Vanessa & Joseph Winter

IFH 645: Directing as a Team & NOT Killing Each Other with Vanessa & Joseph Winter


Vanessa and Joseph Winter are a writer/director duo best known for their critically acclaimed SXSW midnighter “Deadstream,” a horror comedy coming to Shudder in October. They also wrote and directed a segment of the highly anticipated V/H/S/99 which will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Their feature debut, Deadstream, has been getting rave reviews since it debuted at SXSW (it’s at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes). The film is about a disgraced internet personality who tries to win back followers by live-streaming himself alone at a haunted house. The whole thing takes place in real-time and is a found-footage style film with the bonkers horror-comedy feel of early Sam Raimi. It’s a funny satire of social personalities and a creepy, supernatural flick. It impressively balances the mixture of tones.

They also have a segment in the latest entry to the V/H/S/ series, V/H/S/99. It premiered at TIFF, with many critics citing their segment “To Hell And Back” as a highlight. Like Deadstream, it mixes horror with comedy and is filled with horrific, practical creatures.

Vanessa and Joseph met in film school and have worked together ever since. Before shifting to focus on writing/directing/acting, the duo cut their teeth doing everything from art direction to score composition to costumes to production design to editing. They have an interesting story about getting these projects off the ground that feels like a great fit for the podcast. Joseph also listens to Indie Film Hustle and was excited to be part of the show!

Please enjoy my conversation with Vanessa & Joseph Winter.

Joseph Winter 0:00
We made that stream as a huge swing, everything about it, we put everything on the line for the movie. Why would we stop doing that right now when this guy is telling us there is a shot, a small shot, but a shot. So we came back and said, Alright, let's do it. Let's talk to the sales agent, we withdrew from the past that we had like some of the small ones we've been accepted to. And we just, he, the sales agent started submitting for us, which is how most festivals are programmed. And

Vanessa Winter 0:30
It sounds it sounds dumb, but it was so nerve wracking because we'd had some offers for distribution. And I felt like, you know, if we pull out of the fall festivals, which is very genre friendly, there's a chance that nobody we get rejected from the bigger festivals, and nobody just ever sees our movie.

Alex Ferrari 0:48
This episode is brought to you by the best selling book, Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I like to welcome to the show Vanessa and Joseph Winter. How're you guys doing?

Joseph Winter 1:03
Great Alex!

Alex Ferrari 1:06
Thank you so much for coming on the show, guys. I have not had a couple, like a romantic couple of filmmakers ever on the show. So I was intrigued by that. And then the horror aspect was also more intriguing. And then the image that you guys sent. I was like, Well, I mean, I gotta have gone now. I mean, that picture's worth 1000 words right there. So it's no, it's really good. I'm really glad to meet you. I'm fascinated with you guys. I want to I want to find out how all of this happened. First, the first question is, how did you guys meet? How did you guys get together decide to go? You know what we should do? We should be horror filmmakers together. Let's do. Like, I want to know what that conversation was.

Joseph Winter 1:48
When we very first met and never crossed my mind that this is my horror filmmaking buddy for the rest of my life. But it was so we were in film school

Vanessa Winter 1:58
At the same time. It was so natural.

Joseph Winter 2:00
Yeah, it was total natural progression, like really quickly. But I was in a film class. It was like the first film class you take when you get into the program. And Vanessa was in the class we'd never talked, she came up to me after class one day said, I'm the production designer of a senior capstone project. You feel like a great fit for the art director to work under me. How do you feel about that? And that was the first time we'd really spoke. And I mean, it was all it was because I found out later everyone else said no, but I was really grateful for that. Because it was I mean, she was really awesome. And we got along really great. And then I talked her into loving whore. I mean, it wasn't hard, but she hadn't been exposed to, like, you know, the stuff that I'm into.

Vanessa Winter 2:46
Yeah, yeah, I was always into horror. But film school really was my introduction to cinema. I grew up in a small town, my family was like very conservative with what we could watch. And so in college, took my first film class. And immediately I fell into the genre lane of horror and sci fi and so I feel like us deciding oh, we're gonna make more movies for the rest of our lives. Easy. That was an easy that was way easier than should we have kids. Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 3:17
Well, I have to ask you, because I'm married. I have kids. How in God's green earth do you guys balance the family life, you know, in the in the relationship with the filmmaker, because both are fairly stressful. And both are horror shows. If you have

Vanessa Winter 3:37
Perfect description, like I, we, I mean, we were like, we've been hustling to become narrative filmmakers for like 10 years together, working lots of different corporate jobs, commercial jobs, doing the whole whole thing that everybody does. And then we got pregnant at the same, like, got pregnant had a baby. We made a feature almost immediately afterward. Like I was getting up at 3am writing scripts, like the baby's like four weeks old. And then we made a movie almost finished it. We'd almost finished filming it and then got pregnant by accident. And so then we had a baby and then we finished our movie and then we may were part of VHS and like it's honestly we just run around all day screaming and then collapse at night.

Joseph Winter 4:25
It's really like I don't really know how to answer it because this is like when dead string production was actually going to happen and I still had a full time corporate job that was just looming over the whole thing is like how and I still looking back and like okay, I can see how we squeezed by with like having a little baby and stuff but it's like I don't have the model to teach somebody how to do that. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 4:48
It's there's an I've said this so many times in the show. We're all insane and it's in there as insanity to do what we do. But you guys are a little different. You're a little you're your next level insane. Uh, because I mean, you've gone to another place, you've transcended the insanity of just making a film. You got into relationship, you have kids, and while you're having kids, you're like, oh, but my film, like, like, these are the thoughts that go through your head. It's fascinating. And it is just a testament to your love of what you guys do. And is there in the relationship? Is there anyone who's grounded? Are you both psychotic? Because I'm the psycho Drake crazy one in my relationship? And my wife to grounded was like, no, no, we're not going to do that. And we kind of balanced each other out a little. Because if it was two of me, I don't know why would self destruct. So I'm curious how that dynamic works. And you're and you're

Joseph Winter 5:40
Crazy about different things. I think that's how it works. Like, sometimes I get really scared at the scope that Vanessa will pitch about something where she's like, No, I really think we can do this. And it's like, that's not possible. So I start to panic. And that pragmatic kind of says,

Vanessa Winter 5:56
I'm like crazy like bite off more than you can chew person. But I've got a more chill energy where Joseph Scott, the performer, like, he's got the excitement, but also the like, anxiety, things are going wrong. Kind of like the even person, but I've definitely got, yeah, like, he was just saying, my own set of crazy where he's like, what, like, it's very the beginning of projects, I get super amped that's like, my, my place and Joseph's like, okay, but like, for real? Yeah, real, what's good?

