Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Part 2, Found Footage 3D Interview

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No preamble today, this is the second part of the interview with Steven DeGennaro.

Q) Clearly Scream was an influence on the making of this film. The reason I have gone down this road with found footage films is that just when I am ready to throw in the towel and move onto a subject like fan films a movie comes along and gives me hope that there could be something special here. Movies like End of Watch which is not a found footage film, but mimics elements of one and shows me a possible future path for the genre. There are films like The Frankenstein Theory that was fun to watch up until the young doctor Frankenstein decides that it would be a good idea to go and try to talk a ten foot tall homicidal monster out of murdering the rest of his friends. (Spoiler alert, talking softly to someone nicknamed the Monster usual ends badly.) Recently I saw a great film titled Out of Control from the UK. It was shot in the found footage format, but it was a domestic drama instead of a horror film. There is always something like Cannibal Holocaust or Rec 2 to show how good it can get when done well. What found footage films have influenced you?

A) There’s nothing quite like the granddady of them all, The Blair Witch Project.  One of the most effective horror movies of all time, and a completely new experience.  There are people who claim now that it’s only really remembered because it was the first, but I re-watch it once a year or so and it’s just a really, really well-told story and so effective.

For my money, the greatest found footage film of all time is Gareth Evans’ segment from V/H/S/2, “Safe Haven”.  That is as nearly perfect as a short horror film can possibly be.  I love The Sacrament, which has a very similar feel in a lot of places.  I’ve never really understood all the hate that Ti West’s segment in the original V/H/S gets.  That short, to me, really nails what I love about found footage, which is how completely real it feels.  So when you realize that really awful things are about to befall a very real couple, it’s a thousand times more terrifying to me than every ghost story that Hollywood has ever put out combined.

There’s a really obscure film called Skew that also does the same thing very effectively.  This movie was actually made before Paranormal Activity, but didn’t get picked up until much later, which is a shame, because it’s so good.

I totally agree with you about The Frankenstein Theory, which was really well done up until the last ten minutes or so.

Overall, I like movies that really commit to the premise.  I enjoyed Cloverfield and Chronicle and [Rec] and movies like that, but they don’t have the same sort of visceral punch as a movie that really works hard to convince you that it’s real; not necessarily on an intellectual level, but on a visceral one.

Q) In your videos for your film you talk about practical effects. I have always thought that if it is real on the set then it looks real to the audience. I believe that is laziness more than money that makes beginning film makers use cheap CGI for blood, bullet wounds and even scars. I don’t mind CGI for background, it was done well in Gladiator to reproduce ancient Rome and it is done well in the tv series Gotham for making elements of a city that does not exist. How important were practical effects to the making of your film?

A) There’s nothing at all lazy about making any movie, I can assure you, especially a low-budget one.  It’s a grueling process that often takes years to bring to fruition and requires dozens if not hundreds of people working together seamlessly as a unit to pull off.  So I certainly understand where filmmakers are coming from when they decide to use CG instead of practicals a lot of the time.  It’s not about laziness.  It’s definitely about budget, and about control over the final product.

Actually shooting the film is the most costly part of the process.  Every hour you spend on set you are paying dozens of people, most of whom are sitting around waiting at any given time.  So a practical effect that takes time to set up or reset between takes can get very costly very quickly, completely independent of how much the effect itself costs. When you compare that to one or two guys pushing pixels in a studio four months later, you can often get much more bang for your buck with digital.

But as will all things in filmmaking, it requires talent, planning, a lot of work, and a little luck to make any effect work.  Ultimately, CGI is a tool, and like any tool, it has its uses.  I wouldn’t use a hammer to cut a piece of paper, and I wouldn’t use a wrench to drill a hole in something.  It’s all about figuring out which tool works for which problem, within the confines of what you can afford.

So yes... it was very important to me to do as many of the effects practically as we were able to do.  But I didn’t let that stop me from deciding to use CGI where appropriate, either by itself or to enhance the practical effects.  Gore effects rarely look good when they are all CGI, unless you are wiling to spend a lot of money.  But practical effects sometimes don’t work right, and you end up having to fix it later because the sun is coming up and you have to get your shot, one way or another.  That’s a big part of the reason we are doing this Indiegogo campaign: to fix one practical effect that looked awesome when we tested it, but—through no fault of anyone in particular—just didn’t work on the day.  So my choices were either: a) live with the really bad practical effect, b) do a really cheap CGI effect that would look just as bad, or c) spend the time and money to do the CGI right.  I want (c).

