As much as folks get burned out by found footage, I tell you what, I never have, and consider myself lucky. I can see why you would get burned out, the style of found footage films being so strong and pronounced, that it’s a bit like the superhero burnout. It makes sense. The thing though is that, as with any sort of ‘consumption’, it’s about moderation.
If all you consume is one thing, one genre, one style, or even one food, you’ll burn out.
The hate for found footage just seems so silly.
Like me ranting about how much I hate romantic comedies.
So don’t watch them.
There’s a reason found footage hasn’t just disappeared as a way to tell stories though and that’s because, when done well, they can connect us to the story in a way that traditional narratives don’t. Putting us IN the film, making us both witness and victim, ties us to the drama and horror. I have written about it before but it stands true, that that immediacy is something other films just don’t have. Sure, it’s thrilling and scary to watch Tom Cruise jump from planes, and it’s exciting to see superheroes fight villains to save the world, and it’s heart wrenching to watch a character we love lose someone THEY love, but none of it really matches the deep-down feeling of terror you get during the finale of REC.
Oh, but that’s a HORROR FILM!
The old chestnut that rattles around at least a dozen times a year.
As if horror films can only be fast food and not something filling.
Tell that to LAKE MUNGO, a slow burn that makes you ache for the family grieving the loss of their loved one.
Found footage is powerful as a storytelling option and, when done well, it challenges the viewer and our conceptions.
Obviously for every stand out there are two dozen also-rans that offer nothing new and simply ape the successful films.
I have watched more BLAIR WITCH clones than I can imagine. There’s a reason they try to invoke that film though and that’s because it works.
What’s interesting is seeing found footage used for other genres. It’s a heck of a manipulative way to tell a film, forcing the viewer into the situation and into any danger or drama there is, but it can be effective, to be sure.
The thing is this, with ALL storytelling, whatever the method, it’s the STORY that matters and how it’s told. You can turn ANYTHING into found footage but it will only work if the story to propel it in that direction works. Did you see HARDCORE HENRY? It’s a fun enough movie, not ‘found footage’ but a first person view of the film and it’s utterly fascinating. The movie isn’t for everyone but it shows you can make an action movie that way.
The thing is that with something like an action film, you want to hit all of those saleable quadrants and to do that you need stars and need it to be more accessible to everyone that might want to see it. Found footage is an acquired taste by its nature.
That’s just how it is.
The thing about found footage is that you have to have a reason to HAVE the footage, something that is both as simple and complicated as you want it to be. Modern tech is such that you can have a camera on you and not have it intrude on your life. We are also culturally filming and capturing more of our lives than ever before so cameras are part of our every day. If you have a reason for someone to be filming then it can work so long as you maintain that reason and don’t stretch credulity.
You also have to make sure that you know the rules of your story.
If it’s supposed to be footage that was found, it’d be pretty raw and ‘unedited’.
It’d also be unscored.
When you think of your life there is only music when it’s either ambient and you’re hearing someone else’s music, or intentional.
That’s why scored found footage drives me crazy.
Because it implies someone went in and took this footage that was ‘found’ and put a score to it.
In a bad way.
You have to know, too, what your limitations are.
That’s another reason so many budding filmmakers make these films – they are low cost entry points.
You could literally use a camera phone and yourself if you can find a way to shoot yourself, and some sort of story to tell.
I have seen films that are about that level – LEAVING D.C. (apologies to them if they had a bigger crew, it just seemed as if they didn’t need one) – that completely worked.
The fun thing about horror is it’s as much about what baggage we bring as what we are offered. We don’t need to see monsters, but we need to believe they are there, somewhere.
That comes with acting and writing.
Does the actor ‘believe’ what they are conveying?
Can the writer/s convey it?
Can the filmmakers make you believe it?
There’s the rub.
So much can be done with so little but you have to know what you have and how to do what you need to do with that.
THE MIST is scary because we see the monsters but you don’t need to to still get that creep on your flesh because you BELIEVE they are out there.
I listened to an old audio drama adaptation of the story and it completely works because of the soundscape and acting.
And sure, it’s all minimalist, but you have to know what you are doing.
I have seen SO many found footage films that all but strapped a camera to someone and ran around in the woods and then dragged someone away or had them fall in front of the camera for the ending.
They are mailed in movies by mailed in passions.
I have known those filmmakers, who see the money they can make over and above any sort of grand artistic vision they have.
You can usually tell those movies pretty easily.
They feel as mailed in as they appear.
And that’s fine, horror is full of those, sleazy slashers, corny monster films, and movies that latch onto any craze that is out there.
That’s why horror gets such a bum rap so often, because it’s seen as a stepping stone and not a destination.
As a cash in and not an artist’s statement.
The thing is though that, while streaming is amazing, and a great place to get your films, you need SO many eyes on your film to make anything – if you can even get it ON a streamer anymore – and if it’s not good, it won’t get any sort of buzz and just languish in obscurity with an occasional weirdo like myself discovering it and giving it a whirl.
But it’s just as easy to stop watching a film you didn’t outwardly pay for as it is to stop it.
You can throw in as much random violence and nudity as you want, if it’s not compelling it’s just not gonna draw the eyes.
So the fakes usually out themselves and unless they learn some hard lessons will keep churning out garbage until they burn out or find some other side hustle.
There is an art to found footage, and a craft to it, and when you find those films that show those things, and the filmmakers that can appreciate that then you really are in for something special. The TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN is so powerful because it is grounded in our fear of dementia and our collective pain for those going through it. The lead performance is fantastic and pulls you in and when things go off the rails you are already invested and there for it.
What people miss when they dismiss found footage as ‘just another found footage movie’ is that it’s as powerful a means of conveyance as any other art form in the right hands.
What we need are more distinctive voices, more daring filmmakers, and more dangerous stories to tell.
And they are out there.
I LOVE that streamers like Tubi showcase so much found footage horror. Sure, most of it is trash but once in a while you find one that really hits and that’s special.
Art is always where you find it, and how it connects to you and that found footage still connects to me is something I am really happy about.
Now on to find something new and exciting to crow about.
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