Monday, May 20, 2013

Found Footage: We Need to Keep Filming!

There comes a time in every found footage movie where it has to rationalize its existence. Because, as you faithful readers know, there is a point in any real-life disaster situation where people would actually use common sense and stop filming. If that happened in a found footage film, however, the movie would end pretty abruptly and probably tick off the audience -- even though some people claim they want "reality" in their movies. Therefore, in every single found footage movie someone has to justify why the camera is still rolling, in order to help the audience suspend their disbelief for a little bit longer.

So I'd like to take a moment and point out the "keep filming" moment in five found footage films that I've seen. Some are more effective than others.

The Blair Witch Project
The Plot: A group of film students go out in the woods to make a documentary about an urban legend. They get lost and bad stuff (and bad language) starts to happen.
The Keep Filming Moment:
Mike:  Nothing, I don't understand why you have to have every conversation on video?
Heather:  Because I'm making a documentary.
Mike:  Not about us getting lost!  We're making a documentary about a Witch! 
Heather:  I have a camera.  It doesn't hurt, because I'm sure we'll look back at this and laugh heartily.
Does it Work? Yes, this one actually does work. Actually, there are a couple times in the movie when Josh and Mike tell Heather to turn off the camera, but she keeps telling them she wants to document it. I've met a few film students in my life and they definitely would be the type to keep the camera rolling, no matter what. It's all about the art. I do have issues with how long their batteries and tape last, but that's another story.

The Plot: A giant monster emerges from the sea and attacks New York and causes everyone's camera to become abnormally shaky until they need to reveal something important.
The Keep Filming Moment:
Rob Hawkins: Still filming?
Hud: Yeah, people are gonna want to know... how it all went down.
Rob Hawkins: Well, you can just tell them how it all went down, Hud.
Hud: No, that wouldn't work. People need to see this, you know? It's gonna be important. People are going to watch this.

Does it Work? Not really. There is mass destruction and people dying all around him, yet Hud still feels the need to get the camera angle right instead of running for his life. Any normal human being would have given up letting people know "how it all went down" after his first friend got killed. Plus, this guy's footage isn't anything the national news desks would have used.
Paranormal Activity
The Plot: Strange things are happening at a family's house, so they decide to install cameras and film everything they do.
The Keep Filming Moment:
Katie: Will you stop following me with the camera?!
Micah: I'm trying to solve the problem. I didn't bring that thing to the house.

Does it Work? Kind of. Most of the footage is from passive filming from the installed cameras instead of the handheld, and the craziest stuff doesn't happen until the end of the movie, but I still can't see a wife agreeing to have her every move filmed. . .unless she was a reality TV star.
Note: This entry would pretty much be the same for any of the sequels, so I've decided to forgo listing them here.

The Plot: A group of teenage boys encounter a green, glowing thing and get fun, telekinetic powers that soon spiral out of control -- as these types of powers are wont to do if put in the hands of teenage boys. I mean, just look at what Boy Scouts do with a match. With great power, comes great responsibility, guys.
The Keep Filming Moment: 
They start out justifying the filming like this:
Matt: So...should I ask about the camera, or-
Andrew: I’m filming things now. I’m filming everything.
Matt: You’re filming everything.
Andrew: For my mom. I’m trying to get custody of her from my dad. She’s getting worse, and he’s not...helping, and this way, in case something goes down-
Matt: He gets violent or whatever-
Andrew: Right, it’d be evidence.
Matt: Evidence. But you’re not with him right now, but you’re filming this.
Andrew: Well, yeah, to add context.
Matt: Context. Andrew, you are...a weird dude.

And then, after things start getting crazy, this line happens:

Steve: I have to admit, though, I don’t understand the filming thing.
Andrew: I told you, it’s just my thing for right now.
Steve: You don’t feel like it’s a little weird? Like it puts a barrier between you and everything?
Andrew: Maybe I want a barrier.
Steve: Okay. I respect that.

Does it Work? Not really. I get that Andrew would be filming stuff at the beginning, but after they get their powers, the filmmakers really start to stretch the camera use reasoning pretty thin, including a climax where multiple cameras are used to get every possible cool angle. I think Chronicle would have worked just fine as a normal movie.

The Plot: A news team rides along with some firefighters and ends up getting. . .wait for it. . .quarantined in a building with a bunch of contagious creatures.
The Keep Filming Moment:
Angela: Tape everything, you hear me? Tape everything!
Angela: We are filming this! People are going to see what you're doing to us!
Does it Work? Yeah. Angela is a pretty stubborn reporter who's trying to make it big, so I could see her trying to get the story, no matter what was going on. Plus, after they trap her in the building, she threatens the SWAT team with the footage she's gathering. Nevertheless, that still doesn't justify them giving away the ending in the trailer.

There. Now you'll be more aware of/annoyed by this trope the next time you watch a found footage movie. Consider yourself educated!

By the way, have you noticed that found footage films seem to almost all be horror or sci-fi movies. What's up with that? I hope, if any filmmakers are reading this, they'll also see the folly in this method of creating a movie. Some movies, like The Blair Witch, make sense, but other movies, like Chronicle, would have worked fine with a standard narrative structure and didn't need the gimmick of found footage -- yes, it's a gimmick, a tired gimmick that needs to be retired almost as much as the inspirational sports movie, the historical racial inequality movie and the inspirational teacher movie. Let's see some fresh material, Hollywood.

Although, if you think about it, it's 2013. Most people have actually used common sense and stopped blogging a long time ago. Yet I keep going. . .

I guess one day I'll have to justify why I'm still doing Slice of Fried Gold.

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