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School of Fear: Found Footage

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It’s happening. The rush. The feeding frenzy. The race to capitolize. It’s a business thing, not a creative thing, but since film is a creative industry driven by business, creative is being driven by a mad lemming-esque dash for the cliff’s edge.

I’m talking about found footage.

I get asked about it at every single meeting, speaking engagement and writers’ gathering that I attend. Do you have a found footage horror script? Do you know anyone who does? Can we see it please? PLEASE????

Don’t get me wrong. I have absolutely nothing against found footage. I also have nothing against good solid business decisions. And the race to produce and distribute found footage horror is good business right now, so if I had the right story creatively, and the right investors financially, I’d probably make a go for it. But it would have to be some amazing, game changing new take on found footage, or why bother? If it’s not some completely cool new way to exploit the found footage conceit, then it’s really just a copy of an earlier (and likely better) piece of art. I chose to be a writer/director to make a living and that’s what I do. I write for hire. No complaints there at all. I love what I do. But I want to do more than chase trends. I want to break out. And you’ll never do that by following the herd, no matter how rabid and convinced they are. 

I didn’t get an MBA, I got a BFA in creative writing, so I don’t know the name for the business practice of chasing innovators and immitating them over and over and over until the market no longer wants immitations because the innovators have come up with something else for the sheep to chase after.

As a creative, it’s fun to innovate, but not immitate. And the real creatives would much rather pursue something new and untried, instead of weakly chasing after something that someone else has already done (and done well). And the interesting thing in this business is that when you say that, you often take criticism for it. “How could you say you don’t want to do found footage? Found footage sells!” Easy, the same way one doesn’t want to do another slasher film, or another torture porn. It’s well trod ground, previously covered by the pioneers and innovators, and now largely populated by hacks, copycats and exploiters. That’s how.

People also seem to think that found footage is a genre, when, at the end of the day, it’s a filming technique. A style, but not a genre. It’s meta, in that way, because the found footage template can be layered over any genre of film, proving that it’s not a genre unto itself.

I guess what I’m saying is that found footage can be fun, but in the end, it’s incredibly limiting. You spend half your damn film justifying the placement of the camera, and motivating the fact that a camera is even present to capture everything that a story needs to be complete. And that’s taxing as hell. Not only are you constantly asking the audience to suspend disbelief every single time you switch camera angles, but you’re also begging them to stay with your story - like Oliver Twist asking for more soup.

But at the end of the day, that’s where the trend is right now. Let’s face it. Found footage sells. “Based on true events” also sells. The allure, even though completely unbelievable, that this footage is real and really happened is very enticing to audiences.

For now.

Because that’s the trend.

One thing that’s tried and true through the ages in all aspects of life, however, is that chasing trends is a sure fire way to never break out.

How can you you ever find a direction of your own if you’re always behind someone else?

Something to think about.

Gaudium per atrox.

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