Scare-A-Thon: The Stories Behind "V/H/S," The Best, Most Unique Horror Anthology Movie In Years

It's six found-footage genre flicks for the price of one.

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Complex Original

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In the horror genre, the found-footage style has a very specific formula: Spend the first 45-60 minutes setting up the characters and the world, and then ratchet up the tension and scares for the final half-hour or so. Fright masterworks like The Blair Witch Project (1999) and [REC] (2007) prove that this approach, if executed with skill and flair, can envelop viewers in a sense of dread that explodes into a white-knuckle, jolting release. Too many first-person POV flicks, however, waste their time with lame characters only to deliver an abrupt, at best mediocre (or, in the case of The Devil Inside, awfully idiotic) payoff.

With V/H/S, a small, tight-knit group of the horror community's brightest independent talents have figured out a way to avoid such found-footage trappings: Use the old anthology format. That is, pack five short horror films, all shot as found-footage, into one nonstop assault of demons, slit throats, evil spirits, and reanimated corpses. Clocking in at around 20 minutes each, the individual segments in V/H/S (opening in limited theaters today, and currently available on VOD and iTunes) are designed to not overstay their welcomes, quickly establishing the characters before focusing on what genre heads pay good money to see.

It's the brainchild of Brad Miska, overseer of the popular horror website Bloody Disgusting, who, as V/H/S producer, teamed up with production company The Collective to corral a squad of like-minded writers and directors: Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (A Horrible Way to Die and next year's You're Next), Ti West (The Innkeepers), Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), Joe Swanberg (LOL), and the viral video team Radio Silence.

Together, the V/H/S crew has solved one of found-footage's biggest problems and modernized the age-old horror anthology format, yet they've also stayed true to the flourishes and spirit of classic omnibus films like Dead of Night (1945), Creepshow (1982), and the perennially overlooked anthologies that came out of the British production company Amicus in the early 1970s, such as Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Vault of Horror (1973), and Asylum (1972).

In this comprehensive, lively collection of Q&As, broken down by each segment, the entire V/H/S gang opens up about the project's beginnings, the artistic and crowd-pleasing intentions behind it, and why the future of the horror genre is in very good hands.

Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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The Origins of V/H/S and Its Wraparound Segment, "Tape 56" (Directed by Adam Wingard)

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Nearly all horror anthologies are anchored by the "wraparound," which frames the individual segments with a connective story and acts a linchpin for each solo, movie-within-the-movie tale. In the case of V/H/S, producers Brad Miska, Adam Wingard, and Simon Barrett bucked tradition in a few unique ways, namely by keeping all of the framing story's characters out of the mini-films. Behind the scenes, though, the filmmakers of the V/H/S wraparound, "Tape 56,"—screenwriter Barrett and director Wingard (who'd previously collaborated on last year's impressively atypical serial killer flick A Horrible Way to Die)—went completely against convention, shooting their footage before any of the segments were even conceptualized, let alone made.

Which, in a way, explains why "Tape 56" has its own unique feel within V/H/S. In it, a group of Jackass-like troublemakers, always armed with a video camera and their anarchist spirits, earn dollars by filming themselves destroying public property and exposing female strangers' breasts for the Internet viewing public to see.

One day, the cyber celebrities get a random assignment from an unknown employer, for which they have to break into an isolated home and retrieve one specific VHS tape. What they find inside, however, is a dead body seated in front of a stack of unmarked tapes and piled-up TV monitors. As some of the guys poke around the basement for the mysterious tape, others watch the tapes found near the corpse, leading into the various segments and gradually bringing about their own collective nightmare.

Here, Wingard, Barrett, Miska, and co-producer Roxanne Benjamin recount the humble origins of V/H/S and give the back-story of "Tape 56."

Let's start from the beginning. How'd the initial idea for V/H/S come about?
Brad Miska: The short version is, I had talked to The Collective, who co-own Bloody Disgusting; they were interested in doing a sort of Bloody Disgusting movie, and I had this idea for a TV show. A very basic concept of the TV show idea is what the wraparound is. I'd worked with Adam and Simon before, and I really wanted to work with them again. The Collective and Gary Binkow, who produced this, really wanted to work with them. So we came together with Simon and Adam, and Simon wrote the wraparound. And we just moved from there; they went and shot it before You're Next.

How did you expand upon the initial TV show idea?
Miska: It was this concept of a bunch of kids go to some house where they hear there are a bunch of tapes…. The original idea was of a bunch of kids who stumble across a vault of tapes….

Adam Wingard: Yeah, it was like grad students or something. It was a weird idea.

Miska: Yeah, it was different but also similar. And then Simon had an interesting spin that he added to it, where they're creating the tape that we're watching, and then he integrated the whole hoodlum aspect of it, which was really cool.

Roxanne Benajmin: On The Collective side of it, with Gary, the other producer, we've co-produced a bunch of different stuff, and we've done a lot through acquisitions through Bloody Disgusting Selects. We knew that Brad wanted to get more into production, so it was a thing where we'd been acquiring all these movies and Brad had all of these relationships, so why not get onto the production side?

Once you got past that stage, how quickly did the whole film come together?
Miska: Simon and Adam were fast; they had a short window before they had to go shoot You're Next [Wingard's next movie, scheduled for an August 2013 release via Lionsgate], and we really wanted to work with them, so they went and shot the wraparound. So we had the wraparound, and then we went and slowly started talking to people. We had some other directors on board, and then their schedules changed and they couldn't do it. Then we got different treatments. It was trying to work out schedules with people we were excited to work with. The second we were all in agreement about their treatment and script, we would give them the go-ahead. It was a long process that we went through, I believe, like August or September….

Benjamin: It was November through September. Yeah, it was a pretty long process. [Laughs.]

Wingard: We were finishing the movie, basically, like a week before Sundance.

Simon Barrett: And we'd filmed the wraparound almost a year prior. [Laughs.]

Shooting the wraparound first seems like a risky move. Was it difficult to integrate the wraparound into the final film, as a whole, without knowing what the individual segments would even be?
Wingard: Yes. [Laughs.] We realized that was the challenge. We actually designed the wraparound to be based around three or four shorts, but then we ended up with five. We had to reconfigure things to match that, and then, even along those lines, once we saw all of those shorts in the context of a feature, we realized that aspects of the wraparound were too long, so we had to trim things in support of the greater good, essentially.


Movies should speak for themselves; if it's good, people will recognize it, and if it's bad then people will recognize it and destroy it. - Brad Miska


Barrett: The film came together, and I think it was ultimately to the film's advantage, in a lost improved way. We were always not quite sure what the film was gonna be, so we designed the wraparound to do mainly two things: One, be pretty flexible. We knew we wanted a wraparound, because having an old-school stylistic format with a very current filmmaking style was, to me, the fun of the project. But we also wanted it to establish the authenticity and the cool, lo-fi aesthetic of the film.

We tried to make it adaptable, and then the whole thing came together so gradually and we weren't ever quite sure, but at the same time that led to a film that feels very spontaneous and organic, and obviously that's what's missing from a lot of found-footage horror films. They often feel stagy and stagnant, and you lose that sense of danger and authenticity. Just by not having the smoothest or most professional process, we managed to keep that organic feel. [Laughs.]

Was the plan to always have the wraparound mirror the original TV show concept? In the old Amicus horror anthologies, the wraparound segments would typically feel like a traditional movie and include characters seen in the individual segments, and there'd often be a final twist once the segments were all shown. The V/H/S wraparound goes against that template.
Barrett: Well, Brad and I riffed a lot together to come up with that idea, and then I started working with Adam once the idea became more concrete. I really love all of that old Amicus stuff, and I wanted to riff on that, but I also felt like, in terms of the way those wraparound always had a twist, I never found myself actually giving a shit once those twists occurred. So I wanted to keep the original spirit of those wraparounds.

Organically, someone is either telling stories, being told stories, or, in our case, it's a found-footage movie about people finding footage. But I wanted to keep the idea that they're maybe not the best characters, but also give it a more authentic, in the age of the Internet, sharpened aesthetic. It was our way of trying to do something original with that old style. Whether or not that's successful, obviously, isn't for us to say, but that was the goal.

Did you guys give the directors any direction to dictate what various horror sub-genres and tropes would be explored in each segment?
Miska: Ti's was his own thing; Simon and I, again, talked a lot about the alien segment, which Joe Swanberg directed and Simon wrote. The Radio Silence guys, we gave them some guidance, telling them we wanted something supernatural, and then they came back to us with something that had their own spin. Bruckner had his own thing, too. So, yeah, it was a mix. When we got towards the end, we felt there were certain elements that were missing, but right off the bat we definitely wanted a slasher and Glenn McQuaid was the first to respond to that.

