Adam Wingard has made a name for himself by brining a unique directorial voice to films like Pop Skull, A Horrible Way To Die and this year’s sure-to-be breakout hit You’re Next.
As one of the directors of V/H/S – a film that breathes new life into the stagnant found footage genre – he again teams up with writer Simon Barrett to bring unhinged chaotic lunacy to the film’s wraparound piece.
In the film, “When a group of misfits is hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for.”
“Yeah. Well, first and foremost, we both really like home invasion movies. The genesis of it was the fact that the only movies we were really responding to as being interesting and scary to us were home invasion movies. The Strangers, Them and Inside. We wanted to try and do our version of that. That’s how I approached Simon. At the beginning of each one of our projects Simon and I both agree on what type of movie we want to make and then Simon goes off and does his own thing. So I told him I wanted to do a home invasion movie, thinking he was going to write a story that was going to be a lot easier to do than A Horrible Way To Die. But Simon ended up taking a totally different approach, which was the correct way to go. And that was him deconstructing what we had seen before and going about it in a different way.”
I heard it was a difficult shoot. Simon says he could barely eat for a couple of weeks after getting back to LA.
“For me, I had a really bad toothache. While we were shooting the pain was so consistent that I couldn’t get to sleep and all the good dentists in Columbia were out of town for spring break. Simon’s mom had a terminally ill dog that was taking these dog tranquilizers up until it died so she had like 200 of these low level codeine tablets that I took before bed. While we shot I was eating tons of Tylenol. I would take about seven ibuprofen at a time every few hours. At the start of the production I wondered if it was even going to be possible to keep my head together despite the constant pain. Ultimately I discovered that pain has a way of focussing the mind. It’s not pleasant but I didn’t have any other choice.”
How was the process different from A Horrible Way To Die?
“A lot of the things in the film are things I’ve never seen before. So there really wasn’t a reference point cinematically. And plus I was also stepping out of the bounds of my usual comfort zone as a director. I was doing things in a more conventional cinematic fashion whereas before I would always err on the side of going the experimental route. With this one I wanted to do something that a mainstream audience could really relate to. It was the challenge of taking a relatively low budget film and trying to make it a real film that could play in theaters.”
The styles are radically different.
“On A Horrible Way To Die the style was really influenced by making the film within the budgetary constraints. And at the end of the day I saw there were complaints about some of the camera work in A Horrible Way To Die.”
I liked it.
“Yeah, I don’t know how we would have made the film without it and I think it’s appropriate for the film. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t just do that same thing again. If it’s turning off that amount of people, then you try something else to get everyone onboard with the story. I wanted to take a backseat on You’re Next and just allow the story to play out.”
On V/H/S you did the wraparound segment. If you were going for a more formal cinematic look on You’re Next, then V/H/S is certainly the opposite of that.
“We actually started on V/H/S a few months before we started on You’re Next. With this project, I’m not super into found footage movies, which I think is true of almost everyone on the project. So the main point I felt was interesting in doing one was being able to explore the concept of using consumer video and really glitchy video to the movie’s benefit. I liked the idea of combining a lot of impossible, sometimes supernatural things, with a really lo-fi video aesthetic. We’re used to seeing home video shot on [expensive cameras]. I wanted to see something on straight-up VHS, where the cassette is actually in the camera. And we used Simon’s VHS camera from the mid-90’s, which was the exact same type and brand as the camera I used as a kid. These characters don’t know anything about filmmaking and I wanted to capture the beauty in that. Ultimately it adds to the eeriness of the whole piece.”
Do you have to do any sort of post-production up-rezzing of it to display coherently on a large screen?
“Not really. It had to be kind of cut off, because we shot it in actual 4:3. So I knew we would be zooming in on the image. But it didn’t look too degraded. Because it’s supposed to be lo-fi you really can’t degrade it enough. The worse it looks, the better it looks. Something about the sketchiness of VHS is creepy to me.”
“But if I can back up for a second, the whole thing about found footage movies that I hate is they always end up so you spend the first half of the film waiting for things to happen. And then interesting things only happen after they set up some sort of reality. We wanted to make something very fast paced.”
I want to talk really quickly about your ABC’s Of Death short. I kept seeing a duck in those tweets.
“We had the letter ‘Q’. It’s called “Quack”. Going back to the early 2000’s one of the ways I got into filmmaking was going into these 48 hour film festival competitions where you have like 48 hours to make a film. They all have their own rules and things you have to keep in your short, which increases the challenge. So there aren’t a lot of words that even start with the letter ‘Q” which limited us. We let the letter itself really guide us and we sort of made a movie about making our ABC’s Of Death short.”
How many requests did you get to not kill the duck?
“We got a lot. It will be fun to see how uncomfortable this makes people. With that said the short is pretty much good natured and fun.”
V/H/S premieres at the Sundance Film Festival as part of their Midnight Programming On January 22nd.