Adam Wingard in"V/H/S/2"

Adam Wingard in”V/H/S/2″

For a genre that is arguably more competitive and, at times, more spiteful than other comparable categories of cinema, Horror has become a shockingly symbiotic world of its own. As certain filmmakers have relied on grudges and resentment to carve out their careers, other filmmakers have devoted themselves to establishing a community with their contemporaries, no matter what successes aim to strike envy into like-minded colleagues. Few people in the horror world have embraced this symbiotic attitude with as much civility and humbleness as Adam Wingard, who, although not afraid to speak his mind, has stood by independent filmmaking even as his film, You’re Next, is evolving into one of the most hotly anticipated studio-released horror films of the summer.

Part workaholic, part master storyteller, Wingard serves up a horrifying appetizer to You’re Next with his segment, “Phase I – Clinical Trials”, in V/H/S/2. And despite being the only director to return from the first film in this unsuspecting franchise, Wingard’s segment fits in perfectly with the new blood in this anthology, helping set the imaginative and ambitious tone of the film with a terrifying first-person perspective into a haunting scenario. In an exclusive one-on-one interview with Diabolique, Wingard enlightens us about short form filmmaking, his favorite found footage films and how his second sinister tape came to be…

Title Card: "V/H/S/2"

Title Card: “V/H/S/2”

DIABOLIQUE: You’re not only the sole returning director on this film, but you’ve also expanded your role to that of an executive producer. What inspired you to continue the V/H/S films as a franchise?

ADAM WINGARD: Well, for me, coming onto V/H/S/2 is related to that I wasn’t necessarily a producer on the first film, even though Simon and I were responsible for doing the wraparound, which then turned into us helping putting the plots together and overseeing the sound mix and making the credits, and all that stuff, so we kind of became producers on the first V/H/S, unofficially. So when it came time to negotiate for V/H/S/2, I was like, “Well, we already did all that stuff on the first one, we’ll just take over it on the second one and that’ll be part of our thing.” I specifically didn’t want to do the wrap-around the second time around, just because it’s kind of a thankless job and there’s only so much appreciation you’re going to get for doing it, and it’s still going to be a lot of work. It just looked like the rest of the directors were having a lot of fun being able to do their own unique segments [on the first V/H/S], so going into this one, I was like, “I actually want to have a good time on this thing.” As far as a third one goes, I’m sure that something is going to happen there. I don’t want to go into details about it or anything, just because I don’t know what capacity that I’m allowed to talk about it right now. But in the case of the third one, I won’t be directing the next time around. I’ll just be on as producer.

DIABOLIQUE: How did V/H/S/2 come together so quickly? Was there any pressure from Magnet Releasing following the success of the first film?

WINGARD: Well, Magnet picked up the first two movies, but they’re not affiliated in terms of financing and all of that stuff. It’s specifically a company called The Collective with Bloody-Disgusting as well. Those are the actual production entities for the project. [Those companies] came to us. Brad Miska, who runs and created Bloody-Disgusting, worked with us on a smaller capacity on a previous film, A Horrible Way to Die, and we’ve known Brad for years. He’s always been a big supporter, starting on one of our first films, Pop Skull. So when it came time for this whole “anthology” thing, I think originally he wanted to do it as a television show. That was his original idea, and Simon talked him into doing it as an anthology feature. And, really, the way that I came onboard was kind of funny, because we had just gotten You’re Next greenlit to shoot in March or April or whenever it was, in 2011, and right around then, at the same time, the V/H/S stuff had come up, and Simon actually had told them, “Yeah, Adam will direct it, I’ll write it, we’ll just do the wraparound thing.” I would have done it anyways,but  I just find it funny that I was volunteered into the whole series. It just came to our relationship with Brad.

Calvin Reeder in "V/H/S"

Calvin Reeder in “V/H/S”

DIABOLIQUE: In V/H/S/2, you get to use futuristic technology in your segment, and in turn, that allows you to use HD cameras for your found footage concept. How did that idea come to you?

WINGARD: Well, when it came time to do the sequel, I really wanted to try to do the something completely opposite of what I’d already done. In the first film, I really wanted to go way above and beyond in terms of doing things authentically. I really liked the idea of a bunch of kids having access to a new camera and a really old camera that would just be at your grandmother’s house or something. So for the old camera, it was really important to me that it would be an old school, VHS camera that we could shoot on VHS and then upload onto a computer to edit or whatever.

