Found footage movies keep on coming. They seem to be finally dying down, perhaps, but it’s a small dent in the boom that has persisted over the past several years. Everyone blames Paranormal Activity for this and some of that blame is absolutely justified. Paranormal Activity showcased a model that worked amazingly well. But most of what it did had been done by The Blair Witch Project ten years prior. It did not invent the found footage genre. And projects like Cannibal Holocaust and Man Bites Dog had been using that style of filmmaking for years. Paranormal Activity only brought these types of features back to the public consciousness. It did not introduce a new model. Instead, it reintroduced a cheap one.
Film has always been a business of finances first and foremost but in many ways those financial concerns are more dire than ever. I don’t mean to get preachy, that’s not my intention here. But a few things have changed in the industry that have to do with way more than what’s popular. Even if people are sick of found footage, we’re still going to get found footage films for a while at least. That’s the major difference between this trend and others. Remakes would go away in an instant if people stopped paying for them. Found footage features don’t have that luxury. In fact, with found footage, the reverse is true.
Piracy has changed the industry in a way that people at the very least need to acknowledge. Anyone can do what they want and I certainly can’t stop them, but there are very real repercussions for this. Obviously, the filmmakers aren’t seeing anything from their work, they can’t get paid for something that makes no money. That’s probably not really a concern for readers because everyone has their own hardships and people certainly feel like they don’t owe these people anything. But it affects everyone. Not just the writer or the director, but every single member of the crew.
I’d like to say that viewers who love the genre should support their favorite artists, but people just don’t believe that. And they never will. Most people don’t see their favorite director as someone they need to support. They’re the ones that provide you with escapism and general entertainment after a hard work day or when things in your life just aren’t going right. Basically, the most common viewpoint is to see them as the one supporting you. And that is a part of being a creator, to reach out to people and give them something to do for two hours time, but it does go both ways. They need the fans as much as the fans need them.
Still, that’s not the level I’m trying to focus on here. That’s not the way I want to communicate. I want to communicate on the level of content. All money and ethical concerns aside, if you stop paying for movies altogether, the industry can’t afford to make them anymore. Mid-range budgets have already been completely obliterated. $20 to $40 million, even $10 million, that’s just gone. $1 million is considered a budget now, where it used to be considered a simple risk-free investment. Maybe the whole industry really is suffering, but it’s affecting horror the most.
Big event movies will always be big event movies and people will always flock to the theater to see them. But horror has always operated on a more personal level. Most horror films don’t get a wide theatrical release, and even if they do, they’re never considered an event until October. Most often, they go limited release, VOD, DVD/Blu-Ray or some combination thereof. If people aren’t paying to see them on that level, that’s when it really becomes a problem. Because when they’re not making money, production companies just can’t afford to produce films.
And when they can’t afford to make horror films, but need to make one anyway, they make them found footage. Because they can spend $5,000 and maybe see some of that back, but most production outfits can’t spend a million anymore. Not with the way things are right now. And while there are some films that definitely work extremely well with the found footage model, there are plenty that were not designed to be shot that way but had to because there was no other option. That’s not a great thing for anyone. That means that instead of trying to look like they’re not movies, they actually can’t afford to anyway.
No matter what horror fans say, they don’t want the genre to end. They do want more horror movies. Even if there’s always someone going, “Well the current state of horror sucks, I think everything should stop.” Nobody’s going to be glad if that happens. And I don’t think the genre is going away. But if people don’t want everything to be found footage, they have to face the facts.
This is not about trying to make people stop pirating every horror movie they see, although it would be nice if they did. All I’m trying to do is get people to understand what’s going on. Just so they know. We are all contributing to the current climate and it will take all of us to change it. If we want movies like Starry Eyes and The Babadook to succeed then we need to support them. It’s not your place to get pissed when something doesn’t get a sequel if you didn’t pay to see the first one. This is a supportive genre and the people who really, really care will always care and will always be there. The people who really count aren’t going anywhere, I don’t think, but the people who don’t care are causing so much harm. That’s why I’m not writing this for them. They don’t care and I will never be able to make them.
Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, the list goes on and on. There is so much content out there for such a minimal price. But I do acknowledge that it is a price. These are hard times for everybody and I do not say that lightly. I don’t like to play favorites, but horror fans are pretty much the best people, when it comes down to it. They will rally for something they believe in. So many recent movies didn’t have a fighting chance until the fans spoke up. But there will always be those people who don’t want to admit that what they’re doing has any kind of larger effect. If we start to see more films like Starry Eyes and We Are Still Here, we’ll know that we were strong enough to make ourselves heard. If there’s another Paranormal Entity on VOD this October, at least we’ll know why.