Earlier this year, I wrote a post that suggested an end was near for the found footage horror subgenre. I argued that the falling box office of the Paranormal Activity franchise and recent stinkers such as Devil’s Due would spell the end of the movement that caught fire with the release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999.
Not everyone agreed with this blog and I received a number of very interesting replies, both on the blog and on social media. The response that really caught my eye, though, was from Steven DeGennaro. Steven is the writer-director behind the upcoming film Found Footage 3D, which features a film crew who attempt to film the first 3D found footage movie, but end up inside it themselves.
I put a number of questions to Steven about Found Footage 3D and the challenges facing the genre in the future. Here are some of the highlights of that conversation.
What can you tell us about Found Footage 3D?
From the beginning, we’ve conceptualized Found Footage 3D as the Scream of the found footage genre. The characters in the film know all of the rules, tricks, and clichés of found footage movies, so there are moments of wry humor and commentary on the genre itself, but at the same time, it’s not a spoof. It’s a horror movie through and through.
What we’ve really tried to do is play off of and subvert the audience’s expectations and poke fun at the bad versions of the genre while at the same time showing how effective it can be when done right.
Do you think that found footage horror has a future in its current form?
We live in the era of ubiquitous cell phone cameras and viral videos. One hundred hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute. In many places, there are surveillance cameras watching nearly everything we do in public spaces. So we live in a world where people are constantly filming. That’s a world that is ripe for the kind of storytelling that found footage can do.
We know what real life looks like, as opposed to the heightened reality of a traditionally-shot 35mm cinema film. That gives talented filmmakers a chance to really ground a story in the world that you and I live in, and when it’s done well, you lower the barrier between the audience and characters.
| “Found footage is ripe for reinvention and ridicule.”
One of the things that I absolutely loved about The Blair Witch Project was the fact that they were able to wring so much fear out of so little. And they were able to do that because, even if you knew intellectually that it was fiction, it was very easy to forget that fact emotionally as you were watching. And that allows you to bring the horror down to a much more grounded and real level. The things that made Blair Witch so scary were things that would be terrifying in real life but would barely register as “creepy” in a more traditional movie.
It certainly seems unfair to me to look at all of the average crap in the found footage genre and think that that means the genre itself is bad. As with any form of art, it can be done well or it can be done poorly. What I love about our film, Found Footage 3D, is that we are doing it well, while we are poking fun at the people who are doing it poorly. That was really the genesis of the idea. I think found footage has been used by so many hack filmmakers to make shitty product that the genre is ripe for reinvention and ridicule.
What are the reasons for the critically perceived decline in quality of found footage horror cinema?
It’s just so cheap to make, relatively speaking. It used to be that making a really bad movie would cost you a minimum of a few hundred thousand dollars in film and lab costs alone. So to go out and make a shitty movie meant at the very least convincing someone to hand over half a million dollars or more.
Now you can make a shitty movie for less than it costs to buy a used car. On the one hand, that’s led to a lot of creative freedom for filmmakers, who don’t have to worry so much about commercial appeal or financiers sticking their fingers in the creative pie. But on the other hand, it’s allowed people with no filmmaking talent or understanding of the genre to delude themselves into thinking that making a movie is easy. It’s not. It’s very, very hard.
| “People with no filmmaking talent or understanding of the genre delude themselves into thinking that making a movie is easy.”
I’m making a found footage movie. But I spent two years honing the script for Found Footage 3D and two more years raising the money we would need in order to execute it well. I spent months studying 3D and testing out cameras. I watched over a thousand audition videos from among over ten thousand submissions over a four month casting period, all to find six actors who can hew very closely to the structure of a scene while never sounding like they are delivering scripted lines.
We have special effects, visual effects, stunts, make-up effects, etc. Our crew averaged about thirty people at any given time, all of whom had to be housed, fed, and paid. And now we will have six to nine months of post-production — VFX, sound effects, color correction, 3D correction — to finish the film.
If we do our job right, it will look “easy”. But it was anything but. So yes, on the one hand it is possible to go out into the woods with a cell phone and some friends and shoot a film, but it’s virtually impossible to shoot a good one that way.
I think there are a lot of people who just don’t realize this. They look at Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project and think “I could do that”. But they can’t, because they are not as talented as the people who made those movies.
How do you think found footage horror is received by modern audiences?
I think it’s received the same as anything else: people like the good ones and hate the shitty ones. And found footage by no means has a monopoly on “shitty”. For the amount of money it cost to make John Carter or Battleship, you could have literally made several hundred found footage movies, and I guarantee you that a few of them would have been better and more enjoyable to watch than those pieces of crap that cost $200m.
So all the money in the world will not make a crappy story with dumb characters and bad actors worth watching. But found footage at least allows people with real talent and vision to achieve something on the kind of budget that a first-time filmmaker can afford to raise.
And if a thousand shitty ones get made along the way in order to find those two or three rare gems, then that’s no different than any other art form ever.
Do you think innovations like Found Footage 3D are the genre’s chance to reinvent itself?
We are doing something different with the genre that no one’s ever done before, and we’re doing it for the right reasons. We’re going to be the first found footage horror movie shot and released in 3D, and that allows us to do things that no found footage movie or 3D movie has ever been able to do before. It’s not just some gimmick. It’s not like we’re just shooting the thing in 3D and we expect people to want to see it just because of that. The 3D aspect is woven intimately into the fabric of the story, and we’ve done some things with it that will blow people’s minds.
The shooting style of found footage movies is also a very natural fit for the strengths of 3D. Found Footage 3D contains a lot of scenes (probably about 70% of the film) that take place in single, unbroken takes. There’s no cutting back and forth to coverage. There’s no quick cuts in the middle of a fight scene where you can’t tell who is hitting whom. Rather than having to readjust your eyes and brain every time it cuts from one quick shot to the next, you can relax into the scene without fatiguing your eyes or giving you a headache. And that also allows us to open up the depth wider than you could on a movie with more cuts, creating a much greater sense of depth to a scene.
| “We’ve done some things with 3D that will blow people’s minds.”
The evil entity of Found Footage 3D is explicitly a creation of the movie-within-the-movie, and only exists inside the footage that they are shooting, it has the freedom to play with the space in a way that you can’t do in a “normal” 3D movie. So, for instance, it can decide to appear in one eye of the stereo field, but not the other. Or when we watch footage on a monitor in the movie, it can make that footage appear in 3D.
There are lots of neat tricks that we are using to do something innovative with the 3D that we would not be able to do if were weren’t a found footage movie.
Thank you Steven!
Found Footage 3D is currently in post-production.