Joseph Winter 6:30
There's plenty of crazy crossover, though, where we're not compatible, like we just aren't. And we're still trying to figure that out. So

Vanessa Winter 6:36
Yeah, sometimes there's too much crazy.

Alex Ferrari 6:39
I could see that. I can see that without question. So how did you guys, you just said that you guys have been going, you know, 10 years? And that's kind of the number I throw out to people like, how long is it going to take like, starting points? 10 years? Just, that's how you got to look at it. You got to just you're gonna be grinding for 10 years to make something happen for yourself? How did you guys keep going? I always love asking that question. Because I mean, everyone's different, unlike what you mentally had to tell yourselves. And you hate each other, which is a blessing. But most of us don't. We're alone. We're, you know, the filmmakers by themselves. And, you know, I tried quitting 1000 times. But I can't because because it's a disease and you can't get rid of it. And it's done. So how did you guys keep going? What did you like? Did you guys help each other out? Did you Did one is like, I can't do this anymore? The other one's like, no, no, we got to keep going. And vice versa? How did it work?

Joseph Winter 7:32
I'm genuinely interested in your answer. If you want to answer first,

Vanessa Winter 7:35
I was just gonna say I think you hit the nail on the head with the fact that there's a benefit with us being we're having the same insane dream. Because we there's definitely like dark nights of the soul. I guess you could call them multiple times where we are like, on the verge of like tears like, can we actually make this happen? Like, what what are we doing with all of our time and money? depressions, but I think that, yeah, the nice thing about being in it together is that and I feel like, the risks are a little bit easier maybe than for somebody that's like in a partnership where the other person is like, You're crazy. You're taking things too far, like for a relationship or, you know, financially or something where we kind of, yeah, we had the same crazy dream. So when it was like, should we mortgage our house to make our first feature? We're like, Yeah,

Joseph Winter 8:32
Yeah, let's do it. Yeah. So the essential part, oh,

Alex Ferrari 8:37
By the way, everyone, listen, don't do that.

Joseph Winter 8:40
That's what I tell. That's what I tell people, like, don't do what we did. It just so happened to have worked. In our case, it's not a good business model, like, but but in order to feel good about what we did, to get dead stream off the ground, we needed 10 years of like, for me, changing my value system. Like honestly, if I right out of film school had had the opportunity to do a feature. There's some version of that where I would have imploded just looking back because the thing I was valuing, valuing at the time, was getting the filmmaker being in my 20s and trying to rise to the top and like, things that don't mean that much to me anymore. And as we were going along in our life started to change to like, Okay, I'm approaching my 30s. Does that actually matter to me? Is there a version where that doesn't like, can I just make a movie when I want to, like, the kind of movie I want to and I started to remove like the superficial stuff, or the things that were separate for the love of from the love of the craft and the things that I actually wanted to engage in. And that really helped not feel so panicked about the years burning by and having not made a feature. So I mean, that's how, for me, that's how when we got to the point of like, Hey, should we open up some 0% interest credit cards and like go for it was like, Okay, I feel like I've got a good foundation now of like what's important to me and we're not willing to sacrifice everything in order to do it. Like we're going to try to balance the family and stuff and then it just finally made sense.

Alex Ferrari 10:14
Well, it can and I'm imagining you guys had the same conversation that we all do at 23 year like, Shit, I didn't make my feature Orson Welles did 2020 sevens like Spielberg made Jaws at 27 I'm just jacking around right here, let the hell that's exactly what I'm talking Tarantino made the reservoir when he was like 31 Like, and that just the number just keeps creeping up until you're like, well, Ridley Scott didn't make it to 40. So that's like, Yeah, but he did 4000 videos, music videos and commercials prior to that. So that's you lose, you're getting loosey goosey. But did you have that conversation with yourself? As well as that as that time gets cooking away?

Vanessa Winter 10:51
Absolutely. For sure. I've got like, I've got an issue with like, my like, I don't know what you call it the like, the life clock ticking away, where I get really freaked out about time passing by Joseph's a little cooler about it.

Joseph Winter 11:07
No. But that took effort, though, because I just made a decision that was you know, earlier than you about the I'm going to be at peace about the clock aspect and just just have some faith that at you know, when I'm in the right mental place, and you know, things will just happen at the right time if we just keep healthily working at it and not sacrificing like our health and things along the way. But yeah, that was always there, man. I'm also pretending right now that it stopped mattering to me. But you know, it always matters.

Alex Ferrari 11:39
I love the neuroses that's going on here, you're in this conversation, because you're just kind of like, this is really getting inside the mind of the insanity of a filmmaker. And this is not what they teach at school, they don't never did that they teach you about you're going to be Spielberg, you're going to be the next Nolan. Here. Look, we're going to teach you how to make $100 million movie, no one ever in film school is teaching you look, it's going to be 10 years of grinding, you're going to want to break psychologically multiple times a day, you're going to probably go bankrupt a couple of times, you probably lose relationships, like I mean, they don't tell you all these things. But this is what the truth of it is. So I'm so glad that you guys are being so raw and honest about this process for people listening, because I hope it helps wake some people up to like the realities of this. And the other thing I wanted to ask you is because as a filmmaker myself, like I, my wife, and I've taken strategic, you know, risks through my filmmaking career. At the beginning, I threw credit cards and almost went bankrupt and all that kind of stuff at the very early beginning of it. But as I got older, we're like, okay, let's strategically, how are we going to do this without a family? The second the kids came into the picture, it changes things, but it seems like you were able to balance having kids, because it's one that you guys could eat ramen mean? Probably not. Now, I mean, you don't want to, but you know, you can. You don't want to, but you could, you know, but now when you have kids, it's a different responsibility. How do you balance the insanity of the dream with the responsibility of a family?

