You may think that this weekend's low-budget release Chronicle is just another one of those fake found-footage movies, but wait! There's a twist! It's a fake found-footage movie about superheroes, unlike the horror Paranormal Activity knockoffs we've seen over the last few years.
So, OK, Chronicle isn't exactly reinventing things, but it uses its found footage gimmick pretty well-- at least, as you can read in Katey's review, until the found footage wears out its welcome. But the release of Chronicle inspired Katey and Eric to talk about the current state of the found footage movie fad, and whether or not the subgenera has anywhere to go, or if it just needs to die out as quickly as it arrived. If you're sick of found footage movies, or wondering why the studios seem to like them so much, read our Great Debate below as we try to figure out just what makes these fake documentaries work when they're good, and so awful when they're bad.
KATEY: So Eric, last night I saw Chronicle, which as you can read in my review I liked a whole lot. But, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who'll note this, the "found-footage" element was a drawback for me. I saw why the filmmakers used it, but I also thought it really boxed the movie in at a certain point-- it became less and less effective as the movie went on. My other experience with found footage movies is pretty much just the first Paranormal Activity and the Blair Witch Project, both of which I thought were pretty perfect with the found footage thing. But am I right in thinking other people are also getting sick of found footage in other movies?
ERIC: Well, from what I've seen from box office numbers, the problem isn't that studios are making too many found footage films - though I'm sure that some people will agree that that's true. But any studio can put out a found footage film and that because of the low budget needed to make them, anyone that goes to see them is basically ensuring that the movie will make a profit. I actually agree with you that there are some great found footage movies out there. I'm not a big fan of the Paranormal Activity films, but I liked Blair Witch and I actually enjoyed Cloverfield. But if you look at the profit made by, say, Apollo 18 last summer, despite the fact that if it hadn't been found footage it would have bombed, it made a ton of money for the studio.
KATEY: But it seems like you're going off the assumption that found footage is always a bad thing. I'd much rather the studios make these movies for nothing and make a small profit off them, than make Green Lantern for $300 million, bombard you with advertising for it, and have it still be awful. There actually seems to be a greater chance that a found-footage movie can be good, because there's less meddling and less fear of it bombing.
ERIC: That is the optimistic point of view, and it certainly is possible. But my larger fear is that because these movies are so easy to make and so cheap, that studios will simply decide to throw anything against the wall knowing for a fact that it will stick. There's a very scary possibility that this kind of filmmaking will result in studios not caring about the product they are releasing so long as they know that they are guaranteed to make money.
KATEY: But that's the same attitude they have toward, say, the Pirates sequels now. "Found footage" has become a guaranteed property in a similar way that sequels have. At least when it comes to horror, since The Devil Inside seems to indicate that 'is it real?" marketing never wears out. We'll have to see what happens with Chronicle, since it doesn't seem to be even pretending that it's real. I think found footage is a limited fad, but in the middle of it, it doesn't strike me as the worst thing.
ERIC: Right now found footage has basically been limited to the horror/thriller genre, but Chronicle indicates that it could find a home in other genres as well, this case being the superhero genre. So long as creativity is present, I don't think that it's a bad thing. The problem is that we have movies like The Devil Inside, which takes an horror movie element we've seen a thousand times before - exorcisms - and doesn't really bother doing anything new with it. As a subgenre it needs to be like a shark - keep moving or die.
KATEY: I pretty much expect that to happen-- like I said, I think this is a short-lived thing. But I also think it's a symptom of unoriginality, not a cause. Every now and then people will slap it onto something to try and cash in on Paranormal Activity, but as that movie and Chronicle prove, when it's used well it works. Then again, it stops working so well in Chronicle, so I almost wish the genre would advance so that you can start with found footage and then just move on into a regular movie.
ERIC: There actually is a movie that is kind of like that, The Virginity Hit from 2010. Unfortunately, though, that movie also lacked in the script and character department, so it's not the greatest example.
KATEY: So you seem to be making the same point I am-- it's not the found footage gimmick, it's how you use it. So people saying "Oh god, not another found footage film!" need to find another reason not to like the given movie.
ERIC: I imagine that the way it will end is studios oversaturating the market to the point that the man hour and energy put into making a feature film actually becomes more valuable than box office receipts. I have no idea when that is going to happen, but I can't imagine that it is too far off.
KATEY: But low-budget films are always going to exist, and eventually they'll just start making them in a slightly different format. And if it's a choice between making 6 low-budget movies bound to make a profit and one awful tentpole nobody wants, I'd take 6 of those any day.
ERIC: Well, that's when the saturating the market aspect comes in. Eventually you may get to the point where you are going to get superbombs that make under $5 million.
KATEY: So any final words for people hating on found footage? Or wondering when it's going to be over?
ERIC: Only spend your money on the ones that actually look like their worth it, and stop rewarding studios that put out the exact same material year after year. Then again, I say that about all films.
KATEY: In conclusion: "Buy tickets to good stuff!" So glad we worked that out.