that.
Simon Barrett: Yeah, they both watched it as a link at home so they couldn’t hear the audience booing and telling us to get off the stage, or, like chucking fruit at Adam and me.
SB: So they didn’t realize what the experience is.
Adam Wingard: But that’s just a Snack Pack thing.
JE: I wish audiences would through snacks at us.
ES: Oh yeah.
SB: I wish they would too.
AW: That’d be awesome.
Have you guys in a town square in manacles or stocks and just…
ES: Or like with a net!
JE: Catchin’ all those snacks!
ES: Like Halloween!
JE: Save ’em for later.
[laughs] That’d be kind of awesome if they did that too.
SB: There’s many reasons why they call us the Snack Pack filmmakers, and one of them is that we love snacks. The other one is that people throw food at us after our movies.
[laughs] How apropos.
SB: So there’s actually multiple layers of meaning. Like definitely, 70 years from now people aren’t going to remember how we exactly got that term.
SB: But they will look to this interview.
AW: They will remember that our films are delicious.
[laughs] That should be on someone’s tombstone.
JE: [laughs] Not too filling!
SB: [laughs] No, not too filling. You don’t feel sustained.
AW: No, you don’t feel quite satisfied. [laughs]
ES: But it does give you a little bit of a high, like, eat something else! [laughs]
[laughs] Could you guys all talk about the challenges of working in short formats versus features? [To Adam Wingard] Or acting in them, too?
ES: [At Adam Wingard] I think this guy had the worst--
Oh, there’s gonna be a fight!
ES: [laughs] No, no. You had the worst time, Adam, I think.
AW: No, I definitely did not have the worst time. I’m pretty sure Jason had the worst time. He had a dog, and a bunch of kids…
[Editor’s note: At this point in the recording, everyone’s kind of laughing and talking at the same time, so I can’t make anything out save for Adam Wingard saying, “this fucking.”]
AW: I mean… Uh, wait, what was the question again?
SB: How did…
JE: The challenges of…
AW: Oh yeah, well the funny thing is that the challenges are all unique to everyone’s thing. Found footage in general has its own challenges because it’s a medium that, stylistically, is dictated by what the characters are shooting the film on. So your story is kind of set around a pre-set way you have to shoot the movie, which is a unique thing that you don’t run into in any other sub-genres of film. You’re locked into that and there’s no way out of it and you’re totally committed to it.
Specifically for my short, I wanted to do something completely the opposite of what I did on the first V/H/S, which was a very lo-fi, very crazy, frenetic thing. And this time around, I wanted to do something that audiences would actually enjoy, so…
AW: [laughs] So I wanted to do something that kind of wasn’t based on real technology, because the first one was to me was all about authenticity, so I felt like because we were feeling so over-the-top, this movie afforded me the ability to come up with my own unique technology. Basically, Simon and I, the way we worked it out was I said, “Hey, what if we had a thing where a guy gets a camera eye implant?” And I came up with the whole story from there.
Shooting it was a pain in the ass because I had to wear a huge camera attached to my body, and so forth and all of that stuff.
JE: [To Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett] Yeah. I honestly think, though, that you guys’s short is the future of found footage. Like when Google Glasses come out, and more cameras in people’s eyeballs, which I’m sure is going to happen. That’s going to be our perspective, and people are going to be making movies from that perspective, or we’re going to download Simon’s week. “Let’s see Simon’s week.”
ES: I don’t want to see that. [laughs]
SB: I’ll be like looking at you guys and I’ll be like, “Man, I love you guys,” but really I’m just looking at a big plate of snacks with my Google Glasses.
AW: “Why does [Simon] keep looking at my crotch?”
AW: “I keep looking at this footage, and he’s…”
SB: “It’s because when I see people with these glasses I’m just seeing snacks.”
JE: But I do love that perspective. It’s something I want to play around with too. Something in first person.
AW: Yeah, that perspective. Someone needs to do it better. [laughs]
AW: I tried to like take Doom a step further.
JE: Yeah! [laughs] I want to do Doom 2 so bad!
SB: You should just make a shot-for-shot remake of Doom with the same special effects.
AW: Not the--
ES: Aw yeah!
ES: I guess The Rock would still be in it…
Have his face down at the bottom like the dude’s head!
ES: Yeah, and like he gets bruised!
JE: That’d be great!
