Adam Wingard is a simple guy. He’s a tall with a goateed and lives in a very basic Mid-City apartment. He has all of his essentials–a television, a few video games, some DVDs, a small desk, a computer, one or two pieces of art–and a giant poster for the horror film A Horrible Way To Die. The poster is on the right wall when you walk in and is perhaps something that you would look at when you switch on the lights. The poster features and upside down blonde woman who is flanked by the title. She probably is in fact in the process of experiencing a horrible death. Adam takes a look at it and mentions he put it on the wall because his girlfriend was flying in to visit. He adds in the detail that it is one of those posters that is supposed to be backlit, a poster that only a movie theatre would be in possession of. Also, he directed the movie.
Adam is a horror film director that is within the same world as lo-fi, “indie” horror directors like Ti West and Joe Swanberg. They are a group of working horror voices who are redefining the genre and adding creativity, invention, and actual scares instead of useless gore to film. He along with collaborator and writer Simon Barrett have contributed to films like V/H/s, and The ABCs of Death in addition to their own films, You’re Next, What Fun We’re Having, and A Horrible Way To Die.
Adam–like Simon–is in no way scary and doesn’t seethe with an inner darkness. Aside from the movie poster and some admittedly funny horror/art mashups on the wall, he’s any other recent LA transplant in his twenties. Adam grew up in small town in Alabama and has always wanted to work in film. “Ever since I was a really little kid, I remember that I wanted to be a filmmaker,” he says, taking a seat on his couch. Ambient music plays in the background, a calming and ironic backdrop to the conversation we have on horror and Los Angeles. “That was always something that I pursued, even as a kid out in the middle of nowhere.”
“The funny thing about growing up in Alabama is that you feel like you’re so far removed from everywhere else on the planet, especially a place like Los Angeles. You see all the movies coming out of here and it looks totally different from anywhere else in Alabama and the vibe is totally different. There are all kinds of movies about the violence in LA so it seems kind of intimidating as well. I had this weird impression of it growing up but, in the back of my head, I knew even though it was a place I was a little scared of, it was a destination that I’d have to end up in to be in the film industry.”
Adam eventually dropped out of high school and attended film school at eighteen. He moved to Orlando and had some crazy experiences, eventually moving back to Alabama to make movies with friends. He met Simon while working in his home state, which was the beginning of a creative and collaborative relationship that still continues today.
“The way that I got to Los Angeles? Geez,” Adam says with a small laugh. “I wasn’t one of those people who moved here with big dreams of being a filmmaker. I kind of ended up here: I had already made a couple of movies–low budget stuff that played in festivals–and I had been visiting friends who all live here. I didn’t want to make a move because I’m lazy. I figured I would wait until my actual career takes me here. We eventually did this movie You’re Next, which I edited here. Halfway through editing and filming, I realized that I’m basically here and I need a place.”
Adam had lived around town, relocating from couch to couch and eventually in with a girl he was dating. Finding a place to live of his own wasn’t that high priority: he just wanted a place to sleep. “I never had time to find an apartment because I was so busy working,” he says. “Every place I went to in Los Feliz (which is where I wanted to live) was not right or wasn’t close enough to the areas that I liked or wasn’t big enough or there was a pool with kids playing in it right outside the bedroom window. I just wasn’t able to find a place that I felt ok with.”
He found the place we have our conversation in while editing You’re Next. He had a free thirty minute window one morning, saw the place, and signed a lease. “I thought I’d move out with my six month lease in February but I’m still here now. I definitely don’t feel very comfortable in this part of town because I like to take walks. It’s just so urban. I’d like to be in the hills ideally, living in Beachwood Canyon or Los Feliz.”
Adam likes Los Angeles but is still very new, the Alabaman in him still very present. You can even discern this from a very faint Southern accent in his voice. “All the movie stuff that I did was all setup in Alabama,” he says. “I’ve actually only shot one and a half things in LA and they were both short films. Everything I’ve ever shot was out of town. There is this preconception in the film industry that ‘if you want to make it’ you have to make it in LA–and that works for some people. I think by and large the more responsible thing to do is figure out your shit elsewhere and when it makes sense move out here. Don’t try to force it.”
“If I were out here trying to find work as a filmmaker, I would have nothing to show for it,” he says of his relationship to the city and his line of work. “It’s not an easy place to start either. It’s expensive, shooting permits are really restrictive–it’s a hard place to be. At the end of the day, it is at the heart of the action though. Now that we have an active career, it makes more sense to be here because there are people who actually want to meet with us and there are multiple projects we have in development. If I lived in Alabama, I would just end up having to fly out here all the time or do phone meetings (which are awful).”
