V/H/S was released on VOD services last week and we’re continuing our exclusive series of interviews with the directors behind the found footage anthology film. Today, I have my interview with Joe Swanberg, who acted in Ti West’s segment and directed his own. Continue reading to learn why he enjoys acting and directing, the films that inspired his segment, and what horror films he’s appearing in next.
Ti West recently told me that he shot his segment before the other directors were on board. How did you get involved with Ti’s film?
Joe Swanberg: Ti and I met at SXSW in 2005. We both had our first films there, so we’ve been buddies for a long time. We’ve sort of collaborated on things in the past, but never in a really visible way. Ti acted for me in Silver Bullets and he cast me, along with Sophia and Kate, in his V/H/S segment. Sophia and Kate were actresses I had worked with before, so I think he really wanted to cast people that knew each other and had a good rapport.
In V/H/S we get to see your work as both an actor and director. Is it easier for you to act or do you find it more of a challenge than directing?
Joe Swanberg: I consider myself a director, but I have to say that I really like acting. It certainly has it’s challenges, but I have an easier time leaving that work on set. I tend to have a lot more fun acting in movies than directing them, but it’s really nice to do both. I think they really compliment the two sides of my personality. There is the controlling perfectionist side that enjoys being a director, but also the hammy attention seeking side that enjoys acting. I really like switching back and forth.
I also think that having experience as an actor makes you a better director and vice versa.
Joe Swanberg: I definitely agree with that. I’d say that I’ve learned more about being a director from acting on other people’s sets than making my own movies. I always learn from making my own movies, but acting is a crash course in reminding me of what I need to do for my own actors.
Acting is a really vulnerable thing to do and there is a lot of insecurity involved. Your only goal is to do what the director wants and hopefully make them happy. It’s a bit easier to forget that when you are a director, so acting gives me a reminder and helps make me more sensitive to actors in my movies.
How did you make the jump from acting in Ti’s segment to directing one of your own? Is this something you wanted to do from the start?
Joe Swanberg: It was definitely not planned the whole time. Based on the movies I’ve made, I wasn’t anyone’s first choice to work on a horror movie. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett felt that I’d do a very good job directing, but they had to convince the producers that it made sense. They lobbied really hard for me when the producers needed one more segment. Simon had this script and I feel like he convinced them to give me this shot.
Normally, you write your own scripts, so was it a challenge to work off of Simon’s material?
Joe Swanberg: It definitely was. Not only do I write my own stuff, but my movies are heavily improvised. I’m used to not having a typical script, but was really excited to take someone’s material and translate it. I thought that I needed to challenge myself to not work in my typical way. Thankfully, Simon’s script was really scary and great, so it was a very easy first collaboration.
How was your experience with V/H/S at Sundance? I know this received plenty of buzz after its Sundance screening. How did the crowd react to the segments you acted and directed in?
Joe Swanberg: 2012 could not have started on a higher note than going to Sundance with V/H/S. As a filmmaker, that premiere was one of the most amazing viewing experience I had with a packed house at midnight. It was also really fun for me, because I had not seen the finished movie. I got to watch it with the audience for the first time, so there was insecurity at first, but I got to relax after seeing how people reacted to Ti’s segment. If I could take those two hours and put them in a time capsule, that is an experience I’d love to revisit. It was such a thrill.
What are some of your favorite horror films and movies that inspired your V/H/S segment?
Joe Swanberg: The horror movies I really love and respond to are many of the 70’s horror movies, like Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The inspiration for my segment, were as much from YouTube as they were from films. I hadn’t seen the Paranormal Activity movies when we made our segment, but The Blair Witch Project was definitely an inspiration for how to use minimal camera setups and still scare an audience. Acting in Simon and Adam’s movies were also a huge influence on me. I took that stuff to heart and utilized what I had see as effective for those filmmakers.
You’re Next is another film that was getting huge buzz after its festival screening and should be getting a theatrical release early next year. What can you tell our readers about your role in the film?
Joe Swanberg: I’m incredibly excited about this and I have yet to see it with an audience, because I was unable to make it to Toronto. That movie was incredibly fun for me to make and the cast is really talented. I play a character named Drake and the movie is about a family who comes under attack from these masked assailants. We shot in Missouri in this cool big house and I had a ton of fun making that movie.
What projects have you been working on since V/H/S? Is there anything horror-related?
Joe Swanberg: I just acted in Zack Parker’s new film, Proxy. Zack previously directed a movie called Scalene and Proxy is a horror/thriller. We just wrapped that and hopefully it will play festivals next year. I just finished directing a movie called Drinking Buddies with Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, and Ron Livingston. I’m editing it now and hopefully it will also be festivals next year.
V/H/S is now available on VOD, with a limited theatrical release kicking off next month. Learn more about V/H/S by watching the trailer below and reading the following articles:
“When a group of petty criminals is hired by a mysterious party to retrieve a rare piece of found footage from a rundown house in the middle of nowhere, they soon realize that the job isn’t going to be as easy as they thought. In the living room, a lifeless body holds court before a hub of old television sets, surrounded by stacks upon stacks of VHS tapes. As they search for the right one, they are treated to a seemingly endless number of horrifying videos, each stranger than the last.”