Barrett: Going back to the Amicus thing, part of the fun of it was to try to do new stories in established genres, in some way. There was a certain point where the fun of it, in a certain waxwork kind of way, was we'd say, "OK, we should try to do a slasher one," but for the most part I think the filmmakers had their own interesting ideas.

Wingard: Another interesting thing about the whole found-footage thing in general, and I think this is the special thing about V/H/S, is the film takes familiar tropes and puts them in a new context, which was the whole point of doing found-footage. What I think makes our unique take on the whole thing different from other people's is even beyond us starting with different sub-genres, all of the filmmakers started off by saying, "OK, this is the type of movie we want to make, so what's the perspective? How do you frame this in that unique way?"

That's the cool thing about found-footage: You can take a story that you've seen a million times and suddenly see it in a new context, with a new spin, and now it's unique. This film manages to do that, basically six times, which is kind of a miracle in itself, the fact that it's constantly changing and it's constantly innovative.

Did you give any directions as far as how each director should use the found-footage technique, like tell one person to try something like Skype since a different director already used camera glasses?
Miska: Well, one of the main rules we had decided from day one was that the characters had to have a reason to be filming; if there isn't a reason for them to be filming, then it just doesn't work. I think that was the only real heavy guidance. With the slasher, we said, make sure there's a shit-ton of blood, and real blood, not digital blood. That's the only major guidance that was put into it.

Benjamin: And other than that, there were some internal ideas that were pitched and then there were ideas that we got in; it was very collaborative across the board. There wasn't any real mandate per segment where we had a specific idea and then gave it to someone. It was definitely collaborative on both ends.

Is it true that you filmed some of the wraparound using an actual VHS camera?
Wingard: It was a lot of fun. It was kind of funny, I had told Simon and everybody early on that it was important for us to film on actual load-in-tape camcorders. Simon was like, "Oh, perfect, I have one from years and years ago, so we can use that one." So he shows me and, sure enough, it's like the exact camera that I had grown up with, the same one that I'd used to make my first backyard movies, and it's a total piece of shit camera; it's a Sharp camcorder. You actually put the tape in. [Laughs.]

It was kind of interesting juxtaposing that with the way I would do things when I was a kid as opposed to now. The battery on the back, for instance, is a huge, heavy brick, and it's really easy to jostle it, it never sits tight on that camera. So every time you tap it, or you run and jiggle the camera too much, the footage has this very interesting analog, fluctuation glitchiness to it. And back in the day, when we were doing martial arts films in Alabama backyards, you'd do a take and the camera would have a little fritz from you bumping the battery, but for this film it was exactly the opposite. [Laughs.] It was like, how do we get more of that? How do we make this look more and more sketchy?

For me, I really like really nasty-looking things that feel almost like they weren't even filmed, like they're just some nasty things that appeared out of the Earth. That's the vibe we wanted, where it truly has this sketchy found-footage feel to it.

Barrett: And Adam had also talked about how old video is so different from the video we're used to seeing as video now, with the REDD and the Alexa and stuff. Now, old video has this cool analog look, almost the same way that the eyes recognize Super-8 as something that's inherently anachronistic. Using the video of our childhood is cool and interesting looking, whereas before it was just shitty. Now, it doesn't look like just a shittier version of modern video; it looks like something completely unrelated to modern digital video.

Once the film was ready to be seen, was it difficult to get it into Sundance?
Miska: We just submitted it and didn't even think anything about it. When we submitted it, I can't even say it was a rough cut; it was not even a work-print cut. [Laughs.] Simon and Adam hadn't even seen the cut we assembled. Frankly, we probably shouldn't have sent it when we did, but we were right up against the deadline. There was a day or two left where if we didn't submit it then we wouldn't have even had a chance to get into Sundance. We got a call right after Thanksgiving, I think, saying we got in, and then it was like, all of the sudden it was scramble time.

Wingard: Previously we didn't have a deadline of when we needed to mix the film and everything, but once we got into Sundance, it became a thing where, OK, now we all know we have absolutely no time and we just need to get this thing done as quickly as possible. So, really, everything didn't come together until the beginning of January, when we started mixing and all that stuff.

One of the coolest things about V/H/S was that nobody outside of those involved knew the project even existed until the Sundance film lineup was announced. That's impressive, considering that horror blogs and websites report on every single movie that's been green-lit, rumored, or in production. How intentional was that on your end?
Miska: There were a couple of things, from my perspective. I remember growing up, seeing trailers, and not really seeing anything before the movie, so it all felt new to you when you eventually saw the movie.

If it was up to me, the V/H/S trailer would have just been Adam and Simon's wraparound, and you would have thought you were only going to see Adam and Simon's movie, and then you'd go in and be like, "What the fuck is this?" Because to me that's what makes it interesting and fun. The people who were at Sundance are so lucky, because all they saw prior to the movie were these two weird stills, and I didn't even want them to see that. [Laughs.] I didn't want any trailers, no stills.

I think the idea of going into a movie blind is super cool. Running [Bloody Disgusting] for 11 years now, I see how people promote their stuff and when you start talking about your own projects it just comes off desperate and weird. Movies should speak for themselves. If it's good, people will recognize it, and if it's bad then people will recognize it and destroy it.

Sundance was this moment where these people were going to decide the fate of the movie, not me or anyone else. They'll go out and talk about it, and it will still feel personal to them because they discovered it, not because they were told they should see it. But, of course, that made for a really stressful screening. [Laughs.] That first screening was not fun. I was pretty much having an anxiety attack through the whole thing, but that made for a really special experience. It's been really fun this year to see and hear people talk about the film without being told to talk about it.

"Amateur Night" (Directed by David Bruckner)

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As the saying goes, first impressions mean everything; in a horror anthology, that old adage is of paramount importance. If the kick-off story is a dud, why should the viewer think that the rest of the movie won't be just as lame?

Wisely, the folks behind V/H/S decided to open the film with the ferocious "Amateur Night," one of the film's all-around best segments and a remarkable achievement for director David Bruckner, whose only previous feature film credit came from 2007's criminally underrated shocker The Signal, which Brucker co-helmed with fellow Atlanta, GA, natives Jacob Gentry and Dan Bush.

Of all the V/H/S segments, "Amateur Night" presents the most unique form of first-person video recording: a pair of cheap-o camera glasses. The wearer of said spectacles is a nerdy college-aged dude (Drew Sawyer) who, along with two of his loud, obnoxious, skirt-chasing buddies (Mike Donlan and Joe Sykes), hits the town one night to corral drunken chicks and bring them back to their motel room, where four-eyes will then record the ensuing sexual interactions. Unfortunately, a strange girl with huge eyes and an uncomfortable stare (played with excellent impact by fresh-faced Hannah Fierman) takes a liking to the nerd, and when she's brought back to the motel, she hits the heavily intoxicated, aloof fellas with a big surprise: She's not exactly human. Naturally, things don't end well for anyone involved.

Here, Bruckner explains the (mostly French) influences behind "Amateur Night" and why the best genre cinema assaults viewers with blunt force.

In another interview, you mentioned that one of your biggest inspirations for "Amateur Night" was Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void. In what ways did that film guide your segment?
Well, I’m really fascinated with the idea of film as a visceral medium, maybe as opposed to something that’s looked at and critiqued in a purely academic sense. That’s always been really fascinating to me; everything you see and hear is assaulting you, and it has a way of attacking you and undoing all the thoughts you have inside your head throughout the day, and making you available to receive something, because context is everything.

One of the things I love about Gaspar Noé’s work is I imagine he understands that. Like, the title sequence to Enter the Void is cool to look at, but what it also does is it gets you close to the point of an epileptic seizure, completely attacks your auditory sensory system, and by the time the credits sequence is done you are primed for an experience. You’re not thinking about what you brought into the room with you—you’re completely available to go somewhere. I love the attitude of that, and this little short, I just got inspired by the point-of-view work that he did in the first part of that movie, in particular. I was asking myself questions about how appropriate that would be in a horror movie, and what that would feel like.

The found-footage thing gave us an opportunity to do that. And we had this idea for camera glasses, and we were like, “Great, we can force the audience to participate in something whether they want to or not. You literally have to be this guy,” and that sort of informed, “All right, so what’s a situation that’s uncomfortable? What’s a situation that’s a little bit shady? How can we make them feel a little bit bad about themselves? And then we’ll unleash some terrifying horror stuff onto them.”

