The beginning of found footage films can be traced back to the 1980’s with Cannibal Holocaust, it used both a staged filmmaking style and introduced a lost footage, then recovered and shown to the public style of filmmaking. While Cannibal Holocaust was one of the first films, The Blair Witch Project (1999) gave a new life to the genre which has been kept afloat by the likes of Cloverfield (2008) and the Paranormal Activity series.
Found footage films are feature length movies, shorts, or webseries made to look and to have the feel of real life filmed events that were lost and subsequently discovered and made vailable to the public. “It can also accommodate horror movies filmed diegetic hand held cameras, surveillance cameras or both” (Heller-Nicholas 14) According to Joseph H. Boggs and Dennis W. Petrie, even the first documentary productions “emanated from what we could call the documentary urge of their creators, who wished, quite simply, to document life(460)”.
People watch horror films to distance ourselves from the real and emerge ourselves in the unreal but when we come to the found-footage genre, this element of unrealism is taken away by directors who try their hardest to convince their audience that he things we see are actually taking place. The Blair Witch Project did a huge viral ad campaign for the film trying to convince audiences that the footage was real.
One of Cannibal Holocaust’s director Ruggero Deodato tactics to create the illusion of authenticity was to make the cast sign contracts stating they wouldn’t appear in cinema productions for another year after the film found footage films go to great lengths to make the films seem as real as possible. In a lot of ways besides the fictional story, found footage filmmaking is as real as it get the whole premise of a found-footage film comes from the idea hat it is film footage that someone has created themselves and then subsequently lost or been parted with in the course of the horror story.
The low cost of production has drawn in young indie filmmakers and studio executives alike, and in a time when most people have easy access to cameras, the appeal has been widespread. Looking at the found footage genre within horror, it is important to look at the stylistic choices of the genre and what makes it stand out. One of the criticisms that found- footage has dealt with is the claim that the genre is limited by hat it can and can’t do stylistically. The viewer is often limited by only seeing what the main character or the person holding the video camera allow us to see.
Only having a limited point of view can bring the viewer into the film unlike classic film styles. Found footage uses the limited perspective to allow us to be a character in the film, who is running from spooky noises or from monsters. A different approach is using found footage to let the audience be a fly on the wall, we are right there with the characters but we obverse the action such as in the Paranormal Activity series. Both ways allow found footage to interact with audiences in a way that other style genres don’t.
Cannibal Holocaust is the first proper found-footage movie, as far as most film historians are concerned. Still, there’s no denying that it was 1999’s The Blair Witch Project was a huge came changer for the genre. “The film itself grossed nearly $250 million worldwide total remains the highest box office tally ever for a found-footage film. ” (Box Office Mojo) The Blair Witch Project is a story of three documentary film students that head off to investigate the legends of the Blair Witch.
Heather, Joshua, nd Michael enter the woods around Burkittsville, Maryland, with two cameras. Heather wants to document everything in as straightforward way as possible and keeps the viewer engaged with the story. Being a mockumentary, The Blair Witch Project primarily draws on all the elements of the documentary genre to achieve its effects. Additionally, the film had a brilliant marketing campaign that used the internet in a way that had not really been done before, causing many potential viewers to question whether or not the story behind the film was fictional.
This was a crucial part of the film’s appeal, and the viral arketing campaign both helped get word out about the film and left people questioning its authenticity. As in most found footage films, we begin the film by knowing the fate of the characters due to the fact that the film is formatted as found footage that has been discovered in their absence which can contribute to the narrative because we know these characters are either dead or still missing. We go into the film with the knowledge something bad will happen.
The Blair Witch Project’s subjective viewpoint and wobbly camerawork placed the viewer in the shoes of its terrified protagonists. The first-person POV camera becomes representational of our gaze and we don’t get to have more information than the characters like in classical horror. We’re way more transplanted into the narrative. We are unable to see what is beside of them, or behind them unless the camera looks that way. In the case of The Blair Witch Project it feels like we are in the forest experiencing these things.
