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Why A Found Footage ‘Friday The 13th’ Is A Bad Idea

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Last week we learned that Platinum Dunes and Paramount Pictures’ new Friday the 13th is opening in theaters on March 13, 2015. F13 is by far my favorite horror franchise, so to say I’m a huge fan would be something of an understatement. A few months ago I hosted an 8 hour marathon for free just so I could see 400 fans of the series in one place and feel their collective excitement for it. Yet, for the first time in my life I’m not looking forward to a new Jason outing. Why? Because the rumors of a potential found footage angle continue to persist. And I’ll continue to be nervous as long as they do.

Let’s get something out of the way upfront – this isn’t some purist plea coming from an idealistic blogger with a heart of gold. I’ve worked in various facets of the entertainment business for years, and I’ve seen plenty of bad ideas work themselves into reality (along with some good ones). That’s not to say I’m some kind of veteran – I’m not. Plenty of my friends know way more about the way things work in this town than I do and most of my experience has been from the bottom of the totem pole. Still, I’ve been a fly on the wall in enough situations to be immensely grateful for the sense of context it gives me when parsing through movie news on a daily basis. Strangely enough, while I’m naturally a bit cynical about the business side of things, I think all of this actually makes me more sensitive to it. More forgiving of the process. I almost never get angry about stuff being bad because it’s a godd*mn miracle anything ever gets made, let alone made well.

So I’m certainly not angry that some of the brass at Paramount seem to want a found footage take. I totally get it. The Paranormal Activity movies are huge moneymakers for them. Even better? They’re low risk (with reported budgets usually in the $3M-$5M range). That means that even when one underperforms like PA4, it’s really only underperforming relative to the other entries – not the amount of money spent on it. There’s still a profit. Even stuff like The Devil Inside, which audiences hated, was able to pull off a handsome gross courtesy of good marketing and a spectacularly front-loaded opening weekend. The 2009 Friday The 13th reboot (which I loved)*, was made for a reported $19M. It also likely had a P&A marketing budget in or above that area. Still, with a worldwide theatrical gross of $91M (and what seems like a successful release on Blu-ray and other ancillary income sources), I’m betting they made some money (New Line in this case, not Paramount). But I can understand why the new studio would want a bit lower risk this time out.

There’s even more incentive to keep the budget down when you look at the Blumhouse model. With each film maxing out at around $3M (except for Insidious 2), I can understand why a lot of producers and studios feel like they are running out of excuses to spend any more money on these things (aside from paying the filmmakers – with P&A budgets that rival more expensive films I doubt there’s much backend to be had off of some of the lower grossing stuff at this level). But the thing is, I’m not lobbying for Paramount to spend more money than they’re already likely planning on spending. They want to keep the budget low? I get it. No problem. It’s not like the rest of the franchise was particularly expensive to make (even when adjusted for inflation the budgets for most of the sequels probably only nudge up against what I imagine they have earmarked for this one).

I’m also not a found footage hater. I actually dig a lot of it. I loved Paranormal Activity 3. I loved Chronicle. And I’m certainly not shilling for Brad when I say that I think some of the stuff in V/H/S/2 made for truly exciting horror filmmaking. Thanks to The Blair Witch Project, the format has been viable in horror for at least 14 years but the recent surge in product on the studio level is giving fans fatigue in regard to its feature length theatrical prospects. I just think the format works better in the hands of indie filmmakers pushing the envelope than it does on a studio sequel level.

It’s also the exact wrong idea for Friday The 13th. There’s a lot of speculation out there regarding just how the conceit will be implemented, but I’m leaving all of that at the door because I don’t want to muddle the issue. I don’t think any of it will work. One of the charms of F13 is the formula. The familiarity. Even the worst entries in the series at the very least serve as some kind of comfort food. For all of the sex and violence in these films, there’s something sweetly upbeat and innocent about them. We want to feel like we’re at Camp Crystal Lake with these kids, and this is one franchise where indulging the nostalgia of the fan base (not only for the original installments, but for the 80′s in general) isn’t such a bad thing. We want Friday The 13th to transport us to a simpler time. That’s not to say there isn’t room for modernization and invention, the best installments have actively upended some component of the formula (switching from Mrs. Voorhees to Jason in Part 2, going right to the cops in Jason Lives, making him a zombie in general, even going to space in Jason X) but still left enough elements of it intact for it to work.

