Thursday, January 30, 2014

Found Footage, The Camera 87 Interview


This will begin my series of post and interviews on the subject of what is know as found footage films.
I realize that found footage has gotten a bad rap because far too many film makers look at it as a easy way to produce their first feature or to make a quick dollar. These movies are churned out at the same rate that they use to churn out Ninja movies in the 1990's.

    The Found Footage genre has produced so quality films and will continue to do so. With these post I hope to explore the pros and cons of the genre and to encourage better film making.

    The film maker that I am going to be interviewing is named Kyle Van Dongen. Kyle is the film maker behind the found footage film Camera 87.  If you wish to know more about Kyle and his work you can visit   here.

Q) I suppose the first and most obvious question is what is your film, Camera 87, about?

A) Camera 87 is about a young man who witnesses a mysterious object landing, or perhaps crashing, near his house. Determined to be the first person to get it on video, he drags his girlfriend into the forest to help him investigate. Before long, they find evidence of an alien intelligence, but as the night goes on, they realize it isn't here for a visit.

Q) During the last few years the found footage film has become a genre of film making all its owns. The cost of producing them as compared to shooting all other types of films have made them a go to for the beginning film maker. Why did you choice found footage?

A) I've always enjoyed found footage. I think titles like Cannibal Holocaust and the Blair Witch Project are among the greatest horror films of all time. The only problem with the genre is that very few entries seem to come up with a satisfactory explanation for why the protagonist doesn't just put down the camera. The format works, for a time, but when the shit hits the fan and our heroes are being chased by zombies or giant monsters, the movies tend to lose a bit of credibility. Oddly enough, this is what made me want to do found footage. I came up with (what I believe to be) a compelling reason for the characters to keep the camera and figured I'd put it out there. Whether or not that's what people remember about Camera 87, it's the idea that got the ball rolling.

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 Q) It seems that no one has figured out the best way to write one of these films. How did you script the film?

A) I wouldn't say nobody has figured it out. I think the Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity told great stories. The trick, I'd say, is to make it feel natural. The allure of the genre is that, when it's done right, it feels real. It's a tricky line to walk because on one hand a real person might break up a sentence with a lot of "uhs" and "ahs" or they might tell a joke that falls flat, but if you do that too much, it becomes unwatchable. The same can be said for story structure - you want the action to ramp up, and you want to hit the important beats, but then maybe it feels too scripted. For Camera 87 I decided to put my trust in the actors. I wrote the script line by line as I would for any other movie, but I encouraged improvisation and last minute rewrites as long as the flow of dialogue remained in tact. As for the overall story, I tried to leave the extraterrestrial's actions vague and open to interpretation. I think that element of mystery makes it scarier and also, hopefully, more convincing.

Q) There is a debate on the best type of camera to use for a found footage shoot. The Dslr has become popular for all types of indie shoots, but I have always believed that the best tool for this job is the camcorder due to length of recording, the ability to record quality sound and basic battery life. What did you record Camera 87 with and why?

A) I used my good old Canon XH A1. The main reason for this was that I let my actors shoot the movie. Since neither of them were experienced camera operators, I put the camcorder on automatic and told them to focus on framing and forget about the more technical aspects of cinematography. This would never fly in a traditional film, but the idea here was to make it look like some average Joe was shooting, and what better way to replicate that effect than to simply give someone a camera set to auto focus? Also, as you mentioned, the battery life was a definite plus! The only real issue I had to contend with was a severe lack of lighting. Most of the shoot was done in the middle of the forest, at night, so I mounted a small, but powerful, flashlight into the camera's microphone holder and kicked up the gain. The result is grainy and sometimes way overblown, but I think it's appropriate for the genre.

Q) If you did another found footage film would you record with a different device?

A) I can't say for sure, but probably not. The XH A1 was perfect for the job. There might be other camcorders that might work better, but I certainly wouldn't use a DSLR.

Q) Most film makers run into problems with sound on a standard shoot. Were there any problems on this shoot and what did you use to record sound with?