SB: From a writing perspective, doing shorts actually provides you with solutions instead of challenges, because if you’re doing a found footage horror feature, the whole logic of why the camera’s still running and why they’re still filming things as it gets more dangerous and chaotic is a common complaint from found footage films. In the shorts format, you really don’t run into that, and you can also do things that are more experimental. Like Jason and Eduardo did. The camera, you know, in theory wouldn’t last a whole hour and a half, and you can do this one continuous thing in the shorts format, so it gives you some cool opportunities just for the story element of why they’re filming and what they’re filming with. You can use like button cameras and GoPros and stuff like like.
ES: Yeah, I mean, I hadn’t done a short film since films school, so for me it was like… I had just finished another feature, and so it was just fun. Just a short schedule, and I was able to film it near my house. When you’re doing a feature it’s like this long war. You’re like, “Oh my god, this is four weeks,” or whatever. Six weeks. You’re like, “Holy shit,” you know? So you have to take it day by day. With a short it’s like, “It’s four days. Ah, fuck it.” So it was just a lot more fun, and just the subject matter was so light and goofy. I’d been wanting to make a comedy for a while.
AW: Did I answer the wrong question again?
Ahhh… I think…?
AW: I probably did.
There are no wrong answers, Adam.
ES: There are no wrong answers, man: we’re the Snack Pack! [Editor’s note: Eduardo Sánchez and Adam Wingard high five.]
SB: I mean, it’s not your fault. I think Jason told you the question wrong.
JE: Maybe. I don’t even remember exactly.
SB: Whenever anyone gets confused what the question is, Jason just shouts out, “Challenges!”
AW: So that’s what I heard.
SB: You can ask something else completely, but we’ll just complain about making our movies.
There ya go.
SB: It gives us an excuse to do what we want to do, which is complain bitterly about being filmmakers.
AW: It’s a hard life.
SB: It is, it is. And we’ll make several films about it.
[laughs] Would they be found footage as well?
SB: It would be like found footage horror versions of like Living in Oblivion.
SB: But we’ll be like in the other room looking at the monitor on our iPhones because we wouldn’t want to come out of the bathtub, and we won’t let any crew in the bathroom with us.
ES: Pretty much too.
SB: And the bathtub is full of… snacks.
[laughs] Bringing that back around.
SB: There’s no water in it. That’s why we’re dehydrated constantly.
When you guys were coming up with the stories, were they any pitches that got shot down, or was it pretty much the first ones out that got picked?
SB: The first V/H/S was a fairly complicated and largely spontaneous process. We were kind of figuring out what that movie was up until locking picture in terms of what was in it and where. This came together really quickly. Pretty much as soon as we knew we were doing a V/H/S sequel, we knew who was doing it and everyone submitted their treatments or concepts to us and we were figured, “Okay, this is great, let’s go.” With this one, there were not any false starts.
There might have been a couple filmmakers that we reached out to an at early stage that didn’t end up working on the film, but I feel that was almost because this core team came together really quickly. And then we were like, “Oh, we’ve got a 90-minute movie. Stop!” Let’s take a lesson from the first one and quit. I’m doing the math and this is a feature film. Let’s quit now and make the movie. So that’s kind of it; let’s not keep adding filmmakers until it was two hours long.
It happened bizarrely fast. Everyone just sort of had a window Either they were just finishing up a project like Eduardo or, in [my case and Adam’s case], we were kind of gearing up bigger projects that were taking a lot of time to do pre-production, so we were all just able to put this feature together.
JE: I threw in like two pitches, and the other pitch was a strategically so bad that they’d go for the idea that I really wanted to go for.
SB: But it backfired and we went with the bad one. [laughs]
SB: The other idea was a found footage werewolf/vampire relationship movie, which he was really wanted to make. Jason was very passionate about that tragic love triangle.
ES: I was really looking forward to that because I’d never seen werewolf full-on penetration before.
ES: I thought that was brilliant. It was graphic. He has like a cock-cam.
SB: The eye does not waver. The eye does not flinch.
So instead of the dog-cam, it would be the werewolf cock-cam.
SB: He was really passionate about that, thought it’d be really beautiful.
JE: And there’d be a werewolf cock running away from aliens.
JE: We actually shot a lot of that. That’s what a werewolf’s cock looks like.