Found footage would upend that completely. I mentioned above that we want to “feel like we’re at Camp Crystal Lake with these kids.” I don’t see how that gets properly pulled off using this aesthetic. Found footage can occasionally make the audience feel like they’re “there” with the characters, particularly in suspense sequences. But, just as often (if not moreso) it can work to distance the audience – to build another wall between them and the characters. Particularly when it comes to establishing characters and documenting “fun stuff.” The kind of characters we want in a F13 film are often relatable but sometimes teeter on the edge of douchiness by virtue of their age and the fact that they’re out to party and get laid. That’s fine. We want that. Most of the prior installments have done a fine job of balancing things out so they don’t all play as offputting (except for the ones who really deserve to die). But recontextualizing them within the found footage format means that they’re now fighting against how the audience has been trained to view partying teenagers in recent years – as total assholes.

Moreover, why throw out the production value the setting has to offer? Again, part of Friday The 13th means that we almost want to be out there with these characters until everybody starts dying. It’s nearly impossible to use the found footage conceit in a way that makes the environment alluring at all. Even with some ambition and genuine invention when it comes to pulling this off you might end up with a cool exercise, it just won’t feel like a F13 installment. Going this route also sets up an insurmountable array of opportunities to rob whomever plays Jason (I still hope it’s Mears) of their performance. Jason is an unstoppable killing machine but there’s a humor in his stillness and the dispassionate manner in which he dispatches his victims. I’m not sure how you capture that using POV – maybe here and there, but not with the consistency and visual language the fans want.

Again, I’m fine with the urge to go low budget and low risk. So believe me I’m not feigning ignorance when I ask, “is it really that hard to shoot a ‘real’ Friday The 13th film on a reduced budget?” I’m not sure what kind of numbers they have in mind, so let’s look to recent Paramount found footage history (something they didn’t acquire, but were involved in making) and use PA4 as an example. That film had a reported budget of $5M. Sure, there might be challenges associated with shooting a traditional movie for that amount of money, especially on location, but it can most certainly be done (the real mystery here is why PA4 cost so much). There’s a whole crop of young, inventive horror directors out there who are incredibly budget savvy and I imagine many of them would like a crack at making a “real” Friday The 13th.

I haven’t met a single fan of the franchise who doesn’t feel the same way. While it’s possible that whatever ends up as the found footage F13 could be a good movie under any other name, it won’t feel like an official entry to the degree the fan base needs it to. I actually think it has the potential to kill the franchise for a while (at the very least beyond Paramount’s five-year window on the rights). They might nail the opening weekend, but I don’t see a lot of fans walking away satisfied and wanting another one right away like I did in 2009. They might get new people in the door, but I don’t see them sticking around for another if the movie doesn’t work. I’m afraid if this version of Friday The 13th fails, the studio will think the franchise is stale when it might actually the found footage reaction that kills it.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s a version of this that works. But if the found footage angle happens I hope whoever’s behind it asks themselves the genre’s most oft-repeated question… “why are you filming this?

*I’ve spoken to someone inside New Line regarding Shannon/Swift draft for the 2009 film’s sequel. They say it’s the movie the fans have been clamoring for. The ideal sequel. That it’s better than the 2009 film and would be cheap to shoot. Paramount has the rights. Maybe they should go ahead with that since they’ve already paid for it?

  • MrMyers

    I’m a friday fanatic and this really doesn’t bother me.
    Did the franchise die after part 8?
    No,because no matter how crappy the films got these films will always have an audience.
    I actually think the found footage genre is great and have loved alot of the entries.
    I’m not sure how it would work for F13 but i am intrigued to see what they’ll do if this happens.
    Having Jason back in any form is fine by me.
    The remake was the best film since part 7 so its not like we get a classic every time.
    And from what i gather the remake wasn’t that well received even in the F13 community,the crystal lake memories doc doesn’t
    even speak of it in a great light.
    Found footage is far removed from what the friday films are but im all for something fresh(i quite like JGTH)and it cant be worse than 8 or 10.
    If its shit i’ll still be first in line for part 14.