It’s interesting to hear you talk about your visceral take on filmmaking, because your segment in The Signal is that film's most violent and intense section. That's clearly your style.
Oh, thank you. It’s not to say that I don’t appreciate all the other higher levels of intellect you can achieve through cinema. [Laughs.] I just think that we’re very distracted, and that’s a strange place to start sometimes. I just like the fact that the medium can shake you up, and part of the awe of it is that you get to have an experience. Part of the magic of cinema is getting to go to space, getting to run for your life. And if we can get past ourselves a little bit and connect to that sensation, it helps us receive an idea that’s valuable.

Or getting pulled into the sky by some sort of winged demon creature.
[Laughs.] Or something that absurd.

Where did the idea to use camera glasses come from?
I knew they existed but I’d never seen a pair. We ordered them, and we actually used the actual camera glasses for all the scenes in the mirror, and then we built a helmet-cam rig because we needed more info than that, because the camera glasses are really lo-res and they only run 15-frames-per-second, and they get these weird frame catches. We loved that grimy aesthetic so much, though, so we built a camera rig to be able to do VFX work, and then we reverse-engineered it and brought it back to how the camera glasses work. And that’s how we did it.

But we kind of fell in love with them, even though they’re really cheap and they kept breaking. We had to buy several of them. There’s no way to run a line out; you can’t watch what’s happening on a monitor. The actor has to go, roll a take, then come back so we can download the footage, trans-code it, watch the clip, and then give notes—it’s very tedious.

How important was it for you to cast unknown actors to help sell the intended realism? Those guys really do seem like the obnoxious, drunken frat boy types you can find at any given bar on a Friday night.
They’re acting, by the way; that’s totally not the way they really are. [Laughs.] We did an open casting call for it, and we met with a whole bunch of people. My production company is based out of Atlanta, and there’s been a growing film scene here for some years now, so we got a lot of responses.


Part of the magic of cinema is getting to go to space, getting to run for your life. And if we can get past ourselves a little bit and connect to that sensation, it helps us receive an idea that’s valuable. - David Bruckner


We looked far and wide to find those kids, and to put together something that looks believable. We wanted this to look as authentic on screen as possible. Then we took field trips to certain clubs where people hook up and stuff; that’s not really part of my own personal experience at this point in my life at all.

So we all went, had some beers, and got the guys talking in their own dialogue and started some inside jokes between them, and then went back and wrote a lot of that into the script. We used it as improve to hopefully put on camera. There’s a lot of banter they have that if you wrote that, it’d just be awkward. It has to just kind of occur, but you have to cultivate it, punch it, and treat it just right so it works in front of the camera, and doesn’t feel completely aimless.

They convey a lot of through laughing. It’s that kind of loud, obnoxious laughing that could piss people off in public.
Well, it’s interesting to me, too, because some people think they’re over the top. I don’t think they’re over the top at all—I think people are that big, first of all, especially when they drink. Honestly, looking at it, and not to compare it to this, but I feel like it’s channeling John Cassavettes’ Husbands, where there’s this constant, laughing banter and the joke never ends. Somebody’s just hanging onto the humor of the situation because that’s the only way they can understand it. That’s what the character of Patrick, on the couch, seems to be doing, and that’s actually the actor Joe’s laugh—he tends to be that enthusiastic in life. Not about filming girls without their knowledge. [Laughs.]. We had to reroute his brain into despicable and set him loose.

Did you stick to the original script a lot, or was it more about improv?
We knew what the emotional terms needed to be scene to scene, but we didn’t necessarily know we’d get from one to the next, so we just created these moments and named them. Like, “Here’s a scene about the strange girl trying to get information; our camera guy trying to check on her to see if she’s OK and simultaneously there’s this guy who’s laughing at her.” We just tried to come up with these simple dramatic scenarios and then we’d rehearse them, play, and improve and then tape it. A lot of those discoveries become tools you use in the moment, but, yeah, it’s definitely in the moment that we’re finding our way to the actual dialogue.

Sometimes what’s on camera is the first or second take, and sometimes it’s literally the 25th take. We just rolled and rolled and rolled until they were exhausted, because the more tired they got the more drunk they looked.

Was it a tough shoot?
We shot “Amateur Night” in five days. And it was tough; it was a tough shoot, because there were so many practical effects, and so many crazy set-ups. We had a cable pull, and lighting changes, and trying to match the cameras. Not to mention, the actors, Hannah Fierman, for instance, had to do these extraordinary things, so we had to keep presence of mind with that along with the entire production schedule. But it was fun. It was the most fun I’ve ever had making a movie.

Speaking of Hannah Fierman, she's a knockout as Lily, the demon-girl. Did she inform what character became, or did you know what you were looking for all along?
We didn’t really know what we were looking for; we knew what we were making could come off really, really bad if we didn’t do it right. It’s funny, when you do a casting call and you ask people to come and play a demon, you get a lot of strange responses. [Laughs.] They try to be spooky or they try to be scary, because they intuit that the script is scary, or they intuit that there’s a sexual component and they try to be seductive.

Off the top of someone’s head that tends to be cliché, but one of the things I love about Hannah is that she understood, coming through the door, that I need a relatable place to come to with this or else it’s going to be nonsense on screen. I had some ideas about that, and together we collaborated and came up with the idea that she’s really a foreign exchange student, to us—that’s how we approached it. She’s a person from somewhere else who doesn’t understand our customs and has an amazing attraction to this one guy. It’s really just trying to pick up, from the absurdity of the situation, on these little context clues, to do what she thinks he wants her to do, but he’s so fucking indecisive that he ends up mixing the whole thing, and putting her in an awkward situation, and then whole thing goes bad.

Because you’re doing a short, and we don’t have to explain her back-story and it wouldn’t service the piece to do that, we just were able to run with that. The audience gets all these little behaviors from her, they ask a lot of questions about that, and everyone gets a different experience from it. It’s great, because I think that makes her spooky simply because we don’t know where she’s coming from, and she has these weird behaviors. But if she were tryingto be spooky, it’d be so lame.

I've seen V/H/S two times now, and the second viewing was when I noticed that the demon-girl's forehead vein gradually grows bigger and bigger throughout the segment. It's a really clever touch.
Yeah, we wanted to do something… I think everybody always expects a twist when they watch a short-form horror piece like this, and we wanted to play against that—we wanted to run on dramatic irony. So it’s more like, the movie very clearly tells you that there’s something up with the girl, and if these guys were a little bit more sober they would get it. [Laughs.] There’s just something funny about watching people make bad decisions after bad decisions. But it was fun to slowly reveal what she would eventually become.

Anthologies always seem to have a very visceral first segment. "Amateur Night" carries on that tradition very well.
I think it’s the perfect order for this film; I wouldn’t change anything. I was very happy to see that “Amateur Night” was first. I think it made sense to start off with something that’s kind of outlandish at the top. There are far more nuanced, subtle pieces that live better once you’re in. I also think it’s really great to end the way it ends, and the Radio Silence piece is just fantastic. Having seen the film eight times now, or something, I’ve really come to appreciate just living inside the whole thing.

There's a resurgence of horror anthologies lately, from last year's Little Deaths and The Theater Bizarre to V/H/S and next year's The ABC's of Death. But V/H/S seems the most in-tune with current times, due to the found-footage approach. Do you think that style serves the anthology format better than the traditional style of filmmaking?
When I first heard about the idea, I kind of jumped up in my seat a little bit, because part of what is so enjoyable to me about found-footage movies is that first-person entry point. As smart as I want to be about movies, especially with all my friends, to some degree there’s that side of myself that just wants to get as close to the edge of the cliff as possible. I just want to get back inside the movie; I just want to have that experience of doing something I don’t get to do in real-life. So many moments in found-footage movies have given me that, but I don’t always need the long, slow build to deliver that to me.

There’s something that made sense about an anthology format where you can just leap in and out of these experiences; they’re not disposable, but they can be digested quickly. They don’t need emotional investment to get in and out of each of them; they’re so viscerally impactful on a surface level that they can grab you, shake you around, and spit you out the other side. That just made a lot sense to me. I would continue to watch found-footage anthology movies.

I guess the other thing, too, is I don’t take the found-footage thing too seriously. For me, I don’t need the legitimate handshake between audience and filmmaker that says, “OK, these tapes were discovered,” and, “This is based on a true story.” You don’t necessarily have to be all that true to it; it’s just this kind of fun, new style. It’s not the end of cinema. It’s something that will be incorporated into everything in its own way, eventually—I really believe that. I don’t need to legitimize it, necessarily, with a long build-up. Of course, there are some fantastic feature-length found-footage movies, don’t get me wrong. But it just felt like a good time for this, and I also thought it would just be a really fun night at the movies.

