Interview with Steven DeGennaro
She started off by asking...
Found Footage 3D is your first feature length film. Why did you choose the horror genre for this?
I didn’t choose the horror genre. The horror genre chose me. After my short film First Date mostly finished its festival run, I decided that I was going to take a year away from actually making movies and just write. My goal was to have 5-6 really solid scripts in different genres to shop around, in the hopes that someone would buy one and let me direct it as my first feature.
I wasn’t starting from scratch. I had a bunch of scripts in various stages, from basic outline to fourth or fifth draft. I spent probably a month outlining a script—a crime drama—that had been banging around in my head for almost ten years that had major second act problems that I hadn’t been able to crack. I finally cracked it. I put together a really solid 15 page outline/treatment and was just about to start actually writing the script when the idea for Found Footage 3D hit me like a bolt out of the blue.
I dropped everything. I knew that doing a Scream-style parody/homage to the found footage genre was an idea whose time had come, and that someone was going to do it sooner rather than later. And this was one of my favorite genres, a combination of probably my two favorite horror movies: Scream and The Blair Witch Project. And most importantly, I knew that this was an idea that I could possibly raise the money for myself and maintain complete control over, rather than having to sell a script or get hired on as a director by a production company.
So I spent the next few weeks writing the first draft, and then the next two years honing the script and raising the money to shoot it. It turned out to be way more difficult than I expected, but it also gave me a lot of time to really create something that I was proud of.
What is your favorite sub-genre of horror?
I don’t know that I have a favorite sub-genre, necessarily. I can tell you that I’m rarely ever freaked out by ghosts or possession movies. I’m much more interested in the idea of real human evil than boogity boogity things that go bump in the night. Some of my favorites, besides Scream and Blair Witch, are The Strangers, 28 Days Later, the original Chainsaw, Saw, Hostel, the Evil Dead movies, Night of the Living Dead, The Sacrament, and an utterly fantastic German movie that hasn’t been released here yet called Goodnight Mommy.
Found footage seems to have officially become tedious to most horror fans. What are you bringing to the table that will improve upon it or make it different?
Found footage is only as tedious as the individual person making that particular movie. Like all styles and all filmmaking tools, it is only as good as whoever is using it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who think that because they can shoot a found footage movie, it means that they should. But just because there are a lot of bad found footage movies does not mean that the genre itself is worthless. The fact is, most movies are bad. A lot of $200M tentpoles end up sucking. No one tells Christopher Nolan, “You should stop making Batman movies because Fantastic Four and The Green Lantern really sucked.” What does one thing have to do with the other?
So while it’s true that for every good found footage movie there are three or four (or ten) bad ones, there are still good found footage movies. We aim to be one of them.
As for what makes us different, it’s the same thing that distinguishes any good movie from a bad one: a good script with an interesting story and relatable characters, and top-notch actors. I can’t disclose the actual budget of the film, but it’s not Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch micro-budget. It’s more in line with more traditional low-budget classics like Nightmare or Halloween. But whereas those movies had to put a big chunk of their budget toward film stock and processing, big lighting set-ups, and a few big-name stars, we got to put all of our money into the stuff that really makes a movie better.
If I had to pick one thing that distinguishes us from 95% of the other movies in our budget range, it’s the actors. They killed it the whole way through, and I’m very proud of what they’ve done.
Why 3D? Again, what will Found Footage 3D do that we have not yet seen in a 3D horror film?
The 3D aspect came around the 3rd or 4th draft of the script, when I realized that because we were shooting a movie about people making a movie, we could get away with doing it in a way that was organic to the story. The lead character—a movie producer who’s in it more for the money than the art—decides that since no one’s done it before, he can be the first and make tons of money, even though it really doesn’t make any sense. So he decides to shoot the first 3D found-footage horror film as well as the first 3D behind-the-scenes documentary.
But the more the script evolved, the more I realized that shooting it in 3D was really an essential part of the story that I was trying to tell. Aside from the cool stuff that you can do with 3D in a found footage movie that you can’t get away with in a more traditional movie, the idea that this was the first of its kind and thus noteworthy is ultimately the key to the entire story. I can’t say too much more without revealing spoilers, but suffice it to say that it’s not some incidental gimmick. It ends up being important in numerous ways throughout the story.
I think that no one has ever really done it before because they didn’t really have an idea for a story where it made sense to be shooting in 3D. A couple of other movies have attempted it in the last few years, and supposedly there are two others in the pipeline right now, but no one has ever integrated it into the fabric of the film, both narratively and visually, in the way that we are.
