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Fact or Fiction: Found Footage Horror

What is Found Footage Horror?

If you’re newer to the horror community, then you may not be aware of the found footage style that makes up a widely celebrated part of the genre. That being said…

Relatability and Morbid Fascination

The dark, savage aspects of human nature have a certain allure that cannot easily be disregarded. We’re more likely to see characters who are awkward, trashy, creepy, oblivious, or skeptical throughout the movie—the found footage style has been known to explore those traits more fully since it needs to feel like candid camera footage. As a culture, we tend to have a fascination for things that we can identify with and many people find reality entertainment more relatable—while others find them to be like a trainwreck they can’t stop watching.

Fact or Fiction?

When The Blair Witch Project premiered in 1999, the world witnessed what could reasonably be believed to be real footage of three student filmmakers. These students would go on to disappear while filming their investigative documentary; their footage, as revealed by the movie, was later found by a third party and published for the world to see. The documentary-style film allowed the audience to see through the eyes of the protagonists. We were able to step into their shoes, with a growing sense of trepidation, as they dove into the gruesome legends woven into the history of Burkittsville, Maryland (Derry 228).

Indie Horror Creation

There are only really a handful of found-footage films that directly benefited from the cult following The Blair Witch Project developed at the turn of the century. Regardless, the horror genre branched out into the of found-footage and made it feasible for indie filmmakers to put themselves out there with a low film budget and then expect a larger profit margin in return. Since the mockumentary style of The Blair Witch Project required nothing more than handheld cameras, or more recently, a GoPro. The technology was no longer a barrier. There was a preference of unknown faces that were hired for talent because it would leave the audience with a more authentic quality of film. The promised result was an otherwise cheaply produced finished product with no over-the-top special effects. This style lent directly to the perceived authenticity of the events that would occur within the confines of the film (Derry 229).

Growing Popularity of Reality Horror

The rising popularity in this “reality” horror soon caused the film budgets of these types of movies to rise significantly and the profit margin to subsequently decrease—but why is that? Because, when you think about it, if a found footage film is properly executed they can be an indie filmmaker’s dream. Then again, there also has to be the consideration that most indie horror filmmakers would love to have their film be the next Blair Witch Project. Most just aren’t naive enough to believe that their film will achieve that level of notoriety. Even a movie such as Cloverfield (2008), arguably one of the highest budgeted movies in the style can showcase archetypal lo-fi aesthetic (Kring-Schreifels), but then they blow their budget on special effects. Explosions, enormous alien monsters, and entire buildings being knocked over certainly didn’t help them to cut costs. If their featured talent hadn’t done a wonderful job at performing their roll, it would have been a lot less convincing (although, let’s be real, none of us thought it was real—unlike many with The Blair Witch).

Convincing Storytelling

Thankfully, it’s no longer the believability factor, as much as it is the feel of authenticity and the purity of the scares or creepy story they tell. So, it’s now far less important that these films are regarded as found footage, if we’re distinguishing films being true to the style. If we’re looking for a true found footage film, we must consider movies that fully utilize a diegetic camera, which means that both the camera and if applicable, the person behind it are part of the story. Since the diegetic camera in found footage films is acknowledged by the characters, it can be considered a prop of the fictional world (Turner 8).

Whether we are witnessing the events of the film through security footage, or we’re experiencing the events as a camera-wielding character or part of a film crew, we’re left with room for interesting developments. Even though I won’t deny that security footage style is a diegetic camera, it does have the drawback of removing the closeness we’ve obtained with the character behind the character. When we’re seeing through the camera being held by one of the characters, it feels like we’re literally seeing through their eyes.

The Eyes of Narration

Going back to the previous example of Cloverfield we rarely see the character behind the camera and the longer we go without acknowledging that character, the more closely we get pulled into the him. When he’s nosey, we’re also inclined to be curious of what’s going on—likewise when he’s in a situation where he’s afraid for his life, the audience feels uneasy and fearful. I feel like this not only happens because we’ve identified as the character behind the camera, but because if that character dies, then we’re unaware of where the story will take us next. Typically, someone else is conveniently around to pick up the camera in order to continue to film. We’ve been allowed to suspend our disbelief just long enough to identify as the person behind the camera (Turner 4).

