I recently got to talk to director David Bruckner for the release of the horror anthology he co-directed, Southbound. I had the privilege of discussing his inspirations, the filmmaking process, and the challenges of anthology filmmaking. The interview has been edited slightly for clarity and also to remove spoilers. I spoke at length with David about specifics of the film, and we’re not in the business of spoilers here at Borrowing Tape. We discussed gore, practical effects, and how his segment reminded me a little bit of Locke with Tom Hardy. The perks of being me, I guess. Enjoy!
So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Southbound today. You guys premiered that at TIFF, right?
What's that experience like? The energy there?
Oh, it’s incredible. I had never been. I was pretty interested to see the city and the festival were just incredible. I had been to Sundance a few times and SXSW which was a blast. We've played it around a few times now and I don't know that I've seen an audience quite as rowdy and fantastic as that midnight audience, you know? It just really gathers a group of people that love movies and love the concept of midnight movies. So, I think we were aiming for that spot. I think that was something that Roxanne Benjamin, in particular, who did a piece and produced was really determined to premiere the film there from the beginning.
I can definitely see how it could appeal to that crowd. It really has that feel to it.
What kind of stuff made you want to be a filmmaker? Did you have any specific movies that served as inspiration for you?
The movies that I really remember from when I was a kid that had kind of a huge impact on me were just you know whatever I had on VHS at the time. For some reason, I had Poltergeist and that movie traumatized me as a young kid. I had real problems with it as a result of seeing it (laughs). But when I was younger, when I was just a kid it was a lot of [James] Cameron. It was definitely the Terminator films were a huge influence, Conan the Barbarian for some reason. You know my dad had a VHS tape of K9 which for some reason I watched a hundred times over. But, you know, the Star Trek movies. I was always Star Trek before Star Wars when I was a kid. Big Wrath of Khan fan. Search for Spock. But I think just whatever I could get my hands on at that age. I would shoot movies on borrowed VHS camcorders because my folks didn't have one. But I was shooting stuff on VHS with my friends when we were in the 9th grade and it just became what we love to do. And then the more we did it the more we fell in love with the form. We just became geeks all around for it. But I grew up very afraid of the horror section at the video store. Like I would sort of creep over to it and look at the back of the boxes and study them. And there were movies where I had relationships with these movies before I was ever allowed to or kind of earned the guts to see them. For years, I looked at the Evil Dead box and for years, I looked at The Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Like I knew all about Freddie but I didn't watch it for a long time. So I was having bad dreams about Freddie before I even saw his movies. Just the concept alone terrified me.
Yeah, I had a similar experience. It was like that section of Blockbuster you don't know if you're allowed to be in.
Yeah, exactly! When I was a kid it was always Kroger, a Southern grocery store, where they had a rental section. There was just a tiny little horror strip. That's how we used to find movies and that's how they used to exist.
How did you become involved with Southbound, specifically?
Well, I had done a segment for V/H/S, which is another horror anthology, and that was more of a solo experience. I was living in Atlanta at the time and I was a fan of several of the filmmakers that were involved in that project's work. So, that was one I just ran off with my creative cohorts. But, the process of bringing V/H/S to the festival circuit, I really got to know a lot of the other filmmakers really well and many of those became friends coming out of that and there's just a lot of camaraderie and respect. Everybody found themselves for a moment in the cross-section, you know, we made this weird thing and what did it mean and what was the response and how did it all come together and i think inside that experience it facilitated just a lot of creative conversation. So, years later when Roxanne Benjamin called me and she knew I was in a little bit of a development hell-swirl, I just had a lot of projects I wanted to get made and it was hard. And she called and just said her and Brad Miska, who was on V/H/S. I'd known Brad since back in 2007 when we did our first movie, The Signal, and her and Brad were gonna go do this other anthology and asked if I wanted to go out and do something crazy with them and that I could be shooting in two months and I could do whatever I want. And so it was a no-brainer. And then through that process we knew we wanted to find another filmmaker and so we came across a bunch of different filmmakers and came across Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath's movie Entrance. And I think we all had a great reverence for what that was. Then we met those guys and were like "yes, come play with us. Let's do this."
