The Academy Award winner discusses his mind-bending new collaboration with his son.
By Rosie Knight|Posted: 21 Sep 2019 10:52 am
It’s rare to find a truly original film in the blockbuster saturated landscape of 2019. But it’s always good to remember that isn’t because they aren’t being made, and Jack Henry Robbins’ VHYES is an example of the kind of exciting, unique, and fun filmmaking that often gets ignored in the face of caped crusaders and explosive action. IGN sat down with VHYES’ executive producer (and Jack’s dad), Tim Robbins, to chat about making the indie gem in the lead up to the film’s world premiere at Fantastic Fest, the importance of tangible media in a digital age, and how the wickedly wacky nostalgic fever dream came to be.Shot entirely on VHS, VHYES began as a series of shorts, the first of which was a porn parody called “Hot Winter.” The hilarious skit focuses on some very sexy scientists who just can’t wait to save the world from global warming and also have a bunch of sex. Robbins took the short to Sundance and then followed it up with the surreal Bob Ross riff “Painting with Joan” that imagines a public access TV painting series hosted by the titular artist. Both of those shorts feature in the tangled narrative of VHYES which plays as if you’ve found someone’s old VHS tape in a thrift store.
“So you can see these ideas have been percolating in Jack for a while,” Robbins laughed. “Then he wanted to expand on the concept and that’s how he came up with the idea of a sort of found videotape where a kid has recorded over his parents’ wedding video. Then Jack and [his co-writer] Nunzio Randazzo came up with this brilliant script.”
The film was Kickstarted and raised over $25,000. For Robbins, the nature of original filmmaking means that finding alternative funding routes like crowdfunding is nothing less than a necessity. “I think we’re on our own if we want to do something interesting or new. That’s just the unfortunate reality, but it’s pretty much always been that way except for a brief period in the ’70s when the inmates had the keys to the asylum.” The passion for making films is something the pair have always shared as Robbins explained. “I was one of those people, that the second I got money, I bought a video camera and I started making shorts around the same age as Jack.”
VHYES speaks to the appeal of tangible media in the age of digital. The recognizable format creates a feeling of universal nostalgia that doesn’t rely on brands or Easter eggs, just the simple nature of discovering an old home video. Crafting that look was what drove the younger Robbins to shoot the film entirely on VHS. “The challenge was that it has to be of this world and, you know, of the ’80s. It has to have a degraded quality to it visually. It has to have that kind of thing that a lot of us still remember.” For the executive producer it harks back to another time where filmmaking was democratized as people could afford their own film cameras for the first time. “Once everyone got a camera, what the hell were people shooting? It was a great liberation that happened around that time when video cameras became affordable. Suddenly everyone could make a movie. So what were they going to do? Or how are they going to express themselves with their new toy? It’s really interesting in a sociological sense. Especially how that ended up precursing the saturation of video culture that we live in now.”
The elder Robbins is clear that the strange and surreal mediation on nostalgia, family, and digital media was solely his son’s creative endeavor. “I loved the script and could imagine what Jack was going to do with it. But I’ve learned to just sit back and watch. I’ve learned to sit back and let him create because this is like the fourth project I’ve done with him. And he doesn’t need my notes, he doesn’t need my help. He’s his own artist, and he creates through his own prism. And it’s really important to allow that freedom as a producer.”
VHYES is at heart a wacky, atmospheric, sci-fi comedy vehicle, but it also–like all the best genre offerings–weaves in intelligent social commentary, utilizing the period setting as a way of highlighting the horrors of the modern age. It was something that didn’t come as a surprise to Robbins. “I mean, look at who his parents are. We’ve always been aware of the world and what’s going on it but we never forced them to do anything, like go to a march or anything, because that’s something that has to come from one’s own personal expression. Otherwise, it’s indoctrination. But I’m always impressed when I see the way that all three of my kids express their activism and political commentary, which always comes with a wicked sense of humor which I think is super. Our job as people that tell stories is not to lecture or to admonish, but to bring people to a place where they can understand something better through laughter or feeling something for a character.”
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