Veteran Filmmaker Brad Sykes Brings Together Old and New SOV Elite to Create the Throwback Horror Anthology HI-8! Coming Soon to VCR Near You from the VHS Vindicators at Wild Eye Releasing!
Brad gets down with some on-set direction in his segment "The Scout" DIG THE FIRE IN THE EYES.Can you tell us a little bit about your filmmaking background, Brad? How did you get into making movies? I was a big movie fan growing up – especially the horror and fantasy genres – and I always liked writing stories and drawing comic books. When I was fourteen, I got my first Hi-8 video camera and started shooting shorts with friends, many of them horror, and while still in high school we made our first feature, Bad Blood, which was reviewed in Film Threat Video Guide magazine. I went on to make seven more features on Hi-8 during high school and during college (Boston University’s film program), and after moving to LA to work in the industry I was showing these shorts and features to anyone who would watch them. This helped me start working in production and my last Hi-8 feature, The Pact, and got me my first professional writing/directing job, Scream Queen, in 1998.
A look at Sykes' film re-booted on VHS by Sub Rosa. Dig that Paragon get-up, mang.You’re the co-producer and just one of the eight directors on Hi-8. Can you tell us how this project came about, and how you went about assembling the team of directors for this indie horror anthology? In a way, it goes back to the Hi-8 feature I mentioned earlier, The Pact, which I made back in 1995. In 2012, Ron Bonk from SRS Cinema expressed interest in releasing it as a VHS/DVD combo, but before we could do that, I had to redo the music track. This was a movie I hadn’t looked at in over 10 years, and while re-scoring it I started thinking about how much fun it was to make movies back then, how simple the process was, when you had total creative freedom, and nobody to answer to but yourself. Around the same time, I joined a Facebook group called SOV: The True Independents, which is all about appreciating the SOV movies of the 80’s and 90’s. A lot of heavy hitters were in this group…Tim Ritter, Todd Sheets, Chris Seaver, you name it. At the end of 2012, I saw a thread basically saying: “with all the talent we have here, someone should make an anthology.” Tim Ritter came up with the title “Hi-8: Horror Independent 8”, an obvious riff on the VHS films. I thought it was a great idea, and a chance to make a really unique anthology with many of the established SOV filmmakers, which nobody had done before. So I contacted Tim about making the movie a reality, and then talked to my wife and producer, Josephina, about Exec- Producing the movie through our production company, Nightfall Pictures. Everyone was enthusiastic about the project, so we started moving forward with it in early 2013. Obviously the first and most important step was assembling the “eight”, and we wanted filmmakers who were veterans of the SOV scene and had their own particular styles and strengths. Aside from myself and Tim, we invited Marcus Koch, Todd Sheets, Ron Bonk, Donald Farmer, and Chris Seaver to contribute shorts to “Hi-8”. We also wanted one fresh voice, someone who was inexperienced but passionate. That ended up being Tony Masiello, who is a true SOV historian and works professionally in visual effects. I should point out that I did not know any of the eight filmmakers beforehand, except for Tony who I had worked with on a few projects. The whole movie was put together via emails and phone calls, and primarily on Facebook. These filmmakers are based all over the USA so we couldn’t meet up traditionally, so a lot of the communication was online. Even though this was a “retro” project, it was very modern in the way it was put together.