A) Sound was definitely an issue and it's the one aspect of the film I'm a little disappointed with. Camera 87 is mostly comprised of long shots that run anywhere from a minute to four. During these scenes the actors are walking and looking around, which is visually dynamic, but makes it nearly impossible to keep a sound guy out of frame. I decided to rely on the XH A1's onboard mic and while it performed admirably, it wasn't always in an optimal position or even facing the actors at all. I leveled the audio the best I could in post, but refused to do any ADR since I wasn't confident in my ability to mix it in without being noticeable.

Q) Actors have more power on a found footage shoot because they have to carry so much of the story. How did you approach working with your actors? Did you rehearse them longer that you would on a normal film shoot or go straight to the filming?

A) I sort of answered this earlier, but not exactly. As I said, I allowed for a lot more improvisation and was very open with changes. I can't count the number of times somebody said "who would say this?" or "why would I do that?" but in the end, most of their objections were valid and I think the film is stronger as a result. As for the second part, we skipped rehearsals and went straight to filming. The reason being that there were only four of us and we were all committed. We'd get together on weekends, at everyone's convenience, and get done whatever we could. Nobody really minded if we spent a whole night trying to finish a scene as long as we got it right. I'm really fortunate to have had such cooperation and I believe the shoot was a lot more relaxing and entertaining as a result.

Q) Your film would fall into the sci fi area of found footage films. Most of these films fall into the area of sci fi or horror. I believe that the genre is going to have to expand into comedy, drama and action. A movie like End of Watch which did a great blending found footage with standard may be a blue print for the way this genre will find growth. I guess the question is can this style of film making be taken into new areas?

A) This depends on the criteria for "found footage". There are a lot of great movies and television shows (in a wide variety of genres) presented in a "documentary style" and in many ways, that's not very different. Some of the more recent found footage horror movies are even starting to lean more in this direction: George Romero's Diary of the Dead, although it was terrible, was edited from multiple cameras with voiceovers and music. I think it still belongs in the found footage genre, but stylistically, is it really any different than say, the Office? In a way, the only real differentiation to make is that in most found footage movies claim that the video was lost and then recovered. That sort of thing wouldn't work with a comedy so we get a mockumentary. I think the style has already branched out, it just goes by a lot of different names.

Q) What got you into the indie film making world? Also who are the film makers that you follow?

A) I got into independent film making because I love movies. It's a simple answer, but that's the truth. I've been shooting little shorts since I was in grade school, but I didn't get really serious until high school when I started meeting experienced artists from the local film community. I'm fortunate to live in a very arts-oriented city - it's a good environment and seeing other people's work really helps motivate you to get out there and create. As for the second part: I obviously admire the greats like Kubrick and Spielberg, but I tend to gravitate more toward directors who had less money to work with. Names that come to mind are Roger Corman and Ed Wood. I think there's a lot to learn from people who can make something from nothing. I also really admire James Rolfe who is popular on the internet for doing the Angry Video Game Nerd videos. He seems really passionate about film and by looking through his body of work you can actually see him grow from a high school kid shooting on VHS in his backyard to making a million dollar comedy epic. It's pretty inspiring.

Q) What is your next project going to be?

A) I've just finished up a short horror film called "Sweet Scarlett". It's a modern retelling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood done in the style of a slasher film. I'm thinking of trying my luck at a festival or two, but it'll make its way online eventually. I haven't begun to think of what I'll do next - my problem isn't that I don't have any ideas, but rather, too many of them!

Thank you again Kyle for taking the time to do this interview. I look forward to seeing and posting about your future work.

That will be it for today guy, please take a moment to share this post on facebook and to stumble us on stumbleupon .


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Screen Post

This post is going to be short and to the point. David P. Baker has made his film Screen available for free on Youtube. So while it is available I thought that I would post this great digital feature film here. The film was shot using a Canon 5d and an iPhone. I understand that the budget was about four thousand dollars. 

This film goes to show that you do not need a big budget or even a big crew (Mr.Baker was almost a one man crew) you can get your film made and out there. Sort of what indie film making should be all about.