So that segment has a really nasty but true found footage feel to it. It’s just really gross looking and real, or at least hopefully it does. So for V/H/S/2, I wanted to go in the complete opposite direction and do something with a little more cinematic feeling. I felt like that was the direction of the series anyways. In V/H/S, it was pretty firmly established that monsters and ghosts and a succubus are just waiting in the dark corners, jumping out at you. So, the mystique of trying to pretend like we were in the Blair Witch world of unseen horror in found footage was kind of over, really.

I knew that the sequel was going to be pretty over-the-top, so in that case, I had more room to be doing something more fantastical. In that sense, I wanted to do something kind of sci-fi with technology that didn’t really exist so that I could try to make it look however I wanted and approach it like that. And I find that whenever we do these found footage things that, more than just the premise itself, is that Simon and I actually start with why [the segment] being filmed, and then develop what is the actual threat or natural danger. So with “Phase I – Clinical Trials”, it was decided like, “Hey, what if we took the POV perspective to a literal place and actually made it somebody’s eyeball?” And then, we kind of took it from there.



DIABOLIQUE: Many of your latest films have had a DIY aesthetic, like A Horrible Way to Die or V/H/S, but you’re also able to pull off some ambitious ideas this way, especially in your V/H/S/2 segments. Do you feel that horror lends itself to financial compromises better than other genres because of the amount of creative freedom you can have? Do you think found footage can be kept fresh this way, despite the poorly received studio efforts as of late?

WINGARD: I’m not sure if this is exactly the right answer, but I think that horror lends itself to really low budget filmmaking. Not because necessarily those are the only low budget movies being made out there, because I guarantee you there are an equal number of low budget dramas and comedies that just don’t have that built-in audience, so they just don’t exist in the same place [as low budget horror]. So a horror film that’s done at a very low budget can be a terribly done film, but if it has certain genre elements that are done at least decently, they can actually still be released. I feel that the world is more aware of bad genre filmmaking, not because genre filmmaking is bad, but just because it can actually get out there as opposed to bad filmmaking that will just disappear because there’s nothing for it to latch on to.

I think the cool thing about found footage is that it allows you to take concepts that have been worn out, or at least seen before, and approach it with a new aesthetic and style, so you’re able to make things fresh again. Paranormal Activity is just a ghost story, really, but it’s done in this unique way, although it’s not saying or doing anything unique in itself, aside from the fact that the approach is different. The cool thing about the V/H/S series is that we take all these kinds of tropes and concepts and say, “How have we not seen this approached before?” And everybody will just run wild with it. And it seems to me that the more interesting way you take on the material, the more people will respond to it, more than even just the material itself.

To me, the turning point was really Cloverfield, more than anything, because beyond all the other found footage stuff that’s come out in the last few years that’s been really successful, I’ve always thought that Cloverfield was the first one to go, “We’re gonna take a big budget concept, but do it from a DIY standpoint.” It really created something fresh and made you realize how stupid that 1998 Godzilla film was. Godzilla ’98 did nothing new or different at all with the concept, and Cloverfield was like a new Godzilla film but done from a unique perspective, and suddenly it’s completely engaging and fresh again. And it doesn’t matter that some of the acting in that film sucks or whatever, or if the writing isn’t perfect, you’re still engaged, or at least I was when I saw it.

DIABOLIQUE: Cloverfield was a really immersive film. It offered a lot of new, cool changes of pace so that it wasn’t just people running from a monster the whole time, and the destruction enhanced the narrative by creating new obstacles and locations for the characters to explore.

WINGARD: And plus, very wisely, it plays on post 9/11 fears where real horror nowadays is presented to us kind of like this low-fi video fashion, as like that’s how we perceive it, so it kind of makes it more real when we see things from that perspective in a horror film. That’s why I think the found footage thing started gaining momentum over the last few years, because that’s how we now perceive horror.

Adam Wingard as himself in "The ABCs of Death"

Adam Wingard as himself in “The ABCs of Death”

DIABOLIQUE: Considering your segment comes entirely through the experiences of your character, I think one of the best aspects of your V/H/S/2 segment comes from the personality you inject into the character. You add a lot of human moments, like freak-outs before encountering what you see. Was it important that you play this character yourself, specifically?

WINGARD: Well, originally, I wanted to get James Rolfe, who plays the Angry Video Game Nerd on his web series. I was a big fan of that. It’s subtly implied that my character is a game designer. I mean, you see me playing a video game in one scene, and presumably I live in this huge house for a reason. It’s supposed to be because I’m a video game designer, but I didn’t want to say it outright or bring it to anybody’s attention. But ultimately, we couldn’t get in touch with James in time to do V/H/S/2. It’s a pain with these things, anyways. It’s not like he’d be on screen; he’d just be over my shoulder anyways while I’d do all the camera work, so it made sense for me to do it as it is, you know.