  • Francesco

    i’m with u. u should try to send it or twitt it to PD or paramount… i don’t think they’ll listen to us. But we have to try.

  • JohnnyVoorhees

    Send this to Paramount.

  • damnenchiladas

    I agree with you 100% on everything other than this being a possible killer for the series. I don’t think anything could kill F13th just as the classic universal monsters will always have a place in hollywood no matter how poorly they are treated (Looking at you, I, Frankenstein.)

    But yes, as a big F13th fan I am not happy about the FF approach. Don’t get me wrong, it would probably make a great short / dvd extra / fan film but can’t imagine how they are going to pull this off for 75-90 minutes.

    I’ll also say that I did not enjoy the 2009 remake. I thought it was flawed in too many ways to count and would not want to see that story carry on any longer. Personally, I would like to see someone take the initiative to write a reboot that thinks ahead to future sequels / a trilogy. (Think parts 2-4 / 4-6) On top of that, thinking of ways to reintroduce characters like Steve Christie / Tommy Jarvis who are essential to the Friday universe.

    Either way, I’ll still be there in 2015 shaking my head the entire time. And as a fan I am happy to see there is something to discuss. Really looking forward to seeing what they are going to do with the look. Hopefully budget restrictions will force them to scale back the over the top makes up and goofy looking trench coat.

    • thefinalchick

      I agree, it will be really hard to pull off for that long. Maybe having the found footage at the beginning of the movie and then after the title sequence cut to a scene where a news reporter is talking about the videos they found, then continuing with the original formula of Friday the 13th movies would be kind of cool and probably easier to pull off.

  • YaegerTheArcticWolf

    I can’t remember if this is the 12th or 13th film, if it is the 13th then they probably aren’t too concerned with killing the franchise and that may even be the goal, I mean when it first came out the creator flat out said he was only going to do 13 movies. I agree though with the fact that a found footage is not going to work out for the setup people associate with the franchise, but I do acknowledge that there is potential for success with that setup, while it’s unlikely it could do really well, me personally though I love the original formula and I’m glad they stuck with that formula for so long.

  • djblack1313

    Evan, i just have to say this again, i really enjoy your articles. this site is lucky to have you. :)

    F13 is my favorite horror slasher franchise (even though i only really love 1-5 and the reboot) and i know me and i know that i will not go see a found footage F13 movie in theaters. nope. it won’t happen.

    and your last comment regarding Shannon/Swift worries me greatly. IMO they are horrible writers. horrible. so am i reading this correctly and that they are the possible writers for this upcoming F13 movie?

  • divisionbell

    Very well written argument. I say stick with the groundwork laid out in the reboot but bring it back to Camp. It’s as simple as a group of people coming into to restore the camp and re-open it.

  • EvanDickson

    @djblack1313 Thanks for the kind words regarding the article!

    Shannon/Swift are not attached to this film at the moment.

    I do like their writing though.

  • morehorror4me

    I really like your idea of having some “new” talent take on the franchise vs go the found-footage route. Let’s have someone with passion take it on and, above all else, make it frightening. One thing I always looked forward to–which I hope they bring back–is the shock-reveal moments of what Jason looks like under the mask. Kinda felt they didn’t have that in the last one (or did I blink and miss it?). Good stuff.

  • SaltSlasher

    I keep asking myself, what are the main types they can do:

    1-Just like re-boot, a non sequel, just another day in the park for Jason, type setup.\

    2-My personal favorite, a Camp Counselor video archive of a summer at Crystal Lake. All is well, and the silly Counselors’ make sex videos with the camera, and do pranks and film with them. But then they start filming pranks that weren’t them. To the point that people start dying and it turns into the end of REC 1.

