“V/H/S: Viral” filmmakers Marcel Sarmiento (“Vicious Circles”), Gregg Bishop (“Dante the Great”), Nacho Vigalondo (“Parallel Monsters”), and actor Justin Welborn (“Dante the Great”) participated in a Q&A following the Beyond Fest screening of their film at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, CA on September 28, 2014. Between segments of a snuff-snorting competition pitting audience members against Nacho Vigalondo, moderator Evan Dickson eked out some insight into the process of creating the anthology series’ third edition.
Evan Dickson: When you’re doing the third segment in an anthology series, what’s it like incorporating the first two installments and trying to make a consistent tone? The tone of this film for me is very fun, very fleet, very quick moving. Each one of these films has their own kind of vibe. What’s it like establishing the sort of overall gist in the production of the project?
Marcel Sarmiento: I think when Brad Miska first came and started talking to me about it, he said, “yeah, let’s try to do something a little bit different. Let’s do something that’s more active, sort of throw out all the other conventions.” When they came to me and said “hey by the way, we’re thinking about doing a third one, but we need someone to help put it all together because Adam (Wingard) and Simon (Barrett) are going to be doing another movie. We need some help. That means you’re going to do the wrap.” So alright, I’ll take that. But I just want to do something different. Let’s just sort of have it be nonstop motion, and then wrap up the whole series. Take the mythology that the other two films established and try to incorporate it. Have some sort of potential meaning by the end. That’s what I tried to do.
Gregg Bishop: We’re all big fans of the first two. The great thing about each of those segments in the first two films is everything you see is something you’ve never seen before. I think that’s what we were all aspiring to do. Let’s just make something that we haven’t seen before. That was kind of a challenge lying in front of us.
Evan Dickson: (“Dante the Great”) leans more on humor than the prior two films. Can you talk about establishing a foothold in that regard?
Gregg Bishop: I just made something I want to see. That’s the thing with all the segments is, you know, two directors, same script, they’re going to make something completely different. That’s just my sensibility. I think horror and comedy kind of share the same space, you know what I mean? I like to go to a movie and have a good time. That’s why I go to the movies. I like to laugh and have a great time and have a little blood spilled at the same time.
Marcel Sarmiento: I like to be miserable!
Gregg Bishop: Marcel likes to be miserable.
Justin Welborn: You thought our segment was the comedic one? Because I was pretty sure it was Vigalondo’s!
Evan Dickson: Well Nacho, I want to delve into your whole psychosexual mindset. What’s going on in Nacho’s mind here?
Nacho Vigalondo: Basically I wanted to contrast those two universes. One of them is totally no sex at all. No one is having sex in one universe.
Nacho Vigalondo: Why is this so funny to you? People not having sex is not funny! It’s pretty common, okay. In the other universe, it’s a hypersexual world. All of them, all human beings are sexual predators in the most visceral and explicit way. They all have genital monsters between their legs. I wanted to put together both extremes, the no sex and hypersexual and reflect that. You can be unhappy in both of them. I consider my past to be of two worlds. At different parts of my life I felt like I was part of- ah, this is too confessional! Let’s say that, I don’t know, my dick is normal, alright?
Audience Question: Gregg, where did you get the idea for the “evil wizard?”
Gregg Bishop: It basically came from an article I read in like 2007 about a police raid on David Copperfield’s warehouse. They had a police raid and it ended up being nothing. I think it was a crazy assistant trying to extort money from him or something. That’s kind of just the springboard for what if a famous magician was actually doing black magic and making people disappear. That’s what I pitched to the producers and thought it might be a unique segment.
Audience Question: For the magician segment, the ambient music that goes along with it was so noticeable. What was the choice behind adding music as opposed to the other segments without it?
Gregg Bishop: When we pitched our segments, the first thing (the producers) said was, “we’re not trying to fool anybody anymore.” Nobody’s been fooled again since “The Blair Witch Project.” That thing was the one that was like, “is this real? What are we watching?” But nobody is being fooled anymore. So we’re not trying to fool anybody. We just wanted the stories to be good and not be so tied down to the “found footage” format. Given that blanket of release, we just wanted to make something entertaining and fun. So we add music. (We) jump in and out of “found footage.” Because everything is a cheat, really. You add a cut to a “found footage” movie, it’s a cheat. You add subtitles to a “found footage” movie, it’s a cheat. Everything is a cheat.
