When people mention found footage thoughts immediately turn to films like The Blair Witch Project. Complete with its extreme close-ups and vomit inducing shaky camera techniques, the film’s effective viral marketing took the world by storm and single-handedly reignited a thirst for this style of filmmaking.
With today’s release of V/H/S/2 I was asked by my editor to interview the ‘Godfather of Found Footage’ and one of the co-directors of The Blair Witch Project, Eduardo Sanchez about his involvement with the project. Naturally, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity.
Hi Eduardo, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Your film The Blair Witch Project reignited the found footage genre so it is only fitting that you would return to the genre with V/H/S/2. Can you tell me a little bit about how you became involved with the project?
I was a big fan of the first movie so when we started talking to Brad Miska and his team he was like “we’re doing a sequel and it would be great if you were involved.” I was like “I would love to.” I don’t know if he asked us or we asked him but there was definitely mutual interest in getting involved. So, it happened to be that one of the writers that I work with, Jamie Nash, had a pretty solid idea for a short film. You see, my thing as far as getting involved with these guys is that they are all at least ten years younger than me – I’m like the grandfather of found footage. My thing is that I don’t want to be left behind, I don’t want to have the weak link as if people will be like ‘oh he’s the old guy trying to compete and they only put him there because he did Blair Witch.’ I wanted to come out with a good idea and a good film you know.
Jamie had this great idea about a zombie, or rather a POV of the guy turning into a zombie, and we thought it was fantastic. It would be funny, it would be gory, it would be great. You know Brad Miska and his team of producers loved it also and we started going forward with it and it was a very quick process after that. The thing about it is that I was still shooting or about to start shooting my Bigfoot movie and we were at SXSW and shooting in Austin so, whilst Jamie was writing the script and got everything together, we sent the script back and forth with a few notes but it was a very good experience and working relationship. I was then busy wrapping the Bigfoot movie so my writing partner Gregg Hale said we should co-direct this, I could direct a lot of the stuff now and then you can come to the set and we can co-direct it. Gregg is a great director. He was known as one of the biggest and best directors in film school and I had total confidence in him so as soon as I stepped off Exist I was able to take part in V/H/S and we shot for two weekends. It was a great process, like I told you, where Gregg and I both felt inspired by these young whipper snappers who were taking the found footage genre and taking it to the next level. We were just really happy to be part of it.
You’ve talked about these younger directors who were new to the genre. Before signing on, and during filming, did you have any idea of who else was taking part to create other segments for the movie?
At first they hadn’t narrowed it down yet or got into agreements but once we got down to do the work on the script and story then they started to send us scripts from the other films. It was a lucky thing that we knew that they were co-ordinating stories and it just so happened to be that all the stories were unique in their own way. This was a weird thing as usually when you’re doing anthology or compiling different stories, sometimes you can have two similar stories such as two zombie stories or two monster stories and whatever but it just so happened that everybody kind of had their own unique thing and we all shot around the same time. But yes, we knew the filmmakers and I was a fan of them all so I was definitely excited to be part of the group. Gregg and I did not want to be left behind and we wanted to deliver a film that was just as good and which fit into the film. We certainly didn’t want to be the weakest link.
I see, so did knowing who was involved with the project spur on a sense of competition between yourselves as filmmakers?
*laughs* Yeah, it did create a bit of competition sure, but when you’re putting your movie into something with other filmmakers it is just natural competition. There is this kind of brotherhood where you want to help each other out and make sure that all the films work but at the same time you don’t want to make the odd film that lets the film down.
I understand what you mean, the first V/H/S had segments that seemed to amp up and then suddenly slow down the action.
Yeah, the way that Brad told me later about the movie is that it was a planned thing and they didn’t even look at the scripts. So with V/H/S/2 they learned their lessons this time round and you can tell as it works better than the first installment.
So where you given any guidelines whilst shooting to keep a sense of consistency throughout?