Q) You are in the Post stage of your production. This is the most overlooked part of the film making process. Only when the final shoot has been recorded do many first time film makers realize that the hardest part is actually ahead of them. This being your first 3D film were you prepared for the challenges that you are now facing?

A)We did a proof-of-concept in 2013 to test out a lot of the really difficult stuff, especially with regards to the 3D aspect.  So we really worked out a lot of the kinks by going through that process.  We made a ton of mistakes and we learned from them, so we went into the feature with our eyes open.

That said, we still have a long way to go before we’re done.  But I’ve found in making my movies that my complaints in post-production are rarely technical, but usually artistic.  I find myself wishing I had directed an actor differently, or shot something from a different angle, or gotten more coverage of a scene.  Some of those things can be fixed with reshoots and ADR and visual effects, but some of them you have to live with.

I’m getting to the point now in editing the film, especially with the ability to take a few weeks away from it while I concentrated on the Indiegogo campaign, where I’m starting to forget the movie that I intended to shoot and starting to see the movie that I actually shot.  So instead of being about, “Oh, I wish I had done this thing better,” it’s more about “How do I make the best film possible with the materials I have at hand?”

I’m usually my own harshest critic.  But overall, I’m very happy with how the movie is shaping up.  When we’ve shown it to people, they’ve largely laughed in the right places and gasped in the right places, they like the characters, and they come out of it satisfied.  So I think we’re on the right track.

Q) Film makers do what has been done before because it is easy to market. You open a pizza shop and sell the same kinds of pizza as all the others because you do not have to educate a public about a new thing. Found footage shot as 3D is a new thing. You are basically going to be the first person to market stuffed crust pizza. How long did you prep for the marketing challenges?

A) Ugh... this has been the greatest blessing and the greatest curse at the same time.  So many people see the title and they assume that we are making a gimmick, not a movie.  They expect Sharknado, which is a funny concept that’s basically unwatchable as an actual film.  So we have a real uphill battle trying to educate people about what we are trying to do.

We started our marketing efforts very early, and I’m really glad we did.  Aside from amassing more than 25,000 fans before people had even seen a single frame of the finished film, we’ve also been able to really hone our message and figure out how to sell the film to audiences.

I decided to make this movie because I love found footage, and I hate the way that it has become a bit of a joke because there are so many people who are so bad at it who keep flooding the market with crap.  I really feel like it’s exactly the right time for a movie like ours, and that it will appeal to people who love found footage, as well as those who think it’s overdone.  If I can get that message out, I think we’ll do fine.

Ultimately, the movie will speak for itself. If it’s good, people will tell their friends and more people will see it.  Hopefully, it will be good when we are done.

Q) Any advice for future film makers? Particularly those who are going to attempt to jump the found footage hurtle?

A) Don’t.  Found footage is a really tough sell these days precisely because so many people are trying to do it, and so many of them are failing at it.  So unless you have a truly killer idea for something new and original, it’s probably a genre that, at least for the next few years, it’s better to stay away from.  I realize that may sound a little hypocritical coming from a guy who is making a found footage movie, but it’s the truth.

Ultimately any movie is about telling a good story.  And if you are a good storyteller, you will find people who are willing to go along with you on a journey, whether they be actors, investors, crew, producers, etc...  So the best advice I can give—if I’m even qualified for such a thing—is to hone your craft.  Work on as many movie sets as you possibly can and watch and learn from people who really know what they are doing (as well as from the people who clearly don’t know what they are doing).  Go out and make short films.  Get good at it, first.  Then try to make a feature.

Found footage is so tantalizing to first-time filmmakers because it looks easy.  It’s not.  Found footage is not some shortcut where you get to bypass all the essential things you need to know to make a decent film—acting, writing, pacing, camerawork, editing, sound, etc.  There’s a reason why you have to prove that you are good at those things before anyone will give you money to make a real feature.  So get good at those things.  If you think you are capable of making a good feature film, and you have a story that you think is worth telling, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s found footage or not.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s going to cost ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million, or ten million.  If you’ve proven that you are capable of pulling it off, then people will help you achieve that goal. If you haven’t proven yourself capable of those things, then you have no business wasting everyone’s time and money.

