Director Adam Wingard Discusses His Segment of ‘The ABC’s Of Death;’ Plus ‘You’re Next,’ ‘Dead Spy Running’ And More
Posted on Thursday, January 31st, 2013 by Germain Lussier
Twenty-six letters, twenty-six directors, twenty-six ways to die. That’s the simple premise behind The ABC’s of Death, the crazy anthology horror film that is available on demand today, and will be in theaters on March 8.
Being as today is the first day the public can see this film (which we reviewed here) twenty-six different websites are simultaneously posting interviews with all the directors. We spoke to Adam Wingard, the director of “Q,” seen above. Wingard (left) is also the director behind A Horrible Way to Die, this summer’s (awesome) release You’re Next, and segments in VHS and S-VHS.
He and creative partner Simon Barrett (right, who contributed to all those projects as well) had an unenviable task adapting the letter Q. We discussed that along with the release of You’re Next, the success of S-VHS and his upcoming Warner Bros. film Dead Spy Running. Plus, if you’ve ever wanted to know how a genre director first comprehended death, this interview has the answer, along with a list of Wingard’s favorite on-screen deaths ever.
/Film: How did you first hear about The ABCs of Death? And what made you want to do it?
Adam Wingard: A couple of years ago there was a little hint of it in Ant’s [Timpson, producer] mind. He had talked to me, I think, in 2008 about how he wanted to put together some sort of anthology film, but he didn’t know the best way to do it. At the time I really needed money, so I was like “Cool, yeah let’s do it.” But he was like “I’m not going to do it unless I can figure out an interesting way to put it together.” Flash forward a couple of years later and he propositioned the possibility of doing one of these things. He had the idea and then a couple of months later from there it was like “Hey, remember that idea? Let’s go do that.”
So you were involved from the very beginning? You knew about it almost from day one?
Yeah, I mean I guess I could say that I saw the idea forming early on, but it was a vaguer thing. Then it turned into what it is.
Now I obviously don’t want to spoil too much, but what letter are you responsible for, and what can you tell us about your specific piece?
My letter is “Q.” Going into it they gave each filmmaker the choice to pick their top three letters that they wanted to do and I told Ant and Tim [League] that I didn’t care what I got. I figured if we were getting these letters we might as well use them as inspiration anyways and it kind of defeats the purpose if I’m hedging my bets on certain letters, so I was like “just give me whatever.” Apparently the only other people to do that were the SERBIAN FILM guys. (Laughs) So we got ours and we ended up with “Q” of course…
Probably the last one to go.
I wanted [Simon] to write it for me and we decided to do our short on a version of us making an ABC’S OF DEATH short. I don’t want to spoil anything as I don’t know how much they want anybody to say about their shoots.
Yeah, they probably don’t want to… So the “Q” stands for something, but it’s a spoiler to say what it is?
Yeah, and really just even describing it is pretty much entirely a spoiler.
How long did it take you guys to shoot? Where did you shoot it?
It was right after You’re Next was finished and I needed break, so I took a couple of months off and waited until almost the last minute to do mine. I did it in December  and I think they wanted the shorts in January . We just took a week. We shot it out here in LA and also on the desert somewhere where our effects guy kind of set us up with a location and I had no idea where we were for that. I go out to the desert a lot just to walk around and stuff, you know? So I really enjoy going into the desert anyway, so it was kind of like when we were coming with this thing I was like “I’ve found an excuse to go into the desert.”
And this is going to be your third, anthology contribution released in two years, which is kind of interesting.
(Laughs) Yeah, I’m slowly becoming an expert at doing these anthologies. But it kind of makes sense, because my background really comes from doing a lot of shorts as I was learning the ropes of filmmaking. I would do a ton of shorts and I would do those 48 hour film competitions where you do basically a five to seven minute short in 48 hours. So I think I learned the ropes doing things like that. Coming back, doing more shorts and these things is really a lot of fun, because there’s less at stake, so you can explore and expand that more.
Pretty much everything you’ve done is maybe not straight horror, but has a lot of horror in it. Is that something you want to break out of or are you just having a lot of fun doing that kind of stuff now?
I definitely would consider myself a genre filmmaker, whatever that means to anybody else, but to me I just want to do different types of films that I like and that I think that I can put an interesting stamp on. Right now I’ve gone from serial killer movies to home invasion movies and those just happened to be more horror things, like A Horrible Way to Die really isn’t much of a horror film, but I mean in the future the things I’m focusing on… the next type of genre I want to do is like an action film and possibly an erotic thriller and stuff like that. Basically the same genre, but yeah…
I get it. You’re not going to be making a Failure to Launch any time soon, but anything else is kind of on the table…
Yeah, like I horror movies and I’m not one of those people that think you’re lowering yourself to do a horror film or something like that. So it’s like I like doing them, but at the same time I don’t want to get stuck doing them. I’d love to do a ghost movie right now, but at the end of the day it’s like “Is that the smart career choice?” Like action, for example, is an opportunity to branch out and once you’re branched out you can go back.
And it seems like you’re getting the chance to do that with Dead Spy Running at Warner Bros. What can you say about that at this point?
It’s a cool project. Simon is busy writing now and it’s a wild action film. Can’t really say much more at this moment.
I saw You’re Next at Fantastic Fest 2011 and thought it was so fucking awesome. After a long while, Lionsgate finally announced an August 23 release date. How did you find out?