Adam is a director and occasionally edits. He doesn’t write (That’s what Simon’s for.) so he’s always trying to find ways to occupy his time, a funny scenario as he is always busy. “That’s one of the problems with being a non-writing director. I spend a lot of my time waiting for Simon to write a script or something to come my way or develop things. There’s a lot of trying to sedate yourself with food and movies and pot and trying not to spend too much money before the next project to come through.”
Whatever he’s doing is working, though. They have a lot of movies preparing for decent releases and a project in development with McG. “It’s kind of a weird in between feeling of being really busy but not necessarily feeling really busy,” he adds. “I feel like we’re taking a lot of meetings and Simon is always writing and we always have something to work on.”
Being in Hollywood, the movie capital of the world, you’d think there would be a correlation to his work aside from being closer to meetings. Surprisingly, there isn’t that much for Adam. “It’s really hard to say because the type of movies we make are so not LA movies,” he says. “I feel like the influence we get is indirect in the sense of people here being so hungry to do similar work. You see people coming at this time and time again: why are people able to make movies you want to see and others are making schlock all the time? You’re totally saturated by that here.”
“That’s one of the main things that opened up my eyes because, before, I felt I was a lot more self-indulgent as a filmmaker. I was basing my stuff more on experimental films. I had this idea in my head that a lot of young filmmakers have: you do something and you think that even if it isn’t perfect it is what you’re doing so it must be interesting because I made this choice and I am the artist. I recognized that and, having worked in this town for a little bit, Simon and I realized we should do stuff that is a little more audience friendly and that sticks to our roots.”
This is a very important quality to learn in a town with a large population of film hungry persons. This is what has set Adam and Simon apart from the rest. “If you feel like you are getting off path as a filmmaker, you should always look back at what your interests were when you were fourteen or fifteen. That’s when things started sinking in, at least for me. My interests weren’t crazy art films or this or that: they were straight up accessible, Hollywood movies. I had seen art house films but the thing I wanted to do was action movies and horror movies on a big scale so thats what we’re playing with now.”
“For a long time, I started buying into the whole notion that making accessible films is selling out, that wanting to do these big scale projects is bad. I ultimately realized that somewhere along the lines that starting out with no budget you can’t make big scale Hollywood films: you have to make what you can make. What do you make? You can make art house films with an emotional impact or experimental aspect to it. Even with a horror movie you don’t need a big budget to get the point across to the audience. I wanted to combine what I learned in doing these low budget, artistic, experimental films with the mainstream fourteen year old aesthetic: that’s what made it work. One couldn’t work without the other.”
The resulting films are fresh post-modern horror stories that are both embedded in late seventies style scares and dramatic, personal dilemmas. “It’s an interesting time,” Adam explains. “This is a unique point in film history where its this weird intermingling of mumblecore and horror movies. That is to say, super low budget character driven stories are being tossed together with high concept horror. I should clarify that I think the term “mumblecore” is a subjective one, but to me it represents a low budget style of almost hyper real performances filmed in a uniquely sloppy way that is also a pathway to create a sense of hyper reality that is almost uncomfortable or ugly to watch. This is something that doesn’t cost money to achieve but the results are fascinating. ”
“The interesting thing–which is why you hear about so many people doing horror anthologies now–is it is all related to mumblecore. Technology is at the point where even without trying, movies have a film like quality with cameras like the 5d. The equipment and celluloid cost aspect has been removed from the equation as being expensive. You can literally make movies for nothing. What do you fill that up with? If you still don’t have any money to spend on anything else, then it becomes about characters.”
“It only makes sense that horror and mumblecore meet,” Adam continues. “Both of them come from the world of the low budget, but you put them together and it sparks something artistic because you don’t have to write a script to make a mumblecore movie because it’s all based on your performers and spontaneity. With a horror film, the scripts are usually so bad anyway that mumblecore can bring a life to it that otherwise didn’t exist before because it has that spontaneity. It elevates low budget horror because you are taking a more artistic or at least reality based approach to it. You’re taking it from a character perspective. I feel like the anthology thing is happening because everything can be done so cheaply and you can get bigger or more recognizable people behind the camera and throw them all together in a soup and say, ‘Here’s a couple grand: make a movie.’ It becomes a competition to make a good movie despite budget but it doesn’t waste anyones time and the career stakes are low.”
“We’ve been hired to do bigger projects but I think the more exciting thing is not a matter of taking scripts to studios but to keep working with Simon and to keep doing our thing,” Adam says. “I can’t imagine leaving LA because it wouldn’t make any sense.”