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Interview with David Bruckner – Co-Director of V/H/S

David Bruckner is an American independent film and commercial director – well that’s what it says on his bio page at www.davidbruckner.com.

Based out of Atlanta, Georgia, Bruckner’s do-it-yourself mentality is getting original movies created by surrounding himself with a group of people whose focus is about the creative, rather than making studio cookie cutter films.

Most people believe that the only way to make it in the entertainment industry is by packing up your car with all of your possessions and moving to the City of Angels.  That’s not what David Bruckner did.  He didn’t travel across the country to chase down his dreams – he made his dreams of being a filmmaker come to him.

David is one of six directors for the found-footage horror anthology film V/H/SV/H/S will be available to watch on VOD August 31st and will be in theaters October 5th.

I’m excited to see V/H/S for the shear fact that there was an incident at the Sundance Film Festival where someone passed out while watching it.  Other people claimed to be nauseous during the screening.

Well I wouldn’t suggest seeing it at a very high altitude after a full day of drinking because I think that had a lot to do with it.

Deep down weren’t you kind of satisfied that people were getting sick over your movie?

In the moment, it was actual fear.  Fear is what we all felt.  There was a guy on the floor and everyone wanted to make sure he was okay and that it wasn’t something serious.  Once all of that had passed, then the jokes began as, “Ha, ha.  What if this was a marketing thing?”  Then sure enough a couple people Tweeted about it and word got around and then it did become a marketing thing.  Did the movie have anything to do with it?  I don’t know but it was a pretty intense scene.  If people want to see it just to see if they will pass out, I think that’s pretty cool but I think it was a combination of factors.

What’s it like watching V/H/S with an audience?

You get used to creating things and then seeing how an audience reacts to it.  You get that thing when you sit in the back of a theater and the painful parts they don’t respond to become incredibly painful and you can just hear when an audience is bored and when they rustle in their seats.  When an audience responds out loud either through laughter or repulsion or a combination of those forces it’s like the best feeling in the world.

Were you satisfied shooting in P.O.V.?

P.O.V., if it’s positioned correctly, can be incredibly affective.  When you’re creating something you’re not able to experience it the way a first time viewer would.  You’re looking at something and you’re looking at all of the things that don’t work, you’re thinking about whether or not that one beat lands, you’re thinking about a thousand and one details and you’re no longer experiencing the film.  So when somebody falls down the stairs and it’s quite violent and people shriek, it’s almost a reminder of your original intentions with the film and I’m surprised at how effective the P.O.V. experience can be.

Why did you guys decide on a P.O.V. movie?

The original idea for the found footage piece was originally an idea that Brad Miska (Bloodydisgusting.com) had.  I think he was actually interested in doing some kind of series project where you had a lot of found footage films compiled together.  I am not too sure about all of the details but I believe they came up with the idea of doing a feature film.  There seems to be an interest to the return of anthology pieces now.  The possibility of doing a horror anthology has always been alluring.  I think that the idea that this is something that audiences would be into again was really appealing to them.  I think initially they just wanted to create something where they could gather up a lot of the filmmakers they have relationships with and collaborate on something.

Is there a specific kind of camera you have to shoot on?

Nope.  It totally depends on the project.  I will say that I’ve never shot on film.  For whatever reason it’s always been, “What do I have access to in this moment?”  The camera I got the most use out of was the DVX-100.  It was the Millennium Falcon of cameras.  It was the first digital video camera that shot 24p and that changed the game completely.  Here we were shooting 30p progressive videos and they still had that weird soap opera feel to them.  When the DVX came out it was a tidal shift in the way people could receive the movies we were creating.  That inspired us to go a lot further with them.  I think the first thing I shot with it was a racecar being loaded up on a truck for a commercial.  It was sunset and I was completely astounded that I was able to achieve that cinematic feel with this little camera.  We went nuts with it and by the time the DVX was dead, it had been loaned out to anyone who wanted to use it.  It had been duct-tapped to motorcycles; it had been bashed to hell so many times that we were constantly sending it off to get fixed.  But we made as much as we possible could with that camera.  These days there are so many things to shoot on that it’s fun to get into all of the different kinds of digital formats and see what they have to offer.  On the last short film that we shot, we shot on the RED.