Okay that will be enough from me. Sit back and enjoy the film.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Please take a moment to share this post or even to add it to your facebook. Indie film making, the kind that many of you are doing or wish to do, depends upon other film makers taking the time to spread the word about projects.  Good luck and I look forward to posting someday about your project.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Steam Punk Film Making and More

Steam Punk Film Making and More

I am returning from a strange alternate universe. I ventured there seeking answers and I return with more question that I began with.
What is dystopia?
Why does being a steam punk have nothing to do with being a punk?
How can such worlds exist both side by side with and within our own world?
Why are pale women in victoria garb sporting steam powered weapons so damn hot?
Why could I not get a phone number? Could it be because none of these babes have ever heard of a cell phone?
To answer some of these questions we are going to have a brief look at what Steampunk is and before we do I have to say that I am becoming a huge fan of this world.

Steam What ? from Adam Joseph Browne on Vimeo.

Next I would like to show you a short film that is very popular. This style of film making seems to allow the digital film maker to construct a world that has elements of multiple worlds. You can have elements that would be found in a sci fi film. Things only seen in horror films (vampires are big in this world, I have seen demons and mummies as well). You can have elements of the old west or past world wars. Although the world of steampunk is dominated by the Victorian Age.


 The use of airships rather than planes. Trains or steam power vehicles over cars gives a low budget film maker a great number of options. Since it is a world where things have broken down this gives you the freedom to use what ever you can find at hand. Low tech and even no tech are celebrated. Record players and ancient typewriters that you can find in the back of a thrift store for five bucks can play a part in your film. 

Also you can tell any type of story in this universe. Action adventure, horror, comedy, romance, drama. Sci fi and even a classic war story. Steampunk offers a film maker the chance to explore any world that he or she wishes.


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 In closing I would like to thank all of those who talked to me about Steampunk and I wish that a film maker or two would have found the time to do an interview about their projects, but you can only ask. To the readers of this blog I would like to thank you guys for sticking around and adding me to your google plus. I am always looking for films and film makers to interact with so if someone has a project that they wish me to know about I would be happy to check it out.

In closing I would like to mention what is coming next. I have mentioned in the past that I have been working on a found footage book so the next few post will reflect what I have learned during the last eight months about the subject. I have watched almost two hundred of these things and I will get into what I believe about them and their future as a film genre in the post to come.

This now ends Sci fi as the theme of the blog. We are moving into found footage film making and those who pan for gold there.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On A Great iPhone Film, The Other Side

On A Great iPhone Film

While I am finishing up a few interviews I thought that I would take this snow day to tell you about a great short film that I have been introduced to by its film maker Conrad Mess.

For those of you who do not know about Conrad, he has won a number of international awards for his iphone films. For a genre or niche in the world of indie film to become relevant it takes a film maker of extraordinary skills to champing it and in this case the iphone film has found its champion. I have posted some of his work here and at my website thephonefilmmaker. The think about his work that I admire is that he is always pushing the envelope with his film making.

With this short that I am about to show you he ventured in the world of horror with what amounts to an old school vampire film (no ancient teenage boys covered in glitter) we are talking about more of the hammer film kind of variety mixed with Sin City. The film was shoot using the iphone 5. Shoot entirely on Green screen with all the backgrounds done with CGI.

The title of the film is The Other Side.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Canon Film making News and Notes


Recently I was told about a feature that was shot using a Canon T2i. I tried to contact the film maker to talk about the project, but he lives on the other side of the globe and so far I have not received a response so I am going to go ahead and tell you about the film and what I like about the project.

The title of the film is Good Hands. It was shot using a Canon T2i and was edited to give it the look of a 16mm film. I would think that this was done to give it the grindhouse look of a film like Hobo with A Shotgun. It is funny to think that we spend so much time looking for the next best Dslr camera to capture a crisper image when using these cameras to give out films a more classic look has largely been overlooked.
Indie film making is about taking chances and if you cannot take a few chances with a digital feature film that is budgets for less than ten thousand dollars when are you ever going to take a risk or two? Remember that line from the film Moneyball “If we think like the Yankees in here then we are going to lose to them out there.” If we think that we are going to make films identical to Hollywood blockbusters then we are doomed to fail. Worst yet, why would you want to? Their product is glossy crap. Overblown over hyped garbage that is hard to watch at two in the morning on HBO yet alone after spending twelve to fifteen dollars to do it in a theater.

