‘Found Footage 3D’ Interview
In terms of movies that manage to successfully juggle equal parts satire of and homage to the found footage sub-genre, the only one that really jumps to my mind is Scott Glosserman’s BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON. Said flick worked as well it did because, despite taking the unabashedly self-aware approach, not once did it lose its bearings or neglect the fact its target audience would be out for blood and a healthy helping of the real scares and clever plotting that made the films it was satirizing so popular.
Much to my delight, writer/director Steven DeGennaro’s feature debut, FOUND FOOTAGE 3D succeeds in very much the same way by adopting a similar attitude, presumably the fruit of DeGennero’s designs to pinpoint where so much of all the crappy found footage that has been put out before shot itself in the foot and gave the sub-genre the bad rep it has right now. Although the plot is a bit more bare bones compared to the aforementioned LESLIE VERNON, FOUND FOOTAGE 3D’s ace up its sleeve is the deftly written dialogue and inspired humor, all buoyed by a completely committed cast who really make the whole thing all the more palpable and, accordingly, you can’t help but get sucked right in. And despite the film being a comedy at its core, it also manages to include a few well devised shit-your-pants scares that I honestly wasn’t expecting to see before heading into this one.
With the film having just screened at this year’s Horror Channel FrightFest, Terror Time caught up with DeGennaro, Producer Charles Mulford and actor Scott Allen Perry (AKA Carl the sound guy) to find out how they struck just the right balance between roasting found footage and hitting the sweet spot for lovers of said sub-genre; quite the mean feat…
Terror Time (Howard Gorman): How did the international premiere go down at FrightFest?
Charles Mulford: It went super well. The crowd was super enthusiastic. I mean, we had a really amazing screening in Chicago the week before but the crowd here was even more boisterous and really laughed where we wanted them to laugh and gasped and literally screamed where we wanted them to scream so we couldn’t have asked for a better crowd.
TT: FOUND FOOTAGE 3D has been a fair few years and a fair few drafts in the making. Can you break the whole process down into bite-size pieces for us?
CM: So Steven and I worked together on a film that I was producing and he was doing sound on. The star of that film was Michael Stahl-David who was the star of CLOVERFIELD. We were having sort of an organic conversation about CLOVERFIELD and about found footage horror films and Steven approached me about an idea that he had that would sort of be the SCREAM of the found footage genre. So we started to talk about it and he hired me to do a schedule and a budget for the business plan and through that process I became intimately familiar with the script and really grew to love it and believe in it. I really believed in Steven and I hitched my wagon to a star and four years later we’re showing the film to really enthusiastic crowds so I’m really glad things played out that way.
Steven DeGennaro: It began life as the lovechild of my two favourite movies which are SCREAM and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. As I was writing our script we realized that if we had our lead character, who is kind of like this jackass producer, decide on shooting the film in 3D then we could shoot our found footage movie in 3D in a way that was organic to the movie and made sense. And then, as we wrote successive drafts it got more and more integrated into the story and more and more into how I had actually planned to shoot the movie and how I wanted it to look. In a lot of ways it was a blessing. Being my first film, it took us two years to raise the money and I was able to keep working on the script for that whole two years and so I think it definitely improved more and more as we went along. And then about a year in, we got Kim Henkel on board and Kim was just absolutely invaluable as far as the script process goes. He would just read all these drafts and then write me some amazing insightful notes and then every time I was trying to fudge something, hoping that nobody would notice some gap in logic, Kim would invariably notice it and point it out and I’d have to find some solution to the problem. He forced me to really keep honing the characters. The thing that Kim kept hammering on was the story about these people and to flesh out the characters and make sure every character has their own inner life and their own agenda and their own reasons for being there so that they feel like real people and not just people that a screenwriter threw into a situation.
CM: Also, after we shot, we really didn’t anticipate that the post schedule would drag out as long as it did. Because of unforeseen things with the visual effects and otherwise, post ended up lasting longer than we thought, and again, Steven really took advantage of that opportunity to keep tweaking the movie and improving it and I think the film is a lot better for it.
TT: Talking of the visual effects, it must be pretty mind-blowing to read audience and critic comments rating the 3D and the effects up there with Hollywood Blockbusters. Also, as you are satirizing 3D as a gimmick in the film, were you concerned people wouldn’t buy into the use of 3D in your film?
SD: Partly I was and partly I wasn’t. Our DP Drew Daniels did an amazing job shooting it, and like I said, we integrated it at the script level and the visuals level so we tried to do things that no 3D movie has been able to do before. You never know whether you’re going to succeed at that so one of my biggest concerns was that people were just going to go, “Nah. Just go and see the 2D version. It didn’t really do anything.” But the fact that pretty much 100% of reviews from people who saw it in 3D mentioned how good the 3D actually was is very gratifying.
CM: We definitely tried to use the technology and do new things with it but we shot the film with a prosumer camcorder so the fact that the film is being compared to AVATAR is just crazy. Did we expect that? Absolutely not. And frankly, we don’t know what those people are smoking.