Vanessa Winter 13:13
I think, I think for me, like I almost experienced what you did backwards, where I think I had, I kind of had this thing coming out of film school where I didn't, and maybe it's because I'm a woman, but I had this feeling of like, I didn't go to school for a hobby. So I kind of had this overcompensating, like, I'm gonna get this corporate job, and I'm gonna make enough money while I'm also chasing my dreams so that I could show that I can, like make a living. And there was something about having my first baby where I was kind of like, oh, like, this is it, like, I am going to make a feature now, or it's never going to happen. And so I got a little bit more crazy and risk taking where I started putting like child care on a credit card where I didn't have I had never done that before, like, spend credit card money on. I mean, besides some student films, like but really, I hadn't been really doing that. So that for me was kind of like the switch went off, where I just started saying no to all of my comfort, like commercial clients, or most of them and was just like, I'm going to do this thing. Because if I don't, I'm going to regret it, even if it goes badly. So that's, that's where I was.

Joseph Winter 14:23
I'm really interesting. I mean, this happened for both of us. But the thing that I like to tell people about having our kids is like before then it was 24/7 film stuff, like what we would talk about in our house, there were no boundaries. It wasn't like, Okay, at this time, we're just talking about our personal lives like film, our ideas, the things we're working on our corporate stuff, it was all just, you know, laying in bed talking about it. And when we had our daughter, there started to be some structure around it where we said at this time, which just family time like we have to, it's only fair to our family to do that. But it was so weird that once we started putting back Andres on when we would work on film, I became way more productive. My output was so much more than it had ever been. And I feel like that has stuck. So now we have that second daughter, it's the same thing, the hours of the day that we have to work are a lot more productive than they ever were before then. So there's that benefit that's come from it.

Vanessa Winter 14:23
Yeah, unfortunately, we should have discovered you earlier, Alex, and we could have made a lot of smarter decisions.

Alex Ferrari 14:26
Well, but that Well, I appreciate that. Louis, I wish I had me when I was. Imagine if a show like this existed in the 90s. You know, we peep millions and millions of dollars would have been saved relationships would have not, you know, busted at that point. I mean, less people would be in the insane asylum right now, if we kind of information back then. But so what were some of these mistakes that you guys made along the way that you were just like, that maybe you could talk about that other people can learn from and hopefully not fall into those same traps?

Vanessa Winter 16:02
One of my biggest things, I think, was just not saying no to anything. And same thing. Yeah. And yeah, I think that with your, like, I think the advice that you give like having multiple legs of your business, I guess you could call it is a really smart thing to do. But I think you don't want to have like 40 legs to your business, you don't want to feel like you're missing out. Because you're not working with this producer, you're not like letting go some of your clients or whatever it is. And I think that I just had that for a long time where I was overworking. Just overworking for not enough money. And then creatively, I kind of had the same problem where I always wanted to be a horror filmmaker. And with doing that you you take like, just in the nature of horror, you take big swings, and you isolate a certain amount of audience. And I think that there were when I would do my own creative, like projects, I like a short film or something I would have in mind, like, oh, but if my commercial clients saw this, like, couldn't help me out and like both ways. And as soon as I just started really writing and making the things that were purely Vanessa, I guess you could call them they're just weird and, and just what I wanted to do, that's when audiences started responding, or that's when I started getting into festivals and ended up finding my management. And so I think, yeah, I think specifically for me, there was a lot of mistakes and just not being focused enough.

Alex Ferrari 17:38
And it sounds like you it sounds like you did the same thing I did. I think I think every filmmaker goes through this process is you find your voice. And then you have the, you know, the the kohona is, as they say, to actually put your voice out there. And that's what people are your secret sauce. That's what people are attracted to not. I'm gonna go make a Sam Raimi movie. I'm like, Well, we have Sam. He doesn't pretty well. We don't need another Sam Raimi. You know, he's, he's solid. Like, we don't need another one of him. Or a cheap copycat. But what but but there's only one, Vanessa. So that and that's and that's the thing. There's only one, Joseph. So that's that when you are able to finally put that out there is that's when I'm so glad you said that, that you're like, oh, that's when stuff started to happen. When you were brave enough to put yourself out there. I'm assuming that's the same for you, Joseph?

Joseph Winter 18:26
the thing that came to my mind is I was afraid after I mean, in college, I was afraid to make bad things. After college, I was afraid to make bad things that actually kept me from making I wish I would have made so much more things and bad things because you learn a lot when you make something that's not turning out, right. And you actually learn a lot when you make more things that are shorter. And in my mind, like the next project I was going to put my energy into was going to be a 17 minute like really ambitious thing. And I wish I would have just taken the opportunity to give myself more smaller experiences have things that I'm too ashamed to show people because I did anyway, along the way. And like that's how that's how you learn and I I'm jealous looking back at my other friends that were jumping on these like, yeah, I just got this opportunity to direct a little thing over here. It's not that good, but I'm going to do it and in my mind, I was like why would you want to have that on your reel or have that but like no, I that was a mistake you can you should make bad things you should make lots of bad things and you can curate what you show people

Alex Ferrari 19:33
I think it's the same kind of itis that we we filmmakers have they're like, well Spielberg didn't have this and you know, like, on his real I mean, on his his film, like you want your filmography to be perfect, because that's the ego inside of you going one day there'll be studying me in film school, and when they do, I can't have this crap out there. You know, kinda like that's the you laugh because both of you have thought this in your mind at one point or another because I Dude, I think all of us do because we all are insane. The filmmakers ego is oh my god it is there's the level of delusion we have. But you know what I said this the other day I was at AFM and I was on stage talking, and I said this out loud. And it was a friend of mine, who told me this, and he told me I could steal it. My friend John Kim, he said, the delusion and the skills that you need to get a movie done, hurt you after the movie is done. To try to sell it, because you can't be delusional when you're selling it. You can't be to like my movies, the greatest. Obviously the next Quinn Tarantino, why kampsen? Anybody? recognize my genius? Is that do you agree with that?

