Director Jason Eisener talks about his Slumber Party Alien Abduction short in V/H/S/2, currently available on VOD and debuting in theaters July 12
It isn't often that there are two horror anthologies in one year, but 2013 must be an exception with this spring's The ABCs of Death and the terrifying V/H/S/2, currently available on VOD formats and debuting in theaters July 12. Director Jason Eisener, who broke out on the scene in 2011 with the cult classic Hobo with a Shotgun, was actually involved in both those anthologies. His V/H/S/2 short, Slumber Party Alien Abduction, is just as crazy as it sounds, and, like the rest of these segments, have to be seen to be believed. I recently had the chance to speak with Jason Eisener over the phone about his involvement in this project. Here's what he had to say.
I was a huge fan of the first movie. It was just such a crazy time, but this one is even more insane. As far as your involvement goes, did you pitch them something first, or did they come to you about putting together a short?
Jason Eisener: Hearing critics talking about found footage movies really piqued my interest. It sort of happened when Roxanne Benjamin, the producer of the movie, sent me an email saying they're already getting to work on a sequel, and that she'd send me a disc for the first one to see if I'd be interested in doing the next one. I had some hesitation at first, because it had been a long time since I was interested in a found footage movie. I popped it in and watched it with a couple of friends, and we just had a blast watching it. They have such an inventive ways of coming up with the shorts, and I thought they were so interesting and creative. I thought I'd been an idiot for showing my back to found footage, and I should be making something that the audience is so into. I thought I'd pitch them my dream idea for a found footage movie. I have always wanted to make a kids movie, and I always wanted to do something with aliens. I took those ideas and I gave them a short treatment and they loved it and said to go for it. They gave me all the freedom I wanted to, within that idea.
When you pitched them that story, was it still a pretty raw idea? Did you have it fleshed out at all, and how long did it take you to write a script for a segment like this?
Jason Eisener: When I first thought of the idea, I just sat down and wrote it all out. It was me and John Davies, the other writer on the movie, and my producer Rob Cotterill, we took a road trip to New Brunswick, which is a province of Nova Scotia, for a screening of Hobo with a Shotgun. I just wrote it on the way there and back, the treatment, pitching my ideas to John and Rob, throwing ideas back and forth. When I get home, I sent them that, and they gave me a green light to write a script. I think over like four or five days, we just hung out at John's place and hashed it out.
I have to imagine it was cool to see it for the first time, because you knew what you did, but you didn't know what everyone else had done.
Jason Eisener: Yeah, yeah, it's kind of a risk, because if all the other shorts aren't up to par, it would suck to be involved in something like that. But, I knew during pre-production on it, we had begun to send each other our scripts. I didn't want to know too much, I just wanted to know that I wasn't doing anything they were doing. I saw each one of them, individually, as they got finished, and each one was just mind-blowing. I was so excited. I honestly love every single one of them. I think they all just knocked it out of the park.
You talked about the kind of freedom they gave you on this. Was there a greater amount of control than on something like The ABCs of Death? That was obviously a much bigger undertaking, with 26 different shorts, but was it similar in how they both approached the material?
Jason Eisener: Yeah, kind of. They're both so low-budget that you have to find ways to work within the confines of the budget. We had pretty much the same crew, our friends would come out and help. The ABCs of Death you could do pretty much whatever you wanted, whereas this had to be found footage and the one rule they sent us was, at no time should you feel that the character should just turn off the camera, because that's always been a beef I've always had with found footage. Why don't they just turn off the camera? That was kind of the rule. Our V/H/S/2 short was definitely the most challenging thing we've ever done, because you're locked into that one perspective. You can't just rely on editing to cut away from a bad performance or a bad shot or a bad cue. You have to get it all within that one take. That was super difficult, and then working with animals, and kids, and water, and all at night, all the golden rules of things you should never do in film (Laughs).
Were you given possibly a longer shooting schedule because you had these other elements at play? Or was it still pretty short?
Jason Eisener: Yeah, it was four days that we had, it was pretty short. We were cramming in a lot within those four days. You always figure out a way to do it within the time you have. Sometimes creative things will flow when you're under that pressure and cool things will come out of it.
Were there any happy accidents or happy surprises that you discovered in that short time?
Jason Eisener: When I was working with the kids, none of them had ever acted before, except the little kid Gary, who was in my ABCs of Death short, but he didn't have that much experience. I was doing my best to make these kids feel real, that their performances were true. The top priority was to try and get them away from the crew, the 20 or 30 people that are standing around watching the takes. My favorite moments were, we would huddle up and ask the kids what would you going to do if you were going to pull a prank? They'd tell me and they'd get excited and then they'd run off and we'd shoot it, without anyone knowing. I just wanted to capture that fun energy. We had all these kids together, and it was right before they had to go back to school for the summer, so they kind of treated it like summer camp before going back to hell. They were just having all kinds of fun. That was my favorite part, seeing the energy they brought. They ideas they brought too were awesome.
As they did with the first one, they started this out on VOD first before hitting theaters, which is starting to happen a lot more with smaller films. Do you find this kind of format is helpful for a smaller film like this to find an audience on all the other platforms before it gets to theaters?
Jason Eisener: I'm not really sure, because I haven't seen all the statistics on how that works. It's hard to say, with the whole VOD thing, but I'm still learning a lot about it. I see the positive in that this is an avenue for independent films to get out there into anyone's home. I love the theater experience, so for me, nothing beats that, but I know some people have some pretty sweet home setups. I feel like this movie is one you have to be in an audience with and feel the energy around you, because it's this weird, party movie, in a way.
Is there anything that you're working on or developing that you can talk about?
Jason Eisener: We don't really have anything to announce, which kind of sucks. We've just been developing and writing for so long.
What would you like to say to fans of the first movie or anyone curious about V/H/S/2 about why they should check it out on VOD or in theaters?
Jason Eisener: I don't know if you did this with your friends, where you stay up late and watch crazy YouTube clips or crazy stuff you found online, but that's something I do with my friends. Have a couple of drinks and watch some crazy stuff. I feel like this is like one of these movies, where you're just bombarded with all this crazy sound and you have really good scares and laughs and freak-out moments with your friends. The movie calls for audience participation. Honestly, I believe a lot in this movie, and it stands up to any horror movie made for a mainstream audience right now. You're going to get more out of this movie than you would from a mainstream studio picture.
Great. That's my time, Jason. It was great talking to you.
Jason Eisener: Yeah, thank you, man.