Anything that allows the viewer to more closely relate to the film or the characters within tends to provide a more interesting viewing experience. Whether it’s considered a diegetic camera film, a found footage film, or a “reality” horror film, if “the viewer cannot maintain distance between the events of the story and their own viewing,” then they cannot help but becoming part of the story (Turner 8).

The Beginning of Found Footage Horror

The Blair Witch Project isn’t considered the first found footage horror ever created—that honor is regularly attributed to Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) regardless of whether it was deserved or not. After watching Cannibal Holocaust I started to wonder why it was declared as being found footage at all—sure it utilized the technique for the recovered documentary crew’s film, but there was also a significant part of the movie that is noticeably shot with an objective camera. I submit to you that if we’re going to consider Cannibal Holocaust a found footage film, that we also consider Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) a found footage film.

Reality Entertainment

In many ways, shows like “The Real World” and “Cops” were more of an influence on the initial popularity of a movie like The Blair Witch Project than its found footage predecessors (Kring-Schreifels). Like the reality television trend that people were already enjoying, The Blair Witch Project blended fact and fiction; which appealed to the landscape of entertainment of the time and has helped it continue on as the benchmark for all indie horror creators. So despite the fact that The Blair Witch Project isn’t considered the first of its kind, it still held a unique draw for younger generations of adults who were already immersed in the trend of reality television.

YouTube and Access to the Internet

Just six years after the film’s inception, the world saw the arrival of YouTube which made it even easier to blur the lines between fact and fiction; it’s been noted by those involved in the film, that their successful marketing tactics slipped through a narrow window of an audience that was on the brink of overly accessible information. That, in today’s world, someone looking for more information on Heather Donahue, the female lead, would be able to find with no uncertainty that she was in fact, an actress who had not gone missing at all (Kring-Schreifels). Still, filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez drew on the most important aspect of creating horror by heightening tension and fear; they accomplished this by way of primarily composing the movie as POV shots which limit what the audience sees and creates feelings of anxiety (Turner 16).

Acceptance of New Styles

The Blair Witch Project took a simple and otherwise unprofound concept and made something that rocked the entire genre of horror (Derry 229). Rather than spur a new series of films, however, it signaled the beginning of almost a full decade with no overly notable films in the style (Derry 230). Hill explains that “horror nostalgia emerges precisely when new generations of audiences have embraced more recent developments in horror,” which leads to a sort of conservation of horror as it was when they first found their love of the genre (Hill 101). So when found footage films were making their way into the genre, children of the eighties were clinging to their late-era slashers like Scream and the newly emerging torture porn of Hostel and Saw. There was also an overwhelming boom of paranormal and supernatural horror films that were created in the 2000s.

Unrepeatable Success

Fans of the horror genre are known to form an emotional attachment to the version of a film they see first, regardless of which one is considered the better film. As a result, those who saw The Blair Witch Project during their youth are more likely to prefer the original to the remake Blair Witch of 2016 (Hill 101). It was clear that a remake of The Blair Witch Project would not be as successful as the original; not only because the guerrilla-style marketing campaign couldn’t be replicated, but a remake would hold less appeal for those who enjoyed the original film (Hill 102). Over twenty years since its premiere and there are still people who look back at The Blair Witch Project wanting answers. Of course, this isn’t because they still believe (if they ever did) that it was a true documentary, but because the movie left them with questions—namely, what does the Blair Witch actually look like?

There is no denying that what The Blair Witch Project accomplished was phenomenal. From the boots-on-the-ground marketing campaign to the missing person posters designed to boost the level of authenticity of the film, the filmmakers utilized tactics that could never again be repeated. The nostalgia for a time since passed contributed to the success of The Blair Witch Project and in essence has contributed to the success of many of the found footage films that have come since.

Works Cited

Hills, Matt. “Horror Reception/Audiences.” A Companion to the Horror Film, by Harry M. Benshoff, Wiley Blackwell, 2017, pp. 90–108.

Kring-schreifels, Jake. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ at 20: Why It Can’t Be Replicated. 30 July 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/07/30/movies/blair-witch-project-1999.html.