"Second Honeymoon" (Directed by Ti West)

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After the visceral insanity of David Bruckner's "Amateur Night," it makes perfect sense to slow things down a bit, and you're not going to find many independent horror filmmakers who are better than Ti West when it comes to patient, dread-building storytelling. Between his early 2012 supernatural horror-comedy The Innkeepers and 2009's critically acclaimed, satanic '80s throwback The House of the Devil, the 32-year-old writer-director has established a formidable reputation as a champion of pacing; "Second Honeymoon," his sneak attack of a V/H/S segment, keeps his modus operandi firmly intact.

With a videocamera in hand, a young married woman (Sophia Takal) is documenting the road trip she's taking with her hubby (fellow V/H/S director Joe Swanberg) throughout the Grand Canyon area, Flagstaff, Arizona. After a day's worth of sightseeing, mingling with donkeys, and having their fortunes read by a robotic, pay-to-guide teller, the couple gets ready for bed inside a hotel room when, suddenly, there's a knock at their door. Opening the door, the husband sees an off-putting woman pacing around the parking lot, wearing a mask and a black hoody. Needless to say, the couple's vacation has taken a dark turn, one whose bleakness increases as it progresses toward a gruesome climax.

More so than the rest of V/H/S, which favors supernatural antagonists and fantastical horrors, "Second Honeymoon" remains grounded in a stark realism—in one key moment, there's almost a "snuff film" quality to it. Interestingly, as West points out here, that was by an early design that, as the other segments followed in his own's wake, morphed into something else entirely once the film was finally assembled.

You were the first person involved after the wraparound shot. Did you see that as an advantage or a disadvantage?
Ti West: Yeah, after Adam’s wraparound, I was the first. I didn’t think much of it at the time; now, I think it definitely informed the movie I made. If I had gone last, I might have made something that was more in-your-face or outrageous, had I seen the other ones.

Going first, the idea I came up with a very based-in-reality, found-footage snuff film sort of vibe, and if I had seen what everyone else did, maybe I would have thought of something different. I don’t know. It’s not as much an issue of it being an advantage or a disadvantage as it just informed the idea that I had.

For you, was the idea was less about it being this subversion of found-footage and more about getting to work with friends on a road trip film?
West: Yeah, and some of my favorite movies are verite documentaries, so making a movie in this style doesn’t bother me at all; I actually really enjoyed it. I don’t really mind movies that are made in this way—I get frustrated with the ones that are trying to represent themselves as something they’re not, where they’re like, “These tapes were discovered and on them is…” They’re trying to represent themselves as something real, and I think that’s condescending to an audience. It’s not real, stop lying and pretending that it’s real. Just the style in general doesn’t bother me at all. I looked at it as something where I got to go out with people I like hanging out with and making a weird documentary. So it was fine for me.

Where did the initial idea for "Second Honeymoon" come from?
West: I had gone on a road trip… They asked me to be a part of it, and I didn’t say “No,” but I did say, “Well, probably not,” because I didn’t know if I wanted to be part of an anthology. And then I went on this trip and I started thinking about if I could come up with any ideas, and I couldn’t come up with anything. Then, I realized that the trip was the idea. So when I came back and pitched them that and they said, “OK.” A month later, I had flown Joe, Sophia, and Kate to LA and we rented a car and went back on the exact same trip and recreated it with them. It really was that vacation that informed the whole thing.

What was it about the scenery of Flagstaff that made you think it’d be good for a film?
West: It’s just a really interesting part of the country. It doesn’t feel like anywhere else. There’s also a lot of weird, creepy hitchhikers and there’s this meth problem. The Southwest is really strange. The Grand Canyon is this really amazing area, and then there’s Flagstaff and Williamson, Arizona; there’s this really tourist-y yet creepy vibe about that area that’s just really appealing to me. I really like that part of the country. It was about exposing the threat of being on a road trip, feeling like you’re sort of out there alone, and people could be following you.

How long was the shoot/trip?
West: It was only about four days; we drove out on a Thursday and came back on a Sunday. We would drive and I would say, “OK, there’s this gas station that we’re going to stop at in a little bit to get gas and I want to shoot a scene there.” So we would pull over, get gas, and I would shoot a scene there and then we’d go.

Then I’d say, “There’s this little town I want to stop at off Route 66, and I want to shoot some stuff with you guys talking about this there,” and that’s how it went along the way. I had it mapped out. I remembered the trip enough to where I wrote the movie outline before we left, and all the actors read it. The outline was very specific except for dialogue. We’d do a scene a couple times, and then we’d go out, get some dinner, and do some karaoke.

Joe Swanberg: My feeling is that, as much as possible, that's how a movie should feel for the crew and the cast. It should feel like everybody's at summer camp; you have a job to do, of course, and everybody should be professional, but as soon as the cameras stop rolling for the day, I feel like the best movie sets are the ones where everyone says, "OK, so where are we drinking now?" [Laughs.] Ti's segment definitely had that awesome feeling.

Ti, was this your first experience working without a firm script and without specific dialogue?
West: Yeah. I mean, I’ve written very specific dialogue for all my movies but I’m not particularly married to any of it. So the idea of going off the page doesn’t bother me at all. But that was also because I knew who I was going to cast here and I knew that they could do it very well, so I wasn’t concerned about it.

The most interesting scene in "Second Honeymoon," for me, is the run-in with the mechanical fortune teller. The fortune that's given to the couple very slyly and shrewdly lays out the segment's entire plot, which becomes clear once the segment ends. What made you decide to include that?
West: I had seen them along the trip, and I thought, Oh, maybe something like that could work in the film, who knows. The fact that the fortune came out the way that it did was just a happy accident. When they came back in having shot that scene, they were like, “Dude, wait until you see this!” And then they played me the footage, and the card basically outlines the entire fucking story. [Laughs.] That was just a total bonus. It was just dead-on.

Swanberg: Yeah, it was crazy. Sophia and I had this really crazy moment when we were shooting that scene, where she pulled the fortune out and read it, and we were both like, "Whoa, man… That is nuts!" That was one of those really happy accidents where we felt like the universe was really giving us some golden material for the movie. Even as she was reading it and I was holding the camera, part of me, as an actor, switched off, and I was thinking as she was reading that, "Wow, man, this is so perfect! This is going to be amazing!" It was one of those things where everyone knew that something crazy had happened.

What would have happened if the fortune had said something completely different?
West: It was one of those things where… That scene would not have been important enough to be in the movie had it said something else. I would have been like, “Eh, that scene’s cool but we don’t really need it.” We shot a bunch of scenes like that. We shot some really cool stuff out in the desert, some really groovy stuff that was just cool but it was stuff I couldn’t justify keeping in a 20-minute segment. It was just some weird Route 66 stuff, whereas the fortune-teller was actually describing the plot, which was kind of interesting. It was pretty amazing.

The mask worn by the stalker has a really cheap, store-bought feel that makes it seem very familiar, but also creepy. Was that the intention?
West: The mask actually has a really crazy back-story. When I had seen a little bit of the footage they had shot for the wraparound, there was a scene in the wraparound that featured the mask. So I was like, “Who has the mask?” Simon had it, so I was like, “Let me use it, I’ll incorporate it into my segment so that it’s connected to the wraparound,” and everyone was like, “That’s great.” I go and we use the mask and it’s connected to this secret society of people who have these tapes, and it’s gonna be all connected and it’s gonna make sense, and then they cut that out from the wraparound. [Laughs.]

So now she’s just wearing a scary mask, and it doesn’t have the value that it was initially supposed to have. Originally there was a scene where someone, I think, went to buy the tapes, or, no, wherever the tapes were being held, a person goes in there and kills the person, takes the tapes, and is wearing that mask. So my idea was the killer in my segment was connected to the people who took these tapes.

Does that bother you at all?
West: No, it’s fine. The mask serves two purposes: One, to connect to that story, and, two, to conceal her face. And it still does the latter. It’s not an issue where it has no value now—it just doesn’t have two values.

Why weren't you initially interested in participating in an anthology movie?
West: I don’t know. They all have moments, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that on a whole is really great. That’s because they’re all over the place. I really enjoy anthologies as a TV thing; like, Tales from the Crypt, I think, is the most successful example, where every week you’re going to get a different type of story that’s presented by someone who’s connecting them all together.

In movies, it’s tricky; in Creepshow, there are parts that I like and there are parts I don’t like. I think it works better on TV than it does in movies. By nature, they’re all over the place, so, on one hand, it’s great because there’s something for everybody, and on the other hand you’re probably gonna like one more than you like the other one. But I think V/H/S falls less into those traps than the other ones do.

The film’s go-for-broke, punk rock mentality seems to help V/H/S suffer from that problem less, since it’s quite obvious that the film was made with any anything-goes mentality—it actually benefits the movie.
West :I agree. In a more formal structure, it’s trickier. Because of the punk rock nature of this movie, it doesn’t suffer from the problems that anthologies normally do.


