Using Found Footage for Compelling Human Stories Instead of Horror

Using Found Footage for Compelling Human Stories Instead of Horror

Filmmaker Stories are crowdsourced articles directly from The Filmmaker's Process community. To learn more about writing and submitting your own Filmmaker Story, click here.


FILMMAKERS: Adrian & Andrew Nuno 

STORY: Using the Found Footage Genre for Compelling Human Drama Instead of Jump Scares & Gimmicks

There's still hope for the found footage format.

The very first exposure that I had to what many call the "found footage" format was The Blair Witch Project back when I was around 7 or 8 years old. While I was probably way too young to see the film, I was instantly captured by the authenticity that I felt was portrayed on that screen.

Now that I'm 19, I can clearly tell that this was a fictionalized universe the characters were in. However, at the time the story seemed so real and authentic that for weeks afterwards my mind would race in both obsession and fear with the idea of the Blair Witch.

Fast forward to 2007 when a little known film named Paranormal Activity premiered in theaters and scared the living daylights out of viewers.

This was the second time that a found footage film had terrified audiences and pulled them so much into the world of its characters that it scared them unlike most horror films had done in years past. This film was the one that heralded something I'd like to call the "Age of Self-Recorded Mayhem".

It was the popularity of Paranormal Activity that led to several other found footage films being released in the following years like Cloverfield (2008), Quarantine (2008), The Last Exorcism (2010), Chronicle (2012), Project X (2012), and most recently this past year The Visit (2015).

And while most of these were very successful and some even gathered astoundingly positive critical reviews, I found myself getting a little overwhelmed by this kind of movie constantly being a thing.

I was constantly overwhelmed with every film of this sort having the same basic outline: A bunch of normal people are either a documentary crew or just happen to have recording equipment with them when something completely out of the ordinary (whether it be an alien attack, a demonic presence or a completely over the top party) happens to them and the rest of the film is basically their reaction to everything that happens to them.

Now don't get me wrong, I was a HUGE fan of Chronicle, and Project X gave me some of the best laughs I've had in years. That being said, I noticed one thing was not being done with this kind of film: there was no found footage film being done about realistic everyday human drama.

It takes awhile, but every genre has a reawakening. A period of time where several filmmakers or a single filmmaker makes a film that changes all of the rules. Let’s hope that the reawakening for the found footage format is just around the corner.

I looked everywhere for a found footage film that had its characters going through something that was a little bit more relatable than getting superpowers or being chased by an unseen supernatural force but there was nothing out there that I could find.

That's when the idea popped in the heads of my twin brother Adrian and myself to be the ones to change this fact. And it was there that the idea for our film Before I Go was born.

The basic plot of Before I Go is simple: a college sophomore returns from college for the summer to find out he has cancer. The film follows him as he goes through the first few months of his diagnosis and how it affects his relationship with his father, siblings, friends, girlfriend and ultimately himself. This was the driving force of everything from the script to casting to the eventual filming.

And what we realized throughout all of this was that the found footage format gave the film a breath of fresh air that made it different from other cancer films. Everyone that spoke to us after seeing our film constantly told us about how the film connected with them because they had either gone through cancer themselves or they knew someone who had gone through cancer.

This let them connect with the characters onscreen and it allowed them to relate with every moment that happened. The actors in our film were able to truly embody their characters by going off-script at certain moments and saying what they truly wanted to say as their characters. Some scenes became twice as long onscreen than they were in the original script because things just felt right that way.

The found footage format ended up being just as enjoyable for the audience as it was for the cast and crew. Best of all, it helped add an aura of reality to this story that needed reality in order for it to have its desired effect.

So what does this mean?

My hope is that this can lead to an increase of the found footage format being used for new tales to be told. Tales that typically aren't told through the found footage format.

While I am pretty sure that the Paranormal Activity franchise will continue forever, hopefully it can enter competition with found footage movies that are more relatable to all of us. This format can bring a strong sense of realism to so many unheard stories. A story about cancer is just breaking the surface of all of the possibilities that exist.

That's always been one of the reasons why Adrian and I love film so much. Film is such a diverse field that there is always going to be some new way to tackle something. While the found footage format is relatively young especially in comparison to other genres of film, there is still hope for it.

I have read countless articles explaining reasons why this genre of film needs to die out. If the industry stays the course with solely horror found footage films, I can definitely see the reason for it.

When we sent our film out to festivals, one of the judges compared Before I Go to The Blair Witch Project. While it is easy to see why the comparison was made because of the similar styles the two films were shot in, it is a shining example of the potential this genre still has. I am a strong believer that this genre is just getting started.

It takes awhile, but every genre has their reawakening. A period of time where several filmmakers or a single filmmaker makes a film that changes all of the rules. Let's hope that the reawakening for the found footage format is just around the corner.



Filmmaker's Process is ad-free and always will be because of readers like you. If you find this content useful and want to see it continue for years to come, consider becoming a patron today. Plus there are some pretty cool rewards!


If you enjoyed this article, you'll love the Filmmaker's Process newsletter. Each week, we share our latest posts, a weekly filmmaking resource, curated stories from around the web, a short film that we love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

Are you ready to take your filmmaking to the next level?