Do not get me wrong, indie film makers are as guilty of falling into safe patterns as Hollywood has. Insane rules about what is a quality indie movie and what is not. What is worthy of notice and what is just not our sort of film. I call that the Sundance trap. The film makers who want to be in Sundance or at Cannes looks down on those of us who love genre films, from comedy, to horror, to faith based to scifi. I believe that anything goes. That any subject material is worthy as long as the story is well told.

Okay here is the Trailer for Good Hands.

Next up I would like to revisit the movie Screen, made by David Baker. Looks like he has decided to release it on Vimeo. It is for sale and/or rent there. Please check it out. We are talking about a feature that was shot for about four thousand dollars. I believe he used the Canon 5d.
I understand that he was basically a one man film crew. To do that takes both skill and guts.
To write it, direct it, light it, cast it, produce it, edit it and twenty other on set jobs. That is the definition of just going out and doing it. Any one of us could go out there and burn money and time with a crew of dozens. It takes a full-grown film maker to do it solo, because at the end of the day you get all of the blame when it goes wrong and in this case all of the credit when things work out.

Here is the trailer for Screen along with a link to where you can see the film.

Find it at this link.

Okay that will be it for this post. I will be getting back to my series on scifi films with the next post. Take a moment to stumble this page and to share a post on facebook. Thank you for visiting and if you know of a film or film maker who should be featured in a future post contact me via google+ or by leaving a comment. And for those of you who use Pinterest would you mind pinning the cover of my new Film making interview ebook. That site actually does help with book sales. You can find an image along the right side of this page.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Digital Filmmaking, The Encounter Interview

  Digital Filmmaking, The Encounter Interview

 When I decided to do a series of post on low budget scifi I had no idea that there was so much of it out there and that it would come in some many forms. Today the interview that I have for you will be with Chad Farmer, Director of the short film Encounter. This is a found footage film (stop that, put the bottle of pills down. This is a good one.) that fits with the theme of the last few post. I also have to say that it a very invented micro budget film. Shot using a Gopro, an iPhone and a Webcam, this is a case of using what the scene calls. So many times we get married to one piece of equipment and will use it whether or not it fits. I have seen too many low budget found footage films where the film maker loved the look that was provided by a Dslr camera that they overlooked the fact that a camcorder or a iPhone would have made more sense within the plot and would have made the actual filming process a lot easier.

Okay lets get to the interview. You can check out Chad’s other work on Youtube if you like this film.

Q) The first question has to be what is Encounter about?

A) Encounter is about a husband documenting his wife's sleepwalking which leads them to the unexpected. It's also about them repairing their relationship after losing their unborn son.

Q). I have always been a fan of using the best tool to get the job done. You used a webcam, a go pro and a iphone to shoot this film. Was this well plan as you were writing the script?

A) Yea, the gopro and iphone were always in the plan and the webcam came later in the writing process as it was just another variety and look to add to the story. and the webcam was kind of their place to talk to each other together and not so separated and they rediscover and repair their relationship on their journey.

Q) How did combining the different methods of shooting work out in editing?

A) It was a beast. I learned the hard way. Editing software likes everything to be the same size, framerate and codec and of course my three cameras were all different. haha. There are ways around everything which takes more time and work which is ok in this case because of the complete free way of working. I wanted the camera choices to serve the story and not the editing driving the camera choices.
So I edited in adobe premiere in a 1280x720 sequence which is what the webcam footage was and that was the most footage i would be cutting so i went with that size and format to edit in. gopro footage was shot at 1080 and scaled down to 720. The iphone footage was the real problem. I used a 4s but the problem with iphone footage straight out of the camera is that not every clip had the same framerate. some were 30fps, some were 24fps, some were less, etc.....Also, premiere did not like format. It was hard to scrub, playback, or do anything with the clips without freezing, chugging, etc. So I had to transcode all iphone clips in mpeg streamclip to make it easier to work with. If I used iphone to shoot anything again I would use an app like FilmicPro to lock in framerate, etc....