What did you shoot V/H/S on?

We shot V/H/S on a Panasonic GH2 DSLR.  One of the reasons we liked that one is that it was lighter than the Canon DSLR.  We used it because our story in V/H/S is told through the perspective of a pair of spyglasses.  You don’t have the cameraman running around with a camera in his hands, it’s on the actor’s face.  We bought a pair of spyglasses for some scenes in the movie because there are a lot of mirror scenes where you have to connect the protagonist to the glasses on his face but whenever he wasn’t in front of the mirror we had to control the look a little bit more and reverse engineer it so it looked like those spyglasses.  For that reason, we wanted to build a helmet rig but we wanted it to be as unobtrusive as possible.  We wanted it to be light, to be accommodating to the actor, something where they could move around freely because where that guy points his head is the movie you see.  So we added a flip screen so that he could see his image; so he could operate it in a couple of different ways.  It also had a gritty kind of look under the lighting conditions we thought was conducive to the feel of the film.  We tested a lot of different cameras and it became a war between low-light and weight.  The more proficient it was with low-light, the heavier it was.  The smaller it was, the worse it was with low-light which meant we had to spend more on lighting.  It became a weird kind of gamble and landing on the GH2 was great and it handles reds and low-light in an interesting way with the settings that we finally settled on.  It gave the film a really unique look.

Shooting The Signal

We do a thing in Atlanta called the Haylee’s Project which is our own film school we invented.  I say we because it’s a community of filmmakers and theatergoers and theater creators here in town.  We work on projects in a workshop theater and the idea there is to just develop ideas and create them.  You could work on whatever you wanted to work on, as opposed to necessarily working on something for an audience.  It was a place to try out some things that might not work and see where it takes you.  We adopted a filmmaking portion of it and that was called the Dailies Project.  We would just come up with challenges and then talk to filmmakers who wanted to come in and do it.  It could be as simple as everyone telling a story about a picture; sometimes it got more complicated and more involved.  One of those projects was an exquisite corpse project (exquisite corpse is a game you can play amongst artists where you start drawing a picture and at a certain point you hand it off to someone else and see what they come up with).  I went out and made 20 minutes of an opening to a feature film and then handed it off to Dan Bush, who is a filmmaker I collaborate with.  He kind of lost his mind with it and shot an additional 40 minutes of the movie and then he handed it off to Jacob Jentry.  We had some other filmmakers that were involved:  David Moore; Frank Lopez.  That project never wrapped itself up but the idea stuck with us and that idea became the epidus for creating The Signal, which initially was, “How do we make a horror movie really, really fast using this concept we came up within the exquisite corpse project?”  One of the ideas was spreading the weight amongst a couple of different directors and since the tale has something to do with perspective, we thought there was a way to section off the movie, sort of in a Rashomon way.  You could tell the story from the perspective of three different characters that are the center fuse of the movie in a love-triangle and that would give you some license to explore the different styles that naturally emerged from the filmmakers and it would create a really off-beat kind of experience and that’s how we ended up with The Signal.

Did you go to film school?