AW: I would like to see a werewolf in like a standard New York City cop uniform. Like with hair coming out.
SB: But yeah, we were like, “We want the other idea,” and Jason was like, “Dammit.” That’s what he ended up having to make.
Do you all have any favorite parts about filming the shorts?
SB: You mean parts that weren’t awful?
Yeah. I guess parts that didn’t feel like dying.
AW: Well for me, I had a horrible experience shooting You’re Next, and pretty much everything I’ve done in the last few years, because it was so stressful. And I was in a lot of physical pain when I was shooting You’re Next, for instance. So I kind of somehow psychologically lumped filmmaking into being a horrible experience for a little while. I had this bad tooth problem the whole time I was shooting You’re Next, and editing it.
Was it like a root canal or something?
JE: Why didn’t you get it fixed?
AW: I tried to get it fixed, but they couldn’t figure it out. They ended up doing a couple different root canals on these teeth. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and ultimately I had to get this surgery right after You’re Next premiered.
ES: Where they put a camera in your eye?
AW: [laughs] Exactly!
AW: Keep eyein’ all those snacks comin’ in! But, no, doing this short was actually a lot of fun, because I had a great crew. Seamus Tierney, [the DP,] he just kept it really on point and stuff, and I never had the experience of having a DP with a crew that he could just motivate, you know. I always had stuff that looked good, but I never had a crew that was as efficient as that.
And I wasn’t in horrible pain. That was nice.
ES: Not being in physical pain helps.
AW: The whole thing was great experience for me, honestly, because it just went smooth as far as that was concerned, at least better than anything else ever has.
ES: I mean like Adam… Well, it wasn’t pleasurable, but the craziest thing that ever happened — and I wound up having good luck because I could have died — was we were scouting at this location in the woods where we shot the short. And Gregg, the other director, and I noticed a lot of dead trees. So Gregg’s like, “I wonder if we can knock that tree down.” And so we start knocking trees down.
[Editor’s note: Everyone busts up laughing.]
ES: And there was like this big-ass tree!
JE: I hate trees!
ES: So we start [shoving it] and someone’s like, “That thing’s going to snap! It’s going to crack! It’s going to fall! Half of it’s going to come down!” I was about to step away because I was like, “Man, he’s right,” and tree cracked and a freakin’ 10-foot section of big-ass-fucking-tree came down on my head.
ES: Like right on the side of my head and on my shoulder and leg--
JE: This was the most fun you had making this? [laughs]
ES: It’s fucking stupid, man!
SB: The part where you fucked up some trees?
ES: I’m 43 years old, I have three kids, and I’m like fucking tearing down this tree in the woods. Like, what the fuck are we doing?! My head bled. I thought I was going to pass out. I say down on the ground and was like, “All right… Am I gonna pass out?” But I tell you, if the thing had gone in the middle (of my body), it would have broken my neck or I would have at least been in the hospital for a while.
AW: Oh my god.
Holy fucking shit!
ES: So it was good luck! Good times!
JE: I had that happen to me with one of my best friends. We were camping once. He was shaking a tree and the top part of it broke off.
JE: And I open up my tent to see his face covered in blood, and we were in the middle of the woods. It was fucked!
ES: Lot of pain.
SB: That’s the problem of going out in the woods. You start fucking up the trees, because what are they doing? They’re just looking at you. Like I hate that when I go to the woods and see a tree just mad-dogging me. I’m like, “What’s up, bro?”
JE: Yeah, yeah! [laughs]
SB: And the tree doesn’t stop. We’re gonna get into it now!
[The tree’s like,] “I’ve been here 600 years! Whatchoo want?”
ES: It was a dead tree, so you have to like clean it up.
SB: Yeah, no. And then you see all these other trees in like a mob here, so I just start throwing elbows…
ES: We didn’t fuck around with the trees after that.
SB: And that’s funny. That led ultimately to, in a sort of circular way, Jason’s short film Treevenge.
AW: But at least your eco--
AW: Ended with you getting hit in the head and not getting raped by the woods.
SB: Are you saying lessons were learned?
JE: Some lessons were definitely learned.
AW: [laughs] Thank god, or we’d be wheeling you around in a wheelchair.
ES: What would you have told my wife?!
The woods did it to him?
ES: “Oh, we were out KNOCKING DOWN A TREE! And then the tree fell on us. Sorry.”