TT: The effects really do the film justice, but for me, it was the cast and your dialogue that the cast brought to life that really makes the film as effective as it is. To get that authentic feeling did you stick very closely to the script and rehearse as much as possible or was there quite a bit of leeway for ad lib?
SD: There was a lot of leeway but the script was very tight. The story was there on the page and the characters were there on the page. One of my philosophies as a director is that you cast people are really good at what they do and then you stay out of their way and just nudge them when you have to. I had to get actors that I knew could play in that style. We saw a lot of fantastic actors but who didn’t know how to sort of go off script and they weren’t able to take a scene where there are very well defined beats and they had to get from A to B to C to D in the course of that scene without feeling that you’re really saying lines. That was one of the hardest things to do and I’ll let Scott talk you through that process.
Scott Allen Perry: Basically, the script was a great road map – everything that we needed to do was there. We went out to the cabin for three days before we shot and it was the first time any of us had been in the cabin, including Steven. So in the movie when you’re seeing the cabin for the first time, we’re basically drawing on our previous experience of walking into that creepy place for the first time. But we did three days of intense rehearsals where we went though it all scene by scene and there were a few scenes that didn’t stick and they ended up getting completely tossed and redone. Steven was great about recognizing if something was working or not and then all the actors were so easy to play off of so we just came up with some amazing little beats and little extra things that fleshed out whatever the scene was. It just made it all the more natural to be in the scene talking to each other.
SD: There were other times were I was not over-protective of my actual dialogue. There were a few very rare occasions where I told actors to make sure they said one specific word. I told them that word needed to go in a specific line in some way, but otherwise I let them play around with the rest. Again, the fact we had actors who were able to do that, and especially in takes where some big effects gags went off and we had to shoot for three minutes after without cutting the cameras and the actors couldn’t screw it up and had to give good performances, and the fact that those things worked is a testament to how talented they are and to just how much hubris I have, quite frankly.
TT: Steven, I know you are actually a big fan of found footage films so I wanted to ask you why you decided to take this satirical look at the sub-genre? Also, what pitfalls that poorer films in this sub-genre fell into did you want to make sure you avoided like the plague?
SD: You know? When you love something, it breaks your heart when some people hurt it in the same way that I wouldn’t like it if someone started beating on my children. Found footage is a genre that I love and people just go out and treat it with disrespect and think, “Oh well. Let’s just go ahead and throw up a camera and make a lot of money because we’re gonna make this shitty found footage film.” So I just thought that that was something that was right for being satirized; very similar to how slasher films were satirized by SCREAM in the ‘90s. Obviously, when you do that, you put yourself in the crosshairs because anything that you make fun off you’d better damn well get right or the audience is never going to forgive you. And so absolutely almost everything was like, “Okay. I hope this works. If we’re going to point out numerous times throughout the script that we have to have a good reason to not just drop the camera and run the hell away then we’d better come up with a good reason for not dropping the camera, otherwise people are just not going to be up for the entire last act of our movie; even more so than your average found footage movie.” So it was definitely something I was very conscious of throughout the writing process and I hope we succeeded on most of those things.
TT: Scott, did you feel the same kind of pressure in terms of making sure the audience appreciated the satire in the film as your character is the main comic relief in there?
SAP: Not really. To me, I just really try and do the best thing I can do to make a role as interesting as I possibly can to myself. Usually when I do that, it translates pretty easily to the audience I think. It’s definitely an unusual situation when you are on a set where you are doing like five and ten minute takes, but I REALLY like that stuff and I think the other actors really like that stuff too. It was one of those things where I wouldn’t call it necessarily pressure, but it was more like an adrenaline rush. You look forward to it. It was like, “Let’s get out there and fucking do this and let’s play hard.” It was that kind of deal.
SD: And I think a lot of the pressure gets taken off when the people that you’re acting against are as good as everybody was in this movie.
SAP: Also, once you do that one take that’s fucking solid and just nails it and EVERYBODY knows it’s nailed, you’re ready to go again; you’re ready to just do it again.
TT: So what’s up next in terms of festivals for the film and are you working on another script in the meantime, Steven?
SD: Up next we’re playing a festival in Poland called Splat Film Fest and we do have several others lined up that we can’t, unfortunately, announce just yet. We’ll hopefully be announcing those pretty soon. And then, to be honest, we got a way better reception than I think any of us were expecting from Bruce Campbell’s Horror Festival and FrightFest.
CM: Yeah. We want to just kind of leverage the momentum that we’ve got, hopefully sell the film and be able to lay it out and get it seen by as many people that would love this film as possible.
SD: IN THEATERS! IN 3D!
We’d like to thank Steven DeGennaro, Charles Mulford and Scott Allen Perry for their time and we’ll leave you with the trailer for FOUND FOOTAGE 3D and you can read our review right about here.
‘Found Footage 3D’