First things first – thank you for taking the time to field some questions for us. Before we get into the meaty stuff, we thought we would ask a few ice breakers in hopes of getting to know you a bit better.
Modern Horrors – What’s your favorite death (or scene) in a horror film?
Steven DeGennaro – Weird you should ask me that. I actually just met the guy who shot it last month at Fantastic Fest and told him how he had my favorite kill in any horror movie ever. The scene is the opening kill of Wrong Turn 2, which is not by any means one of my favorite horror movies, but that opening kill is just a thing of perverse beauty. It’s the one where the guy uses an axe to cut a woman right down the middle. We’re at foot level when it happens, and we see one side of her fall left and the other side fall right, and a big glop of intestines and blood splats to the pavement right in the middle. I saw that at an Alamo Drafthouse preshow years ago and spent forever trying to track down the movie it came from. I finally found it totally by accident. It’s so nasty in all the right ways, and very darkly hilarious. Joe Lynch told me they did it in two takes. If you haven’t seen it, you should go watch it:
MH – If you could collaborate with anyone in the horror industry, who would it be?
SD – Don Coscarelli. No contest. Not only is he a total badass who has made some of the best genre films of all time (Bubba Hotep, anyone?), but he’s also, by all accounts, one of the nicest people to work with in the entire world. I met him very briefly once after a Q&A and he’s just one of the most gracious, humble people I’ve encountered in this business (or anywhere). I’d follow that dude into battle.
MH – What is a found footage movie that you thought “got it right”?
SD – There’s nothing like your first, or in my case the first. I know there are precursors, but The Blair Witch Project really made the genre what it is. It blew my mind. I saw it in an almost completely empty theater at 2 A.M. on the night before it opened. It was just me and a couple of other theater employees. I literally had to sleep with the lights on that night. And I don’t scare easily.
Some of my other favorites are The Sacrament, “Safe Haven” from V/H/S/2 (which to my mind is probably the greatest short horror film ever made), a much more obscure movie called Skew, The Devil Inside, Lake Mungo. I’m a big fan of founde footage movies that don’t just use the device as a stylistic conceit, but really work to convince your lizard brain that what you are watching is real, even if you know in your higher brain that it’s not.
Outside of the horror genre, there’s Chronicle, which I though was fantastic, and a couple of even more obscure found-footage comedies called The Dirties and Mail Order Wife. The former is absolutely hilarious. The latter just might be one of the most convincing fake documentaries I’ve ever seen.
MH – What about the found footage sub genre do you feel has gone stale? Without revealing too much, how does Found Footage 3D plan to address that?
SD – It’s not so much about being stale as it is about bad execution. The problem is that so many low-budget filmmakers want to either break into the business or make a quick buck, and they think that making a found footage movie is easy, or that you don’t have to be good at every single thing that you’d need to be good at to shoot a more traditional movie: story structure, character, acting, pacing, tension, shot choreography, special effects, and on and on. So you get people attempting to short-circuit the part of the filmmaking process where you have to convince at least a few people to fork over a not-inconsiderable chunk of money to make something that will turn out good and people will want to watch. That process hasn’t always worked to keep shitty movies from being made, but if you don’t have to convince anyone other than a couple of your friends who aren’t actors or filmmakers, then you have no one to tell you that what you are doing is a bad idea and/or maybe you should hone your craft before attempting it. So a big part of what we do in FF3D is make fun of a guy who has exactly this sort of mentality, and is clearly destined to make something terrible as a result. It’s a very fertile ground for exploring exactly what people keep doing wrong over and over.
As for some of the specific clichés that crop up over and over again in the genre… We definitely couldn’t get away without addressing the whole “shaky cam” phenomenon. We were very careful ourselves to shoot our movie in such a way that we weren’t going to make our audience sick, but we definitely confront the issue head-on in the story.
The biggest found footage cliché of them all, of course, is one that very, very few movies have gotten right, even some of the really good ones. In every found footage horror film, there comes a point when the audience practically stands up in their seats and screams: “Why are you still filming this!? Why don’t you put the fucking camera down and run the hell away?!!?” It’s a major structural problem for story where your character has to be filming in order for your audience to see it, but your audience doesn’t believe that the character would still be filming. I definitely can’t tell you how we solved that conundrum, but I’m very proud of the way we did.
MH – Longtime horror fans will undoubtedly notice Kim Henkel’s name attached. How and when did he become associated with the film?
SD – Our other producer Charles Mulford worked on a movie called Butcher Boys that Kim wrote and produced a few years ago, so he knew Kim pretty well from that. When we were looking for someone more experienced to give us some credibility with investors, distributors, audience, etc., we sent Kim the script and set up a meeting with him. Kim was a little hesitant at first until he came to a screening of my previous work, and after that he was on board 100%.
