“But The Blair Witch Project did it!”
One thing that movie buffs and horror-fans like to mention to their less versed friends is that The Blair Witch Project “changed the movie industry.” And that’s true; however I argue not for the better. While this movie received massive success because of it’s different approach to filming, it literally drove people out of theaters because they felt sick. Unlike The Exorcist which had similar effects on movie-goers, this movie drove people out not because it was too scary, but rather people were literally getting motion sickness from watching it.
The only people that The Blair Witch Project scared was Hollywood. What this movie showed executive producers and fancy-pants directors with their college degrees and multi-million dollar equipment was that anybody with a DSLR camera could make a film. You no longer needed a full camera crew, multiple cameras, cumbersome tripods, or studio time for ADR: you just needed a location, script, some actors, and a camera.
Now don’t get me wrong: I try to make my own films and I know how hard and expensive this process can be. I’m all for more accessible options and ways of filming for emerging directors and cinematographers alike. Equipment and crews are hard to come by when you’re just starting out, so I think that BWP initially changed the medium for the better. However, Hollywood and semi-large production companies have taken this style and used it in much higher-budget films, all the while having an arsenal of equipment and small militia of film experts. And they’ve done nothing to expand upon it.
After BWP came out, other indie film directors tried following the practice. Some were more successful than others. For example, Paranormal Activity had a budget of ten thousand dollars and made a gross income of millions at the box-office after the film was requested by mainstream theaters for public showings (it initially was just a submission to a film festival). Surprising enough, I thought that this film actually took a different spin on the style: while there were sections of the actors talking into the camera and carrying it around their seemingly-haunted house, the majority of the film was of the characters sleeping in bed with spooky things happening at night. The audience was able to see these events transpire before the characters did, thus adding to the fear and anxiety. If only this franchise knew when to stop.
However, this is the only real development the style has seen or experimented with. Every other film from big-budget studios has followed the same formula, while adding nothing new or special. The only movie I can think of is V/H/S but all they did was take short films of this style and made it into a collective film. So yet again, nothing new. Rec, As Above so Bellow, and the god forsaken Unfriended are just some examples of failed attempts at the found-on-footage style, and there are countless more that never received major publicity.
Unfortunately, this style doesn’t yield itself to much development. Hell, the only reason Cloverfield did well was because it added a Kaiju (and large monsters always help ratings). There isn’t much you can add to holding a camera, running from spooky things, and screaming into what I can only assume is a shotgun microphone. Even visual and social distortions do little to nothing except make extra work for whomever is doing post. Furthermore, try to think of a movie in this style of filming that ISN’T a horror film (and don’t you dare google it).
Bottom line: experimenting and trying new ways of filming shouldn’t be frowned upon, but maybe you should just save up for a tripod.