Joseph Winter 20:48
I mean, yeah, I feel like, I feel like that's for sure. True. I just right now, what you're seeing is me trying to think how if I felt that way, after we made dead stream, like if I had the healthy mindset, I will say what health is like, We're mature enough, right going into dead stream that I grew out of so much of that kind of mindset, by the time we made it, that we didn't have SXSW aspirations. When we were making dead streaming, we didn't have like, the successes of the movie, we're not the goal. Like by the time we made this, it was like very pragmatic, it was, we're going to pay for an education in learning the part of the business that most people don't talk about, or won't talk about, learn how much people are offering for a low budget movie. And like, what, just like that kind of thing. And so I mean, 10 years before, I wouldn't have made a movie that was just my best shot, but mostly for an education and mostly, you know, to just do something. So I think that's something that did help with being older and getting started with that.

Alex Ferrari 21:54
The the, the 20, the 20s version of all of us were idiots. Absolutely, of course, I didn't make a movie till I was 40. Because I was like, Well, I has to be Reservoir Dogs. It has to, like, blow everybody out of the water. Because again, my filmography is going to be taught in schools, and I can't have this kind of insanity. So

Vanessa Winter 22:18
Yeah, man, that pressure can really get to you though. Right? It's crippling, it's crippling?

Alex Ferrari 22:24
It is it because it's all self inflicted. It's completely your own delusions in your mind. I you know, I kind of asked you, why do you think we do that to ourselves? Why? Because I've never asked this question on the show before, but like, what? Who told us that that's the weight, like what isn't enough? And it's not just us? It's most filmmakers have this conversation with themselves in like, my first movie has to be this. And it has to be that and you know, and I have to be respected and it has to win into this. What is it that we can't just go out and like you did with dead stream and just go, we're just gonna go make a movie. We're going to learn about the process. And if it gets in some places it gets in some places, as opposed to this is Oscar worthy, which I've had that conversation, not me with other filmmakers who have done posts for and they're like, I'll see you at the Oscars next year. I'm like, You see, see they're all right there, buddy. All right, let me know how that works out for you.

Vanessa Winter 23:24
Man. Yeah, like I feel it. I feel like there's a there's a particular kind of crazy of filmmakers that puts you in that mindset. In fairness to filmmakers, I feel like there is a lot of when I compare it to other other art forms. There is some truth to this, like fear and feeling that everything you make could be your last. Because if you blow it bad enough, people don't want to work with you and don't want to pay like help you pay money. It's so hard to make a film just by yourself. So that does I think add to some of the pressure. Yeah, the I also hearing other writers talk, I think this may cross over to writers too, which is how crippling it is to sit down and realize that your first draft is going to be complete crap, right? And that's like a big mental hurdle. And I don't know if it's just because you're admiring other films that are so good or other books that are so good. But this idea it's really hard for the idea to sink in, that it started as bad. It's like hard to believe. Well, I tried. I believe that the first iteration of JAWS or whatever was probably bad. And it took a long time before it became jaws. One

Joseph Winter 24:49
of the biggest reasons is that's what they put in front of you at film school like they put the awesome first films in front of you. A masterpiece Yeah, about Reservoir Dogs. It's not even And technically, Tarantino is first movie. Oh, and like hearing Edgar Wright. It's like, well, you don't know this really like it's not really talked about like that. And then I heard Edgar Wright on a podcast years ago, where he talked about fistful of fingers, which he doesn't even want people to see. And I still haven't seen it. And he explains why. And I wish I would have been taught that in school, like, here are the filmmakers who made first films that either you can't see, or they don't want you to see. And then they learn from it and went on to make Shaun of the Dead or like, you know, something else like that.

Alex Ferrari 25:34
Where they don't do that that doesn't sell, doesn't sell them seats in film school. I mean, they sell the sizzle, but they don't sell the steak real well, but they sell the sizzle really, really, really well. And you know, what's fascinating is after talking to as many people as I have on the show, and speaking to like Edgar and some of these bigger, you know, Oscar winners and things like that, I've come to realize in just my own personal journey, that all of them go through the same things that we do. It's always shit at the beginning. It's always crap. They're nervous, they have to look at the same blank page you guys have to look at. And they just work it out in a different way. But it is it is, I think Hollywood puts it out there that that like the story of Rocky, that he wrote it in like, what, four, three nights or something like that, he wrote Rocky. And then like, that was the the myth like, oh, he wrote any one of the Oscar. And then years later, I saw an interview with Stallone. And he's like, Yeah, I wrote the first draft in three days, but I beat the hell out of that thing for the next six months, you know, perfecting it, you know, it's, it's that kind of delusion that's put out there. But I think that's a Hollywood thing, too. And I mean, it's been, you know, it's always been that way with this kind of the sizzle, not the steak. You know that question. So with so let me ask you a dead stream. How did you guys first of all, fantastic. It looks great, man. It's so much fun. And then I'm like, wait a minute, is that Joe? Is he the star of this too? Like, that's tough enough to do it behind the scenes, but in front of the scenes, and for in front of the camera to be able to do it all. And you're right. It's like basically, you're the show on top of it. So it's a lot of pressure on you, Joe as as a performer of that movie. Yeah, you got some ghosts and goblins and other things flying around, which are really interesting. But your funniest shit by the way, you really, really funny this funny as hell, really well produced looks nice. It looks like you know, because I've see, I see a lot of stuff. See a lot of stuff. And in the horror genre, as you know, not always is production value. But always, how did you guys decide to do like, this was the thing like, Get this thing off the ground? And then we'll talk about the South by Southwest call.

Vanessa Winter 27:51
Yeah, I think yeah, we started writing it around Joseph strengths because he can act and He is hilarious. But it did end up being really Gru grueling, and a ton of pressure. As

Joseph Winter 28:04
you I think we should like talk about why though. The reason is, like we we were trying to, we gave ourselves the creative prompt of like, what if there was a movie, no one could say no, to, if we made like, could we, in theory, make something by ourselves? And that's the thing that led us to? Well, that would of course, I would be in it. And it wasn't like, honestly, we didn't think I was great. We just thought that I could act like I had been in some of our other stuff that we had made. So it was like, okay, a given. It's me in a haunted house. Is there and nobody else is in it. Like that's kind of where what we were building off of?