I’ve had weird supernatural encounters growing up, too. I used to live in this house that was on the grounds of an old cemetery that had Civil War graves and stuff. The house was built in the 1800’s. Basically, it was your classic haunted house, and I actually saw a ghost as a kid, one time. There was one that floated into my room when I was in bed one night, really early in the morning. Another time, I was sitting on the couch and it moved forward a couple of feet when I was in the house all alone. So I knew exactly how I’ve reacted to things in the past, and it’s pretty funny, especially in retrospect, when you think about your reactions to things that don’t make sense. So, specifically, I thought I was uniquely qualified to be in a film where I’m a dipshit and when I’m reacting to ghosts. That’s pretty much who I am.

And you know, in terms of acting, that’s something I haven’t always been interested in doing. But having worked with filmmakers like Joe Swanberg, I would shoot his movies and end up acting in them. So I’ve gotten more comfortable acting over the years, and it’s a good tool to have because sometimes, when you’re in a pinch like with V/H/S/2, it makes sense to act in it and do camerawork because if you’re comfortable doing it, you might as well do it because these movies in general are non-union and so-forth, so you’re kind of limited on who you can cast, anyways. If they’re SAG, you can’t cast them. By-and-large, it’s going to be hard to cast fun, interesting people if they’re not established to a point or in SAG, because it’s not hard to get into SAG. Sometimes, the best route, which we found doing all the mumblecore movies and stuff, is to cast other directors or cast yourself.

DIABOLIQUE: The original V/H/S is growing a strong, loyal cult following thanks to Magnolia/Magnet’s VOD model and its presence on Netflix, especially. What do you think is about that film that’s attracting more and more horror fans, and how do you respond to criticisms over that films tone and individual segment mechanisms?

WINGARD: I’m really happy that V/H/S has picked up and taken off. The funny thing is that nobody could have foreseen it, because it was definitely a project that was created in steps, and we were constantly like, “Well, now it’s THIS movie, and now it’s THIS movie, and now THIS filmmaker is involved,” and so forth. It was progressively changing, so even when we had gotten into Sundance, I don’t think any of us knew how people were going to take it, because we didn’t have time to test it or anything like that. I think it’s really cool, and I think it actually shows that there is a lack of movies being made where filmmakers are trying authentic, new types of work.

I don’t think the first V/H/S is perfect by any standard, especially considering that it’s a two hour long anthology, which is a long time to ask anybody to sit through something like that. But I am glad that it’s making an impression, and it’s definitely the thing that I’ve worked on that the most people have seen. I’m always surprised when I’m taking meetings and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I saw V/H/S,” and I’m like, “Oh, really?” And [the runtime] was the main thing on V/H/S/2 that we wanted to correct. V/H/S/2 is only 90 minutes. The only reason that V/H/S was 2 hours was because, going into it, we didn’t have a real game plan, so at no point was anybody told, “Hey, could you bring the short films under a certain amount of time?” We didn’t know what we were going to end up with, so it was kind of like a scatter shot, and we liked everybody’s stuff, so it just didn’t seem right to cut any segment from the film. So we just ended up with a longer movie and we kind of owned up to that. Ultimately, it did fine anyways, and we were able to try something different the next time around and do something shorter. Specifically, we wanted the shorts to be around 15 minutes for V/H/S/2, with the exception of Gareth and Timo’s epic Indonesian cult movie, “Safe Haven”, which definitely justifies its running time and works.

Adam Wingard, behind-the-scenes of "V/H/S"

Adam Wingard, behind-the-scenes of “V/H/S”

DIABOLIQUE: Since You’re Next has been awaiting release, you’ve worked on a string of short form projects with V/H/S, The ABC’s of Death and now V/H/S/2. Would you like to continue working on short films in between working on features? What appeals to you about short form filmmaking?

WINGARD: When I was in High School, I was at that technological point where you could buy $99.00 editing software, so the first things that I got were programs like Ulead Video Studios Pro. It was this super cheap software that I bought at Home Depot or some office supply store, and I was able to do some crude editing and stuff, so growing up, I had the ability to access and edit my own stuff, so even when I was a kid, I always was making feature length stuff. I made like three feature length martial arts films in my backyard, before I was even in film school. So, in my head, there was no point to even be doing a short film, you know, when I could do a feature, even though it was half-assed.

