The Found Footage Film Genre: Origins, Evolution, and Future

The Found Footage Film Genre Origins, Evolution, and Future

The found footage film genre is a cinematic technique in which the film is presented as if it were a collection of recordings that were discovered and shown to the audience. The genre is often used in horror films, but also in other genres such as science fiction, drama, comedy, and mystery. The genre is known for creating a sense of realism, immersion, and suspense for the viewers. But how did this genre start? What are some of the best and worst examples of the found footage technique? And what is the future of this genre in the digital age? In this blog post, we will explore the origins, evolution, and future of the found footage film genre.

The Controversial Beginnings of the Found Footage Genre

The first film to use the found footage technique is often debated, but some possible candidates are:

  • Cannibal Holocaust (1980): A controversial Italian horror film that depicts the fate of a documentary crew who went missing in the Amazon rainforest while filming a tribe of cannibals. The film consists of two parts: the first shows the rescue team that finds the footage, and the second shows the footage itself. The film was so realistic that the director was accused of making a snuff film and had to prove in court that the actors were alive.
  • The Other Side of the Wind (2018): A film directed by Orson Welles that was shot in the early 1970s but released in 2018 after decades of legal and financial troubles. The film is a satire of Hollywood and the New Hollywood movement, and it follows the last day of a legendary filmmaker who is trying to finish his comeback film. The film is composed of various types of footage, such as documentary, mockumentary, news footage, and surveillance footage, that were supposedly found after the filmmaker's death.
  • America's Deadliest Home Video (1991): A low-budget American crime film that follows a man who escapes his unhappy marriage by joining a group of criminals who record their violent exploits on video. The film is presented as the unedited footage that was found by the police after the criminals were killed. The film is considered to be one of the earliest examples of found footage in American cinema.

These films are some of the pioneers of the found footage genre, but they also faced some criticism and controversy for their use of this technique. Some of the common issues that these films raised were:

  1. The ethical implications of using real footage or simulating reality: Some films used actual footage of real events or people, such as Cannibal Holocaust, which included scenes of animal cruelty and violence against indigenous people. Other films used actors and special effects to create a realistic illusion, such as The Other Side of the Wind, which featured fake interviews and news reports. These films raised questions about the morality and legality of using real or fake footage for entertainment purposes.
  2. The authenticity and credibility of the footage: Some films claimed to be based on true stories or real events, such as America's Deadliest Home Video, which claimed to be a police evidence tape. Other films used ambiguous or unreliable sources to present their footage, such as Cannibal Holocaust, which used an anonymous narrator and an unknown rescue team. These films challenged the viewers to question the validity and accuracy of what they were watching.
  3. The impact and influence of the footage on the audience: Some films aimed to shock or disturb their viewers with graphic or violent scenes, such as Cannibal Holocaust, which showed scenes of rape, torture, and cannibalism. Other films aimed to provoke or inspire their viewers with artistic or political messages, such as The Other Side of the Wind, which criticized Hollywood and celebrated independent filmmaking. These films had different effects on different audiences, depending on their expectations, preferences, and sensitivities.

These are some of the controversial beginnings of the found footage genre, which set the stage for its later development and popularity.

The Blair Witch Project: The Film that Popularized the Found Footage Genre

The found footage genre reached a new level of popularity and success with the release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999. The film is a horror film that follows three student filmmakers who go into the woods of Maryland to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch, a mysterious and evil entity that haunts the area. The film is presented as the footage that was recovered from their cameras after they disappeared.

The Blair Witch Project was a huge hit, both critically and commercially. It received positive reviews from critics, who praised its originality, realism, and atmosphere. It also became one of the most profitable films of all time, grossing over $248 million worldwide on a budget of less than $60,000. The film also spawned a media franchise, including two sequels, several books, comics, video games, and a TV series.