Vanessa Winter 28:39
Yeah, I think we're like, originally were like $25,000 2530. Like, what could we do if we just strapped cameras to Joseph and that was kind of like, and we were kind of like simmering on that like a little bit. And then I think once it started once it started feeling like somebody who was going to go in and do a real live stream and put up extra cameras, and a movie that was going to escalate from maybe a little bit more grounded to just completely bonkers 80s Creature Feature. That's where at least I started getting really creatively excited. But then of course, the budget, like tripled. It was having to pull some shots that off. So that I guess that's its own. That's its own Genesis. As far as Joseph's role in it, it became clear, like, increasingly that how difficult it was going to be because on the on the performer, just the pressure on the performer to carry the whole movie. And as we started diving into YouTube personalities and started writing the script and refining the script. We became really scared about how hard it is actually, to talk for 90 minutes and have people care and It also made the date the influencers online a lot more of just what kind of talent and art form they've kind of honed in with this blogging style. Comedy, I would call it, I would think some of them are definitely comedic artists. So we started studying that a lot. And yeah, so it ended up being a lot of pressure for Joseph to, to deliver that kind of performance. And that kind of nuance that could actually be watchable. And even when we had a script that was super, we felt like it was really solid. We have a casual writers group with friends that we would read stuff out, read stuff with, and even when we felt like it was slain pretty well with them, we started doing some tech rehearsals and realize that the character wasn't there yet that he was just going to be unwatchable. So anyway, ended up being a lot of rehearsals for Joseph. And then the technical side was also a little bit unexpected. Just how difficult it was to operate the camera. So a lot of the movie was just me, like, not yelling at you, but like basally, directing and saying, Hey, pan that room again, but this time, 20% slower. So all of this was like while he was trying to be here. So that

Joseph Winter 31:15
was the thing that we didn't like, we had thought through a lot, we did not think through the part of operating while acting like we just didn't, I didn't. And it was a completely different thing. It was engaging a different part of my brain than the performer. And it was just incredibly difficult. And like at the time, so I had avoided actually thinking about me doing some of the emotional scenes or like, actually the weight of the movie, because I knew if I did think about it, I would clam up, I would get that paralysis before we ever made it. So I waited to think about it until we were shooting. And it really felt I just felt crashing that first day was a mess. We had to reshoot almost the whole thing. Like I just wasn't good. I wasn't on. But But yeah, I mean, thank goodness, it wasn't a studio movie, because we had, we had the ability to pop in some weekends to the same location over the next few months and do some pickups just on our own dime on you know, whenever we have a chance. So that was fortunate. And that really saved the movie.

Vanessa Winter 32:15
Yeah, so I think the missing piece as far as when we talked about starting starting the movie, it was a kind of do it yourself. But then as the script progressed in the idea got bigger, we ended up bringing on a partner, Jared Cook, who was our CO producer, and also our DP. And so this wasn't, he was so instrumental in pulling off the how seamless the camera rigs worked. Along with that he designed the interface for the chat. So he was a really big creative force. And we did we put a lot of work into the the tech rehearsals and camera tests to make sure the movie wasn't too shaky. Joseph actually had two cameras strapped to his head as the POV of the point of view camera so that we could change angle or lens length. And one of them had a little gimbal in it to help stabilize so that it wasn't a nauseating found footage. Scary Movie experience. So anyway, that's I was really happy with the way that the tech worked out in the movie, but it did put extra pressure on Joseph to camera operate. It wasn't just a it's free. It wasn't an improvised, like go back scared tell some jokes. Everything was like very finely tuned with timing and where he was looking and how to access very precise

Joseph Winter 33:46

Alex Ferrari 33:47
I'm exhausted and I didn't even make this movie. I mean, just what you explain. I'm like, oh my god, I'm tired already. Well, let me ask you. So like, how many days you guys shoot?

Joseph Winter 33:59
That is hard now. Because of all the partial stuff. But the first we did seven days back to back as our main principle. And then there were a few pickets. I think the way last time we calculated probably ends up at 14 or 15 days when it was all said and done

Alex Ferrari 34:15
with the pickups and things that you just put back into what was so I always like to ask him this question. You know, we're all you know, we all are on set. And there's always that one day that you feel the entire thing is going to come crashing down around you as directors. I'm assuming that happened every day, probably every hour of every day. Was there the one thing that you just like, I don't think we're gonna make it. How what was that thing and how did you overcome it?

Joseph Winter 34:37
What should we choose? But,

Vanessa Winter 34:39
man for me, for me it was day one. And maybe it's because I as like the director that was behind monitor. The schedule was more on my shoulders. But we had a huge windstorm that came through the very first day and blew off all of our makeshift duva teen on the outside of the house. which

Joseph Winter 35:00
was like to cover the entire house so that we could shoot during the day. We ended

Vanessa Winter 35:05
up like spending hours and hours repairing that and then by the time we got our first shot off, just the morale wasn't there, the character hadn't really vibed yet. And we got the camera Tech, we realized even with all of our tests, it just I mean, they're not action cameras are not cinema cameras. So the consistency, there's just a lot of surprises. And we thought we were going to shoot the whole movie in six days. Oh, man, it's so scary. Like, Jesus night for me, which is like coming home late. And just we only had a couple hours asleep anyway, but I just remember just sitting like awake the whole time being like, how are we going to pull this off? Oh, that's what we that was the worst. I think that was the darkest. We

Joseph Winter 35:50
literally sat in this office. It was like, man, it's like 17 hours after showing up for the shoot. And we were sitting here literally saying, How are we going to save the movie? Because it was like this is going to crash and burn. We're not even gonna finish making it. It's not. And then what we finished we will never show anybody because I did so bad that first day. But yeah, so I agree with her first day.

Alex Ferrari 36:14
Well, I mean, if it makes you feel any better, when I did my first big film, a hurricane came and in Florida and flooded our sets. Completely, of course, so we decided to write it into the script. That's good. I mean, I wrote it into like, like, Oh, and also FEMA decided to set up at the hospital that we're at 10,000 people outside online getting food and water while we're trying to shoot a movie in the basement of this like working slash abandoned hospital. So like we just like yeah, write it in, man. We can't What do we gotta do? We have no money. Let's so lesson for everyone listening that sometimes you got to write it in.

Vanessa Winter 37:03
That's, that's hero status. You have to keep making movie.

Alex Ferrari 37:09
Again, the insanity of what we do. It's not that's like hey, maybe maybe we shouldn't do this. No, that never crossed our mind is like we got trucks out here. There's a dolly we're shooting on the Panasonic dv x 100 A mini DV the best film camera ever made in the world. I mean, you gotta go, gotta go. I even had the adapter for the wide angle we have to go. This was happening. This was happening. It was five days of Oh my god. Anyway, that's a whole other story. If you guys had a chance to go back in time to talk to both of yourselves. At the beginning of this insanity, what will be the one thing you would tell them?