When a character is spooked or finds themselves lost, we are also feelings that fear. The camera acting as our eye does not let us see anything besides what our character we are with sees. We feel trapped. The Blair Witch Project did a good job introducing the genre to a wider audience and creating a standard for found footage. After The Blair Witch Project, many attempts were made to recreate what made the Blair Witch Project so popular. Many failed and never achieved the same success.
It was not until 2007’s Paranormal Activity was released that the genre of found footage was once again brought into the spotlight. Having a budget of 15,000, it made over 190 million dollars in the box office. Audiences were terrified and completely captured by this film. Like most found footage films, it had a small cast, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat as the couple living with a supposed evil presence has been Katie haunting her since she was a child, so Micah sets up a camera in their bedroom to record any paranormal activity that occurs while they sleep.
Peli chose to shoot the picture with a home video camera. In deciding on a more raw and stationary format, the camera was almost always sitting on a tripod or something else and eliminating the need for a camera crew, a “higher degree of plausibility” was created for the audience as they were more invested in the story and the characters”(Turek) This made the ilm feel like it could have been anyone in the audiences experience and video footage. An important aspect of found footage is that is relatable and realistic.
The fact that it takes place in a house in suburban San Diego, shot completely with a home video camera allows the audience to put themselves in their shoes. If it was shot in space or in a non-realistic world, we, the audience remove ourselves and go to a place of disbelief. Director Oren Peli stated in an interview “We knew it was going to be risky to have such a small cast in one location, that’s not omething you see very often. But we figured the downside of this would work for us because the claustrophobia works to the advantage of the movie.
It makes the audience feel trapped in this situation. ” (Turek) The small location and the fact that the video camera never leaves the house, means we stuck in the house the entire time. The film has a slow build, often being places on a tripod while the couple sleeps. Unlike The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity uses the camera to make you feel like a fly on the wall rather than a character whose eyes we are seeing though. It’s a good way to make the audience feel trapped as we can’t move away from the danger but are stuck watching it.
Another big success for the found footage genre was 2008’s Cloverfield. Cloverfield was a found footage film but also steps into the subgenre of monster film. Shot with a home camcorder, follows six young New York City residents fleeing from a gigantic monster and various other smaller creatures that attack the city. The film was shot and edited in a way that shows us the footage from the night of the attack but also cuts in with other home video footage. One criticism found footage films face is why does the main character keep filming even during these horrific events?
Cloverfield deals with this criticism due to the fact that our main camera man, Hud, keeps the camera plugged to his eye even while he’s running through the destruction of his city, debris flying around, trying to cross a fast-collapsing bridge and witnessing friends melt down, bleed out and even die. The characters do have a discussion as to why they are still filming. Hud, states “People need to see this, you know? It’s gonna be important. People are going to watch this. Cloverfield 2008) His character feels the need to capture everything so that he is able to show everyone else later on.
Although it does seem unrealistic at times for Hud to keep filming as his friends are climbing through half destroyed, attacked, and die, an interesting point of the constant filming is that we never really get a good look at the monster attacking New York City. Anytime we come close to the monster, our view point is moved away as the characters turn the other way and run. This limited perspective of the monster only adds to our fear of the unknown.
Unlike Blair Witch, however, which edits its reels of ostensible source material into a coherent narrative framework, Cloverfield assumes an appearance of a single, unedited reel of primary source footage. “(Warton) Cloverfield really allows the audience to feel like a character is walking the streets, during scenes where Hud is either physically or emotionally distressed, the camerawork becomes far worse, suggesting that he has lost track of his shot, just as we would in real life. Cloverfield plays in both worlds of realistic and unrealistic as it deals with a monster attack.
It does a good of keeping us grounded in the realist aspect of found footage. In conclusion, found footage may not be the most innovate genre but due to its low production costs, filmmakers are going to constantly to keep playing with the genre. Limited perspectives, shaky footage, and characters awkwardly justifying why they’re still filming are all what make found footage films so interesting, they bring us into a real fictional world. They are fictional stories told in a real world setting trying to convince us they are real. Found footage remains important to the horror genre because it