Horror film makers love the “found footage” concept.
The idea is that people filmed something supernatural or scary happening, and the story is told from the first person point of view of somebody who’s actually there! The cameraman is one of the characters and is in danger just like all the other characters! Studios love it because these movies are cheap to produce, which is how studios make most of their decisions.
If you pay attention though, these movies tend to follow some very specific steps. There are moments that happen in almost every fount footage movie. Here are ten moments that happen in every found footage flick.
The characters discover video cameras for the first time
There are essentially two types of found footage movies. The first is the documentary gone wrong. The second type features home video recordings that capture some event. The home video movies always start the same way: the people buying the camera and then recording themselves as they first turn on the camera. The characters in these movies have to start immediately recording themselves, sometimes as they’re taking the camera out of the package. In Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, the main character starts filming himself as he’s buying the camera. The filmmakers do this because they feel the need to set up the idea of what a video camera is, because if they didn’t, the audience would never figure it out.
Using the camera as the bulkiest flashlight ever
These sorts of movies need to explain why people are filming in EVERY situation, especially when they’re exploring a dark, scary place. A common excuse is to have the characters decide to use the camera as a flashlight. The camera has a light on it, so it kind of makes sense, until you really stop and think about it. Any camera with its own light attached to it is going to be big and bulky, so its just so clumsy. Also, I’ve never once thought of doing this. I own a camera, the power has gone out, I’ve needed a flashlight, so I just use a flashlight. It makes even less sense in documentary style movies, because the characters knew they were going to the woods or abandoned asylum or the moon. They knew they had to prepare, so they either purposely forgot their flashlights or planned on using the bulky camera light the entire time.
Why are you still filming?
In Cloverfield, there’s a part where one of the characters asks the guy filming everything why he’s still filming, which is a valid point. He responds with something along the lines of “so people know what happened” and then the point is dropped. That’s all the explanation that’s needed, even though there are often scenes when people need help, and the cameraman just stands there filming the whole thing. Because “people need to know what happened.” Which was especially important in Cloverfield because a giant monster was attacking New York City, which probably would’ve gone under the radar except for that fat guy who filmed the whole thing on a home camera.
Running with the camera, still pointed forward the whole time
Think of what this scene would look like from the other characters perspective. They’re all running for their lives, but their friend with the camera is running with one arm outstretched and the camera pointed forward the whole time. Think about how you run, and think about how you hold a camera. Those are two completely different positions, and they don’t really work well together. Sure, you can run and hold a camera at the same time, but would you do it if you were running for your life?
Forgetting to turn the camera off
Even found footage movies know that people don’t record everything. If characters are arguing about relationship stuff, no one wants to film that. That’s crazy. Or if they’re going to the store, or whatever, sometimes its just time to put the camera down. It has to happen, but these movies have found a work around. The camera man puts the camera down, but he forgets to shut it off, and stop recording. While the camera is just sitting there recording, of course something CRAZY happens right in front of the camera. Apparently, in these movies, cameras have insanely long battery life. Most home video cameras need to be recharged after an hour or two of use.
Any documentary crew, especially if they’re in the middle of nowhere, is going to be super concerned about battery life. No professional camera would “forget”to turn their camera off.
Camera gets dropped, action happens RIGHT OFF CAMERA
One thing that’s clear is that monsters and killers hate being on camera. Whenever they kill someone carrying a camera, they make sure to stay off frame as much as possible. There’s almost always a scene where someone has a camera, and then something jumps at them! The camera falls to the ground! It lands, and you hear sounds of a struggle, and maybe see a leg or arm, but the action all happens off camera. The briefest glimpse of the killer is caught, maybe its just the feet, but you get a sense of what it is. The killer knows to stay off camera, but it still leaves the camera behind. Many times, the killer will take the body, but never the camera. You’d think it would want to dispose of all the evidence, not just most of it.
The monster stares directly at the camera
There’s a point, usually later in the movie, where the monster or killer pauses what they’re doing and stares directly into the camera. It happened in Cloverfield, where a giant, building wrecking monster stared directly into a tiny camera. All the Paranormal Activity movies seem to have this moment, where the possessed person just stares at the camera. Its like the devil finally finds a host on earth, and the first thing he does is sit and stare in amazement at a common household video camera. The movies do this so that audiences can get a clear look at the design of the monster, but it makes the monster less threatening when it stops it rampage because its
People ALMOST have sex on camera
People in horror movies love to have sex. There’s just something about ghosts and monsters and serial killers that makes people want to take their clothes off. Found footage movies are no different, just because there’s a camera around doesn’t stop people from getting horny. In fact, it usually helps! The only issue is that the movies aren’t porn, so they can’t actually show the sex. And these days, studios want to keep a pg13 or soft R rating, so they want to keep things clean. To solve this issue, found footage movies usually have a scene where people start to get nasty in front of the camera, and then either turn the camera off when things get interesting, or they get interrupted. Basically, if you see people about to get in on in a found footage movie, it’s not gonna happen. There’s going to be an earthquake, or a chair will go flying across the room, or this will be the moment the camera’s battery dies.
Lots of unnecessary filming
This is usually during the beginning of home footage style movies, and it’s done to set up that the camera operator likes to record things. The characters will be doing something normal, just hanging out or something, nothing spooky has happened yet, but its still being filmed. Sometimes its a party, which is weird but somewhat believable. In The Frankenstein Theory, the characters actually record an altercation between themselves and a man they almost accidentally ran over. Why would they film this event unrelated to the documentary they were working on? I don’t know, for the memories?
The one thing about found footage movies is that there’s a reason the footage is called ‘found’ and not ‘released.’ So you know, going in, that pretty much everyone is going to die. At the very least, the people doing the recording are. That’s the one saving grace, because usually the person with the camera is the most annoying person out of all the horror movie cliche characters. So, there’s something satisfying knowing the entire movie that this annoying character who’s recording everything they do, even when it really makes no sense, is going to pay for being annoying with their life. It shouldn’t be satisfying, but it totally is.