So the obvious. Why 3D?
It was an idea whose time had come. When I started writing the script, no one had ever made a found footage movie in 3D before, and it was simultaneously the dumbest idea ever and also the awesomest idea ever. So much like the character Derek says in the movie, it was something that we could do that would distinguish us from other movies of our genre and budget. But unlike Derek, we had a very good reason to shoot ours in 3D that was organic to the story and transcended the idea that it was just a gimmick. We are, as far as I am aware, the only movie in cinema history to justify why it is in 3D within the world of the story itself.
Any films you can point to as inspiration for Found Footage 3D?
My two favorite horror movies are The Blair Witch Project and Scream, and FF3D is my way of honoring them both. The idea was born when I realized that found footage as a style was rapidly growing stale and uninspired, much the way that slasher movies had been in the 80s and 90s. But while there had been a few straight-up spoofs like A Haunted House and a few others, no one had yet done for found footage what Scream did for slashers. My goal was to make a movie that made fun of all the really terrible found footage movies that have come out in recent years, while still paying homage to the best of the genre by being a good (and scary) found footage movie in its own right.
Were there any advantages or disadvantages to shooting this format, that you didn't expect?
While it started out as a bit of a joke, what I quickly realized as I worked on the script and started story-boarding the movie was that being the first found footage horror movie in 3D was going to enable me to do some things that no 3D movie had ever been able to do. Because the camera that's capturing the action exists in the world of the story, it enabled us to play with the 3D in a way that's unique. There are a few places where characters watch footage on a monitor, and that monitor footage itself is in 3D. There are other places where we deliberately used a different visual effect in the left eye than we do in the right eye, which creates a completely unique sensation as your brain tries to make sense of what it's seeing and combine them into a single image. It was fun to play around with that kind of stuff.
At the same time, one very unexpected result of the 3D camcorders we were using was that when we shot on a wide lens, everything in the frame could be in focus. So rather than, say, one character's face being in focus while the background and foreground are fuzzy, everything in our movie is sharp and visible, whether it's right in front of the camera or far away in the distance. So when you watch the film in 3D, you can choose for yourself what to focus on, the way you do in real life. You can look at the person in the foreground, or you can look at the trees behind them, or you can look at the sky way way off. Especially on a big screen, that's a much more realistic and immersive way of seeing the world. So we were a little surprised to realize that that sense of immersion and realism was a much more natural marriage with the found footage style than we even realized before we started shooting.
And then our director of photography Drew Daniels did such an amazing job of composing shots so that there were many layers of depth to them. He really knew how to take advantage of the format. It's not something that you necessarily realize if you've only seen the 2D version, since there's not a lot of "throwing things at the camera" the way a lot of 3D movies do. It's a quieter effect, but it's really not something that most people have ever seen before. I was very gratified when our festival run started and so many of the reviews pointed out how great the 3D looked.
One thing that stood out in Found Footage 3D, was how natural a lot of the dialogue and character interaction came across. Was there a lot of improvisation and flexibility with regards to the script and characterization?
The actors were given a lot of room to play with the script to make it feel as natural as possible. It was a challenge finding the right actors for that very reason, because a lot of otherwise fantastic actors are not able to go off script and still make a scene work. And because of the constraints of the found footage format, where it was difficult or impossible to justify the existence of a second camera, a lot of these scenes had to be shot in single, uninterrupted takes. So the actors couldn't just ramble on knowing we could edit it together later. They had to stick very closely to the beats of the scene while still making it feel fresh and unscripted. So a lot of the scenes were very tightly structured, and the dialog was written out in the script, but then the actors were able to use their own words to convey the meaning of each line without saying verbatim what was written in the script. And then there were other times where the script literally just said something like "They give Scott a tour of the cabin" and we just rolled and the actors had a blank canvas to do whatever they wanted to in character. It helped immensely that we were able to rehearse before we shot. We spent three full days on the actual location with all 6 of the main actors, myself, and DP Drew Daniels, and we really worked out a lot of the kinks in the performance and the camera placement before we shot a single frame. Most movies at our budget can't afford that luxury, but I insisted on it, and I think it was a huge help.