The super-rad poster for HI-8 from artist Anthony Catanese!I read on the world weird web that there are 8 essential guidelines for this flick. Can you tell us what those are, and why those touchstones are so important to you and the other filmmakers? Early on, I put together a list that I ended up calling “The “8 Simple Rules of HI-8” and sent it to all the filmmakers. Here is the list: 8 SIMPLE RULES FOR HI-8 RUNNING TIME: Each short can be no longer than 10 minutes but no shorter than 8. FORMAT: Choose your weapon, be it VHS, Hi-8, Digital 8, miniDV. No HD, 1080P, DSLRs. LIGHTING: Use no more lights than you’d find in a standard 3-point lighting kit. Don’t be afraid to use the best and cheapest light source – the sun! CAMERAWORK: Handheld or tripod only. No dollies or elaborate jib arms, steadicam rigs, etc. SOUND: Outboard boom mics are accepted, but using the onboard mic is also acceptable, as long as all dialogue is clearly audible. For exteriors, wind noise is OK and encouraged. SPECIAL EFFECTS: Old school makeup FX are encouraged, the gore the merrier. NO CGI, VISUAL FX, GREENSCREEN of any kind allowed. EDITING/POST: Edit on whatever program you want. Keep sound and picture editing relatively basic and simple, imagine you are cutting on a non-linear system. No high tech post effects (compositing, greenscreen, etc.) allowed. ASPECT RATIO: All shorts must be FULLSCREEN, 4X3, just like the good old days before (real and fake) letterboxing. These were technical rules, not creative ones. We didn’t want to tell anyone what type of film to make, or censor them in any way. I thought these technical restrictions would make everyone more creative, and have more fun in the process. And obviously give the whole movie a nice retro tone in terms of the look, sound, etc. Dig that, man. Are there wraparounds for this, or is it more of a collection of tales? Can you give us an idea of what kind of story each director is bringing to the tape-covered table? There is a wraparound story, again based in my experiences shooting shorts with my friends as a teenager. I wasn’t sure what we were going to do for the wraparound at first. I was more concerned about just getting the shorts from everyone! We knew what we DIDN’T want, and that was a standard “Crypt Keeper” type character talking to a group of people or the viewer, or someone flipping through a book, or watching a bunch of VHS (*ahem*). Finally, after a few of the shorts were delivered, we decided to go with a more “active” approach, where in between each short, you follow these three teenagers around who are making their own horror movie, on an “old” Hi-8 camera. I won’t tell you what happens but the shooting day doesn’t end well for them. Essentially, it’s a ninth story with a beginning, middle and ending. In terms of the other filmmakers’ contributions, I don’t want to go too much into specifics, but what may surprise viewers (and certainly surprised us) is how some filmmakers deviated from expectations, if you know their past work. For example, Ron Bonk is known for dark, psychological horror stories, but for Hi-8 he did a really funny (and gory) zombie story. Todd is known for his gory zombie flicks, but his contribution plays more like an old Tales from the Darkside or Hitchhiker episode. Other filmmakers like Tim Ritter and Chris Seaver made films that are more in line with what you expect from them. So there’s a lot of variety in this film, which was one of my hopes for it.
A still from the HI-8 wraparound segment! She better run a little faster than that, mang! WORK IT OUT!How has the process been bringing it all together? Working with so many SOV legends and creating this living throwback to the SOV school of filmmaking has to be a pretty groovy experience… It’s been a very unique experience, and one I never expected. I am not usually Exec-Producing movies and have very little experience with anthologies. But this was just too good to pass up and one of the exciting aspects of filmmaking is always doing something new. And let’s face it: I was approaching this as both a filmmaker and a fan, as I grew up renting some of these guy’s flicks, and others who are closer to my age, I have a lot of respect for their work. So it was very exciting, and fun to interact with them, and see what they bring to the table. It was also fun deciding what order to put the shorts in, creating a certain “flow” to the finished film. The hardest part of the process was ironically, not the shoots, which mostly went smoothly, but the post, which took quite a while, and sorting out some of the paperwork. We had an awesome supervising editor, Chris Lorusso, who was enormously helpful and is a real SOV fan himself. We had a completed film around eight months after we first started emailing everyone, so I was pleased with how fast we got it all done. We love anthologies here in Lunchmeat Land, man. Why do you think this particular formula of filmmaking has endured so well, and continues to attract viewers? I love them, too! Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt being my two favorites. Their enduring popularity probably comes from the variety; it’s like getting four or five (or more) horror films in one! What’s interesting is, unlike the older anthologies, which were usually directed by one person, a lot of the newer ones seem to involve many different directors, which I think is much more interesting and unpredictable to watch. The challenge then is to keep the whole project creatively unified, which we tried to do with Hi-8.