What are some of the challenges inherent in the anthology format?
I think some of them we really tried to address in Southbound. It can be tricky to shepherd the audience through kind of a complete experience. The fun of anthologies it that you get freed up from typical story structure and you really get the sense that anything can happen. You never know what's gonna come next. You never know what one films gonna do relative to another and filmmakers take a different kind of risk. Those are the pros. The cons are it can be a little scattershot, it can be a little start-and-stop. The energy and flow of it can sometimes be unintentionally redundant when you're not really looking at what you have. So the challenge I think is to retain the kind of spontaneity of an anthology experience but also make sure it's a fulfilling ride from start to finish. The movies compliment one another in their differences. That's something we were really trying to do in Southbound. Most of that are just structurally inherent. It's like every time you turn the page to a new chapter in a book and you meet new characters, there's just a moment where you have to reinvest as an audience member. And in a movie that can really kill the momentum of the experience that you have so one of the things we tried to do in Southbound was to remove all the Act Ones or to only have a couple of them so that these movies can ebb and flow, break into one another and just pick up where something left off.
I noticed that while I was watching. Your transitions from segment to segment were very smooth and not jarring like a lot of anthology movies I've seen.
Yeah, I think that's something that emerged like a silent idea, this concept of different transitions when you're just in the middle of a story and suddenly you're turning to something else and following that. Their example was that you're in a scene and there's a dog and suddenly the camera starts to follow the dog as he runs away and suddenly you're just with the dog and before you know it, you're in another story. It was really just an interesting proposition of how you could string these things together and what kind of world could you build around that where stories existed kind of in the same world while also being just a stylistic passing of the baton. How literal you take that transition is really up to the audience's interpretation.
How involved are you in the pre-production and post-production process on this? Do you help determine the overarching story or format and in post do you have any say in the final edit and things like that?
This is very much like an indie film. It's like its held together with bubblegum and duct tape (laughs). It's a pretty big tribe of people gathering to try and get an overall picture of what this thing is. So we all developed an overarching story together, what it was, what the world was. And we all brought our own films and our own ideas. We would meet and sometimes our stories would change and somebody would come in the room and say "well what if we did it like this" or "where should that go in the narrative?" Through exploring Roxanne's story, we kind of all came together and formed kind of a proper Act One in the movie. I ended up in the middle. We got really hands-on for everyone through the development process and then on into the pre-production process many of the directors were scouting our own locations. I know I had just moved to L.A. so a huge portion of my evenings when this thing was getting started was just getting in my car and driving out in these desert landscapes. And we had a lot of help from a really fantastic crew and everyone comes on to a project like this because they want to do an indie. They want to do something that's more free from the constraints of a traditional production. And then on the post end, I think most of us cut our own pieces. I know Jason Eisner, who did Hobo with a Shotgun, came in and cut Roxanne's piece and helped me shoot some pickups. But we're all there start to finish all the way to the final screening. Like I edited my section on my laptop at home.
You've dealt with horror pretty much exclusively throughout your career so far. Are there any different genres or subject matters you'd like to tackle in the future?
This may sound pretentious on some level, but I kind of look at the stuff we're doing as satire. I'd really love to do some sci-fi. I've got a survival project I've been working on. It's horrific but just left of horror. I'm drawn to genre. I like the idea that you can take, for lack of a better word, the trashier end of the cinematic spectrum and do something kind of fun and something that implicates the audience in some way or something that brings a problem in society to the surface through the lens of a genre movie. Those are the things I find myself making whether I want to or not. That's just what ends up on screen. But yeah, I would definitely like to do stuff branching out from horror. But I also really appreciate the visceral impact of horror. Like I think movies are felt more than intellectualized in a lot of ways. The sensations of things you put on screen, the spectacle is a lot less important than story and character and plot. But situated well, it’s the icing on top. Every genre has its own version of that. So yeah, I'd like to do some different stuff but it'll all be kind of the same in some ways.