Joseph Winter 37:55
Would it be the beginning of the dead stream insanity or Oh,

Alex Ferrari 37:58
no, no, no, no, the entire journey of this 10 year odyssey to get to where you are right now. At the beginning you're at film school, both of you and you. And all of a sudden you Marty McFly it in and you just walk in and just go dice. I'm from the future. I can't tell you much. But I can tell you this one thing I need you to

Joseph Winter 38:19
do, I would say chill the eff out and, like adjust expectations. This is like getting in touch with the love of the craft and life. And then let's talk making an actual feature length film. So like that was the thing if you would have told me back then 15 years later, your first movie comes out or whatever. I would have imploded and like I wish I could go back and just say don't implode, like be okay with that.

Vanessa Winter 38:50
I think I would have been like look myself in the eyes and be like, you're never going to be good at commercials. You know, you're never going to be good at commercials just go make horror movies.

Alex Ferrari 39:01
Unless there's horror crime here so for commercials you

Vanessa Winter 39:04
know, I've actually done some of those and that was a lot of fun. I guess it's not like a whole thing it's just a cardinal so

Alex Ferrari 39:13
every once in a blue moon you get

Joseph Winter 39:15
you get to play like that.

Alex Ferrari 39:17
Well you know when you guys when you guys work do you guys work together as a team like besides dead stream like how do you direct on set? Do you guys work as a team? And if you do how what like how do you I always fascinated by teams of directors like what do you guys do? Do you mean do you like know what each other's thinking? Are you calling brother ring it like how are you doing it?

Joseph Winter 39:37
Yeah, so what we say like usually, I mean I'm usually in front of the cameras so far and what we've done and because of that we do a lot of pre pro so that when we show up like a lot of like storyboarding with our iPhones and like making sure that the decisions as much as possible. Get made before we show up that way there is less likely of the friction of having a completely different idea for something, which will still happen. Because no matter how much you prepare things are different.

Vanessa Winter 40:10
Yeah, I don't think we're on like the Coen brother level yet. Actually, I haven't seen them direct. So I don't know what it's like. But if we realize on set that we've been imagining something completely different, then we just kind of argue it out. And our Luckily, our crews have kind of gotten used to it. But we'll just sit there and be like, Are you sure you want it to be over the shoulder like, not a two shot, and we'll just argue the pros and cons and tell somebody's out loud in

Alex Ferrari 40:34
front of the children or you.

Joseph Winter 40:38
on VHS 99, we made a goal to not do that like to, we'll be like, hey, sidebar, and then we would go last very long. But like we we started that way with the sidebar, but then it was like it was so crazy with the schedules, and we decided there wasn't time. So we just had to say like, after a take, I just be like yelling over the camera like, hey, wherever she was hiding. And we would just argue it out like that. So we're working on that.

Alex Ferrari 41:03
That's, you don't you don't argue for the children, that the children being the crew, you can't do that. Oh, like but apparently they figured out that mom and dad are fighting special

Joseph Winter 41:13
crew is the same crew as dead stream. So by that point, they felt like our actual children, and they were great.

Alex Ferrari 41:19
Mom and Dad are fighting again, let's just take a break. Now, what did you do with dead stream is a horror, comedy. horror comedies are not easy. They're arguably one of the most difficult things to do in that genre. Because you got to balance how much comedy versus how much horror. I mean, Sam is the SAM is the master of that. I mean, you Evil Dead or Army of Darkness is, is beautifully balanced. And I think you guys did a really great job here. But how do you in the creative process? Think? Should we throw a gag in here or scare in here? Like how? How do you balance that out?

Vanessa Winter 42:00
I always say a lot of like when I think about the process. It's a lot of trial and error. So yeah, lots of lots of rewrites in the script. And then I think on set, there's moments of feeling like, you know what, I think even if we have to cut this joke that we love, I think it's most important that this scene is scary. So we'll make those kinds of decisions. And then I think it still really finds itself and post. Yeah. test audiences are really helpful. And there is sound design, like also transformed our movie because we were able to really lean into okay, this is this is scary, like moment, do we need to cut some dialogue? really emphasize the scare with sound. But yeah, it was just kind of a it's kind of a crapshoot.

Joseph Winter 42:49
Yeah. If you if you were to read the draft, if you were to read what we thought we were making, when we set out to make Devstream, so a lot more jokey. I mean, our movie is very comedy. But on the page, there were more little gags and jokes and longer monologues that we thought were funny that weren't actually funny. And like, by the, the version, you see now is way more scary than what was on the page. And that's because of the editing. Like we actually shot it pretty true to what that was on the page. But then we refined it and post and it was like test screenings, and just feeling it out with different people. Or we finally were able to realize, yeah, this is like too many jokes in this moment. This needs to be scary. So I would say the secret sauce so far was has been post production.

Vanessa Winter 43:36
Yeah, we also kind of benefited from being two brains where I think because Joseph was the performer, he could really focus on the moment and the comedy in the moment. And I was very focused on things, the tension, and the scares that I wanted. I was thinking about the movie a little bit more as a whole. And so that yeah, unlike the super brain of Sam Raimi, we have to I don't

Alex Ferrari 44:04
know, he's, he's not he's not human. Obviously. He actually opened up the book. And that's how he that's just the way it is. Now, I always love asking this question, especially you guys now that I know the backstory of dead stream. You submitted all these film festivals. And we all do it. Well, you know, we all going to submit to the lottery ticket of Sundance slam dance South by Toronto, the top five or 10 and then you get a call from South by Southwest. What was that like for you guys? Considering that wasn't the delusion? At the beginning of this process? You were just like, oh, let's just I'm assuming you just like let's just see what happens kind of vibe, right?