I just happened to want to tell this story, and it happened to be found footage.  If I’d had a more traditional story to tell, I would have worked just as passionately to make that happen, and probably a lot of the same people would have come along for the ride with me.

Ultimately, there is no substitute for hard work, talent, and experience.  If you don’t have those three things, wait until you do.  Because you rarely get a second chance in this business.  Make it count.

Thank you again Steven and good luck with the campaign and the film.

     Okay guys that is it for today please take a moment to like this post on Stumbleupon and to share it with a friend. In closing I would like to add Steven's award winning comedy short film First Date.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Found Footage 3D, The Interview PART 1

This is going to be a two part interview with Steven DeGennaro, the film maker behind Found Footage 3D. At the moment he is in the middle of a Indiegogo campaign for his film. If you would like to check out the campaign you can do so by clicking here.   In you wish to know more about the project you can visit the website by clicking here.

If you thought that making a found footage film is easy I think that you are about to lose some of your illusions. It is easy to make a movie. Record ninety minutes of footage and cut it together and you got a movie. The problem is that making a good movie requires much more than this. It requires months and in some cases years of planning. Followed by endless weeks of shooting and re-shooting and then the hard work begins, it is called post production. I have interviewed a guy who shot a film in a day, I have seen it and it was not very good. I interviewed the director of Joker Rising which was shoot in six days ( shoot in six days, but there were months of pre and post production) and many believe that it is the best fan film ever made. You can shoot, edit and distribute a movie with your iphone, this does not mean that if you wish to be a film maker, whether found footage, epic fantasy or straight drama you do not need to learn all that you can about writing, lighting, editing and a hundred other things that go into making a great film. I know that many readers have taken the found footage series of post lightly while planning to shoot their own found footage films. If you plan to do it as a hobby then take to it any way you wish, but if this is going to be your profession then invest the time and effort to learn how to do it as well as possible.

Let’s get to part one of a two part interview.

Q) You are in the middle of an Indiegogo campaign for your 3D found footage film.
What is the plot and what will make it different from the other found footage films out there?

A) Found Footage 3D tells the story of a group of filmmakers who go out to a cabin the woods of Central Texas to shoot “the first 3D found-footage horror movie”, but end up in a found footage horror movie when the evil entity from their film starts showing up in their behind-the-scenes footage.  What Scream did for slasher movies, we aim to do for found footage.  Like Scream, our characters know all of the rules, tricks, and clich├ęs of the genre, and we use that structure to comment on and poke fun at the tired tropes of found footage, while at the same time, turning them on their heads and executing an effective scary movie.

Q) Hollywood uses 3D as a way of milking more cash out of audiences for its tent pole films, with the occasional film that was meant to be seen in this format like Avatar and Inception. I would image that in this case 3D has been selected for the effect that it will have on the audience rather than any box office concerns?

A)The 3D is an essential part of the storytelling, for me.  We certainly didn’t undertake the decision lightly.  So on the most basic level, we’re shooting in 3D because the lead character of our movie, a charismatic but ultimately soulless movie producer, decides that if he shoots “the first 3D found footage horror movie,” he will make a killing at the box office.  So right away, we’re almost sort of making fun of ourselves for doing the same thing.

But at the same time, once we had given ourselves a good reason to do it, I decided very early on that we had to do some cool stuff with it.  And found footage—especially a movie about people who are making a movie—allows us to do some things that no one has ever seen before.  We have the practically limitless depth-of-field of a consumer camcorder, which means that rather than having the subject be in focus, and everything in front or behind him being out of focus, the viewer can choose what he or she wants to focus on in any given shot.  That allowed us to really compose shots with a ton of depth in them, with multiple layers, rather than just “here’s an actor; here’s a bunch of fuzzy stuff behind him.”

Also, because our villain is itself a creation of the very footage it inhabits, it can do things within the footage that wouldn’t necessarily make sense in a more traditional movie.  Things like moving from one screen to another as people watch footage on a monitor, or appearing differently in one eye than in the other.  That kind of stuff.

Q) There are a few ways to shoot a 3D movie. The easiest is to set up two identical cameras side by side and in post blend the footage to produce a 3D image. What types of cameras did you use to shoot the film? Also when shooting on a budget, you sometimes have to trade the camera that would be perfect for the job for what you can afford. Any cameras that you wanted that you just could not afford?

