Thursday, February 11, 2016

Gautier Cazenave on "House of VHS"

What was your filmmaking background before making "House of VHS"?

GAUTIER: I started making short video movies in high school, back in the 90s. The length and scope of the movies gradually increased, until I traded "short", "amateur" and "random" for "feature-length", "professional" and "commercial".

My first project was called Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein, but it was too expensive and complicated for a first feature film, so I decided to go for a straightforward "haunted house" movie with only one set and a limited number of characters.

Where did the idea come from and what was the process for writing the script?

GAUTIER: I once saw a garage full of boxes containing VHS tapes. Hundreds and hundreds of them. And I wondered how many stories, characters, universes were stacked together in these boxes. The idea that these universes could interact was the basis for the script.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your distribution plan for recouping your costs?

GAUTIER: The budget came mostly from the company I had created with a friend of mine. We also raised 3000€ from two small crowdfunding campaigns, and there were a few investors who came in to complete the budget.

There was no distribution company attached until the film's completion. Now it's with TomCat Films, a US company run by Ted Chalmers, and we hope to get it out on DVD, VOD and TV in a few countries.

What challenges did you face to shoot a horror film with special effects and what were your solutions to the biggest problems?

GAUTIER: Our original 12-days shoot included two days of special effects. The girl in charge of that part texted me the day before we started filming, asking whether we could move her days later in the shoot. But then we stopped hearing from her, and after a few days, it became clear that she would NEVER show up. She had all the props that we needed to film the FX scene, and we were left with no other option than to shoot without effects.

The original ending had monsters and weird stuff going on, so I simply had to rewrite everything on the spot, taking into account the new things that we have filmed, and the idea brought by the actors. It ended up being more satisfying than the first ending, in a way.

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

GAUTIER: We used a Canon 5D Mark II, with film lenses. We didn't shoot in raw, because the budget was so tight that we couldn't afford to store and do post-production on heavy footage. The end result is very satisfying.

The most frustrating part is the lack of machinery: we didn't have much, and there was not enough time or crew members to set up sophisticated shots, so the camera was mostly handheld or on a tripod. We did manage to do a couple of shots with a minijib though.

How much did the story change in the editing process and why did you make the changes you did?

GAUTIER: It evolved a lot thanks to the footage of the films that the characters are viewing. We used clips from public domain movies, and together they formed a subliminal story that is really essential to the film's personality. We cut almost nothing from what we filmed, only a few lines here and there. Every single shot we made found its way into the movie!

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

GAUTIER: When we filmed the scenes for the new ending, I made sure that they would work without special effects, but still had room to insert a few if needed. So we were able to shoot inserts a few months later, and also add discreet visual effects here and there.

My biggest mistake was to consider that certain scenes were going to be 100% musical, so I told the sound mixer that we didn't need him to record any sound. Then in post, I realized that we DID need a bit of sound, so we had to recreate it.

 And, finally, what did you learn from making this feature that you will take to other projects?

GAUTIER: I learned way too many things to list them all here, but I think the most important is to always focus on what you're trying to tell, regardless of the details, the cool shots you had in mind or the jokes you're fond of. Seeing the big picture while working on the details is what gets you to the finish line.

I try to keep that in mind now that I'm back to Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein. We have already filmed a few nice scenes, and we're trying to keep going thanks to an already successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo:

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