How did you find yourself partnered up with Kim Henkel?
My producing partner Charles Mulford worked as the production manager on Kim’s last project, Butcher Boys. We were struggling to raise funding after a year of trying, and someone suggested that we partner with a more experienced producer, so we immediately thought of Kim. Charles gave him a call and set up a meeting, and we gave him the script that we were working from at that point. Kim thought the script had potential, but it wasn’t there yet, so he didn’t really want to commit to putting his name on it.
So we went out and shot a 5-minute proof-of-concept to show how the finished film might look and we invited Kim out to a screening of that and my short film First Date. Kim was very impressed with both of them and a couple days later he came on board officially.
As a fan of Mr. Henkel, I appreciate the very specific uniqueness that he brings to a project. Will that be in evidence in Found Footage as well?
Kim really believed in me as a director, but he still had some reservations about the script. So he and I spent the next few months really honing it. His input was invaluable. He has an uncanny knack for calling me out on every fudge, plot hole, or poor choice in every single draft, and wouldn’t let me get away with anything. He’s been teaching screenwriting for years, and he really knows his shit. And he gave every single draft the same care and attention, often writing pages and pages of notes about how to make it better.
So in a sense, his influence is definitely there in the finished product, but at the same time, the writing is all mine. The best notes people can give on a script are notes about how to improve the script that you want to make, not just how they would write it differently if they did it themselves. Kim is really great at that. He helped me to find my own voice and brought out the best in me while always making me feel like it was my project and I alone ultimately knew what was best for it.
Speaking of the production team, how did Scott Weinberg become a part of the team?
I originally wrote a part for a “film critic/blogger” and we had planned to shop it around to some of the bigger outlets and see if anyone would be interested in playing themselves in the film. Right around the time when we finally broke the financing logjam and started raising some real money, I happened to meet Scott through a mutual friend at Fantastic Fest. I introduced myself and we started talking about Found Footage 3D and he loved the concept. Before I knew it, he was in the film. He was actually the first person we cast. I rewrote a lot of the part to better suit him, and he came out for 3 days toward the end of our shoot.
In the meantime, Scott and I talked quite a bit and became good friends, and I realized that he had a lot of skills and industry connections that were a great fit for our production team, so I asked him to be a producer as well. It was the last piece of the puzzle that we needed to really make the production team complete, and he’s been killing it in that capacity ever since.
There is no one who knows horror movies as well as Scott Weinberg. No one. So aside from the fact that the dude knows everybody, he’s also a valuable guy to consult on all things horror.
What aspect of filming has proved to be the most difficult thus far?
Getting people to take us seriously. Across the board, that’s been really tough. Whether it’s potential investors, talent, press, distributors... when you are a first-time filmmaker, especially if you are making a found footage movie, a lot of people immediately assume that you are a talentless idiot making a piece of crap. It’s a real uphill battle. So it’s taken a very long time to build up some credibility brick by brick.
I’m really blessed, though, to have people like Kim, Scott, Charles, our actors, and our crew, who are willing to believe in me as a filmmaker and trust that I can make something original and unique and good. I don’t consider myself a natural leader, and I don’t really have a lot of love for the non-artistic parts of what is essentially running a medium-sized business, but I’ve been lucky enough to be able to surround myself with people who are really good at what they do and can make up for my deficiencies.
What was the best day on set?
There were a lot of great days. This was a really fun shoot and I loved every minute of it. But if I had to pick just one, it would probably be the first. We had a really ambitious day of shooting planned, and at that point we still didn’t know if our really compressed shooting schedule was going to work or be a total disaster. But that first day we shot 14 pages of material, plus about 2 hours of unscheduled improv, and we still wrapped an hour ahead of schedule. That’s a testament to the actors as much as anyone. When your actors can nail a 6-minute long scene shot in one continuous take that ranges from an upstairs bedroom to the kitchen downstairs on the other side of the house, and they can knock it out in an hour, you know you are going to be in good shape. By the end of the second day, despite a 2-hour rain delay and nearly getting flooded out of our location, we were almost a full day ahead of schedule on an already insanely tight 15-day shoot.
Is there a practical special effect that you are especially excited to share with your audience?
There is, but if I told you about it, I’d have to kill you.
What would be the finest compliment that someone could pay to Found Footage 3D?
They could cry during the final scene. If I can get someone to do that, then the sweet taste of their tears will have made all of this worth it.
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