When we originally approached him, I’d hoped only that he would put his name on the movie in exchange for some part of the back end. But he surprised me by taking a very active interest in helping us out. Mostly meant working with me to really hone the script. We spent several months where I’d hammer out drafts and Kim would give me notes. If you judge Kim solely by his post-Chainsaw work (which, not to put too fine a point on it, is not exactly highly-regarded), what you would never know is how damn good he is at analyzing and giving notes. He’s been teaching screenwriting for decades, and he has an absolutely uncanny ability to immediately zero in on every weak spot, fudge, plot hole, inconsistency, character deficiency, and structure issue in a script. And he reads every draft multiple times, with an amazing level of attention to detail. I couldn’t get anything past him, and probably 95% of the notes he gave me ended up in the final script in one form or another.
That said, he was also very respectful of the fact that this was my baby, and that I ultimately knew what was best for it. Kim’s a little old school, and he definitely doesn’t have the love for or knowledge of the found footage genre that I do. So he focused mainly on helping me really flesh out the characters and the story. It was very much about Kim identifying a problem and me figuring out how I wanted to solve it.
And now he’s performing a similar function as we edit the film and beat it into its final shape. I’m not sure that anyone will compare the final result to a typical Kim Henkel movie, but FF3D would absolutely not have been the same without his input.
MH – How will distribution be handled once post production has wrapped? Is there an ETA as to when mass consumption will be possible?
SD – Unfortunately, this is not really up to us. We don’t have a distributor in place yet, although we do have some people waiting to see the finished film when it’s done. Our plan is to put it on the festival circuit and try to land a distributor that way. Our first major deadline is SXSW, which we really have our fingers crossed for. Not only would we have a hometown crowd at our premiere, but SXSW is now one of the major acquisitions festivals in the U.S.
My best guess is that the movie will probably be released to the public some time in the fall or winter of 2015.
MH – As an instructor of sound design – I’m sure you understand the importance of sound in any genre of cinema. While always important, sound is such an integral part of the horror experience. Were you able to capitalize on your background and bring something special to the film?
SD – Fifty percent of your movie is sound. I’d even venture to say that considerably more than 50% of the emotional effectiveness of a movie—especially a horror movie—relies on the sound. So in a way, I have a bit of an advantage over a lot of other first-time filmmakers. I’ve been thinking about the sound from day one. From the script-writing stage, in fact. I have a strong grasp of what can and can’t be done with sound. And, of course, I can spend as long as I need to get it right without going over budget. That’s a huge weight off the shoulders of any filmmaker.
Since we are still editing, I haven’t started actively working on the sound too much, but I have some ideas about what I’m going to do to really bring the film to life. To me, good sound is all about being invisible. Unless you’re making Star Wars, the sound should never show off. When it’s done well, it just feels like the sound was always there. Like it was a part of the world when you shot it.
My biggest concern is how to get by without a traditional score, which is antithetical to the whole found footage vibe, as I see it. It’s really tough to pull off. You don’t have a crutch to rely on to tell the audience to be tense, or scared, or happy, or whatever. You need to make them feel tense with the story and the sound alone, and that’s tough to do. Coming from a sound background gave me the confidence to know I can get it to work, even if I haven’t necessarily figured out how for every scene.
MH – You have worked on several short films. First Date was very well received and a far cry from a horror film. Especially a found footage horror film. Why horror for your first feature film?
SD – Oh, I definitely consider First Date a horror film. At least, that’s how I approached making it. The story, the shot choices, the acting, and especially the music, were all very much influenced by horror films, and played absolutely straight so that the humor in the film would come from the absurdity of the situation and how seriously we treat it. When you watch First Date with an audience, you can see people looking through their hands like they are afraid to watch. Toes curl. People laugh, but they also cringe. So while it’s definitely a comedy, it’s also a very tense experience.
To me, horror and comedy are very closely related. Laughter evolved as a social cue to let other members of the group know that this thing that looks scary is actually harmless. Probably the oldest type of humor is the pratfall. Someone knocks their head pretty hard, and there’s a moment when you don’t know if they are okay, but then they laugh, and the whole group laughs, too. The tension is broken.
If you don’t break the tension—if you hit your head and you’re not okay—then you have horror. And the line between the two can be heart-stoppingly close. That’s the line that I’m attempting to walk with Found Footage 3D. There are moments in the film where you expect something scary and you get something harmless and it’s funny. And there are other times, particularly as the film progresses, where a moment looks like it’s going to be played for laughs but then becomes deadly serious. I really tried to structure the movie like a bit of a sucker punch. There are a lot of laughs up front, but when shit gets real, it gets real. And by the end of the film, no one will be laughing. (At least I hope not!) Because this is, after all, a horror movie, not a comedy.
So in a lot of ways, it’s the opposite side of the coin from First Date.
MH – In a perfect world, lets say Found Footage 3D is a success and universally well received. What’s next for Steven DeGennaro?
SD – I’ll probably go home and make myself a sandwich. Maybe take a nap. That’s about as far ahead as I’ve thought right now.
That’s it! Modern Horrors would like to thank Steven for taking the time to chat with us about his upcoming feature. I was pretty pumped before, but my pump level just got cranked up a great deal.
What do you guys think? Will FF3D be the ‘Scream’ of the Found Footage sub genre? Please dont forget to visit the Indiegogo campaign and make your contribution to the film.