The only guideline that we had – and it is obvious that one of the films clearly ignored it – was the time limit as they wanted to keep them all under 15 minutes. So when they saw ‘Safe Haven’ they turned around and said they decided to bend the rules on that one. It was actually longer than the first cut and they had to cut it down quite a bit. But at the end of the day it was all very co-operative, remarkably streamlined and trouble free. Throughout the process they provided notes, all of which were good and they were always ‘if you don’t agree with these notes we’re cool about that.’ Basically they gave us the last words on everything. It was great as everyone from the bottom to the top were great to work with.
Taking into account the brief shooting schedule, you pack a lot of effects in your segment, the majority of which appear to be practical. How much of the effects were practical and how much of it was CGI?
Pretty much of all it was practical effects. We added the shotgun blast in CG but that’s pretty much it. The rest was practical. The segment that really impressed us was when the main guy gets hit by the car and it goes over him. That was totally us and me shooting it in a certain way and me editing it. I tried several ways to make it work and then I was like “Wow, that worked very well.” But yeah, the CG was mostly just bits and pieces and we added some smoke when the guy puts his hand on the grill and in the scene where he gets shot by the shot gun and you see a hole, like in his shadow on the ground in his chest. Otherwise we tried to keep it as practical as we could as Gregg and I grew up in the seventies where there was no CG in the eighties… We’re not saying that CG is bad, it’s great when done properly and even in some cases done bad it’s still great. You have to have fun with it. But for us, it was all about doing everything that we could in camera. We had a great team and I shot it here in Maryland near my house and they were local, underpaid especially as the budgets were very low. But it was fantastic that they all came out and gave it their all and I think you can tell. Everybody was having fun. It was a really good shoot.
V/H/S did amazingly well on the festival circuit and it’s great to see that V/H/S/2 has been able to replicate its success. Do you have any knowledge about an upcoming or possible third installment?
*hesitates* I’m pretty sure that there will be a third but I don’t think that any of the original filmmakers will return as we’re all busy with other things… I got to work with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett and go to know them very well as well as Jason Eisener. I had never met them before but we all said it would be great to sit down and do a third one but I think the producers like the whole idea of getting some new blood in and I kind of dig that idea.
I know Adam and Simon worked on the first and returned to work on the sequel but I get the idea that they want a whole new batch of people. Also, the budget on these movies is so low that we’d ask for a little bit more money as it was a fun shoot but we didn’t make any money and underpaid so many people. So I think the producers are trying to keep the spirit alive and give the opportunity to someone new and I appreciate that.
So if V/H/S/3 is out of the question, what’s next for you?
I just locked a movie called Exist which is a found footage Bigfoot movie that I have been wanting to make since I was twelve years old. I have been a part of three or four Bigfoot movies that have not happened but we have finally got this in the can.
Can you tell us more about it?
Look, I’m not saying there haven’t been great Bigfoot movies but I think it’s the best Bigfoot movie ever and that’s not just because it is my film. The creature is exactly what I would like to see. It’s not CG but a guy in a suit but it’s a guy that actually looks like a creature and by the end of the movie you get right in there and see a close-up of the face and it looks so much better than I thought it was going to so I changed the whole idea how I was going to shoot the movie. If you’re doing effects it’s always a matter of thinking how much can I show the practical stuff and how real is it going to look. We did a test of the suit before we shot and it looked amazing and I thought wow it looks like an animal so we decided not to give everything away at the beginning of the movie. I’m really excited about that.
Sounds like you’re going to be busy….
Yes. We’re also raising money for a low-budget horror called Mallers that i’m going to shoot here in Maryland at an abandoned mall. The stores have moved out and I thought it was too good to pass up. So Jamie, Greg and I are writing a script and we’re trying to get the money and hopefully begin shooting early next year. I’ve also been developing a TV show called The Quest. It’s a reality show kind of like Lord of the Rings meets Survivor. ABC’s doing it and I think it’s premiering in the States January 2nd but I’m not sure if, or what, the plans are for the UK. So I’m pretty excited about that but I’m just trying to figure out what else to do just trying to stay busy.
Cinema Chords would like to thank Eduardo Sanchez for taking time out to speak with us. V/H/S/2 is available on DVD and Blu-ray from today, 14th October and you can check out the trailer below.