Joseph Winter 44:47
Let me actually tell you about the delusion. So like we weren't, we were so like, we we were so non delusional about

Vanessa Winter 44:55
I hated Phil, like, at least for me like I had a thing against film festivals. It's Like the rejections and lottery of it is so painful. We also live right by Sundance and go every year and it's just kind of this looming like, we don't even try. That was like my reaction to it. Like, I don't, I don't have any. I'm not even gonna have hopes that they can crush anymore. Okay. Oh, yeah,

Joseph Winter 45:19
that was That was rude towards Sunday. We love Sunday. So it was just this feeling of like, we don't belong, you know what I mean? Like, like we're not, we're not going to give them that power, we're not going to submit to the Ailis festivals. So we didn't like honestly the biggest festivals that we submitted to or the fall festivals that was like beyond fest, and there was Fright Fest and Fantasia. And those were like the long shots to us. The thing that changed the course of the movie was, we got rejected by the big ones, except beyond fest, and from Ersoy, who helps run the festival. He called us and he said, I would love to play you at beyond fest. But I think you're selling yourself short. I have a sales agent friend who could talk to you take over the festival thing that you're doing. And you could try for first quarter festival like South by Southwest, and Sundance. And we were like, no brainer, no, thanks. Like, we're not, we're not that, like we have a

Alex Ferrari 46:18
no sweet guy was.

Vanessa Winter 46:21
But it was like, What's your

Joseph Winter 46:23
angle? That's how I was feeling like, what's this guy's angle? Because he's just being too good to be true. Like, he's been so nice and so sweet. So we're

Vanessa Winter 46:31
like, what this guy does love cinema or something.

Alex Ferrari 46:34
He's like, he's not really human. No, no, no, there's none of that in film business.

Joseph Winter 46:40
But the but the thing is, like, after thinking about after we actually told him, No, we want to do world premiere at your festival. We thought, Okay, we made that stream as a huge swing, everything about it, we put everything on the line for the movie. Why would we stop doing that right now, when this guy is telling us there is a shot a small shot, but a shot? So we came back and said, All right, let's do it. Let's talk to the sales agent, we withdrew from the path that we had, like some of the small ones we've been accepted to. And we just he the sales agent started submitting for us, which is how most festivals are programmed. And

Vanessa Winter 47:19
it sounds it sounds dumb, but it was so nerve wracking because we had had some offers for distribution. And I felt like, you know, if we pull out of the fall festivals, which is very genre friendly, there's a chance that nobody we get rejected from the bigger festivals, and nobody just ever sees our movie. And these offers kind of go away. And so yeah, I was pretty nervous. So this is all leading up to your question of the call from,

Alex Ferrari 47:45
by the way, what were the what were the offers? Were they any good? Or were they pretty predatory? Or they were like solid or No,

Joseph Winter 47:51
I have strong feelings. I feel like I usually say the strongest version of this, which is very predatorial in my mind. Now here's the thing, I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't listened to indie film hustle, because I had no frame of reference. But you talk about the predatorial distribution industry. And so that was on my brain. When I saw we got this very big distribution company that started talking to us after the beyond fest offer. And we were so excited. We're like, if we have their name on our movie, oh my god,

Alex Ferrari 48:21
I without you saying it. I know who it is. And we won't say it publicly. But when we stop recording, I'm going to ask you, and I'll tell you who it is. I know who it is. Go ahead.

Joseph Winter 48:30
You probably do. And it was so it was so low and it was just deflating, and I felt offended but also might be offended at this like it's just a stupid movie. And so basically from that to like, with the sales agent using the South by Southwest like behind the scenes, hey, let's have exclusive negotiations to like shutter it's a completely different Oh, like it's it's not even close.

Alex Ferrari 48:59
So so you get so you get into South by and we'll get to the phone call in a second. But you your sales agents, you know, working behind the scenes to negotiate a good deal for you because now you're in South by and now it's a conversation and because you're going to premiere it South by hey, let's talk to shutter now. You want to make a deal before this goes out? Because once this goes once this premieres this is going to be a feeding frenzy. Let's Let's Make a Deal beforehand. Is that kind of that was kind of the vibe.

Vanessa Winter 49:28
Yeah, it was for a little bit more detail. It was going out to some big some big people first so like shutter Netflix Blumhouse and seeing what they thought and seeing is there any is there any chance of kind of creating not like a bidding war but like a friendly version of that. And then when it didn't seem like that was going to happen. It was a conversation of shutters offering a really good price now and they benefit from like announcing at attend a list festival. So do we go with that? Or do we take the risk of it premiering? And then trying to negotiate? And so, yeah, yeah, so we ended up. And we also, we really love shutter. And that was one of our goals at the beginning was to be on shutter, we just feel like that's where our audience was. So after talking with them and stuff, we felt like signing with them before self buy was the right decision. And we ended up being really happy with it. Today is the name of our sales agent, blue Finch. They're based out of London, I've never heard anybody have a bad experience with them. I've heard of them. And they've like, they've also handled the international sales portion, which has ended up being significant for us, which was great and unforeseen. And having somebody that's really honest and transparent. And showing you all of the deals, is just made such a huge difference. And I know it's so rare. It's so rare. What's

Alex Ferrari 51:01
your a unicorn? You guys are unicorns,

Joseph Winter 51:06
we were so aware of that this whole time. Like, we kept thinking when's the part where blue Finch is going to screw us light us and they never did. It's It has not happened, they've been such a great partner. And with the shutter thing I want to say like, the numbers made sense. There's a reason why we said alright, let's just go to shutter. This is like, we're happy with this. But a big part of that was they wanted to take care of the movie. So it was like it was a good deal. And there was that promise of we will release you in October, that week that you come out will be all about dead stream. And like they really believe in the movie got the movie where the other distribution company that we're talking about, was talking about it like just a number. It was like something they're gonna throw at the wall, see if it sticks, and then that's it. I've heard that so so we're very, we're so it's

Vanessa Winter 51:56
gonna be so rare to just in the streaming days of having a streamer that actually is passionate about your film and is planning a release and a marketing strategy. And so that was that was also just really shutter was really great. And that way.

Alex Ferrari 52:13
No, so you get the phone call what happens?

Vanessa Winter 52:16
So we actually got we actually got an email because the phone with our sales agent got the phone call since they submitted. So I saw it in the middle of the night because I woke up for some reason saw the email, and I was so excited. I was shaking and I like I woke Joseph Joseph up in the freakiest way possible, just like shaking him and shaking him. He's so confused. I finally get it out. Like what happened? I'm not kidding. He went back to sleep.