Q) I am from the less is more school of FX. The practical FX worked very well in this film. Was there any thoughts of using any CGI?

A) I'm totally with you. I actually had more vfx in there but in the end i decided to cut them and keep it simple and keep it about the characters. This was going to be a feature but it seemed like it was trying to hit a certain time and was more of a distraction from the characters.

Q) While some have attempted to shoot entire films and I am talking feature length using the iphone, I have looked at it as solid tool to be used under certain circumstances or when it is the best option available. Do you plan on using it on future projects? Also did the quality of footage it provided surprise you?

A) The quality was good but it served my story and would use it again if a story calls for it. Also, if it's all you got, use it.

Q) I am in the middle of writing an ebook on making found footage films. From the film makers I have interview about the subject no two of them approach it the same way. Some script it as if they are shooting a standard film right down to every word of dialogue. Others only provide their actors with the camera to be used and a basic sketch of what they are suppose to say and do.
How did you approach the scripting your film?

A) This was a narrative experiment. I wanted to do something different. So the script for this one was a list of about 35 scenes. For each scene I wrote a small description of a sentence or two of what needed to happen and any bullet points of what needed to be said or discussed in the scene.

Q) How much direction is involved in shooting a film of this type?

A) The most direction came from the editing process. Since a lot of it was a single shot on the webcam I could jumpcut through the scene to create certain moods or feelings. Dig through the mud to find the best stuff.
There was not a lot of camera direction while shooting since I wanted it to feel like real people were using and operator their own cameras just like in real life. We would talk a few minutes before shooting a scene to get the right mood and emotions and then the actors would shoot it. Most scenes were done in 1 take to capture that spontaneous energy. All scenes were done in 3 or less takes. Most in 1 take.

Q) When working with the actors how time did you have before shooting to rehearse them and get them use to improvising with each other?

A) I didn't want to rehearse at all. I wanted it to feel like normal people were filming stuff at home.
I did an audition process to find the best pairing of actors. I would have different actors do improv exercises with each other and then mix and match them to see what the best fits were. I got to meet a lot of new and great actors that I hope I can work with someday. I was so lucky to have 2 great actors. They did such a great job. It was really up to them to drive this project or it would not have worked.

Q) A few general film making questions. What film maker do you look to for inspiration?

A) I grew up on Spielberg so he will always be up there. but there are so many like Hitchcock, Tarantino, Alfonso Cuaron, Peter Jackson, Fincher, Kubrick, Scorsese, Mallick, Aronofsky, Derek Cianfrance.....I could go on forever....

Q) Is there a feature film in your near future?

A) Yes. I was just going through some ideas today.

Q) What is the advice that you wish someone had given you about film making when you first started out?

A) Just shoot. I love the latest and greatest cameras and all the coolest tech and we all get caught up in waiting for the best cameras and stuff but just shoot with what you have or can get.


That will be it for today. A topic that I want to touch upon in the near future is the Hollywood studio idea of replacing the Franchise model with what is called a Shared Universe. A universe of characters that exist in the same place and time while only coming together ever three or four years for a mega project. The Avengers is the best example of this. Where each Hero has a stand alone film and are brought together for a combined project to max out their box office potential.

Could this be done by a group of film makers on a micro budget level? I think that it could, but they call us indie film makers for a reason. That indie streak is hard to overcome even if there could be massive financial rewards waiting at the end of the rainbow. Not to mention the chance to do some grand arc story telling. Stories where villains and their origins can be explored as fully as those of the heroes. Where characters can be developed and transformed by multiple film makers that would lead toward something greater than a reason to level New York city again.

Something to think about. Please leave comments on the subject.