Exclusive Interview: ‘Found Footage 3D’ Director Steven DeGennaro

Found Footage 3D

Several months back, I jokingly made a remark on Twitter that someone should make a found footage movie in 3D, due to the recent surge in popularity of both storytelling devices – or gimmicks, if you prefer.

What I didn’t realize, and what I was soon informed of, was that pre-production had at the time already begun on the first ever 3D found footage horror movie.

Go figure, right?!

Aptly titled Found Footage 3D, the innovative film is the brain-child of Steven DeGennaro, who had previously directed the 2011 short First Date.

Now that the Texas shoot is complete – production wrapped on Friday the 13th, in fact – I had a chance to sit down with Steven to chat about the film, in an effort to paint a picture of what we can expect from his first feature.

So here’s everything you need to know about Found Footage 3D, straight from the writer/director’s fingertips!

HALLOWEEN LOVE: The plot of Found Footage 3D, in a tasty nutshell. Go.

STEVEN DEGENNARO: Six filmmakers go out to a cabin in the woods of Central Texas to shoot “the first 3D found footage horror movie”, but find themselves in the first 3D found footage horror movie when the evil entity from their film escapes into their behind-the-scenes footage.

Found Footage 3D

HALLOWEEN LOVE: Where did the inspiration for the film come from? I suppose 3D being added to the mix was a natural progression for the found footage sub-genre, eh?

STEVEN DEGENNARO: The original idea, which didn’t involve 3D at all, was born when I realized that in 2012 (when I wrote the first draft), the found footage genre was rapidly heading toward the same morass of mediocrity that the slasher genre had been mired in in the early 90’s when Kevin Williamson wrote Scream. And yet, despite a number of (absolutely terrible) straight-up spoofs of found footage, no one had yet attempted the post-modern, Scream-esque version of the genre. So I decided I was going to take a crack at it.

Like Scream, I wanted to tell a genuinely scary story populated by characters that knew all of the tricks and clichés of the genre. I wanted it to be funny and smart, and comment on the genre itself, but at the same time, it ultimately had to be scary. One of the things that I love about the original Scream was how it held up a mirror to all the shitty, derivative, formulaic slasher movies, while at the same time subverting the audience’s expectations by showing them just how effective a lot of those clichés could be when executed properly. It was like, “here’s what all these movies are doing wrong, and here’s how you do it RIGHT.” That’s what I wanted to do for the found footage genre.

The 3D aspect crept in somewhere around the third or fourth draft. One of the cool things about making a movie about people who are making a movie is that there were a lot of opportunities for us to use their poor filmmaking decisions as a valid reason to do the same in our film. One of the main characters in our script is the producer of the film-within-the-film, who often makes terrible decisions based on financial rather than artistic considerations. So I had the crazy idea that if HE decided to shoot his movie in 3D, despite how little sense that actually makes, then WE could shoot ours in 3D, too, and it would be completely organic to the story and the character. And moreover, I could address the audience’s concerns head-on in the script itself right up front and turn it into a funny, meta moment.

But it would only work if WE could shoot in 3D and do it properly. So we looked into what it would take to shoot the movie in 3D and we discovered that it was not at all prohibitive, financially or logistically. In fact, the price of 3D camcorders has dropped so precipitously in the last few years (the camera we shot on costs less than 2 grand to buy) that it suddenly seemed inevitable that SOMEONE would shoot a found footage horror movie in 3D in the next few years, and it may as well be us.

Over the course of dozens of drafts and nearly two years, the 3D aspect got woven more and more deeply into the fabric of the story and the visual planning for the film. There was a time when we were going to hedge our bets a little and try not to play up the 3D angle in the world of the story or the shooting style, but in the end, we decided there was no point in doing it if we weren’t going to do it right.

HALLOWEEN LOVE: It’s a pretty ballsy move, blending together two horror movie ‘gimmicks’ that most horror fans are entirely sick of. What do you have to say to those fans who are maybe thinking this film represents everything that’s wrong with the current state of the genre?

STEVEN DEGENNARO: Found footage and 3D are both storytelling tools. Like all tools, they can be used well or they can be used poorly. You can use a hammer to build a house for a homeless family, or you can use it to beat a kitten to death. No one blames the hammer or talks about how much hammers suck or calls a hammer a “gimmick”. If it’s used well, people applaud. If it isn’t, don’t blame the hammer. Blame the person using it.

Unfortunately, it seems like lately there has been more kitten-bashing than house-building with both found footage and 3D. If audiences are sick of something, it’s dead kittens, not hammers. So we really want to show people how to use both tools properly, and moreover, to combine them in a way that makes the final product greater than the sum of its parts.

HALLOWEEN LOVE: One of the most noteworthy aspects about Found Footage 3D is that Texas Chainsaw Massacre co-creator Kim Henkel is attached to produce. How did Henkel become involved with the project?

STEVEN DEGENNARO: My producing partner Charles Mulford worked with Kim on a movie called Butcher Boys a few years ago. Since Charles and I were really just starting out, we decided that we needed to team up with someone who could provide the experience, connections, and reputation that we lacked. So we got in touch with Kim, we sent him the script, and we invited him to a screening of my work as a director, including my short film First Date and a 5-minute proof-of-concept that we shot for FF3D. He was really impressed with my abilities as a director, but he had some reservations about the script, so he and I spent the next few months meeting every week or two to really hone the script to its final form. I’d write, he’d critique, and he’d almost invariably be right.

