Horror Writing

Writing Horror: Found Footage

Today I want to talk about one of the many subgenres of horror.

Found Footage.

This particular subgenre is a bit like marmite, you either love it or you hate it. Rarely have I come across a subgenre that invokes such polarising viewpoints.  I find it very interesting that something so straightforward as a filming technique has become such a staple in the genre. So thought it might be worth an explore.

What is Found Footage?

Generally, this is a film subgenre, although it is extremely popular in the horror genre, more so than other genres. It’s a style of presenting a story, whereby all or part of the story is told through supposedly ‘real’ footage that has been found by a third party and prepared for mass consumption, usually as a way to ‘expose the truth’.

Usually found footage is seen in films, the camera being held by one of the characters experiencing the story. It can be a group on holiday, a news team, surveillance footage or a go pro situation. As a result, the camera work is usually a bit on the shaky side.

Why is it so popular in Horror?

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Horror is an emotive genre, and it can be extremely hard for writers and filmmakers to transport (emotionally anyway) an audience who are at home in a comfy living room to a place of fear and terror.

Found footage is a storytelling tool that makes the transportation aspect a bit easier. It immerses the audience in the characters’ lives as you experience what they experience as they experience it. You’re effectively on ground zero, with all of the raw, honest emotional reactions.

It can also build a sense of fear by literally being a rubbish cameraman, especially if the film is a monster film. Usually, monster films work very well up until you actually see the monster, this is because the unknown is bloody terrifying (hence why Lovecraft is so neat). With a rubbish cameraman, you might never actually see the monster, or at least not see it properly. Think Cloverfield.

Moving away from Films

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Found footage is very popular in movies, but it is not limited to them. We’ve had found footage style books for years, think The Colour Purple, a story told through diary entries.

But in the horror genre, my favourite found footage style books has to be Dracula. A story told through a mix of diary entries, newspaper clippings and logs. This style is partly what makes the book so effective, as you’re witnessing the events as the characters do, or rather learning about them directly from the characters in their own words.

CreepyPasta’s also used the found footage style to immerse readers into the story and heighten emotional tension. Many Creepypasta are portrayed as blog entries (basically a modern diary), some have YouTube clips, or in the case of the SCP files a mix of log entries, interviews and Youtube videos.

It’s a style of presenting that’s very versatile and offers the creator a smoother way to immerse an audience who is so far removed from the story (physically) that they might struggle to immerse them in the feel of the story as quickly using another tool.

Why do some people hate Found Footage?

The main complaint I hear about found footage is either that the dialogue is too dull, or that (in the case of films) the camera makes people feel ill.

I must confess the first time I watched Blair Witch Project I felt nauseous and I have noticed that more and more found footage films are using fixed point cameras. Think paranormal activity where only some of the film was a handheld ‘shaky’ camera and the rest was various cameras in fixed potions around the house.

Regarding the dialogue, this is a discussion I’ve had a few times in the past. Real life dialogue isn’t that interesting, proper scripted dialogue that sounds realistic isn’t actually realistic at all. The umms, ahh and general waffle that people engage in is all missing. Writers train and practice ceaselessly to develop their dialogue muscles. Crafting fake dialogue that sounds real to the reader is bloody hard. So in found footage where dialogue is critiqued its either because the dialogue is too real, with umms, and ahhs abound, or it’s poorly scripted.

What do you think about found footage, do you love it or hate it or will you be my rare middle ground?

I'd love to hear what you think, please comment below.

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