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 clichés 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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