"Tuesday the 17th" (Directed by Glenn McQuaid)

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Throughout its two-hour running time, V/H/S hits upon a variety of horror templates, from the demons to aliens and a very haunted house. "Tuesday the 17th," written and directed by Irish filmmaker Glenn McQuaid, covers a horror subgenre that's near and dear to fans of characters like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers and Italian directors like Mario Bava: the slasher movie.

Embracing the slasher's most familiar elements, McQuaid's segments follows four youngsters who drive out to a lake in the woods for some swimming, pot-smoking, and, possibly, sex. Although, one member of the group, dark and edgy chick Wendy (Norma C. Quinones), has her own secret agenda, the byproduct of a previous experience inside the woods where, a year prior, several of her friends were butchered by a masked killer who can only be seen through a camera's lens. To say that Wendy quickly feels deja vu would be putting things lightly.

Rather than simply off his characters and call it a day, McQuaid uses the found-footage format to his advantage in "Tuesday the 17th," giving the camera a reason for being that goes beyond providing vicarious first-person thrills. The segment also winks hard at both the popular American slasher flicks of the '80s and more obscure, though superior, Italy-made gems like Torso (1973) and Blood and Black Lace (1964).

It's sharp left directorial turn for McQuaid, whose previous movie, the 2008 period horror comedy I Sell the Dead (starring Dominic Monaghan and Ron Perlman), has much more in common with old Hammer horror films than it does Friday the 13th. Allow McQuaid to explain the joys and challenges of dabbling in both the found-footage and slasher worlds for the first time.

Originally, you had a much different idea for your segment, right?
Yeah, I had written this almost spoof, or a play on a lost television series. I’d recently been looking at a bunch of TV shows from the ’70s, one of them being Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of, which every week was Leonard Nimoy investigating some kind of weird mythology, like the Yeti. My piece was sort of a play on a lost episode of a show like that, where the presenter is investigating a bunch of strange children with ESP, and they start to get into his head, and throughout the course of the show he unravels. Roxanne and Brad liked the piece, but I think they were really looking for a slasher segment. So they got back to me and asked if I could send any ideas in the slasher genre.

For me, the only kinds of slasher films I really love are truly of the ’80s, like Friday the 13th and The Burning and stuff like that, so I just started riffing on those pieces.

Had you ever thought about making a slasher movie prior to conceiving "Tuesday the 17th"?
I’m certainly a big fan of things like Halloween and Friday the 13th, but I don’t think previously I would have been interested in investing the time and energy and money into doing a modern take on that. The last slasher that I loved was Jason Lives [Friday the 13th Part VI, 1986], and I think everything after that has been too self-referential to the horror industry that I’ve been kind of turned off. So it was nice to step in and do something that’s a shorter shock version of that.

But I never say never to anything, you know? I Sell the Dead was definitely my own aesthetic, in a way; I’m really drawn to period pieces and creating different worlds and universes, and certainly horror-comedies are big for me, so that’s definitely more my speed. But it was nice to break out of my own pattern, in a way, and get into both slasher films and found-footage, because found-footage is something I’d never investigated prior.

Your segment finds this clever way of working the camera itself into the slasher movie motif—the camera becomes a weapon, in a way.
It was a long process. I initially wrote a pretty much straight-up slasher, but as we approached production I was getting more and more concerned that I wasn’t doing something that we hadn’t seen before. So I did a lot of research on the types of silhouettes you get from the various killers, like Jason and Freddy and going back to films like Blood and Black Lace and Torso.

I knew I wanted to show something different; I didn’t know the extent of the post digital and visual effects we’d end up using. I knew, to a certain extent, that we would really be messing up that character with video scan-lines, but it really wasn’t until post-production when myself and my visual effects guy, Neil Jonas, got together and came up with that look. It was basically born out of a desire to keep things ambiguous and show what the killer does rather than actually show the killer.

It's funny that you mentioned Torso; that's the first slasher movie I thought about once the killer popped up in "Tuesday the 17th."
If you were on set, that’s pretty much what the killer looked like. [Laughs.] Again, we knew that we’d scramble him up, but I’m a huge Italian horror movie fan… I’m actually a huge Mario Bava fan, so Blood and Black Lace was probably key to the killer’s look on set. It was nice to get back to those movies and reference that kind of style.

The character of Wendy’s purpose for going back and being there allows for a justifiable use of the camera, which is typically an issue in found-footage movies. Was that intentional on your part?
Yeah, and I think, also, one of the briefs that I set out for myself was to take the kind of stereotypical characters you’ll find in those ’80s slashers, like the Goth revenge girl and the cheerleader and the jock and the nerd. I knew that I wanted to have her return to the scene of something that happened prior.


The last slasher that I loved was Jason Lives [Friday the 13th Part VI], and I think everything after that has been too self-referential to the horror industry. - Glenn McQuaid


Well, I guess I also wanted to keep things a little bit ambiguous, too. I didn’t want to spell out what they were actually seeing in real life. Are they just seeing the effects of what this presence did? And is the camera just picking up a hint of what’s going on? I just wanted to keep the audience guessing somewhat, to what’s really going on.

Where did you shoot the segment?
I shot it in the Catskills, very close to Woodstock. I have a friend with a farm up there, so we went and shot up there—actually, it’s [independent horror producer extraordinaire] Larry Fessenden. We shot on his land.

How long was the shoot?
I believe it was three days initially, and when I got back and looked at all of my footage, I wasn’t that pleased. It was pretty… I don’t think I’d let loose enough with the idea that this is supposed to feel as real and authentic as possible. I think I had a bit too much comedy, so I went back up for another day-and-a-half after that with my actors, and we work-shopped and improv-ed everything. Most of what’s in there in the movie is actually the actors improvising everything. For instance, the first scene in the car, I wasn’t around for that; I just gave them the camera, got them into the car, and told them to go around for a spin. I didn’t see that footage until I was in the edit. I guess, all in all, it was close to four days.

Did that happen organically?
Yeah, I think initially I was hesitant to throw out the script and really find that kind of improv and workshop way of working. All in all, it ended up being a great process and a great journey, because by the time we did go back up and reshoot everything, everyone had their characters down, and we basically treated those first days of shooting as a kind of workshop and that we were going back again to do it in a much looser style.

Whenever the killer shows up, the sound design takes not this static-y, off-kilter, and unnerving quality. It's very effective. How much thought went into the sound?
My sound designer, Doug Johnson, and I had a lot of fun. I’m a huge music fan, and it was kind of a thrill to be able to pump in a bunch of hardcore noise into the edit. I was listening to black metal and Japanese noise music. It was cool and kind of a cheat, because in found-footage you’re not supposed to use any kind of music, and with this we got away with it because it’s just noise. [Laughs.] It was pretty fun in the edit; we put a mixtape together with a bunch of insane noise artists from around the world. Then, when Doug and I got together, it was really fun to come up with these kind of drilling sounds and mixing them with low-end and high-end hisses, as opposed to just white noise, because you’ll hear that all the time.

There’s a new wave of horror anthologies happening at the moment. Why do you think the format is trendy again?
I love anthologies. I’m a huge anthology fan, and I’d actually been bummed out that it seemed that they were dead for awhile. Four years ago, if you would have approached anyone with an anthology idea, which I have, they were just shaking their heads and telling you that it wouldn’t work. Even a great anthology like Trick ‘r Treat, I don’t understand why that wasn’t more successful; I really feel that should have been number one at the box office.

I think what V/H/S does is this simple idea of mixing found-footage and anthology together, and it completely modernizes the concept, similarly to The ABC’s of Death, though I haven’t seen that yet. It adds in this extra hook, and it makes them somewhat contemporary.

My favorite anthologies are things that are probably somewhat dated now, like Creepshow and even all the way back to Dead of Night. I’m hugely keen to get more anthology work off the ground; I’d love to get an anthology feature off the ground for myself. Even my first feature, I Sell the Dead, was basically an anthology movie but just with the same protagonist throughout. The horror genre really lends itself well to short fiction and collections of work, whether it’s in book form or comic book or film. In a movie, there’s just something thrilling knowing that in 15 minutes something else was coming to freak you out. [Laughs.]

What's great about V/H/S and the shorter, fast-moving segments is that it eliminates the need to spend the first 45 minutes of a found-footage movie giving exposition and setting everything up. Here, you can get right to the point one each segment.
I think it answered that problem pretty quickly. Just by definition, all of the segments have to hit the ground running. I think the people at The Collective did a great job—I have to credit the success of the movie to them. It could have been a complete mess. I think they hired all the right people and guided them just so. It was really in the hands of the producers to guide everyone and make sure the collection works as a whole.

