Episode 203: This is Important

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Zombie Cliché Lookout: Found Footage

Ever since The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, the megaplexes have seen perennial entries in the “found footage” horror sub-genre. There’s just something about the cinema verite style that lends a viscera sense of immediacy to the horror that’s hard to recreate otherwise. It’s a cheap trick, sure, but in the right hands it can be a pretty damn effective one. The Blair Witch Project, for instance, worked a special kind of magic. With only the ghost of a story, second-rate actors, and an all but non-existant special effects budget, it created a legitimately frightening film. Of course, the guerrilla/viral advertising campaign that accompanied the film helped a lot.

There is one, huge issue with found footage-style films: you have to have a reason these schmucks are carrying around the camera in the first place. Unfortunately, very few movies give us a compelling reason for this, with most falling back on the idea that the character with the camera is using it as a coping mechanism for the insanity around him. Toss in a few lines about how important the video will be, and how people are going to need to understand how things went to hell, and you’re all set.

Of course some films, like the Spanish import [Rec] (and the American remake Quarantine) are a little more creative about things. In that film, the power is shut off fairly early, and the characters first use the camera because of its light. And once the light is broken we switch over to the camera’s night vision mode. It’s a small thing, but I felt it really helped with the suspension of disbelief.

Discussion Question: Found Footage Storytelling

What do you think of found footage-style films? Are they effective, or do you tend to get hung up on the mechanics of things (how many batteries do they have? How come they never change tapes, etc)? What about it’s cousin, the diary-style novel?

47 thoughts on “Episode 203: This is Important”

  1. I don’t like it, really it’s like someone who could be useful does nothing. At first I thought this was a behind the scene thing.

    • I didn’t think about the fact that it might be confused for more bonus features, but I can see how it would.

      But yeah, you’re not supposed to like the camera guy. It’s one of my pet peeves about movies like that, and I’ve been dying to use it in the comic for ages now.

  2. Do they even care that there are still a bunch of zombies attacking someone back there possibly Inez GO SAVE INEZ xD

    • Inez is actually safe; there were only three zombies there. One got squished, one got shot, and one is fighting with Lyle (male EMT).

  3. I don’t think he understands that he can either put that camera down or have it shot off! 😀 Murphy doesn’t seem like the type to mince words. In any case, he just disobeyed a directive from a police officer, which is very bad!

    • Right you are, BrickVoid. Right you are.

      • It also shows you’re trying to get across how many zombies this group has actually come across. If that cameraman’s group had seen the same number of zombies that Murphy’s group had, I doubt that he’d be worrying much about filming them! 😀

        What he really needs to worry about is finding some wheels suitable for a bus-load of people! 😉 He should really get them some transport out of there, there’s quite a few people to move, and even if only some of them are on foot, they’ll have to split up yet again! 😀

        • Good points both. There are more zombies coming, and transportation is going to get really important, really fast here.

  4. I must agree with Murphy, put the camera down and do something to help. I really thought at first it was more of the behind the scenes thing…

    As to a “found record”… another one that seemed to pull it off okay was Cloverfield as the guy with the camera initially was at a birthday party and then the whole… must record to put on the internet! before it all goes down hill and it’s get out alive! If they could.

    The dairy… moo…. excuse me. Diary-style journal can also work… more in novel form. Classic case of history is the Diary of Anne Frank. For a movie, that’s fine as a means of story telling trope. So it’s okay.

    • I did quite enjoy Cloverfield. The reason for carrying around the camera didn’t really work for me, but the movie itself was entertaining enough that I didn’t mind so much.

  5. You know what they did with The Blair Witch Project cast? They got a load of amateur actors, gave them a script to rehearse and a basic plot, and sent them off into the woods with a camera to record everything they saw. Quite a few times the cast would actually get lost in the forest, and the directors would do stuff like throw rocks and snapped twigs just out of sight, and play recordings of creepy kids laughing while shaking the tent while they slept at night. The Blair Witch Project wasn’t just scary for the audience, the actors were scared too!