Kim’s been writing for 40 years, and he’s taught screenwriting at several different universities, so he knows his shit, inside and out. And he reads every draft with the same care and attention. In the end, he probably read seven or eight drafts of the script, and he still read each draft three or four times. Every time we met up, he’d have pages and pages of notes, and if I was cheating or fudging something hoping that no one would notice, Kim would call me on it. Every time. I couldn’t sneak anything past him. And every time I thought the script was finally ready, he’d have a dozen major and minor criticisms and he’d be right every time. He really pushed me to make the script the best it could be.

I was proud of the script that we first handed to him, and I still am. But the version that we shot was a thousand times better thanks to his input. I’m not gonna lie… I was originally just hoping he’d put his name on the movie to give us some credibility. But his contributions have been invaluable to the film and he’s a really great person to work with.

HALLOWEEN LOVE: How are you using the 3D technology to enhance the story? In other words, if the 3D gimmick was taken away from the finished product, would it be a different film?

STEVEN DEGENNARO: It will be a completely different film in 2D, so much so that we’ve had to reign ourselves in a few times from doing things that would really push the boundaries of 3D but would make no sense to the large number of people who will ultimately only be able to see it in 2D.

It’s not about stuff popping out at the audience or anything cheesy like that. It’s about immersion in the world, which is what makes found footage and 3D such a natural fit in my opinion. Found footage is about tricking your senses into thinking you are watching something real, even if you know it isn’t. And 3D is about putting you inside the world of the story, physically. So doing them both together seems like a natural fit.

There are a number of scenes that I went into the shoot thinking would be key 3D moments, but what we discovered throughout the process was that there were also a really huge number of moments that we never even thought would be enhanced by the 3D until we watched the dailies. At least, I didn’t. But I also wouldn’t put it past my DP, Drew Daniels (who has been studying 3D for years) to have snuck them in on purpose, or at least semi-consciously.

One of the great things about shooting a 3D movie with a camcorder as opposed to a giant 3D rig that a big Hollywood feature would be shot on, is that the camcorder allows you to really use the medium in a way no one has done before. At the most basic level, the cameras we shot on are great for this type of storytelling because their depth of field is gigantic. In a typical big-budget 3D movie, you shoot a close up and the subject is the only thing in focus. Everything behind and in front of him is blurry, and so you are forced to look at only one thing, which renders the 3D aspect almost entirely useless.

With the depth of field that our cameras are able to achieve, when we are on a wide lens almost everything in the frame is in focus. That means that the viewer can choose to look at something close up, or something far away, or something in between. It greatly enhances the sense of depth in a scene and really makes you feel like you are there in a way that a more traditionally-shot film simply can’t compete with.

Then there are all sorts of other subtle ways that 3D enhances the world-building. There’s a scene we shot in a barn where someone falls and stirs up a bunch of hay dust into the air. The dust floats in front of your eyes in a way that’s totally real. We’ve shown that scene to maybe a few dozen people, and the reaction is immediate and invariable: people gasp. It’s totally unexpected, and it’s such a subtle little thing, but it’s so cool to see, even on a small screen. When characters use flashlights in a hazy room, you can see the beams almost as physical things and watch them recede into the distance.

And our villain is explicitly a creation of the movie that our characters are shooting, which means that when it starts showing up in their behind-the-scenes footage, it can do things that it would never physically be able to do in the real world, like look different in the left and right eyes, or cause footage on a computer monitor to appear in 3D to the audience.

I’m not going to lie, there’s a lot of stuff that we captured that I never even planned on but that looks amazing in 3D. It’s truly something that people haven’t seen before because no one has ever put these two tools together. I’m really excited to get to share it with audiences.

HALLOWEEN LOVE: In your opinion, what is the best 3D horror film ever made, and the best found footage horror film ever made?

STEVEN DEGENNARO: The best found footage horror feature ever made is the original: The Blair Witch Project. It was so unexpected and original, and it’s so thoroughly grounded in the real world that you and I actually inhabit, that every scare is amplified. Things that would be truly scary in real life often seem small in more traditional horror movies. The beauty of found footage is that (when it’s done well), it really makes those little things scary again.

So Blair Witch is the best FF feature, but for my money, the best found-footage horror movie of all time is Gareth Evans’ short “Safe Haven” from V/H/S/2. It’s a masterpiece of short horror and by far the most effective use of found footage I’ve ever encountered.

I don’t have a favorite 3D horror film, to be honest. My favorite 3D films are all non-horror: Gravity, Avatar, and Hugo spring to mind. The 3D for those films was innovative and immersive in a way that most 3D features aren’t. Gravity, in particular, was absolutely riveting in IMAX 3D. I’m as big a critic of the “let’s convert every big-budget film to 3D” as anyone. If you are going to use the tool, use it wisely and not just because it will let you charge an extra three bucks. It would be the height of hubris to compare FF3D to any of those films, but at the same time, like those movies, I want people to come out of the theater and tell their friends: “You have to go see this in 3D!” That’s my goal.

HALLOWEEN LOVE: Anything else you want horror fans to know about the film, while we wait for its eventual release?

STEVEN DEGENNARO: Anyone interested in more info about the film, or to keep up with the latest developments, can visit the Found Footage 3D website or any of our various social media pages; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

If your interest is piqued, be sure to follow Steven’s advice and hook up with Found Footage 3D on the social media platforms linked to above, where you’ll find behind-the-scenes photos, video diaries and all sorts of other goodies!

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