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“V/H/S” co-director Joe Swanberg talks horror, beer and independent filmmaking

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If you’re a fan of horror movies, you’ll probably love “V/H/S.” The Sundance darling was the brainchild of indie filmmakers Adam Wingard, Ti West, Joe Swanberg, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid and the directing quartet known as Radio Silence, and features five various shorts that, when combined, present a stare-at-your-lap-for-a-third-of-the-movie tapestry of found-footage terror.

The film is finally hitting On Demand on August 30 and is due in theaters on October 5, and in anticipation of its arrival for public consumption, IFC had the chance to catch up with Swanberg to chat about his segment of the movie. His 17-minute-long short, “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger,” tells the chilling story of a college student who turns to her long-distance medical school boyfriend when she begins to fear she is haunted by a ghost. The story is told through recorded Skype conversations, and ends up being one of the most unique takes on a classic horror trope that I personally have seen in many years.

Swanberg is best known for his work in the mumblecore genre thanks to films like “LOL,” “Hannah Takes the Stairs” and “Silver Bullets,” so it was a bit of a surprise to see his name on the roster for “V/H/S.” But, as he explained during our conversation, his involvement in the anthology was just his way of starting off on a new direction of his career.

IFC: What inspired you to use a Skype conversation to tell your story?

JOE SWANBERG: I’ve been trying with a lot of my films to sort of chart the way communication’s been changing. So my second feature “LOL” that I made is kind of all about technology and cell phones and laptops and how that stuff is helping and hindering communication. “Uncle Kent,” a movie that I made two years ago, is about a guy who’s sort of heavily into Chatroulette and Craigslist, so it’s just interesting to me.

It’s tricky stuff for films to deal with because the technology’s changing so quickly that I think Hollywood is hesitant to invest a lot of money and research into movies that use technology that may not be relevant in a year or two. But with independent film and shorter stuff like the “V/H/S” segment, it’s a really good opportunity to dive into something that may not be all that interesting for a feature film, like using Skype. I feel like getting to do a 17-minute segment in “V/H/S” was a lot more realistic — and having the whole thing taking place over Skype — than thinking about doing a feature film involving Skype.

IFC: But at the same time it was one of the most surprising because the bait-and-switch came out of nowhere, and that was largely based out of our preconceived notions of long-distance relationships. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for that?

JS: Simon Barrett wrote the segment that I did and he’s somebody who I’ve collaborated with as an actor. I’ve acted in a bunch of films that he’s written that Adam Wingard has directed. So they sort of brought me into the project. I had acted in Ti [West]’s “V/H/S” segment, but it was really Adam and Simon sort of lobbying on my behalf so the producers would sign off, because I’m like nobody’s first choice for a horror anthology. They believed in me and gave me that shot, but Simon wrote it knowing that I would direct it. We kind of talked about different ways to shoot it and felt like just going full in for the Skype thing made a lot of sense.

Also, it is one of these kind of things where basically everything on the Internet is an illusion or could be fabricated. It was really fun to play with that idea for this long-distance couple. And it’s really scary to think that the person you’re talking to who you’re thinking is a long way away is actually right next-door. I think that’s kind of an old horror conceit. That kind of goes back to the old scary story of the babysitter who is getting prank phone calls and they call the police and they say the calls are coming from inside the house or something. I feel like that’s a great classic, and it’s still really scary. The idea is still really scary. I think it’s more scary when it’s somebody you love and trust. That makes it way worse.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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