I did not go to film school.  I started making stuff during the digital video revolution.  I always shot stuff in high school and into college but I really found my stride out of college shooting a lot of stuff on DV.  It was just really easy to make movies back then.  With freelance, I got gigs doing local commercials and was really fortunate enough to find a community of really young filmmakers in Atlanta that were just really disconnected from the Hollywood system.  They were really disconnected from any realistic idea of how to start a filmmaking career.  Instead, we were just really interested in making stuff to no end and we spent years and years shooting commercials, doing theatrical installations, directing plays, and we were constantly making short films.  That really became our education.  We kind of invented our own education in those regards.  More and more I see this everywhere.  It’s what a lot of kids are doing.  At the same time, I wish I had gone to film school.  I think I would have gotten a lot out of it.  I will say that no matter how you do it, you have to make your own films.  I think you have to make lots of them and you have to remove the barriers between having an idea and creating a product.  Sometimes people start too big.  They have these elaborate ideas for feature films and then they go and spend two years early on with their relationship with the medium trying to raise money for this feature they want to make.  Then they go and they make it and they’re too early in the process and they make that first round of mistakes that we all have made.  There’s a 100 stupid things you’re gonna do that you’re not going to understand until you do them.  You’re gonna fall down several times and you have to work through those it while you are working on your own films.  I think that unless you are creating frequent opportunities for yourself to create content, you’re not going to experience a lot of those bumps on your own.  You’re also not going to develop a private relationship with the medium and everybody I have been fortunate to meet that are really excelling at this stuff have tons and tons and tons of short films, webisodes, tiny pieces of content that they’ve created that they’ve never showed the world that they keep under wraps.  Those are their experiences that have developed their methods for dealing with the industry.

What’s your writing process like?

I write a lot of the stuff we do with my writing partner here in Atlanta, Nick Tecosky, who’s a local writer.  He runs the Atlanta branch that started in Chicago called Write Club, which is like a death match for writers in front of a live audience.  He has a certain attitude of writing that he brings to the table; I’m kind of a structure junkie.  The writing process is always different; it depends on whom I’m working with.  I think we are pretty traditional where we spend a lot of time beating it out, trying to figure out what the spine of it is.  We outline pretty heavily and then fill in the dialogue later.  We don’t really write dialogue in the room together.  Quite often Nick will have a character or a sub-plot that he’s more attached to and I’ll have a character or sub-plot that I’m more attached to and we’ll both write on that and then send them back and forth.  I picked up a lot listening to the Creative Screenwriting Podcasts.  I can’t remember who said it but they date it and initial the parts they wrote and so we have hundreds of copies that will say NT for Nick or DB for myself and pretty soon you lose track of whose ideas are whose.  But then you eventually get a story you like out of it.  It also helps to have a writing partner because we all have on days and off days.  If I come in distracted Nick will recognize that I’m useless and start beating the ideas out of me and vice-versa.  I have a great respect for the writing process.  I think it’s the most difficult part of the film making process and I’m consistently striving to do better with it.

Was there a movie you watched as a child that made you want to make your own films?

I don’t know if there was one movie for me but I probably owe everything to James Cameron.  His movies consistently were the ones that I remember being into the most.  I am totally a child of the 80’s.  For a long time we felt like we had to look past that 80’s pop-culture was less fulfilling somehow and we really came back around to appreciating all of these little masterpieces of the 80’ blockbusters.

What is your take on remakes?

I don’t have a problem with it fundamentally.  John Carpenter’s The Thing is a remake.


I think the problem is that the people tend to ride on that capital generated from a remake and don’t care if it’s a good movie.  It’s an awesome movie if they bring a new vision to it, take a risk with it and adapt it to a contemporary setting.  I think it can be a positive experience because it brings the story to a younger generation, I just think that it’s sometimes done poorly.

What movie would you recommend?

For movie fans I used to always try and encourage people to see Cemetery Man.  That movie is fucked up and I love it.

What advice would you suggest for writers?

For a writer I’d suggest reading Tony Gilroy.  Go to simplyscripts.com and download Michael Clayton.  It’s incredible.  It’s the epitome of putting a character between a rock and a hard place.  When you read the script and you watch the movie and then you watch the movie again you have a found respect for that guys chops and what he’s been able to create.  There are all of these people who want to write screenplays but they never read them.  They just watch the movies.  My advice is write as much as you can.

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