Still one of best EXECUTED horror anthologies of all-time. Never seen it? Fix dat.Hi-8 is getting the VHS treatment along with a DVD release from Wild Eye Entertainment. With so many OG shot-on-video filmmakers on this project, is there an element of excitement for you guys to be able to put the films on tape as a viable means of distribution? Gotta dig that rewind retribution, right? Any extras on the VHS? For the DVD? I’m excited about the Wild Eye release, and I know a lot of the other Hi-8 directors are, too. In fact, recently just about all of us have had retro VHS releases of our past work being distributed. The difference is that this will be the first NEW movie for all of us getting released on VHS! The VHS release was actually one of the things we really wanted from a distributor as part of our deal, along with a DVD of course. Wild Eye has a great track record with these VHS releases, and their DVDs as well, so we really thought they were a good match for Hi-8. There will be extras on the DVD, a making-of, commentary track, stills gallery and more!
A peek at the upcoming analog edition from Wild Eye with art from Devon Whitehead! Exclusively available at Wild Eye only!Do you still collect and watch VHS? What is it about the format that you love? Yes, I do. I have a few hundred VHS in my collection and I’m getting more all the time! Obviously there’s a tremendous nostalgia factor involved. I love the artwork. A lot of these movies are not on DVD and may never be. But there are others that are and yet I still would rather have the tape than a DVD. Why? I think it’s a question only true VHS fans can answer. I grew up with the format and my first job was in a mom and pop video store. So plenty of VHS memories there. What do you think’s the best thing to come out of the VHS resurgence? Anything that’s really surprised you with its rise in appreciation and celebration? The best thing I see is people discovering and treasuring movies on VHS that would otherwise be forgotten and disappear, like many of the original silent films did. The fans and collectors are taking it upon themselves to preserve VHS history and archiving and, in some cases, obtaining the rights and legitimately re-releasing these films. The Abomination is a good example. I rented that back in the day and figured it would just fall off the radar completely. But now here it is in a big box VHS release that people can enjoy. I myself am constantly discovering films that I never even knew existed thanks to exuberant fans and distributors. I wish I had time to see them all.
Some old-school practical gore from Sykes' segment "The Scout"! THAT'S GOTTA HURT!Okay, Brad, give us your top three SOV movies of all-time, and your most favorite movie munchies… I would go with The Burning Moon, Shatter Dead and Droid. The first two for their scope and ambition, which were very inspiring to me as a young filmmaker. And the last for its sheer lunacy. Munchies? If I’m in the movie theatre, junior mints are a must. At home, anything chocolate and a glass of red wine. What’s next for you, Brad? Where can we keep up with you? Aside from Hi-8, I have another film that was recently completed called Burying the Ex It’s the new Joe Dante film and I was a co-executive producer on it. It’s screening at the Venice Film festival in September. As a director, I think my next project will be a solo outing. We have plenty of scripts here at Nightfall that we want to get in front of the cameras next year. You can keep up with us at www.nightfall-pictures and at the Nightfall FB page. You can also keep track of all the developments for “Hi-8” at www.Hi8themovie.com and https://www.facebook.com/Hi8HorrorIndependent8 Anything else you wanna say to all the analog-crazed VHS heads eyeballin’ this blog? Thanks for having me, and I hope everyone who reads this enjoys Hi-8. We really tried to make a unique, unpredictable, and - most of all, FUN horror film that stands out from the crowd and brings back those video store memories.
Now you KNOW we can dig that, Brad! Any chance we get to groove on back to that heady video store vibe, we’re there, dude. Hi-8 sounds like it’s going to be a whole lot of video era throwback thunder packed into one excellent analog-inspired anthology, so be sure to groove on over to the Official Hi-8 Facebook to give ‘em a like and stay updated on their analog-inclined info and magnetic musings, man! The VHS should be available on October 21st, and Wild Eye Releasing will have it up for consumption just in time to go with your candy-coated Halloween marathon! Dig that. Oh, and if you’re in the New York area, you do not want to miss the most bodacious and video vivacious VHS fest that’s goin’ down in a couple weeks and will be featuring all kinds of SOV-driven happenings including Q and A’s with influential SOV filmmakers, screenings (including one for Hi-8!) and of course, TONS of VHS for sale and trade! DIG IT! Clickity-click this here link and get all the info on how to get on over to VHS Fest! It’s gonna be fun, mang!