Joseph Winter 52:44
No, this is what happened. That's a dream. But it's a dream. It's a dream of

Vanessa Winter 52:47
ours by myself just eating like canned soup on the floor being like, Whoa,

Joseph Winter 52:53
check it out. We got we got rejected our entire new strategy rejected from everybody except for South by South by was like the last thing we're waiting for. So we're not going to get it in my mind. It's like, we blew it. We blew it with this whole thing. So she wakes me up by literally shaking me going. We got into stuff like that. And I was like looking at her dad died. Like, that's how I came out of my sleep is like her dad died or something.

Alex Ferrari 53:19
I'm so sorry for you.

Joseph Winter 53:22
I also as soon as I realized that it wasn't bad. In my mind. I was like your, your sleep is so precious. So I was like, Okay, I'm gonna I'm just gonna try to go back to sleep. And I did when I woke up the next day. I was like, What was I thinking going back to sleep like I I legit did not let myself feel anything.

Vanessa Winter 53:40
Like if you have a six month old baby, it makes sense. Why you Oh, no,

Alex Ferrari 53:44
no, no, no, no, no, no six month, six month old. I don't care if you would get an Oscar nomination. That's nice. I'll deal with that in the morning. But so so you but you went back to sleep knowing that you got to the south bar, or did you still think it was the dad had passed?

Joseph Winter 54:01
No. I knew as soon as it was good news. I'm like, Okay, I'm gonna go back to sleep. And like, wait, I feel this. But I woke up being like, South By

Alex Ferrari 54:11
Christmas Day. It's like Christmas day.

Joseph Winter 54:15
It was it was awesome. That's amazing.

Alex Ferrari 54:17
As I look, I'm so happy that you guys i hope this story. I mean, we've gone through the rollercoaster of emotions here from the very state of despair. To Getting to to like now look, we haven't been screwed. We're actually making money. We made a movie with your the VHS 999 coming out. You guys are off and running now and I'm so happy for you guys. And you know, it was overnight. Obviously you just this was overnight success. Obviously it was very quick. You didn't have to struggle at all through this process. You know, when is when is it? It's already out and shutter right up. Everyone can see that shame on shutter. One is one is VHS 99 Come

Joseph Winter 54:57
out. That came out in October as well. they're also both.

Alex Ferrari 55:01
And what's next? What's next for you guys?

Vanessa Winter 55:04
It's totally more horror movies. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 55:07
nothing lined up. Like, I'm assuming you got a couple things lined up. We got a couple

Joseph Winter 55:10
of things brewing, but not ready to announce. All right, all right, but you're working on stuff. That's all. I can say horror comedy,

Alex Ferrari 55:19
for sure. Or comedy you sticking in the genre that you like, is to stay right there. I'm going to ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. If you guys have listened to me, You know what these questions are? What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Joseph Winter 55:35
Let me tap into my memories of all the times I've imagined answering this question. I feel like I'm gonna go back to that regret of like, making not making more stuff, and just being willing to make bad things to write bad things, because that's how good things are made.

Vanessa Winter 55:54
Yeah, I would say the landscape is always changing, like things are changing so much that all the stuff I learned in film school, and I think you've said this before on your podcast, which is like all your heroes in the 90s or whatever, that stuff's not relevant anymore. So it's always carving out your own path. And I think there just is this trial and error of finding your niche, and it's going to take some time.

Joseph Winter 56:17
And also don't make 20 minute short films. They're hard to program and really short films.

Alex Ferrari 56:24
Make them short. I mean, my first film was 20 minutes and I got into 160 film festivals, but it was 2005 Less competition. I could have gone to 250 festivals if it would have been 10 minutes

Vanessa Winter 56:39
a 17 minute sci fi 3d movie it was

Joseph Winter 56:43
22 minutes it was two minutes really like 3d 3d and this was my this was my film school delusion. Like I was like that I'm going to make

Alex Ferrari 56:53
the 3d one 3d was like super hot and then you get Yeah, it was like this whole thing. We built like bricks.

Joseph Winter 57:00
Yeah, we didn't say that was when everything everything was being converted 3d And we were like, eff this let's make real 3d So that's what we did and I regret it honestly, it was like why would make a 22 minute epic thing I could have made like six things and grown as an artist Wouldn't that have been nice? That well that doesn't

Alex Ferrari 57:19
that doesn't fall into the delusion sir. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Joseph Winter 57:26
Everything's gonna be okay when everything is going bad like literally every production big stakes small stakes, they'll end up being okay after the bad it's hard for me to still remember that but like it's true.

Vanessa Winter 57:42
Hmm. Sounds like yeah, life. Yeah, the risk when to take risks was my I think my biggest learning thing. So I think yeah, you the business requires taking risks and committing. And so by default, you're going to miss out on other things.

Alex Ferrari 58:05
All right. And three of your favorite films, which I'm assuming will be horror of all time.

Joseph Winter 58:10
Okay. For me that here's the three. We've got the shining creep show. Silver Bullet the gate Monster Squad three amigos.

Alex Ferrari 58:21
That's that's six.

Joseph Winter 58:24
You can't make me choose. I've tried.

Alex Ferrari 58:27
You were ready. You are ready for that. You are ready for the question. I appreciate that. Monster Squad. I mean, Wolfman has nartz She is you my dear.

Vanessa Winter 58:39
Um, and yeah, I'm not as prepared. I would say I love the original Alien. I think it's a perfect monster movie. Um, there's a 1979 Russian movie called Solaris, which is sci fi horror. And I think it's just beautiful and haunting. I also love from the 70s Don't look now with Donald Sutherland in Yeah, it's a great husband and wife relationship, but also just terrifying. And imagery super iconic. So I don't know if those are my favorite but those are three.

Alex Ferrari 59:15
And where can people find out more about you guys and what you guys are doing?

Joseph Winter 59:19
I'm on Twitter and Instagram at Joseph Winter VHS.

Vanessa Winter 59:25
My handle is Vanessa M is and Marie Winter.

Alex Ferrari 59:30
All right, guys. It's been such a pleasure talking to you guys. And I really hope that this conversation inspires and terrifies people all at the same time. I appreciate you continued success and congratulations on everything guys.

Vanessa Winter 59:45
Yeah, very honored to be here.


  • Joseph Winter – IMDB
  • Vanessa Winter – IMDB


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