V/H/S has a real punk rock energy and feel. Were you aware of that renegade vibe all along?
I certainly felt no restrictions from the producers at all. When I became involved, the only other people I knew were involved were Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, and I kind of sensed a lot of that DIY, punk aesthetic from their work, anyway. I guess I felt I was going into something… It was really, really refreshing to step out of a world where you’re waiting for notes or approval on a project. It was really inspiring and vital to be able to just go and make something.

Truthfully, as a filmmaker, you spend so much time off-set trying to get things done, and the last four years I’ve dealt with film boards and producers and I’ve seen a lot of producers not see the light of day, so working on something like this really did wonders for my confidence as a filmmaker.

I’ve become a huge fan of found-footage, not just because it can perceivably be a cheaper way of getting something out there, but because, in its own right, it’s actually a cool subgenre with a set of rules that you can break or bend. 

"The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She was Younger" (Directed by Joe Swanberg)

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When assembling a team of filmmakers for a balls-out, hardcore horror anthology, the name Joe Swanberg isn't one that would every pop up in producers' conversations. Anyone who's familiar with the Detroit native's work knows exactly why, but for the uninitiated, take a look at some of Swanberg's movie plots: a 40-year-old animator falls in love with a younger woman over the Internet (Uncle Kent, 2011); two sisters get involved in a love triangle with a handsome actor (Alexander the Last, 2009); and three college graduates deal with love and infatuation over various forms of technological connection, including a cell phone and a computer (LOL, 2006). See, not exactly the stuff of Fangoria pages.

But for V/H/S producer and co-writer Simon Barrett, Swanberg's ability to tell stripped-down, intimate stories about relationships was a perfect fit to direct the Barrett-penned segment "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger"; not to mention, Swanberg's history with online plot devices worked perfectly for the Skype presentation of "Emily." With her medical school student boyfriend, James (Daniel Kaufman), constantly offering support her via webcam, from hundreds of miles away, sweet-natured Emily (the gifted Helen Rogers) contends against what she thinks to be little kiddie ghosts; as "Emily" builds toward its wacko climax, though, the true nature of her apartment's intruders comes to light, and Barrett really swings for the fences with his unpredictably multilayered, and nonetheless intriguing, script.

Read on to, in the words of both Barrett and Swanberg, learn the real-life origins of "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She was Younger," the dramatic narrative devices inherent to Skype, and how Swanberg's non-horror background worked to his advantage.

Simon, where did the initial idea to go with the Skype technology come from?
Simon Barrett: Brad came to me, and I don't want to spoil anything about the segment, and he had this one kind of supernatural idea, and I couldn't think of any way to tell that story except to do it as a haunted house style thing. I had just gotten out of a long distance relationship where I had spent a lot of time talking to my girlfriend on Skype; she lived in New York and I was in Los Angeles, and we were together for six years.

It wasn't really any one incident or anything; it was just the idea of when someone's upset and you can't be there for them. Again, kind of going back to the challenge of found-footage, it's the way that the format limits the viewer's experience to the experience the characters are having, and how that can be more scary and more intense. That just hit me as a great way to do a relationship-horror kind of thing, where the characters are in two different places and one of them is in peril and the other person can watch but can't do anything else. And obviously we took that in a more comic, dry direction, which tends to be how I write anyway.

Joe Swanberg: Being in a long-distance relationship is difficult anyway, but when you're in a long-distance relationship and the person you're with needs help, it feels terrible. You definitely feel like you can't be there for them in that way. So it definitely increases that uncomfortable horror aspect. But, also, Skype is such a common piece of technology; automatically it's scary because as soon as it comes up on screen, you think, Oh, this looks like something I do all the time. Unlike going into the woods with your friends, right? Glenn McQuaid's segment is really playing on this cool horror tradition, and it's really fun in that way, but my Skype segment is playing on this new technology thing.

Though, there's that old ghost story, horror story about the babysitter who's getting prank phone-calls and then she calls the police and they figure out that the phone-calls are coming from within the house. The Skype segment is sort of playing on that, which I think is really cool. It's harkening back to a traditional horror story but with a cool, new technology spin.

This segment sticks closer to its actual script than the rest of the segments, right?
Barrett: That was kind of a funny thing. There was a script for the wraparound, but I don't think there's a single line of dialogue from it in the finished movie. Our idea was, This is what this is, and then Adam worked with the actors on some improvisation, which I think, you know, was a really cool thing. When you're doing found-footage, improvisational dialogue really lends itself well to that format, because you get the real, authentic, spontaneous "Umms," and hesitations and cadence of real, natural speech.

The funny thing is, one of the reasons why we wanted to bring Swanberg onto this project was because he works in an improvisational style; he's never even done a movie with a script before, period. Like, when he does his feature films, he just usually has treatments that he writes and then he works with the actors to come up with not only the dialogue, but the actual story. So we were really excited about that, and I wrote a script, because that's just how I work creatively. I handed it into Joe and I was just like, "OK, here's my script, but I assume this is all going to be improvised," and he was like, "Actually, I want to do it verbatim." [Laughs.] And then I said, "OK, well, then, I need to do a quick polish on that script, so just give it back and don't read it."


Being in a long-distance relationship is difficult anyway, but when you're in a long-distance relationship and the person you're with needs help, it feels terrible. You feel like you can't be there for them. It definitely increases that uncomfortable horror aspect. - Joe Swanberg


For Joe, this was a chance to do a genre film, to work with more-horror guys, working in a different capacity with Adam and I than we all had before; that was all part of the challenge. So then the challenge became to write dialogue that had that feel to it. But ultimately, the actors, Daniel and Helen, did such good naturalistic work that they were able to make that all work.

Roxanne Benjamin: And you guys really championed having Joe onboard. Adam and Simon were leading the charge to get Joe involved.

Barrett: Because he's not a horror guy, but we'd just worked with him on You're Next and we saw that he has… Even though his own films are very artistic and, often, expressionistic, we saw that he this wonderful commercial sensibility also. While Joe makes art films, some of the films he loves the most are, like, Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon. He can talk about those movies for hours and hours.

Adam and I were like, "Look, he's a cool guy, and he's a name director, so he'll bring a lot to the project one way or another." And Adam ended up shooting that segment and helping Joe edit it, so the three of us worked very collaboratively on that segment. But I think it paid off; Joe found those actors and worked with them in a way that I think everyone really responded to.

The segment has a lot of ambiguity; one senses that there's a really deep, strange mythology at work the entire time. It requires multiple viewings, and in that way it's much different from the rest of the segments, which are mostly in-your-face and visceral.
Barrett: That was definitely the intention. There are two things there. One, I wrote the wraparound which is the first thing we filmed, but then I got to write the last thing we filmed, and by that point I realized that the other filmmakers had taken Adam's style from the wraparound and gone even more aggressive with it. I'd realized we had a really chaotic film. [Laughs.] So I said, "OK, the challenge with this one is that I should write something that's pretty stably visually and is grounded."

I had talked to Brad about the initial concept, and I definitely wanted to make that… I feel like that's a tricky thing. When you're creating horror, you want something that feels real, and people will go home and think about it and that will continue to scare them. Stuff that gives you information but doesn't spell everything out for you and insult your intelligence, and that's a really fine line. On one hand, you can just be a pretentious fuckhead and tell a story that doesn't have any actual ground or foundation and it's just a bunch of ambiguous bullshit; but on the other hand, if things are too explained then they can stop being scary. So I really tried with that short write something… It's always weird to me when anyone understands what's that short's about. [Laughs.]

Brad Miska: I also think it's a really, really big idea that tried to be condensed into a 12-minute short.

Barrett: The same with the wraparound, though; both of those things have a deep mythology to them that I could sit here and extrapolate on, but I think it's more fun this way. I think everything that Adam and I have done holds up to repeat viewings, and not just holds up but rewards repeat viewings. Those are our favorite kinds of films, the ones that you can watch again and again and again. I won't flatter myself by saying that the short holds up to too many repeat viewings, but I do like the idea that all the clues are there but it never really connects the ideas for you. And then, like Brad said, it is this ludicrous sci-fi concept ultimately that I also didn't know how to explain it any simple way. [Laughs.] We kind of had to keep it ambiguous to make it feel real.

Miska: [Laughs.] It would've have taken The X-Files three episodes to fully explain something similar.

Joe, what made you want to direct a segment? You're the least genre-savvy of the V/H/S bunch by a long shot.
Swanberg: It's so true, I'm not a horror guy. [Laughs.] I'm definitely the most atypical choice among all the directors involved in this movie, but Simon Barrett really lobbied for me to get to do one, the same with Adam. They talked to the producers, and the producers felt comfortable getting a non-horror person to do one as long as Simon was writing it and Adam was DPing [director of photography] it. So I directed mine in August of last year, so it was a span of a couple months where I went from being an actor to being considered to be a director.