A)The beauty of found footage (from a budgetary point of view) is that you get to shoot on cheaper cameras. Indeed, in my opinion, to really do it right, you are required to shoot on cheaper cameras.  There’s a certain aesthetic that’s required in found footage.  If it looks too nice, then it works against your suspension of disbelief.  I’ve seen found footage movies that were clearly shot on state-of-the-art big-budget cameras with full Hollywood lighting, and then the character looks at himself in a mirror and you see this little dinky handheld camcorder and it pulls you out of the story because you know that camera couldn’t possibly look that good.

From even before we decided to shoot in 3D, I wanted the aesthetic of the film to be very lo-fi and real.  So when we made the decision to shoot in 3D, we did a bunch of research on readily-available 3D camcorders and we settled on the Panasonic z10000.  It’s a camcorder with two lenses side by side, and it operates more-or-less the same way any prosumer camcorder does, with the exception of being able to change the convergence of the 3D effect (which can further be tweaked in post as well).  So we bought 3 of them (two of which appear in the film, with a third as a back-up in case we broke one of the other two).

We also bought a 3D GoPro rig to shoot “surveillance” footage.  Because of the wide-angle lens and the fact that the cameras are not necessarily 100% aligned when you shoot, that footage was a little more difficult to deal with in post, but it looks really cool when we’re done.  Again, this is something that most people have never seen before.

Q) The found footage genre is the genre that has experienced the most growth during the last two years while also receive the most hate from hardcore film goers. For every Paranormal Activity, there are five films like Crowsnest, Area 407 and Devil’s Due.  Can this genre make it long term or are we talking disco?

A) We live in a time where everybody in the Western world carries a camera in their pocket at all times.  One hundred hours of footage are uploaded to YouTube every single minute.  The news, our Facebook feeds, our Twitter feeds, and TV news are filled with footage shot by everyday people.  Terrorists upload videos of beheadings.  Protestors film cops. Cops film car chases.  Surveillance cameras watch a lot of what we do in public spaces.  Journalists and citizens alike film war and political unrest across the world.

So no... I don’t think that the idea of telling a story through the eyes of one of the characters in that story is a style that is going to go away anytime soon.

Q) The thing unique to the found footage genre is how so many of the film makers that I have interviewed approach the writing of their films in totally different ways. Film maker A may write a complete screenplay in standard format. Film maker B may craft an outline of scenes and piece it together in rehearsals. Film maker C comes up with a title, a basic beginning middle and end point and allows his or her actors to improvise the film from that point on. What approach did you take to crafting the screenplay?

A) I admire the balls it takes to go into a situation where you don’t know the story, you don’t have the beats of a scene in mind, you make everything up pretty much on the fly.  That’s how they did Blair Witch, which is still, in my opinion, one of the best horror movies ever made.  They got great results, and they also spent a hell of a lot of time crafting the movie in the editing room.  But it could just as easily been a complete disaster, and unfortunately, for many filmmakers, that’s exactly what happens.

At the same time, if you over-plan, you end up with something that starts to feel rehearsed and stilted, and you lose the realness that found footage relies on for a lot of its best moments.  So I didn’t want to necessarily script out everything.

So the screenplay was a constantly evolving process for me that took over two years from initial idea to the time we rolled cameras.  My first few drafts left a lot of detail—particularly the dialog—intentionally vague.  I think it came in at about 60 pages or so.  But then people had a hard time really envisioning the characters and the finished movie in their heads, and that made it difficult to get certain people—like Kim Henkel and some of our investors—on board.

So I went through and I wrote out a lot of the dialog, knowing that I was going to eventually scrap a lot of it once we were on set.  I’m glad I did, though.  In fleshing out the beats of each scene, I was able to connect more with who the characters were, which helped a lot in casting the film and in shooting it on a really tight schedule.

Q) Where and how did you find your actors and did you give them any room to improvise during shooting?

A)The most important thing for me was to make sure that the characters never felt like they were saying lines.  So the actors had free reign to use their own words any time they wanted to.  At the same time, because a large number of the scenes had to play out in long single takes from a single camera, I couldn’t let them just meander around a scene for hours and hope to fix it in the editing room.