Evan Dickson: Yeah, you’re assuming that the people who found the footage are-
Gregg Bishop: Yeah, who keeps finding all this footage? Who is the guy who is getting all this footage and cutting it together?
Evan Dickson: Marcel, with your segment, it’s incredibly kinetic and much more forward moving than the prior two wraparounds. Is that a reaction (to) the prior two wraparounds?
Marcel Sarmiento: I thought there was something really valuable in the first two movies about how in between the segments there is a moment that is sort of relaxed, and you came back to the same spot. I could appreciate that. I just thought, what if we did the opposite? What if every time you came between segments, you got bombarded with this imagery and energy and maybe didn’t even know what was going on, but it was all tied together by the end? I wondered what that would feel like, if that would change the general energy and feeling of the whole movie. That was sort of a challenge and I said, let’s try it and see what happens. Maybe it won’t work. But it will be up to the people who see it to decide if it worked.
Evan Dickson: Nacho, do you ever wake up screaming?
Nacho Vigalondo: (momentarily distracted) If I wake up screaming? It could happen. At this moment, I have this confusing sensation from when he was asking the question from the audience and there were five people here holding their hands like this (makes a motion referring to the snuff snorting competition). I felt in the middle of Agent Cooper’s dream from “Twin Peaks.” I was waiting for the dwarf to appear dancing. It’s such a confusing situation, but I love it… what was the question?
Marcel Sarmiento: In all seriousness, I feel sort of in a general sentiment that maybe “Safe Haven” from the second one was so “oh my God! It’s big and interesting!” And whether you liked or didn’t like individual segments in this movie, I feel like every single one of us really tried to push it. There are so many effects, yet the money is exactly the same as it was for the first one.
Gregg Bishop: We had about as much money to do three people in a room talking.
Marcel Sarmiento: I mean, (Gregg’s) segment has people flying all over the place. All the CG and everything, the way that all these guys were able to pull it off is pretty impressive. Just what you can do nowadays.
Evan Dickson: You see in a lot of areas where people are given a certain amount of money and they just choose not to show up. But you guys showed up. Every one of you guys put so much work into your segments and everything stands out as a singular piece. It’s not a lazy “found footage,” like, “okay, I’m just gonna pocket it and do a cheap POV thing.” To me, everything is very ambitious.
Evan Dickson: For (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s) segment, what were the conversations within like? How did everything that they were doing fit into this?
Marcel Sarmiento: They had a ton of ideas. Those guys are really talented. They have a movie called “Spring” which you’ve probably been reading about. Those guys shoot and do most of the effects themselves.
Evan Dickson: Like a Radio Silence kind of thing.
Marcel Sarmiento: I think they just really went for it. In my own segment, when the legs are being dragged, the screams are Justin. That’s his voice. They contributed to the whole thing.
Marcel Sarmiento: The way these things happen is they basically tell each of us to go off, make a movie, and show up in eight months and deliver something. So there aren’t a lot of conversations that happen. Once we start putting it together, there are a couple of conversations about timing, order, and all that kind of stuff. But there’s not a tremendous amount of-
Gregg Bishop: We were literally in the same room for the first time at Fantastic Fest. When we did the commentary was the first time we were in a room together and we were just going, “nice to meet you!”
Marcel Sarmiento: It would be interesting if we all actually talked during the process, but it’s hard to do that. I mean, (Gregg) shot in Atlanta?
Gregg Bishop: We shot in Atlanta.
Marcel Sarmiento: I’ll tell you a Justin and Aaron story which is interesting because they had to find these skateboarders. They started going around L.A. to all the skate parks, both of them, going up to kids-
Gregg Bishop: Thirtysomething year olds!
Marcel Sarmiento: -and being like, “hey man, do you want to be in a movie?” So that’s how they found those two kids. Those kids are legit skate punks.
