With the 2017 remake of The Blair Witch Project, the film which many refer to as the original Found Footage trend-setter back in 1999, the sub-genre was in the media spotlight again and was, as usual, under scrutiny. From late-night Skype chats with demonic interruptions and documentaries gone wrong, to home videos turned into snuff films and reality TV night-vision nightmares, Found Footage offers many different ways to scare us… But its appeal is fading fast from our screens.
Utilising consumer technology, and often produced on a fraction of a normal film budget, the sub-genre has brought many talented filmmakers out of the woodwork, bringing creative new filmmaking techniques with them, and new and horrifying ways to terrify audiences. But as a trend that started as something so innovative and shocking, Found Footage’s reputation has arguably plummeted in recent years. A common complaint from horror fans today is that Found Footage has become too predictable and limited – and is just not that great any more. So what now?
Interestingly, numerous fans have attempted to write their own ‘guidelines’ designed to help future FF filmmakers avoid making the same mistakes that have consistently irritated viewers. Here our own 6 key tips for reviving the sub-genre.
Don’t Let The Camera Be Questioned
The role of the camera is a huge part of FF horror and is vital in keeping your audience engaged whilst keeping up the film’s pretence of being ‘real’ footage. However, FF films really need to develop more efficient ways to capture the story which don’t cause the audience to question the camera’s presence in vastly inappropriate situations. For example, horror characters famously keep recording at ludicrous times when no normal person would ever think to hold up a camera, like when they’re being chased around by a monster, for example. They also suddenly tend to become cinematography experts in times of crisis. Not very realistic, is it?
One way of getting around this, however, is by using more than one type of media in the film and cutting together a mixture of visual inputs like CCTV or interviews, to give the audience a bigger picture of what is going on without the need for the characters themselves to be constantly recording. News clips and other excerpts can also tell the story without forcing awkward exposition into character dialogue or the need for unrealistic shots to be added in for the plot to make sense. These additions build on the whole notion of the film you’re watching having been genuinely ‘found’ too.
Ultimately, in Found Footage, the camera is key – don’t let its presence be questioned by the viewer or the characters.
Leave More To The Imagination
They say ‘less is more’ and when it comes to FF horror, this is often the case. Attempts to make a scene ‘scary’ often give far too much away and at the wrong times. Forcing your audience to use their imaginations more regularly can actually be a lot more satisfying for everyone involved.
Subtlety might be the best way to go, but horror filmmakers still seem to want to cram as much as possible into 90 minutes. The power of suggestion is a very useful tool but is regularly forgotten. Sound can actually be the key here – plunge your audience into darkness and force them to use their ears instead of their eyes occasionally and you can really have some fun. This is a lot more effective and daunting than always showing an obvious culprit with a timed jump scare. Leave the viewer uncertain at the right moments and let the tension build for longer.
Another suggestion is the idea of ‘changing the perspective’ in FF films – thus filming the story from the viewpoint of an antagonist, as well as (or instead of) a protagonist (the ‘bad guys’ rather than the ‘good guys’). Considering how unsettling voyeurism can be, this could be an interesting move and offer some cool character developments that would otherwise be missed if the story is only told from a certain fixed viewpoint.
Again, bearing in mind frequent complaints that FF horror protagonists aren’t likeable and lack depth, perhaps telling the story from the eyes of someone else could help them to be seen in a different light, making audiences feel more empathy for them.
Let’s try watching the horror unfold from the eyes of the person inflicting it instead. This could certainly make for some uncomfortable viewing and make us feel a lot more like rooting for the characters involved.
Watch What You Say
The relationship between the characters and the camera in a FF flick needs to be worked out carefully, and dialogue is very important. Ideally there should be a safe middle ground between totally realistic and clearly dramatised speech when it comes to a character’s lines. What might sound normal for someone talking in the street wouldn’t necessarily make for captivating film dialogue, but they shouldn’t sound too theatrical either.
The basis of these types of films is that they hide behind an illusion of being a ‘real’ and unscripted documentation of events – so you don’t want to be reminded that they are just actors right in the middle of an intense scene.
Keep it real, but watch what your characters say if you want the audience to truly connect with them.
Travel Through Time
An unusual but potentially awesome idea that has been drifting around the internet is that filmmakers should experiment more with the time periods in which their films are set. In doing this, they could invent new story-lines and themes, moving away from the standard modern day settings of FF horror and into more uncharted territory.
There are few FF films which dare to do this and it could be interesting to explore. As much as the modern day works well in these films and allows them to be set pretty much anywhere in the world (as long as it’s after the camera was invented), many horror fans have grown weary and want to see something different. Making a film that is set in a completely different era, or even planet, could be really refreshing. Even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense historically, it could be a lot of fun to watch.
Always Offer Something New, Even If It’s Small
Lastly, despite being a great creative platform, the Found Footage sub-genre has arguably started to lack the originality that it started out with, with directors borrowing too many themes and ‘scare techniques’ from other older films and allowing their plots to become clichéd. This has slowly killed Found Footage’s reputation as an artistic choice and disappointed many people.
So, to avoid predictability and unimpressed audiences, filmmakers should always aim to include something new and unusual in their films that stands out in the crowd. This could mean simply taking more risks, experimenting with camera techniques, perspectives, characters, or world building – right now, the possibilities are still huge and there is no need to stick with the safest options just because other films have.
Take a risk and try something completely new and surprising, even if it’s just a small part of the film. Fans will still appreciate its originality.