I got word of Lionsgate’s intention to release the film last August during the weekend of Possession‘s opening. We got caught up in a very complicated situation with the Summit merger so pretty much all of 2012s slots were full. But when The Possession did well I think they quickly decided we would be perfect to inhabit that spot next year. Needless to say I was relieved to have a concrete date.
Having seen the movie, it does leave itself open to a sequel, so I’ve got to ask the pointless geek question before the movie is even out, have you thought about what would happen in a sequel to You’re Next?
Oh yeah. Yeah. I think I have a really fun idea for a sequel. The thing about it is maybe it’s going to work out, because maybe the film will come out and if it does well and a sequel is greenlit, maybe at that point we would feel more comfortable coming back as a team and doing it, whereas right now if the movie was going to go into production we would probably try to tailor it for another director and writing team for a rewrite. Maybe if the timing works out and we feel, career-wise, comfortable enough to jump into a sequel, which obviously is a risky thing. But the idea that we have, I think, is such a fun approach to a sequel. Basically we would take it like the first movie is Alien and the next movie is Aliens.
Okay, right on, which was how I saw the movie the first time. I was like “I totally thought I saw where it was going….” It was a lot tighter than I thought it was going to be, without spoiling anything for people who haven’t seen it, which is most people.
Yeah, and the movie wasn’t necessarily written with a continuing story in mind, but it was one of those things where once we filmed it and kind of knew what kind of movie it was, it became completely obvious where we would take a sequel and it’s not entirely obvious when you’re watching it, but I think once we develop that story I think people will watch it and be like “Okay, this makes sense and also an awesome approach for a sequel and it’s not like some bullshit throwaway sequel either.”
Speaking of sequels, Sundance just ended and S-VHS was a huge hit there. It was surprising though cause you had V/H/S there last year. How did that work out?
Plans for a sequel were put into place immediately after Sundance last year so most of the segments were completed before the middle of the summer. Everyone’s schedule worked out so we just went for it. None of us knew how this would be received since the first one wasn’t even out yet but it was kind of a now or never situation. If we hesitated I kind of think it wouldn’t have happened at all, much less made it in time for Sundance this year.
Magnolia picked up the film, any idea when we might see it?
I would assume September or October just like the first one.
As a film geek and a student of movies as you’ve been watching them as a kid. What are some of your daily habits that feed that? Do you visit websites, or watch movies every day? In your day-to-day life, how do you define yourself as a film geek?
You know, I don’t know that I watch movies every day anymore. I watch a lot of episodic TV like Mad Men and stuff like that, but really at the end of the day… I have a real issue with watching movies in my apartment and it makes me watch less movies, because if I can’t watch it really loud with the best picture quality, then I start feeling like I’m missing out or sometimes I’m like…. I live right by The New Beverly Theater down here, so sometimes it’s also one of those situations where I’m like “I could watch this movie that I really like again, but it will probably play at The New Beverly at some point.” (Laughs) Or I can just get a Blu-ray of it and bring it to the office. So sometimes I get bogged down it technical shit like that.
That’s cool. I do the same thing with The New Beverly. The last two questions are the questions every director is getting asked that’s doing this, first up is what is your favorite movie death?
Let me think about that for a second… I would probably say it’d be a tie between Scatman Crothers getting killed in The Shining with the axe. I really like that one, because it’s so brutal and real. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a convincing axe kill, even outside of that movie really, that I can think of. I like how it’s not overly gratuitous, it just feels like “Whoa, that guy just got an axe in his chest” and it’s such a shocking moment in the film and it’s also a jump scare. Everything about it lends itself to being the perfect kill scene. Then also I would say that Irreversible fire hydrant scene.
Oh god, yeah.
Just because I had never seen anything like that before, so the first time witnessing that you are… Normally you can kind of pick out how they did it, like through editing or whatever kind of special effects, but when I saw that like I had never seen somebody integrate violence with CGI before or computer techniques and it’s done fairly seamlessly. I haven’t watched it in the last year or two, so I don’t know maybe it doesn’t hold up quite as well anymore.
I totally understand and it’s interesting that both of your choices are. They are both great kills, but they both have something in the filmmaking that makes them special.
Exactly. Everything has been done a million times. With all of these crazy Italian films where they’ve probably killed everybody in every way possible, which I do like that kind of shit too, like those really bad looking Fulci close ups, but yeah if it’s motivated in the story it makes the violence that much more impacting.
Last question: when/how did you first comprehend death?
This is going to sound completely made up, but literally when I realized that everybody dies and every thing dies and that the world was basically indifferent to it was when I was a kid I was traveling with my parents and we stopped at a rest stop and up to that point I had a thing where I really liked butterflies for whatever reason… I just thought they were pretty and I remember we were going back into the car and I looked in the drainage ditch and there was a dead butterfly and its wings were all shredded up and it was like the first one I had seen or really had taken note of… I’m sure I saw dead bugs and stuff like that, but a butterfly was this beautiful thing, kind of mystical in a way and so I had never seen anything like that dead or even comprehended that that was a possibility. I just remember the first time realizing “We are all going to die” when I saw this dead butterfly. (Laughs) It totally sounds ridiculous.
It sounds like the scene out of Kill Bill, with the goldfish.
Yeah, I mean I guess that’s the funny thing about it and I think that’s why everybody has much harder time with animals dying than they do like human’s dying sometimes or seeing people being torture as opposed to animals being tortured or something. I think basically your first instincts on mortality are confirmed through your witness of innocent things dying and those ring the most and in close proximity, so it makes sense that other people would probably have similar kind of reactions to it, or made up ones for movies.
The ABC’s of Death is on demand today, and in theaters March 8.