Gregg Bishop: We are representing them well, Justin and Aaron!
Audience Question: If you had to pick one horror film that influenced your career, what would you pick?
Gregg Bishop: For me, growing up it was “Jaws.” That just got me into loving movies and loving being scared watching movies. I think “Jaws” is my number one.
Nacho Vigalondo: That’s a pretty complicated question to answer because the movies that influence you are the movies that you don’t know are influencing you. All the movies I have in my head. I have a bunch of favorite movies. I wish I was influenced by the best ones, but you never know. Probably my favorite horror movie ever is “Alien.” Every time I watch “Alien,” it gets bigger and bigger. Probably my other favorite one is “The Birds.” Those movies become something else every time you see them. When you see them as a child, they have a specific meaning. But when you see them as an adult, it becomes something totally different. I think those movies are the most important in my life. For example, “The Birds” when I was a child was about birds. When I saw it later, it was about, I don’t know, the lack of maturity in your life. It becomes something different. I hope my movies have that quality to change with you.
Marcel Sarmiento: I think the first movie when I was a kid that actually scared me was “The Exorcist.”
Justin Welborn: “Poltergeist!” Nothing like a creepy tree and a crazy clown under your bed to really f*ck you up as a little kid.
Gregg Bishop: That one still holds up, by the way. I went to that like a week ago and was like, “man, this is a fantastic movie!” (under his breath) Why are they remaking it?
Evan Dickson: Why aren’t they or why are they?
Gregg Bishop: Why are they? It’s fine! The original is always there. You can always pop it in.
Audience Question: How much freedom do you have?
Nacho Vigalondo: You mean in life, or…?
Marcel Sarmiento: The way it works is the production company says- it’s actually really smart if you’re a production company, but we’re basically all independent contractors. You make a deal where you have to deliver a movie and all of the elements and they give you a check. And if you want to pay yourself out of that, go ahead. But all of us of course are going to put it into the movie.
Evan Dickson: You don’t want to take yourself out of the competition. You don’t want to pay yourself and then not have anything to show up with.
Gregg Bishop: You can pay yourself great and then do three guys in a room talking. “This is a great check!”
Marcel Sarmiento: (whispering sarcastically) “ABCs of Death!”
Marcel Sarmiento: I’m just kidding! Sorry!
Evan Dickson: Part one.
Marcel Sarmiento: Yeah, I haven’t seen part two. Part two I hear is great!
Marcel Sarmiento: Occasionally they say, “hey, can you shorten this? Can you cut this?” And then you fight about it, and you sort of, you know…
Gregg Bishop: Once you pitch it, once you get them connected to the idea of it, they pretty much say, “okay, go knock yourselves out!” At least that’s what they did with me. They were just kind of like, “go have fun and bring us back something.” Then they watch the cuts and they watch the dailies and they have comments. But they didn’t throw down a red flag on anything or stomp anything.
Audience Question: With each “VHS” movie, it seems like there are less and less shorts. Is that something that is brought up while you’re making it? Is that something that you think about to make the movie shorter?
Marcel Sarmiento: No. Once they all came in, I think there’s always kind of a “shorter is better” (mentality with) anthology type stuff. Because it gets tiring after awhile. You have to restart every time and get emotionally invested quickly. I think the feeling was at the end that this was a good length. Truthfully, you have to deliver a movie at a certain length, so it has to be so long. Otherwise, there’s no-
Evan Dickson: The first one was over two hours.
Marcel Sarmiento: I think there was a general feeling that was too long. But (with “VHS: Viral”), no one talked about (the length) until the end.
Audience Question: The way it ended, it kind of connected that everything happens in the same universe. Is that what you were going for?
Marcel Sarmiento: Loosely, the idea was sort of to take the show on the road and let it out into the world and make a comment, which is an obvious comment- The whole inspiration for this was thinking about how movies in the 80’s and classic horror movies felt like the kids who were having sex in the car you knew were the next ones to die. You know, the monster would get them next. So I thought today, it’s the kids who are shooting things to get off on it, to show someone else’s misery for your pleasure are the next ones that deserve to die.