The Blair Witch Project was also a pioneer in using viral marketing and internet promotion to create hype and buzz for the film. The filmmakers created a website that presented the film as a true story, with fake news articles, police reports, interviews, and photos of the missing filmmakers. They also distributed flyers and posters at film festivals and colleges, asking for information about the missing filmmakers. They also created a mockumentary called The Curse of the Blair Witch, which aired on the Sci-Fi Channel before the film's release. These strategies created a sense of mystery and curiosity among the audience, who were unsure whether the film was real or not.

The Blair Witch Project also influenced many other films to use the found footage technique, especially in the horror genre. Some of the films that followed its footsteps are:

  • Paranormal Activity (2007): A horror film that follows a young couple who experience strange phenomena in their new home. The film is presented as the footage from their video camera that they set up to record their activities at night. The film was also made on a low budget ($15,000) and became a huge success ($193 million worldwide). The film also spawned a media franchise, including six sequels and a spin-off.
  • Cloverfield (2008): A science fiction horror film that follows a group of friends who try to survive in New York City during an attack by a giant monster. The film is presented as the footage from a camcorder that one of them carries throughout the night. The film was also marketed with viral campaigns, such as websites, trailers, and posters that hinted at the plot and the monster's origin. The film was well received by critics and audiences, and grossed over $170 million worldwide. The film also inspired two sequels with different genres and formats.
  • REC (2007): A Spanish horror film that follows a TV reporter and her cameraman who are trapped in an apartment building with infected residents who turn into zombies. The film is presented as the footage from their camera that records their ordeal. The film was praised for its intensity, realism, and scares, and won several awards. The film also spawned a media franchise, including three sequels, an American remake (Quarantine), and a comic book.

These are some of the films that were inspired by The Blair Witch Project, which popularized the found footage genre and made it a mainstream phenomenon.

The Rise and Fall of the Found Footage Horror Genre

The found footage horror genre reached its peak in the late 2000s and early 2010s, with many films using this technique to create scares and thrills for the audience. The genre was also favored by filmmakers who wanted to make low-budget films with high returns, as the found footage technique did not require expensive sets, props, or special effects. The genre also appealed to the audience who wanted to experience a more realistic and immersive horror experience, as the found footage technique created a sense of immediacy, intimacy, and authenticity.

However, the found footage horror genre also faced some challenges and criticisms that led to its decline in popularity and quality. Some of the factors that contributed to this decline are:

  1. The overuse and saturation of the genre: As more and more films used the found footage technique, the genre became oversaturated and repetitive. The audience became bored and tired of seeing the same tropes and clichés, such as shaky cameras, night vision, jump scares, loud noises, and ambiguous endings. The genre also lost its novelty and originality, as many films copied or imitated the successful films of the genre, such as Paranormal Activity or REC.
  2. The lack of creativity and innovation in the genre: As the genre became more formulaic and predictable, the filmmakers became less creative and innovative in using the found footage technique. Many films failed to explore new themes, stories, or perspectives that could enhance or challenge the genre. Many films also failed to use the found footage technique effectively or logically, such as using multiple cameras, editing the footage, or explaining why the characters kept filming in dangerous situations.
  3. The loss of realism and credibility in the genre: As the genre became more mainstream and commercialized, the filmmakers became less concerned with maintaining the realism and credibility of the found footage technique. Many films used unrealistic or implausible scenarios, characters, or events that broke the suspension of disbelief of the audience. Many films also used poor acting, writing, or directing that exposed the artificiality of the found footage technique.

These are some of the reasons why the found footage horror genre lost its appeal and quality over time.

