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V/H/S/2 Interview #1: Gregg Hale

With the hotly anticipated anthology horror sequel V/H/S/2 hitting DVD in the UK next week, Cinema Chords caught up with various directors involved. The original film’s series of found footage shorts may have split audiences and critics alike, but the innovative minds behind it felt the need to follow up with a counter jab.

First up was Gregg Hale who co-directed the segment A Ride in the Park with The Blair Witch Project director Eduardo Sanchez.

So what was it that turned your attention to the film industry in general?

In general? Wow. Well I’d say I decided I wanted to do this when I was about 11 when I saw Darth Vader walk through the door of the Rebel Blockade Runner in Star Wars.

Yeah, I guess Star Wars influenced most film-makers along the line.

Yeah, it seems like mostly guys within 5 to 10 years on either side of my age hold Star Wars as a big part of why they got in to film.

Talking of Storm Troopers. Is it true that you were in the army?

Yeah, that’s true. I was in the army for 4 years.

So did that not work out then?

No well basically four years is sort of the standard enlistment period in the United States for people who want to join the army, but don’t want to turn it into a career. I kind of stupidly went in, even though I didn’t have to go to war, to get money for College. For me, wanting to be a film-maker was what kept me from being interested in sticking it out in the army more than I really had to.

Well that’s fair enough and it would seem like a great decision now. Another fact I read about you…can you play drums?

*Laughs* Well I’d say I goof off on drums. I wouldn’t consider myself a drummer, but I’ve played in a lot of bad punk bands in my time.

I was going to ask if you’ve ever thought about pursuing a career in a band?

*Laughs* No, maybe a dream of it, but I couldn’t say that I have ever considered that seriously.

393746-the-blair-witch-projectSo, jumping to the present, the latest project you are involved in is V/H/S 2. Has the horror genre been something you’ve always been interested in?

Certainly. I’ve produced loads of films with my co-directing partner Ed Sanchez, who directed The Blair Witch Project and I produced it. We’ve gone on to do a few more horror films since then, so it’s certainly been something that I’ve done a lot professionally. I mean I’ve always loved horror films and I just loved being scared as a kid. When I was young I would mess around with Super 8 film and stuff making zombie movies and things like that.

So, have you seen the original V/H/S?

Well to be completely honest, I have to admit that I have not seen it.

Oh no! Well I was going to ask your opinion of that. So, if you haven’t seen it, how on earth did you get involved in the sequel?

Well it is really Jamie Nash that deserves much of the credit as he wrote the script for the segment Ed and me have done. Jamie was pretty good friends with Brad Miska from Bloody Disgusting who put together both V/H/S and V/H/S 2, so when they were pondering the idea of the sequel they reached out to Jamie to pick his brains. He had this one and showed it to me and Ed. We loved and it came together pretty quickly, pretty organically.

Do you think there’s relevance in the title being called V/H/S given that we’re in a digital era now? Do you think it’s a nostalgic idea, looking back at the ‘good old days’?

My understanding from the first film and from V/H/S/ 2 is that they went with V/H/S as it was to do with the law of the mythology of the world. Because VHS is actually analogue, it’s magnetic, there’s something physically on a tape. Somehow, the analogue nature of the tapes have been able to absorb the supernatural horror stuff that is depicted on them. That’s why I think they went with VHS, even though it’s most likely a lot people who see the film don’t even know what VHS is.

You mentioned that you were working with Eduardo Sanchez again. Were there any differences working on this film, compared to previous ones or is it pretty much the same procedure?

I guess in many ways it is the same. Ed and I have been working together for like 17 years now, so we have a pretty good shorthand with each other. Having said that, this is the first time that we co-directed. There were certainly a few bumps that we didn’t figure out in terms of how we communicated as directors. That was new, but in general it felt like pretty much the same creative process that Ed and I always enjoy.

Were there any arguments between you like over who gets to decide what camera angle is used…?

*Laughs* Not really! We had one little conflict on-set which was really dumb in the grand scheme of things. There’s an effect, although I don’t want to give too much away…Our segment is a zombie story and there was one scene where we couldn’t make the blood effect work. I just wanted to snip the cable of the little hose where the blood is supposed to come from and move on without it, but Ed kept insisting that we try until we got it right. We got in to a little argument over me feeling that it was a waste of time and Ed feeling that we could achieve it. In the end he managed it and we got it. Looking back though, that’s pretty minimal when you’re co-directing.

You say you co-directed, but which one of you really did most of the work?

To be really honest, it really was pretty even! The reason we ended up co-directing was a little bit out of necessity at first. Ed was still finishing up Exists and to get the project started we had to start making directorial decisions and Ed just didn’t have time to do that. In the end, I started making director decisions just so that we could get the ball rolling and we went from there.