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Indie Horror Creation Indie horror film makers Scary Movies and Series

Horror Comedy “The Central Authority” Gets Creative and Releases During Lockdown

Using groundbreaking techniques, the first socially distanced feature film was shot entirely during the pandemic
The Central Authority Horror Movie Poster
The Central Authority, the horror-comedy  brainchild of Kristin West and Dana Olita, has been a brave undertaking in these hazardous times. “We knew this was a huge endeavor going in,” said West, who co-directed with Armin Nasseri. “We were forced to use the technology  available, which meant doing some unusual things.” Those “unusual things” included dusting off some archaic film techniques and using brand new processes. “We gave ourselves permission to fail,” says West, “but things worked out fine in the end.”

Those processes including having actors from all over the world come together on the screen. Actress Anna Elena Pepe, who plays Dr Zhivaga, a quarantine sex therapist, says it was an experience for her like no other, “I was in London, and my scene partner (Lachelle Allen) was in Los Angeles. ‘It was fantastic.'”

“The actors were the key,” according to Olita, “We basically let them pick and choose characters and wrote around their choices.” West agrees, “We gave our actors a tremendous amount of freedom, there was a lot of improvisation. Everyone gave great performances and the chemistry the actors have with one and other is magical.”

The Central Authority, takes place in a dystopian future, where entertainment is king. There is no content, so the government (“The Central Authority”) creates a streaming channel where “performers” can submit their material, in order to obtain items in short supply.  The film takes place over one day of programming.

In addition to West, Olita and Nasseri, The Central Authority uses an ensemble cast of working actors, Tick Tock stars, comics and podcast hosts: Lachelle Allen, Brandy Bryant, April Monique Burrill,  Jimmyo Burrill, Lily Burrill, Candice Callins, Charles Chudabala, Rodney Damon Collins, Michael Coulombe, Lauren Deleon, Vanessa Esparanza, Jonathan Freeman-Anderson, Sara Gaston, Katie Gordon, Nate Gordon, Joe Grisaffi, Josh Hutchinson, Betsy Johnson, Allison Michelle, Rory Ogden, Marco Antonio Parra, Anna Elena Pepe, Jake Red, Genoveva Rossi, Nailya Sharakova, Narlyia Sterling, Todd Stroik, and Cristina Vargas. Nasseri said he was “proud to work with such a strong group of diverse actors.” Inclusion has been a recurring theme in Nasseri’s films, with award-winning shorts The Carting Call, and Seeking Valentina, already under his belt, Nasseri felt like this was the perfect vehicle for him as a director, editor and actor.

The Central Authority is written by Dana Olita and Kristin West, directed by Armin Nasseri and Kristin West, and produced by Matt Chassin, Armin Nasseri, Dana Olita, Narlyia Sterling, Kristin West and Quarantini Productions.

For more information go to https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12265464/

Visit us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheCentralAuthority/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CentralAuth

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/the_central_authority/
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Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror film makers

The Indie Horror Creation Process: Scare Me (2020) & Make Cool Sh!t

While some of us were wondering when we’d be able to get our next haircut, Josh Ruben (indie horror creator/director/actor of Scare Me) and Aaron Kheifets (host of Make Cool Sh!t) were immersed in getting new eyes on indie horror-comedy Scare Me (2020). When considering the classic horror comedies, such as The Evil Dead (1981), Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Gremlins (1984), or even newer films like Jennifer’s Body (2009), Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010), and The Babysitter (2017) we see that there are consistent themes present—demons, aliens, or in the case of Tucker and Dale, stupid teenagers. These movies tend to take serious horror topics and spoof them, but in a legitimate way that eases us into scary themes through a variety of comedy tropes.

Scare Me (2020), a movie that defies the genre in every other way fits into this trend as well. Josh Ruben took a simple concept and created a film that is not only hilarious and over-the-top (in the best way possible), but is also chilling in its commentary on an issue that remains a hot-button issue in our culture.

This movie is a perfect mix of comedy actors who just so happen to capture horror with ease; Josh Ruben (of CollegeHumor), Aya Cash (of You’re the Worst), Chris Redd (of SNL), and Rebecca Drysdale (of Becks) are all the movie needs. The small cast created a somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere that allowed us to suspend judgment as we waited to see what happened next. What we got, was a literary adventure with a dark realistic twist.

The Horror of the #MeToo Movement

As a woman in an industry that portrays women as victims or sexual objects, this movie was refreshing. The lead female character is not only intelligent and hilarious but also successful without needing to be hypersexualized. Josh wrote this movie at the height of the #MeToo movement; he pulled his inspiration from women in his life who had experienced trauma at the hands of men.