So the first thing we did was spend three days on the set—just me, the actors, and the director of photography—talking through and rehearsing each scene.  The beats of every scene were there in the script, but they had a lot of room to improvise around those beats.  We used the rehearsal process to figure out what scenes and lines were really working, and which ones weren’t, and I went and did some rewrites based off of that.  That allowed us to show up on set and shoot very very quickly, because we’d already worked out a lot of the kinks beforehand.

During the shoot, we then didn’t do many additional rehearsals right before shooting, so that the actors could keep fresh and be spontaneous.  Often they’d nail it on take 1 or 2.  Sometimes, when we got to take 6 or 7, they’d start feeling too rehearsed, and we’d throw in a take or two where they got to completely toss out the script and have fun.  We very rarely used those takes in the finished film, but they usually loosened things up enough that the next take, which was much closer to the scripted scene, worked really well and found the perfect balance between improvisation and structure.

In the end, we had a mixture that was probably about 85% highly structured scenes with improvised dialog, 15% of what we called “marshmallow moments,” where we set up a scenario and the actors just freeformed it for ten or fifteen minutes and we jump cut the best parts, and then a rare scene or two where we ended up with the dialog very very close to what was written on the page.

It was a very unique way of working, and it never would have worked if the actors we got weren’t so damn good at it.  We went through a pretty traditional casting process. I spent several months watching audition tapes—I eventually saw over a thousand auditions from over ten thousand submissions—and then we had in-person callbacks for my favorites for each role, where I got to see them with the other actors.  It was actually very easy to eliminate about 80% of the hopefuls right away, because despite explicit instructions that I wanted them to use their own words and not stick to the script, most actors just can’t pull that off.  They either stick exactly to the script, or they improvise and are just really, really bad at it.

In the end, we ended up with six lead actors that had amazing chemistry together and were really great at exactly the kind of improv we needed for the film to work.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

New Found Footage From Eduardo Sanchez

New Found Footage From Eduardo Sanchez

Today I would like to continue my series of post on found footage with a look at the newest film from one of the directors who is most responsible for the popularity of the genre. The found footage genre would not be what it is without Eduardo Sanchez and the Blair Witch Project. A generation of film makers have followed in the footsteps of this film maker and his film. Some would argue that this is not a good thing, but it is something that is going to be around. It is part of the film making landscape.

Take a look at the trailer for the new found footage film Exists.


This is a interview done with Eduardo Sanchez about his upcoming film. I would like to thank Monster Movie Talk for this interview.


Thank you for visiting. Please add me to your google plus. A quick note to film makers reading this. I am always looking for topics and interviews you can contact me by leaving a comment. Also I am going to be adding an acting reels page. If there are actors out there who are looking for work in low budget films (no pay, plenty of credit) send me a link and I will post it. So many great actors are looking for work and so many film makers are settling for who ever shows up. A superior actor can raise the quality of a micro budget film.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Trailer Day Featuring Black Butler

While I chase down an interview that I desperately want to do I thought that I would take some time to show some cool trailers from around the world. (The interview is with a UK film maker that has done something special with the found footage genre, if I cannot get the interview I will just post the film and ask for comments.) 

Okay first up is a trail from a horror movie made by the guy I think is the most talented film maker on earth that no one is talking about yet. It is his second feature film. David Ryan Keith is his name and the name of the movie is The Redwood Massacre.


Next up is a cool trailer from Japan. The live action version of Black Butler. If you do not know about the anime series Black Butler take a moment to ask anyone who follows anime.

Next is the Japanese version of my favorite western Unforgiven. Hollywood use to take a samurai movie and turn it into a western, this western turned into a samurai film is a cool switch.


 This little horror film is titled Welp and it is from Belgium. It is funny how the throwback kind of horror films are being made outside of the US. 

Next is the sequel to what would have been the greatest foreign horror film franchise ever if the third film in the series had not been a dog. It looks like the producers knew it and hired the original writer and director to helm this one. Have a look at Rec 4.

The last film for today is a low budget film that I am very interested in knowing more about. I have tried to contact the film makers for an interview, but so far I have had no luck. Black Mountain Side is a low budget feature length film. If anyone reading this knows the director or producer tell them that I would like to do a quick interview about the project.

Thank you for checking out my blog. Please take a moment to add me to your google plus. By doing this you can follow new post on this blog and post on my iphone film making blog and screen writing blog.