    • Oh yeah, I’ve always thought that was such a cool idea to make a film. They didn’t have to be great actors if they were legitimately frightened.

  6. The Blair Witch Project got away with the camera thing because in the film they were making a documentary – they weren’t just randomly filming stuff unfolding around them.

    So I guess I’m saying I can tolerate it when there is a genuine purpose to the person filming.

    • Very good point Louise. It gave them a reason that most films don’t bother with.

  7. Haha, love it! And while these 2 gentleman are discussing the legitimacy of filming the events… we have the other medic in the background that is fighting off another zombie with his bare hands, this can’t end well.

    • Yes indeed!

  8. I have another issue with “Blair Witch style” movies, they give me motion sickness so I just can’t stand watching the thing.

    • I know a few people with that issue. Fortunately it has never bothered me too much.

      • Diary of the Dead was ok, a kind of compromise between the regular movie and the documentary.

        • I really didn’t care for that film at all.

        • Funny because I immediately thought of it when I read today’s comic. But again as you point out it’s a common cliché so a lot of movies have used it.

        • Oh it was definitely one of the influences for this comic. One of the biggest, as a matter of fact.

      • I suffer terribly from motion sickness, so find shaky-cam things horrid when used excessively (in small few-second doses, I can withstand it). Also spinning cameras makes me feel awful.

        Those scenes in Spiderman when he was webbing through the city, the CGI etc that they kept going on about how wonderful it was? I had to shut my eyes after a few seconds.

        I can withstand these camera/CGI-tricks better on a TV screen than the cinema, though, because it’s less “in your face” as it were.

        My motion-sickness issues (coupled with a dodgy vision in one eye, so my binocular vision is screwy) are why I refuse point-blank to watch a movie in 3D. I know I’ll feel ill after about 5 minutes and will have wasted my money.

  9. The found footage thing I felt kind of wore out after Blair Witch. I find very few movies give telling reasons to record what is going on, like the Paranormal Activity movies, the first ones reasoning was a “lets see what’s going on in the room at night, cause your acting weird.” The second was more believable as security cameras, but then…how much storage do they have in the computer for the recordings? 30 full days worth of saved footage? That’s an awful damn good computer for a house computer. The other thing that kills me about those movies most times is when they decide to look at the footage, see some really freaky shit happening, and go…”lets record more!” rather than doing what most sane people would do and finding saftey or escaping.
    I think it’s used to much as an excuse to make it more first person viewing than an actual set of found footage. I haven’t seen any diary style movies so I can’t comment on that, but I keep thinking of something akin to a National Geographic special. Morgan Freeman reading the entries as narration over the events. “…and then THEY came into the room and ate my mother.” All in his calm rational sounding Planet life tones….that would be hilarious.

    • I don’t have a lot of experience with security systems, but I have worked with them at a job once. We had a bank of hard drives that recorded everything and saved it for – I believe – two weeks before it was overwritten. It was a massive system, with a couple dozen camera recording constantly. In a house with five or six cameras you could save the footage longer, provided you had sufficient space. That would get really expensive, however.

      • One hour of standard definition video at 2.2Mbit/s is about 1GB

        a lot of poeple have, let’s say 100 gb storage. take away 20 for OS and other software, and that leaves approx. 80 gb. 80 hrs footage, and not to mention it takes less space if not much is happening(say everyone is asleep), and that is uncompressed.

        I personally have over 2TB of unused space on my PC and I have over 1 tb in assorted software(mostly video games). But I don’t have the average PC. so in conclusion, it is fairly believable. BTW can you believe that 4 years ago only servers had 1TB drives in them?

        • Good information here. Another thing to bear in mind is that each camera/feed that got added would take up that much more room.

          It’s funny about space. I remember when I got my first 100GB HDD. I thought it was incredible. Now I can’t imagine being stuck with something that tiny.

        • yah, it would be like “oh my god, after I installed windows, anti-virus, and video drivers, I can only have like one video game on here.

        • At the size I typically encode video at (1080p or 720p), I could fit over 88 days on a single 1TB hard drive. Even with over a dozen cameras, I don’t see why a decent server couldn’t store weeks of footage, no.