The Expansion and Diversification of the Found Footage Genre

The found footage genre is not limited to horror films, but it can also be used in other genres and formats to create different effects and experiences for the audience. The found footage genre can be expanded and diversified by exploring new topics, styles, or mediums that can enhance or challenge the genre. Some of the examples of the expansion and diversification of the found footage genre are:

  • Comedy: The found footage genre can be used to create comedy films that parody or mock the genre or other genres. The found footage technique can be used to create humor, satire, or irony by exaggerating or subverting the conventions and expectations of the genre. Some of the films that use the found footage technique for comedy are:
    • Project X (2012): A comedy film that follows three high school friends who throw a massive party that spirals out of control. The film is presented as the footage from a camcorder that one of them carries throughout the night. The film uses the found footage technique to create a chaotic and outrageous comedy that shows the consequences of their actions.
    • What We Do in the Shadows (2014): A comedy film that follows a group of vampires who live together in Wellington, New Zealand. The film is presented as a documentary that a film crew makes about their lives. The film uses the found footage technique to create a hilarious and witty comedy that mocks the tropes and clichés of vampire films and documentaries.
    • Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016): A comedy film that follows a famous rapper who tries to revive his career after a flop album. The film is presented as a mockumentary that shows his rise and fall in the music industry. The film uses the found footage technique to create a funny and clever comedy that parodies the pop culture and celebrity lifestyle.
  • Drama: The found footage genre can be used to create drama films that explore realistic or emotional issues or themes. The found footage technique can be used to create intimacy, authenticity, or empathy by showing the personal or subjective perspectives of the characters...

    The Challenges and Benefits of Making a Found Footage Film

    The found footage genre is not only a creative and innovative way of storytelling, but also a practical and economical way of filmmaking. The found footage technique can offer many benefits and advantages for filmmakers who want to make films with limited resources, time, or experience. However, the found footage technique also poses many challenges and difficulties for filmmakers who want to make films with high quality, originality, or impact. In this part of the blog post, we will discuss some of the challenges and benefits of making a found footage film.

    Some of the benefits of making a found footage film are:

    • Low budget: The found footage technique can help filmmakers save money on production costs, as they do not need to spend much on sets, props, costumes, or special effects. The found footage technique can also help filmmakers use natural or existing locations, such as houses, streets, or forests, without paying for permits or fees. The found footage technique can also help filmmakers use amateur or unknown actors, who may work for less or for free, instead of hiring professional or famous actors, who may demand high salaries or royalties.
    • High return: The found footage technique can help filmmakers earn money on box office revenues, as they can attract a large audience with a small investment. The found footage technique can also help filmmakers create a loyal fan base, who may follow their work and support their future projects. The found footage technique can also help filmmakers generate media attention and publicity, as they can create a buzz or a hype around their film with viral marketing or internet promotion.
    • Easy access: The found footage technique can help filmmakers access the film industry, as they do not need to have much experience or education in filmmaking. The found footage technique can also help filmmakers overcome the barriers or gatekeepers of the film industry, such as studios, distributors, or critics, who may reject or ignore their work. The found footage technique can also help filmmakers reach a global audience, as they can distribute their film online or on streaming platforms, without relying on traditional or mainstream channels.

    Some of the challenges of making a found footage film are:

    • Technical limitations: The found footage technique can limit the filmmakers' artistic choices and options, as they have to follow the rules and conventions of the genre. The found footage technique can also limit the filmmakers' technical quality and skills, as they have to use low-quality cameras or equipment, such as camcorders, smartphones, or webcams. The found footage technique can also limit the filmmakers' editing and post-production capabilities, as they have to avoid using cuts, transitions, or effects that may break the illusion of the found footage.
    • Creative challenges: The found footage technique can challenge the filmmakers' storytelling and narrative abilities, as they have to create a compelling and coherent story with limited resources and time. The found footage technique can also challenge the filmmakers' originality and innovation abilities, as they have to avoid copying or repeating the tropes and clichés of the genre. The found footage technique can also challenge the filmmakers' impact and influence abilities, as they have to stand out from the crowd and make a lasting impression on the audience.
    • Ethical dilemmas: The found footage technique can raise ethical questions and issues for the filmmakers and the audience, as they have to deal with the implications and consequences of using real or fake footage for entertainment purposes. The found footage technique can also raise ethical concerns and problems for the filmmakers and the subjects, as they have to respect the rights and privacy of the people or events that they film or portray. The found footage technique can also raise ethical debates and controversies for the filmmakers and the society, as they have to consider the moral and social responsibility of their work.