Not that the rest wasn't great, but the last 30 minutes of Found Footage 3D scared the ever loving shit out of me. The ramp up was incredibly steep; was this a way of utilizing the budget more effectively, or was this always the intention regardless?
Partly that's just the nature of the genre. In a traditionally shot horror film, you can always cut away to the villain, or to some random group of characters getting killed, or whatever, to amp up the tension and let the audience know that bad stuff is going to happen to our main characters eventually. You can create dramatic irony when the audience knows more than the characters do. But in a found footage movie, if the audience can see it, then the characters can see it, by definition. So it's hard to build suspense in that way. So I always knew that the movie, like most found footage movies, was going to be a slow burn. The advantage to our movie was that the comedy could sustain a lot of those early parts. Ultimately, I wanted the movie to be structured like a sucker punch, with a lot of humor and character work up front to lull the audience, and then to hit them really hard with the horror and the violence once the shit hit the fan.
Continuing with the finale, that split-screen capture was very clever, and seemed like it'd be a bitch to properly synchronize. Was that shot in real-time or is that post-editing magic?
A little of both. In the script, the split screen was supposed to last the entire final 8 minutes of the movie, from the moment Amy turns on her camera until the very last frame of the film. In the editing, we realized that that didn't work as well as we had hoped, so it got cut down to what's in the finished film, which is just the right length, I think. There are a few cleverly disguised hidden cuts in there, and some of it was shot in post as second unit after we knew exactly how the whole scene was going to time out. But the real meat of the scene was shot with two cameras in real time during principle photography. It was a bitch to shoot, but I think it really enhances that feeling of "this is really happening" that it might not have if we had cheated it.
A character in the film goes on a rant and exclaims that there are only two good found footage films ever, one of which was 15 years ago. What's the second one? :-)
I leave that as an exercise to the reader.
Are you personally a fan of the sub-genre? The film itself is pretty meta, but I can't help but feel as if you're jumping into this with the actual intention of giving found footage a shot in the arm.
I love the style when its done well. The Blair Witch Project scared me more than just about any movie I've ever seen. There's something about that sense of reality and the immersiveness of the style that breaks down that barrier between what's real and what's fiction, and it's is just amazing when it's done right. But of course, very often it's not done right. At all. And when it's bad, it's BAD. Too many people think that it's an easy way to make a movie when in fact it's without a doubt one of the absolute hardest styles to master. It's just a punishingly difficult way to make a movie. No coverage. No music. An incredibly fragile suspension of disbelief. I don't think I fully appreciated until I had to do it just how nearly impossible it is to make a horror movie work without a score. Or to make ANY movie work when you can't edit scenes, and have to live with long single takes. It's like trying to fight with both hands tied behind your back. So it's really a bit of a miracle that there are any watchable found footage movies at all. And there are. Many of them, in fact. I definitely don't agree with Andrew that there are only two.
Speaking of meta, were there any spooky things worth mentioning - which occurred on set - while making the movie about making a movie?
We actually all lived out at the location for a month while we shot, and it really was in the middle of nowhere. No cell service. No internet. No lights outside at night. So it really was kind of spooky, which was great for the actors. One of the scariest things was the dogs. The owner of the property where we shot kept a pack of feral dogs that were basically allowed to run free wherever they wanted. We rounded up as many of them as we could before the shoot, but there were always a few hanging around. So you'd go out in the middle of the night with just a flashlight and you'd hear this growling and you'd turn and just see these glowing eyes looking right at you. It was pretty terrifying. Thankfully, the dogs were as scared of us as we were of them, so nothing bad ever happened, but it's hard to keep that in your head when there's a 200 pound beast snarling at you and staring you down.
So what happens next for you? Plan on continuing with directing? In horror perhaps, maybe a sequel to Found Footage 3D?
I'm going to go home, make a sandwich, and then probably take a nap.