Prior to this, did you ever consider working on a horror project?
Swanberg: I'd say it's definitely influenced by my having worked in some of Adam and Simon's movies, and then being friends with Ti and being around his sets. Yeah, I don't think it's something I ever would have done on my own; it was definitely influenced by being around them, and also just sort of realizing that they were all doing some really interesting things with horror, which made it seem like a world I could bring something cool to rather than just straightforward genre stuff.

Did you see this as a chance to show the world your commercial sensibilities for a change?
Swanberg: Yeah, definitely. I think, like most filmmakers, I came to the movie through bigger Hollywood stuff; I feel like that's everybody's way in. It really wasn't until high school that I started discovering independent films, and it was the independent films that made me want to become a filmmaker, but if you were to look at my list of movies I've gone and seen in the theater this year, it'd be like half indies and half stuff like The Avengers and Batman. [Laughs.]

As I get older and as I make more films, I'm starting to appreciate more and more the skill it takes to make something bigger. That was a lesson that was driven home from acting in You're Next; being on that set and seeing my friends make this movie that's bigger than anything any of us have ever made, with pretty elaborate action set-pieces and all that, I thought, Oh, wow, this is actually something that I don't know how to do as a filmmaker.

I don't know how to make an action sequence, and I've never thought about it. I just started to realize that it's a really difficult, specialized skill-set to obtain. And even if I want to keep making these dramas, it's cool for me to know how to do all that as a director. Getting better at things is really useful and helpful, even if it's not the kind of things I'm typically doing. Like, making a horror film where the objective is to scare people, that's going to make me a better director of everything that I do.

What was your take on the ambiguity of Simon's script after you read it for the first time? Swanberg: Well, Simon wrote this really awesome script. Typically, I direct movies with a lot of improv, so this was the first time where I stuck to the script and basically made pretty much exactly what was written. It was really fun to read his thing, and what I like about it is that it sort of hintsat the world of these characters; you get these little snippets of information, especially at the end, of what's going on, but there's a lot of room to interpret it and bring your own theories.

For me, that is what makes something scary. Something that feels like it could actually happen to you, but something that doesn't totally make sense; it's the same reason why nightmares make sense, because they sort of make sense, and they have some kind of logic to them, but then there's something off about them that keeps you thinking about it.

Simon had the whole world and back-story figured out, to where the stuff that happens in the segment, there are reasons behind all of it, but we really had a fun time choosing what to put in and what to take out so it makes just enough sense but also leaves a lot of mystery.

Once the big reveal happens, the sound design becomes very avant-garde, almost otherworldly. What was the thought process behind that?
Swanberg: Adam and Simon oversaw the sound design of the whole movie at the end, when they put the whole movie together. It was really helpful because they had both worked on my segment, so they really knew how to heighten all that stuff.

And we did a lot of things while we were on set that we incorporated into that sound design, like creating weird echo chambers by putting two laptops facing each other with the microphones turned up and letting there be feedback between them. We kept the Skype session open so that both computers were live between each other, and then we'd make all these noises and let it loop between the Skypes to create these really crazy noises. It was really fun to think about sound design in that way and also utilize aspects of the story in the sound design.

Did you have any prior experience with Skype filmmaking?
Swanberg: Yeah. With a lot of my movies, I've tried to include a lot of technology. This web series that I'd done, called Young American Bodies, I'd done some stuff with Skype in that, but typically I would film computers while people were Skyping. So I did a lot of research before filming our V/H/S segment to figure out the best way to do it, and we talked a lot about different ideas. We talked about building two fake laptop rigs that the actors could carry around but were just cameras and microphones, not actual laptops.

We talked about all different ways to try to fake the Skype thing, but then I started doing a lot of research into the possibility of us actually shooting with Skype. I discovered that screen-capture technology is really good now, so once we made that decision to really use Skype, it liberated us. A laptop is so much easier to deal with than having the actors carry around these big, clunky rigs that we would've built. [Laughs.]

How was the shoot altogether?
Swanberg: I think it was five days. It was a cool shoot, because since we had the laptop and it was actual Skype sessions, we had to choreograph some pretty long takes. It's hard to cut around within Skype. We spent a day just looking at the location and rehearsing and blocking out a lot of the stuff, and then also, the lighting was fun and complicated in a way, because, with the laptops there's kind of a 360-degree view of the world.

It's tough to light in a traditional way, so Adam came up with all these cool ways to use light from the laptop's screen but also compliment it by following her around just out of frame with flashlights and other things to highlight the frame. Because we weren't using actual cameras, and we were using laptops, it was a pretty fun, new experience.

That was a friend's apartment, but we location-scouted between friends' apartments. It was in LA; it was in Century City, I think. Yeah, we also had to find an apartment that had enough room where we could hide Daniel's character, because they had to be on the same Internet connection and all that kind of stuff, so it was tricky. If we had shot in too small a place, you would hear him as she was walking around. [Laughs.] It was a fun challenge to figure out where we could hide Daniel each time so he wouldn't be in the shots.

Have you seen the first Paranormal Activity 4 teaser trailer? It also uses Skype, and looks almost identical to "The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger."
That's so crazy! It's like the exact same shot. You know, I know those guys; I don't know them well, but we have a lot of friends in common in New York. I've met them a couple times. It seems impossible to me that they would have known about V/H/S before coming up with that; it has to be a coincidence. They're probably really bummed out, actually, that V/H/S came first, because when people see that in their movie, it's going to be like, "Oh, weird." [Laughs.]

"10/31/98" (Directed by Radio Silence)

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Shortly after Joe Swanberg's segment concludes, the V/H/S wraparound story, "Tape 56," also reaches its own (bloody) payoff, which, traditionally, would signal the anthology film's end. Fortunately for its viewers, however, V/H/S defies the normal anthology format and saves its craziest, most over-the-top, and, frankly, best segment for last.

Written and directed by the Los Angeles-based quartet known as Radio Silence (comprised of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Justin Martinez, Tyler Gillett, and Chad Villella), "10/31/98" is a haunted house movie on steroids, uppers, and big doses of killer PCP. On Halloween night, four well-meaning friends (played by Bettinelli-Olpin, Villella, Gillett, and Paul Natonek) show up for a house party at the end of a quiet, strangely empty suburban cul-de-sac; finding a back entrance, they search the house for any signs of partying life, eventually heading into the attic where an elaborate exorcism is underway. Only, it's not some make-believe gag being acted out by amateur thespians for the holiday's sake, and once the four costumed, dumbstruck friends try to rescue the shrieking girl before them, the house erupts into a storm of grabbing arms, flying silverware, contracting window-frames, and other components of freaky, brilliantly staged mayhem.

For the Radio Silence guys, who'd never worked on a feature film before V/H/S, "10/31/98" was a natural progression from their 2010 Internet-circulated, found-footage viral short film "Mountain Devil Prank Goes Horribly," the video that first caught the attention of V/H/S producer, and premier Radio Silence advocate, Brad Miska. Given a slightly higher budget and the blessings of the V/H/S crew, Bettinelli-Olpin, Martinez, Gillett, and Villella entered the project in its final months and, pun intended, killed it. Now, it's time to get familiar with them.

In atypical fashion, V/H/S doesn't end with the wraparound's resolution, but, rather, Radio Silence's "10/31/98" segment. What prompted that decision?
Adam Wingard: Whenever we saw the movie all edited, to where the movie was finished and the wraparound was last, at least I had the reaction of the Radio Silence short's ending being such a stronger note. It ends with this explosion of energy, and it was just a better sendoff to the movie. So it became obvious.

Plus, the wraparound had been conceived to work around three or four shorts, but since we ended up with five shorts, it was just another part of the process of how do we make this puzzle work? We watched the film in different orders, and it really gives you a different feeling depending on what order you're watching everything in. Ending with the Radio Silence short gave us the most explosive sendoff of any of those orders.

Brad Miska: And it sort of still does end with the wraparound. That was the whole thing of the end credits being a montage of footage from the wraparound. So it still leaves you with the wraparound. We knew we needed one more short, and it's such a weird process what happened toward the end. Internally, we were discussing whether or not to do one with Bruckner or to do one with Radio Silence, and I had been a big champion of Radio Silence, I'm a big fan of their YouTube stuff, and Gary is a big fan of Bruckner, as am I, but I wanted to go with some unknowns because that's part of the fun for me and Gary wanted to go with someone who was stable and had done something amazing with The Signal.

Ultimately, Gary was super cool about it and said, "Fuck it, let's do both." So it was really awesome. We ended up doing both of those, seeing them, and saying, "Holy shit, these are both really good!" [Laughs.] And then why did we do the alien one?