What emerged from that trauma and feminine nightmare was a horror-comedy that (perhaps) unwittingly showcases what it’s like to be made into a victim, where a woman might otherwise have been an independent and strong character. The movie cut my safety net and plopped me into a dark alley with a creepy guy with bad intentions.

While some men might not be able to appreciate this movie for the horrific scenario that it is, it’s likely that any woman who watches this will be able to relate in some way. I can honestly say that this movie hit all of its promised marks—it made me laugh (hard), but it also terrified and left me with anxiety that lingered far longer than anything else I’ve seen recently. If you’re still wondering whether or not you should watch this movie (you can find it on Shudder or YouTube), just watch it. It’s a perfect representative of horror-comedy.

Make Cool Sh!t – A Journey Through Indie Horror Creation

While Josh Ruben was busy at work directing and acting in his first feature film, the producers of Make Cool Sh!t were busy bursting in on actors at comically inopportune moments to try to capture the grit of creating an indie horror film. If you’re an indie creator thinking of making a movie, I highly recommend this podcast—you’ll find it to be an invaluable resource of information on what to do next.

Aaron Kheifets wasn’t on the set during filming, but he became the voice of the process; his insights on it are invaluable even if he balks at the idea. After all, he earned a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology then broke the news to his mother that he was going to be a comedian. I would say he has more insight into human psychology than he gives himself credit for.

Using Kheifets, a longtime associate of Ruben, as the voice of the podcast was an excellent choice. He brought personal touches and academic cognizance of issues that an audience might not otherwise understand. For those of us who foresee our futures in the horror industry, we look at an undertaking like Scare Me and hope that one day it will be within our grasp as well. Josh Ruben showed us that hoping for our big break is unproductive and counterintuitive. You might as well be sitting in the dark and trying to read Homer’s Odyssey.

If you want to be successful, you have to put in the work; being discovered happens so rarely and as we see in Scare Me, entitlement doesn’t pay off. Ruben showed us that it’s difficult but unavoidable (and worth it!) if we truly want to make it happen.

Behind the Minds of Indie Horror – Let’s Talk Indie Horror

I interviewed both Josh Ruben and Aaron Kheifets in regards to their work on Scare Me and Make Cool Sh!t. It was an eye-opening experience where I was given an opportunity to pick the brains of some really talented individuals. They gave me some really honest answers to some really difficult questions. It showed me that they were more than just actors, or characters. They were human.

So, if you have a chance to watch the interview I conducted with them, check it out! It’s some pretty insightful stuff and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed talking to them. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

If you’ve already seen Scare Me, then let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!

Also, check out this article on How to Write and Promote Your Indie Horror!

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Indie Horror

Zombiphosate – French Zombies.. Yep We Have Those

New indie Zombie film “Zombiphosate” produced by Les Films Guacamole is now free to stream on youtube. Yes you can learn French while watching a horror movie. Duolingo has nothing on horror!

Tell me a bit about your production company?

We are an association called « Les Films Guacamole » based in France. Composed by different friends who love horror movies. Joe & Paul, the directors, started to shoot music video for Paul’s band. And now we would like to do short film and maybe one day a long one.

What inspired this film?

One day Paul was hiking in the forest and he imagined if he was followed by zombies.

This film was inspired by the Romero’s classic Night of the living dead of course. But also some Troma movies or even the TV Show : Scooby-Doo for the kind of characters.

What were some major challenges in filming?

The big challenge was to shoot in 1 day and without authorization. 

What is your favorite scene?

We like the scene when the guys arrive in front of the tree and the blond girl says « Il est chelou cet arbre ! » (That’s a weird tree!). Best punchline in the movie (inside joke).

Did anything funny happen on the set?

Oh yes, when Paul (the zombie who puked) tried to put some fake blood on his face one day before the shoot. He did it 2 hours before an important professional meeting. Then, when he wanted to clean his face before the meeting, he couldn’t erase the blood trail on his face. So he finally went it like that.

Can you give us some film recommendations that you love?

Scream (Wes Craven)

Halloween (Carpenter)

Night of the living dead (Romero)

Psychose (Hitchcock)

Suspiria (Dario Argento)

Where can we find and follow you? Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram

https://twitter.com/GuacamoleLes?s=07