  10. I really liked Diary of the Dead since it tried to address how today’s tech would play into the ZA. I really wish that movie has a bigger budget or better editing or something. It had some great ideas that I wish had been executed better.

    • It had potential, and I liked the idea of exploring new media in the genre, but I just thought it was too direct and preachy. It was too easy to hear the director’s voice through the characters.

  11. “Found footage” films are considerably older than Blair Witch. “Cannibal Holocaust” from the ’70s is one of the earlier examples (and a very disturbing one at that). Overall? I think it’s a gimmick. When it works, I think it’s because of the merits of the particular story or film, not because it’s intrinsically good.

    I hate shaky-cams and quick cuts in general. Rather than making me feel a part of the action, they just remind me that I’m watching a movie and take me OUT of the action.

    • Excellent point on Cannibal Holocaust. I’ve not watched the film, and I don’t know that I will.

      I think it can be gimmicky, and often is. But I also think it can be done well and add to the story.

  12. In my opinion, Murphy should grab and destroy the camera, and without pausing for the cameraman to say anything, tell him to help or get lost! He just doesn’t have time to argue with this guy, and he should let the guy know that! 😀

  13. I’mma be honest with you.. I think ‘Found Footage’ movies are absolutely awesome. I don’t know why, but I feel like its funner to watch than something that takes different angles.

    • I do too. I’ll take the lame excuses for a camera guy but I must say that I love BrickVoid’s idea about trashing the camera. lol

  14. While ‘found footage’ could be done well, in theory, I’ve yet to see it happen. The Blair Witch Project was the single worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched most of Ed Wood’s catalogue. There were so many logical mistakes, right from the start, it eliminated all suspension of disbelief, because their ad campaign and the entire structure of the movie were designed to make you think it could be believed, that it really could have been found footage. However, when a group of people apparently have enough video and audio tapes (and batteries!) for a week of filming, but enough food and cigarettes for two days, it eliminates that possibility.

    Give me a ridiculous movie from Troma or SyFy, that’s not trying to be even slightly realistic, to one that’s trying to make a ‘found footage’ claim, but undermines that concept with obvious contradictions, any day.

    (Note, this doesn’t include those details like being lost in the woods and crossing a river instead of following it downstream… incredibly stupid, sure, but plenty of people are exactly that stupid.)

    • I haven’t actually seen Blair Witch, so this is just speculation, but about the disparity in supply levels, were they planning on spending that long in the wild or were they planning on returning to town between shoots? If that was a possibility then it makes sense to take less food since they can restock in town, but they wouldn’t be able to pick up more recording gear in a small town or village.

  15. Ugh, journalists. Dave, would you kindly let the Zombie wrangler release the zombies? Oh wait, they already did. *Le evil plotting face*

  16. why deos that guy with the camera remind from a movie called dead diary i think

  17. I love realism, but I think the whole “everything is real because there’s no tripod involved” can get pretty old pretty fast when done wrong.

    Also, I believe it’s cinéma vérité. 😉

    • Yeah, I was too lazy to bother with the accents.

      • Even without the accents, it’s still verite, instead of verete.

        Sorry, I can’t help it – when you’ve been speaking French for more than a decade, those things can kind of get to you sometimes.

        Also, I do the é with ALT+01257 (on the number pad) on my PC. I don’t know if you have a Mac, but there’s probably a similar Mac shortcut for it as well. 😉

        • I’ll sub in the “i”

  18. i like the guy, but stewart’s way better, stewart actually has a weapeon

    • The cameraman’s just someone to throw to the zombies when you have to make a quick getaway. That is, you don’t have to run faster than the zombies, just the man who’s too distracted fiddling with the camera to pay attention to what he’s doing. When he trips on a tree root or a low curb, I can make a hasty retreat.

  19. Oh, and if anything happens to Lyle I think it’s fair to say it’s the cameraman’s fault. Not only is he fucking around with his camera instead of helping, he’s distracing Murphy too.