Simon Barrett: We did it after that. I mean, the thing is, nobody quite knew what we had. Because a few filmmakers had to drop out at the last minute… The funny thing is, first of all, the segments are not shown in the order that they were made, at all. That's not part of it at all. The wraparound and Ti's and Glenn's were shot over a period of about seven months, and then Bruckner's and Radio Silence's and the alien one were all done within a month. [Laughs.] So we just hedged our bets and thought at least one of them would probably be good.

Roxanne Benjamin: And then they were all really good. [Laughs.]

Simon Barrett: At that point, we knew a little more about what the movie was because we had Ti's and Glenn's. For example, when I wrote the Skype segment, I knew what I was riffing on, and so did Radio Silence and David Bruckner and those ended up becoming strong segments because of that. That was more how I think anthology films are traditionally made. [Laughs.] So then we had five shorts instead of three or four, and then Adam said we should end with the Radio Silence short, and then we put together that end credits thing as a way to bookend it in a fun way, to make people leave the theater with a smile on their faces, hopefully.

For the Radio Silence guys, how'd you first get involved with this film?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: They sort of reached out to us. We sent Brad a fake email actually on the “Mountain Devil Prank” video, where we were like, “Hey, dude, this is Rebecca! I found this video and I think you should check it out!” And then he got in touch with us, which we’ve also never told him, by the way. [Laughs.]

We became fast friends with him a couple years. He has been our biggest supporter and advocate. So he got in touch with us when he wanted to do this as a television concept, and then when it turned into a movie he brought us on. He just came to us and was like, “Hey, I shot these things with these other guys—can you guys come and do something?” We pitched him a few ideas and he liked the one that became “10/31/98,” and that was kind of it.

Tyler Gillett: Yeah, he was really aware, having put the whole team together, of what the whole style of films would be, and he knew that they wanted something action-packed with a bit of comedy in it to play somewhere in the mix. Having watched “Mountain Devil” and some of our other stuff, he came to us, thankfully, and asked us to do our thing.

Did the inability to see anyone else's segment before making yours make things difficult for you guys?
Justin Martinez: We saw nobody else’s footage until we did the final sound check, actually. Even concept wise, we knew only, like, a one-liner about what each of the other segments was going to be about. We had no idea.

Gillett: We had a sense of how experimental it was going to be, which was definitely a great springboard for us. We were like, “Oh, shit, OK, we can really push the limits. It can be really dirty and really gritty.” It was clear that other people were taking risks with their stories as well.

Were you given any guidelines?
Gillett: I think the budgets were the same across the board. We were the last to get involved, so I think our timeline was a little bit compressed, because they had some festival submission deadlines. So we moved pretty quick; we didn’t have our location until three days before we shot it. It was a very, very fast pre-production. Soup to nuts, it took five weeks to put our project together, with about five of those days used for shooting. I’m not exactly sure how long other people took.

Martinez: They shot the wraparound segment first, about eight months before us.

The house itself isn't all that different from any house you'd find in any suburban neighborhood, at least from the outside. Was that a house you guys were familiar with already, or did you have to scout locations?
Bettinelli-Olpin: I have a producer-friend who, I think, worked on an episode of The Ghost Whisperer there, and they used the downstairs part of it for one quick scene. She suggested that we check it out. I called the person in charge of the house, and all four of us went out there to do a walk-through, and we found it that way. When we got there, there was nobody there; it was just this creepy old house at the end of a cul-de-sac, right next to a brand new house. So we had to walk around the back to try to find a way in, and there was a hidden key…

Gillett: It was a lot like the short. [Laughs.]

Bettinelli-Olpin: [Laughs.] Yeah. There was a hidden key magnet, and then we walked into the house and “Bohemian Rhapsody” was playing on a phantom radio that we couldn’t find, so we were like, “This house is great! We’re scared as shit right now and we’re just walking through it!” [Laughs.]

Martinez: And every part of that house got used except for one room, so every piece of real estate that’s in the short is pretty much the house.

Gillett: The biggest challenge was finding a place where there was some distance between A to B, so that the search could really feel physically justified, from walking from one room to another and walking down long hallways. We really wanted that to be in one location and we’re so lucky that we found it. The house is in Altadena, it’s east of LA.

Did you write the script before or after finding the house?
Gillett: We had a beat-sheet, we kind of knew the rough ideas. We knew our A to Z, but we just didn’t knew a few others in between. So we walked through the house basically writing the story specifically for the house.

Martinez: We did a long walk-through and literally broke it down shot-for-shot.

Bettinelli-Olpin: And that really allowed us to see the whole thing and how the house was gonna be its own character. We weren’t just playing around inside of it—it was part of the story in a very significant way.

"10/31/98" is full of totally batshit and incredibly impressive visual effects, especially since the budgets were very low. Were the effects difficult to pull off?
Martinez: Technically, the effects felt a little easier than “Mountain Devil,” actually, because it was less 3D stuff involved. But when we were planning it, we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to do the train practical or not, so it had the possibility of being a really complicated visual effects piece.

Gillett: Yeah, I think we always aim to do as less practically as possible, even the visual effects that you see—the dishes that fly at us are really the only 3D element. Everything else is photographed and green-screened in some way, which I think certainly saves time and adds to that sense of realism, where if you break it once you lose your audience. We’re always good about trying to keep the effects as photographic as possible. Also, there’s always a level of improv in the effects that we do. We’ll plan a shot for an effect giving ourselves some room to decide what that effect specifically is when we’re in post. And Justin always does a really great job of conceiving the best things for the shot.

Martinez: For this, we probably had more challenges shooting the green-screen of the guys who had to suspend, basically, in our office and in front of a green screen. [Laughs.] That’s where it really got tough for us.

Do you think the fact that you guys have shot some first-person POV videos in the past gave you an advantage over the other directors for this project?
Gillett: It meant that we’d had the conversations before about justifying the camera and why is it found-footage, many, many times. We learned from our mistakes while shooting “Mountain Devil.” I also think we found a confidence in what we could bring tone-wise to that style, and it was really about, Alright, let’s tell a longer story with our usual action, adventure, comedy, and horror mash-up. So we went in knowing that was achievable. We were really driven to serve that the entire time.

From day one, what’s been the appeal of the first-person style for you guys?
Bettinelli-Olpin: Well, the first time we shot found-footage anything, we didn’t even think about it as found-footage. It was this alien thing, and we just did it because it was what the story required. It was a couple of roommates pranking their other roommate, and we said, “Well, they should just shoot it.” So it kind of just developed naturally. And the other obvious side to that coin is it’s very nice for the budget. [Laughs.] For that alien one, we had a camera that was ten years old, so we just went and shot it.

Gillett: In between shooting the shorter bits that are online, we shot a fair amount of movie-conventional work, so we also really practice and try to become well-versed in that style of filmmaking. With V/H/S, we just really wanted it to feel really gritty and punk rock. The found-footage approach really allowed it to be experimental for us, and that shows. I think the film, as a whole, feels like this really kinetic experiment.

Gillett: The level of trust that was involved in this project has been really inspiring. The fact that they really did just cut six directors loose to do what they wanted to do makes it a really cool experiment.

Was telling a first-person story in a haunted house an idea you guys had prior to V/H/S?
Bettinelli-Olpin:We’d been toying with that idea in a very rudimentary sense. Basically, we’d been like, “Oh, Halloween and exorcism,” and it was just one of the things in the background that we’d been talking about. When Brad came to us with this, it was at the top of our list of three or four ideas we sent him, and that was the one they liked. We really just ran with it from there; it went from whatever it was initially to this crazy thing we shot.

Gillett: And it was kind of great that we didn’t have time to sit around and think about what we were going to do. We literally had a couple weeks to get this thing together, so we went to our list of ideas of things we’ve always wanted to make, that was the one that made for the best fit, and we didn’t question it once.

Amongst all the filmmakers involved in V/H/S, you guys are the only ones who hadn't made a feature film prior, or even had any visibility within or outside the gene community. But, quite impressively, "10/31/98" has been widely hailed as the movie's strongest segment. And I'm not about to disagree. That's definitely something to be proud of.
Bettinelli-Olpin: You have no idea how happy that makes us to hear. We just don’t want to be embarrassed. [Laughs.] I don’t think that was in our heads during the shooting, at that time, it was pretty much just Miska being like, “You guys want to do this?” And us being like, “Sure!” I think it was more after the fact that we said to ourselves, “Oh, shit… I hope we don’t suck and embarrass ourselves in front of all these people we respect.” [Laughs.]

Gillett: I think that naivety allowed us to just go and do our thing and have fun with it, and hopefully that translated.

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