How to Make a Found Footage Film

Found footage is a genre of filmmaking, mostly horror, in which all or a large part of a film is presented as discovered film, often left behind by missing or dead protagonists.  Recently we wrapped production on our secret found footage project, which we will give you more info on down the line. This was my first time directing this kind of film and from past productions I’ve learned that no two projects are the same and for some reason I thought this was film was going to be different.  I was wrong!

Below are a few things I’ve learned about making a found footage film.

Know Your Story, Write It Down

Often found footage films are created on the fly.  Some of these are good, but often you can tell if the story lacks.  Luckly we had a great script written by a veteran (in both the military and horror writing), but knowing the scenes wasn’t enough.  You have to know every detail of the story in order to make each scene as interesting as possible.  Creativity is great, but bad logistics lose people’s interest fast, especially in this genre.   As director I had to know the timeline and the script better than the guy that wrote it, but I wasn’t afraid to ask our other producers, actors or anyone on set if things logistically made sense.    Knowing the story let me re-write the story during filming, which is what directing really is.

There are NO Standard Positions

Speaking of what directing really is, I learned that no one has a standard position in these types of films.   I pride my self in creating new “swing” positions for digital and low budget projects, but this experience was unreal.   On top of directing, I helped AD or run the schedule.  Our actors were also camera men and had to learn the camera.  Our DP Joffrey tripled as lighting tech and set dresser.  Joffrey and I often found our selves as the only two people not watching a scene because there was no room for us in the car or small room where the filming took place.

I was asked by someone outside of production if I wish I had a bigger crew, but to be honest, the smaller the better for this type of production.  In this film everyone helped out with every aspect of production and it was a wonderful collaborative experience.

Rehearse, Block,  Rehearse

On our big shoot day we shot over 27 pages in one long night.  The standard is somewhere around 4 to 10 pages max, depending on the production.   Because we were literally running from one scene to the next we had to have the actors rehearsing the scene at hand plus the next three scenes so they would be ready to go when we got to the particular location.  What we found that worked best was to have the actors walk through the scene by themselves, practicing lines and finding moments.   When I had a second I would watch what they came up with, adjust and give notes.  The actors would then rehearse again and again until we were ready to shoot.  When it came time to shoot we rolled through the scenes with ease, not doing more than three or four takes.  Then we moved on to the next three scenes.

Sound is King!

Don’t tell out sound guy Kile that we are complimenting him, but clear sound recordings are key in found footage.  Since the quality of the footage is meant to be low quality/consumer product it could be easy to lose the audience if the sound is also bad.    On the post side, a good sound design is going to be key to building suspense, which is a huge part of our film.

Adapt to Your Surroundings

Since the genre is supposed to be as “real” as possible we adapted a few rules from the Dogme 95 film movement, mostly using your surroundings to help tell the story.   Since we were a small crew, key locations were crucial in telling this story.  Though we had some “hero” props, we mostly used props and set dressing that were natural to the location we were shooting at.  We found that this rule helped shaped scenes to be more naturalistic and forced us to get more creative with our filmmaking and style of the movie.

Think Different.ly

Found footage is a tough genre and can often be viewed as a one note story.  Our challenge was to take a genre that can at times be repetitious and boring and turn it on its head.    We didn’t try to make the film something it was not, but we used the tools we had to tell the best story as uniquely as possible.

 

Thanks for reading,

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