“V/H/S”| Filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Chad Villella
For our segment of V/H/S (“10/31/98”), we spent an entire night searching for a train. After hours of driving around, we still couldn’t get what we needed, so we decided to park near some tracks and wait. It was a little after midnight on a Tuesday and there we were: four friends, grown men sitting in a parked car with lights off, down a dark alley somewhere in South Los Angeles, dressed up as a pirate, a Marine, a life-sized teddy bear & the Unabomber. A woman walking by caught a glimpse of us and quickly picked up her pace–and I’m sure our awkward attempts to look as nonthreatening as possible only made it creepier (Sorry!). But that’s why I love movies, because they allow nights like that to be completely normal and totally acceptable. I was raised on The Twilight Zone, Indiana Jones, and The Goonies, I watched 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea and Ghostbusters until the tapes wore out, so my favorite stories have always been about the promise of a big adventure for an ordinary kid–a chance to learn about life through some over the top, thrilling once-in-a-lifetime journey. And even though I’m not a kid anymore, making movies has given me the opportunity to live out those fantasies: to search for buried treasure and run from UFOs, to take on militias and zombies and a 50-foot long cave-dwelling desert beast, to leap through time and battle a medieval dragon (that you never see for budgetary reasons, of course). It took us all night, but we finally caught our shot of the train. We got to create our own adventure. And that’s one of the million reasons I love movies, because even if just for a few moments, they let the make-believe to feel so incredibly real.
Filmmaking is hard. Damn hard. As a medium that is a combination of so many other crafts – writing, music, photography, performance, sculpture, painting- I think making a film is really, in a lot of ways, about attempting (and struggling) to understand each of these individual processes. It’s gathering together a group of crazy people who serve the above list in some specific way, and asking them to solve a puzzle no one has ever seen using an infinite number of shape shifting-pieces that change just when you think you have them set in place. It’s a process that can seem futile unless you’re surrounded by friends. I think there are few mediums that have the ability to unite creative mind like film. I’ve been working with the same group of friends for 4 years and every time we set out to create something, I’m unfailingly amazed and absolutely humbled by the experience. It usually begins with a small and easily producible concept (four friends on their way to a party…) that, in a matter of minutes, grows into a long list of seemingly impossible-to-produce ideas (demonic possession, violent paranormal killings, floating dishes, etc….) that somehow, miraculously, manages to become a (hopefully) entertaining film (V/H/S). So many imaginations and personalities are required to make these impossibilities possible and discovering the chemistry of these relationships is part of what’s so creative and rewarding about filmmaking. It isn’t possible to solve the countless problems that stand between an idea and the screen unless you have a family of minds working toward that singular goal – a process that has put me in touch with more magic and deeper friendships than I thought possible. All this to say: it’s fun. Filmmaking is fun. Damn fun.
I just enjoy entertaining an audience. If I’m having fun, the audience will have fun, and that’s really what it’s all about for me. V/H/S was a great opportunity to experiment with the found footage medium. We really tried to answer all the problems that plague the medium, and use them to our advantage. In the end, you’re left with a very exciting movie, and something you wouldn’t necessarily expect.
Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, there is not a lot of stuff for kids to do besides play sports and find creative ways to entertain themselves. I remember being a persuasive kid, and for a school project in 9th grade, I was able to talk a teacher into letting me make a movie instead of writing a paper for the class. The class, however, was International Studies, so I had to create “Amsterdam” in the middle of nowhere. With a VHS camera (my, how I’ve come full circle), my friends and I toured around our town to create this historic European city in a small town most famous for it’s groundhog (yes — I grew up in Punxsutawney). We went to the man-made lake, shot in front of a dam, filmed some soccer matches, and got some nice old man, who was out fishing for the afternoon, to look directly into the camera and say, “I am a Dutch Fisherman.” When we showed the movie during class, the response was staggering, unforgettable, and, most importantly, impressionable. A class that dragged on for what seemed like hours, day after day, boring report after boring report, came to life with a new found energy from the moment I hit “play.” The excitement, laughter and overall response from my peers (and teacher) made me know that I wanted a life of telling stories. And, even though I probably didn’t have one historically accurate fact in my project, I got an A in the class.