You said your story is a zombie one and it’s called ‘A Ride in the Park’…I’m guessing it’s not a nice one. What else can you tell us?

vhs-2-ride-in-the-parkI’m pretty happy with it. It’s been really interesting reading reviews for V/H/S/2 because people’s favourites are kind of all over the map, except that Gareth and Timo’s, which is called ‘Safe Haven’, is pretty incredible. But you know, I’m pretty happy with mine and Ed’s. It’s called ‘A Ride in the Park’ because, you know those cameras people put on their bike helmets and film themselves riding bikes or skiing? So, this is a bike guy going down this mountain and jumping over stuff with a go-pro helmet and finds himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. He eventually turns and the film is really like the POV of a zombie; how he learns to be a zombie and all the terrible things that happen to zombies basically.

Did you see the project as a bit of healthy competition between all the directors involved?

No, I mean sure we did all work separately. We read scripts and kind of gave notes on each other’s scripts and we looked at early cuts and gave notes on each other’s cuts, but by and large, we all worked separately. I don’t think it was competitive, but definitely thinking that there were these other film-makers that we respected, also making films, definitely made you want to stay on the top of your game and this motivated us.

What was it like on-set? I’m thinking that if I was working on a horror film, I’d want to scare everyone else on-set. Even though you know everything’s fake, there must have been a bit of an atmosphere.

You know, it’s such a short filming schedule – we shot the whole movie in four days. It’s so crazy and I’m probably a little over-serious on-set, so I don’t think about jokes too much. There was definitely a pretty good atmosphere. Ours was all in a non-horror film sort of way. Our film takes place completely outside during the day so it doesn’t really have a spooky atmosphere; it’s more action than it is spooky.

The film’s quite short, at only 96 minutes, did you have a set time for how long your section could be?

Well there was a target that we all tried to reach; around 15 minutes was generally where they wanted us to come in. I think ours is right at 15. Gareth and Timo’s is quite a bit longer at over half an hour. But it goes quick, it was really good.

I can imagine. I do Film Studies and there are people on the production side who’ve just had to make a 7 minute film and found it really hard to condense their film to that time.

Yeah, exactly. It’s a good exercise and one of the main reasons we jumped at this. You make short films in College or when you’re first learning about film-making you tend to make a lot of shorts. Then, when you get into it professionally and you start to need to make money, you kind of move away from shorts because it’s difficult to make money with short films. So when someone gives you the chance to make a short film with a budget, we kind of jumped at it because it is a cool film-making process to condense a story down and tell it a bit more efficiently than you have to do in a feature.

That’s what I liked about the originalV/H/S. I’m guessing it’s quite similar, with loads of different stories and it’s really interesting because they are so different. And then it’s linked together with the guy who’s watching the tapes, so it’s not completely random.

Right, and that’s the same thing in V/H/S 2. There’s a story that runs through the whole thing that explains why you would be watching these four different stories.

How did you find the actors to star in your particular section?

Well, we shot in Marilyn which is where Ed is from and Jamie Nash and our producers just know a lot of people. Really we just reached out to Jamie who, for every role, had an actor that he’d worked with and thought, “Yeah, why don’t we give J a call?” who plays the lead zombie. Really, we just did it like that. We reached out to people, asked them to put a bit of themselves on tape. It was a very informal casting process with the actors.

If you could sum up what audiences could expect from V/H/S 2 what would you say?

It’s really a fun horror film. Adam’s and Jason’s segment both have a lot of comedic beats in there that are a lot of fun. Ours is kind of funny. Gareth and Timo’s piece is so over-the-top that it goes beyond being disgusting and moves to…you just kind of have to laugh at it to go along with the ride. It’s a really sit-around-with-a-bunch-of-people-who-like-horror-films film…and have a good time.

What other anthology horror films do you recommend?

The only ones that I remember from when I was a kid were, you know, Creepshow and Cat Eye? Is that what’s called, Cats Eye? I remember really liking Creepshow as a kind, but I don’t remember that much about it, honestly.

My final question will just be: what are your future plans?

Ed and I recently finished a film called Exists and that’s taking up a lot of our time. We’re working on a TV show right now that we’re writing for. We’re trying to set up another horror film to shoot later this year. You’ve got to have a lot of balls in the air. That’s what we’ve found. We always try to get six or sevent things going at once and see what has the most attraction.

That sounds great. I’m excited to see Exists as I saw Lovely Molly and I loved that.

Oh that’s great, thank you very much.

Thanks very much for your time and good luck with everything.

Thanks a lot, bye!

Cinema Chords would like to thank Gregg given that he was so enthusiastic about the Safe Haven segment of the film by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto, we also spoke with them all about that so please watch this space for further V/H/S 2 goodies. In the meantime we’ll leave you with a trailer for the movie.

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Jessy Williams

The author Jessy Williams

[Associate Features Editor] Film Studies Grad, constant procrastinator and horror aficionado. Tweeting endlessly as @JessyCritical.