At the end of the day, I wasn’t even really recognizing that [I was half-assing my feature films], and as soon as I got out of film school, I worked with E.L. Katz. We came out of film school together, and both came from Alabama. He just did a movie called Cheap Thrills that played at South by Southwest. But we got together in Alabama and made this movie called Homesick, and again, it was another feature, but we weren’t really ready to make it. I don’t think we were mature enough to make a movie with any kind of money or a cast or stuff, so there are a lot of problems with that movie. Specifically, as I was doing that film, I was having a hard time communicating with my crew, wrangling my crew and doing things in a timely fashion. I think we were averaging at 8-12 shots a day or set-ups, which is pathetic. So after doing that film, I was like, “This is absurd. I need know when to call people on their bullshit, and the only way I’m going to do that is through personal experience.”

I changed my whole thought process and just focused on these short films. Specifically, I’d do these 48 hour film festivals shorts in Birmingham, Alabama with a bunch of my friends, some of which ended up composing a lot of the music for You’re Next. In doing those shorts, I really learned to figure things out because I wrote, I shot, I edited, I directed and I lit them. Sometimes with assistance, in terms of the lighting and stuff, but I was hands-on with everything. It was only after doing that that I felt ready to do another feature, and in that case, I took on something like Pop Skull, which I was still doing myself. But I always like doing short films because they’re something that taught me through personal experiences that helped me develop a personal taste and style, so I was able to work out certain kinks. I finally got Final Cut, and got that program, and learned via trial and error.

So [short films] have always been a big part of my learning process and even just as entertainment. For the longest time, I didn’t have any money to make movies. I didn’t have access to money, but sometimes, I still wanted to be making stuff. So I’d just borrow some equipment, shoot a short and I was good to go. I still want people to see my stuff, because there’s such a small outlet in terms of what your short is going to do, and that’s the cool thing about being involved in these anthologies. I still make these short films, experiment, try new things and push myself to keep myself entertained with new toys. But at the end of the day, it’s now in a feature film context. So that guarantees that not only are people going to see it, but there might be financial incentives to make them as well, beyond that.

I’m glad you brought up E.L. Katz, considering most of your recent projects have been collaborations with Simon, including You’re Next, V/H/S, V/H/S/2, A Horrible Way to Die and The Guest. Katz had a similar role earlier in your career, and now that he has turned to directing with Cheap Thrills, would you ever consider working with Katz again in the future? Do you guys help out one another still, albeit more discreetly?

WINGARD: Yeah. Even as recently as A Horrible Way to Die, Evan was still listed as associate producer because he helped get some of the casting together. On Cheap Thrills, I helped him out in terms of getting certain crew members, and I took a look at his edit and gave him some small pointers. We’re still working together in that kind of capacity, and [Simon and I] were able to introduce Keith Calder and Jessica Wu, the producers of You’re Next, to Evan. They have a stake in the Drafthouse label, and they were the ones who bought Cheap Thrills. So somewhat inadvertently, we’re kind of working together. Hopefully, we’ll find a project to work on legitimately. In any capacity I can, I’ll help him out. I think, eventually, one of these days we’re going to find something mutually to work on, but I think now Evan wants to focus more as a director. I can’t speak for him, unless as a screenwriter, but who knows? Maybe we’ll both end up on one of these anthology things together at some point.

Official still from Adam Wingard's "You're Next"

Official still from Adam Wingard’s “You’re Next”


DIABOLIQUE: Hypothetically speaking, if there were to be a V/H/S/3, are there any good, innovative directors that you would like to bring on board this time?

WINGARD: I definitely do, in my head. There are definitely a few guys out there who definitely would make amazing found footage short films. But in terms of actually being able to point them out, just because of where we are in the process of where V/H/S/3 is at, I can’t really say. But yeah, totally. If anything, I think the most exciting thing is finding another group or person to do like what Radio Silence did on the first one. Radio Silence was well known on the internet, but in terms of the genre and film world, they didn’t really have an audience. It wasn’t until V/H/S that they were able to branch out and not just be the internet guys, and now they can be initiated into a whole other realm. Hopefully, the V/H/S series will have more types of things like that.

V/H/S/2, which features segments from Wingard, as well as Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Timo Tjahjanto, Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, will be in select theaters from Magnet Releasing this Friday, July 12th, and is currently available for rental on VOD, iTunes, Amazon and other streaming services. For more from Wingard, you can follow him on Twitter: @AdamWingard. Wingard’s  first studio directorial release, You’re Next, will be in theaters August 23rd from Lionsgate, and The ABCs of DeathA Horrible Way to Die and the first V/H/S are available on DVD/Blu-ray and Netflix Instant Streaming. For more from Wingard, You’re Next and Magnet Releasing, as well as our blow-out coverage for V/H/S/2, keep checking back at! And don’t forget to pick up Diabolique #17 later this month, which features more from exclusive comments from Adam Wingard and more on V/H/S/2!

– By Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.