    These are some of the challenges and benefits of making a found footage film.

    Faces of Death: The Film that Shocked and Controversed the World

    Faces of Death is a 1978 American mondo horror film written and directed by John Alan Schwartz, credited under the pseudonyms "Conan Le Cilaire" and "Alan Black" respectively. The film, shown in a documentary-like style, centers on pathologist Francis B. Gröss, played by actor Michael Carr. The narrator presents the viewer with a variety of footage showing different gruesome ways of dying from a variety of sources. Some of the most iconic scenes were faked for the film, while most of the film is pre-existing video footage of real deaths or the aftermath of death.¹

    Faces of Death received generally negative reviews, but it was a huge success at the box office, reportedly grossing over $35 million worldwide. It gained a cult following, was eventually deemed artistically significant to film, and it also spawned several sequels, the first of which, Faces of Death II, was released in 1981.

    Faces of Death was also one of the most controversial films ever made, as it faced legal and moral challenges from various authorities and groups who condemned or banned it for its graphic and disturbing content. Some of the controversies and issues that Faces of Death raised were:

    1. The authenticity and legality of the footage: Faces of Death claimed to show real footage of death and violence, but many scenes were later revealed to be staged or faked by the filmmakers. For example, the scene where a man is killed by an alligator was actually filmed in Florida with a dummy and a trained alligator.² The scene where tourists eat a monkey's brain in a restaurant was actually filmed in California with a fake monkey head and cauliflower.³ The filmmakers also used footage from other sources without permission or credit, such as newsreels, documentaries, or other films. For example, the footage of Adolf Hitler's death was taken from Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973), while the footage of a cult leader's suicide was taken from Guyana: Cult of the Damned (1979). These practices raised questions about the legality and ethics of using real or fake footage for entertainment purposes.
    2. The censorship and banning of the film: Faces of Death faced censorship and banning from various countries and regions that deemed it too violent or obscene for public viewing. For example, in Australia, the film was banned in 1984 under the Customs Act 1901 for containing "offensive behaviour". In New Zealand, the film was banned in 1989 under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 for being "injurious to the public good". In Germany, the film was banned in 1990 under Section 131 of the Criminal Code for "glorifying violence". In Norway, the film was banned in 1994 under Section 204a of the Penal Code for "depicting gross violence". These actions sparked debates about freedom of expression and censorship in different cultures and societies.
    3. The impact and influence of the film: Faces of Death had a lasting impact and influence on both filmmakers and audiences who were exposed to its shocking and controversial content. For some filmmakers, Faces of Death inspired them to create their own films using similar techniques or themes, such as Cannibal Holocaust (1980), The Blair Witch Project (1999), or The Final Destination (2000) series. For some audiences, Faces of Death provoked them to seek out more extreme or disturbing forms of entertainment, such as snuff films, gore websites, or death metal music. For others, Faces of Death disgusted them or traumatized them with its graphic and realistic depictions of death and violence. These effects raised concerns about the psychological and social consequences of watching found footage films.

    These are some of the controversies and issues that Faces of Death raised, which made it one of the most notorious films in history.

    Hell House LLC: The Series that Revived and Reinvented the Found Footage Genre

    Hell House LLC is a horror series that consists of four films written and directed by Stephen Cognetti. The series follows the events and mysteries surrounding the Hell House, a haunted attraction that was built in the abandoned Abaddon Hotel in New York. The series is presented as a collection of footage that was found or recorded by various people who were involved or interested in the Hell House. The series is known for its scares, suspense, and lore that explore the dark secrets and history of the Hell House and the Abaddon Hotel.

    Hell House LLC was released in 2015, and it was a surprise hit among horror fans and critics. The film was praised for its effective use of the found footage technique, its realistic and likable characters, its creepy and atmospheric setting, and its terrifying and unpredictable plot. The film also introduced some iconic elements of the series, such as the clown mannequin, the basement ritual, and the gate to hell. The film also spawned a media franchise, including three sequels, a TV series, a comic book, and a video game.

    Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel was released in 2018, and it continued the story of the first film. The film followed a group of journalists who investigated the Hell House after receiving a tip from a survivor. The film revealed more information about the origin and nature of the Hell House, as well as the cult that was behind it. The film also featured more footage from different sources, such as police body cameras, security cameras, and live streams.

    Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire was released in 2019, and it concluded the story of the first two films. The film followed a billionaire who bought the Abaddon Hotel and turned it into a new haunted attraction for his show. The film also showed the final confrontation between the forces of good and evil that were unleashed by the Hell House. The film also featured some cameo appearances from previous characters, as well as some twists and surprises.

    Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor was released in 2023, and it was a spin-off from the main trilogy. The film followed a group of cold case investigators who stayed at the Carmichael Manor, site of the grisly and unsolved murders of the Carmichael family back in the eighties. The film also showed how the Carmichael Manor was connected to the Hell House and the Abaddon Hotel, as well as some new mysteries and horrors.

    Hell House LLC is a series that revived and reinvented the found footage genre by creating a complex and captivating world of horror that kept the audience engaged and scared throughout. The series also showed how the found footage technique can be used to create different styles and formats of storytelling, such as mockumentary, anthology, or origin story. The series also demonstrated how the found footage technique can be improved and enhanced with modern technology and media, such as digital cameras, social media, or streaming platforms.

    Conclusion

    The found footage film genre is a fascinating and diverse genre that has a long and rich history, from its controversial beginnings to its modern variations. The genre is known for its realism, immersion, and suspense, as well as its challenges, benefits, and controversies. The genre is also constantly evolving and adapting to new technologies, media, and audiences, creating new possibilities and experiences for filmmakers and viewers alike.

    In this blog post, we have explored the origins, evolution, and future of the found footage film genre, as well as some of the best and worst examples of the genre. We have also discussed some of the ethical, psychological, and social issues that the genre raises, as well as some of the creative and innovative ways that the genre can be used. We hope that this blog post has given you a deeper and broader understanding of the found footage film genre, as well as some inspiration and curiosity to explore more of this genre.

    If you enjoyed this blog post, please share it with your friends and family who are interested in the found footage film genre. Also, feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts, opinions, or questions about the genre. We would love to hear from you and engage with you in a meaningful conversation. Thank you for reading this blog post, and stay tuned for more posts about film genres and techniques.

    FAQ

    Here are some frequently asked questions about the found footage film genre that we have answered for you.

    1. What is the difference between found footage and mockumentary?: Found footage is a film technique that presents the film as if it were a collection of recordings that were discovered and shown to the audience. Mockumentary is a film genre that presents the film as if it were a documentary that shows fictional events or characters. Both techniques use similar methods, such as handheld cameras, interviews, or narration, but they have different purposes and effects. Found footage aims to create realism, immersion, and suspense, while mockumentary aims to create humor, satire, or irony.
    2. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of watching found footage films?: Some of the advantages of watching found footage films are: they can create a more realistic and immersive experience for the viewers; they can offer a different perspective or point of view on the story or theme; they can generate more curiosity and interest in the film's plot or mystery; they can provide more scares and thrills for horror fans. Some of the disadvantages of watching found footage films are: they can cause motion sickness or nausea due to shaky cameras or fast movements; they can be confusing or frustrating due to lack of clarity or explanation; they can be boring or repetitive due to lack of variety or creativity; they can be disturbing or upsetting due to graphic or violent scenes.
    3. What are some of the tips and tricks for making a good found footage film?: Some of the tips and tricks for making a good found footage film are: have a clear and compelling reason for using the found footage technique; have a strong and coherent story that supports the technique; have realistic and likable characters that engage the audience; have a creepy and atmospheric setting that enhances the mood; have a balance between showing and telling; use different types of footage or sources to create variety and contrast; use sound effects and music to create tension and atmosphere; use editing and post-production to improve the quality and continuity of the footage.
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Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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