  • SaltSlasher

    The first one I mentioned would be like, the same events of reboot, but instead of getting to see it like we saw, it would just be a collection of videos of their “camping trip”. Which actually could have worked, if you consider that every main sets of character had a video camera.

  • NixEclips

    Very well written, Evan. I couldn’t agree more.

  • tlyon2

    I wish we could get a prequel instead and end the series that way. I don’t want this found footage/reboot crap! I am sure as hell not going to go see this one,this gets an automatic skip from me! Unless they change their minds and go with something else. There has be something better then found footage,I’ll even take that crappy sequel to the (2009)reboot over found footage. Why can’t you idiots over at Paramount do anything right!?!

  • mobstar67

    oh im gonna puke…i loathe found footage!!!!
    99 out 100 of these films are pure trash…
    the studios love this crap cuz its done on the extreme cheap..

  • CarlxzwStuartlu

    What’s one of the problems of these types of films. Their fans love them to the point of being so narrow minded. Sure the films got worse as they went on but based on how much fans love them they will never meet up to expectations. Sure Hollywood isn’t helping much and its a blatant cash in on the property but I like FvJ the new Friday though not so much. Not one damn person in the film to like and I’m including Jason.

    • djblack1313

      CarlxzwStuartlu, Danielle Panabaker’s Jenna was very likable in the reboot. just sayin’.

      • WalkWithMeInDarkness

        Yeah, she was and I thought Chewie was likable, for a goofy stoner. Otherwise, I couldn’t wait for everyone else to die. The Nightmare remake is worse though. The characters were so damn lifeless, it was like “Why kill them, Freddy? They all seem to be dead already!” Interestingly enough, the only person who was sympathetic in Nightmare 2010 was Aaron Yoo, who played Chewie in the Friday reboot. Sadly, he only had about 2 minutes of screen time via on-line videos.

  • sweetooth

    If someone can point me to a series of films that was somehow improved by an out of place “found footage” installment then I will be very surprised, because as far as I know, it doesn’t exist.

    This is the 13th Friday the 13th that they plan to release on Friday the 13th. I’m sorry, but they need to go for broke on this one and make it the most insane Friday the 13th film EVER!!! Found footage in a Jason movie is a fucking terrible idea.

  • sweetooth

    Just make a sequel to Friday 2009 with Jason coming back as an indestructible zombie. Up the bodycount and gore quotient by 10 times, throw in copious amounts of nudity, BAM, great Friday the 13th movie. Why is this so difficult?

  • AgingRocker48

    Great article, but I respectfully disagree. If the F13 franchise hasn’t been killed by now, it won’t ever. However, if done just right, a “found footage” POV could work. Besides, what other fresh perspective will be taken that wasn’t on the 2009 remake?
    I say let’s give it a chance and hope and pray that the director and writer(s) won’t stick to the tired “found footage” formula (that annoying teenager with a video camera that can’t seem to turn it off, clueless parents that consistently make poor decisions, etc.).

  • Francesco

    hey guys of BD…why don’t u send this to Platinum or Paramount???? maybe they can listen to you…

  • WalkWithMeInDarkness

    Well, I’m a little late to the party, but wanted to offer my thoughts. No, I don’t want a found footage Friday the 13th film. If you want to include the angle somehow, like Robbie with the head cam in Scream 4, that’s fine, but not a whole Friday film in the FF format. I completely agree with this article. I’d be okay with a scene in the movie being found footage, like an opening kill scene featuring someone with a camera, a few kids get offed and boom! Cue Friday the 13th title card and switch back to traditional film format.

  • Primeus

    Who would ever think that a FF F13th film could work? What is going on in the heads of these people in Hollywood?

    Seriously this has to be the worse idea ever. This idea is even worse than making Halloween in 3D.

    I am ok with another reboot because the 2009 film was pretty shit outside of the first 15mins, but FF is just a horrible idea, and there is no way to capture the Ft13 essence using that format.

  • Evil_Flip

    I really dislike found-footage, but it’s still ten times better then the boring crap Platina dunes vomits out. I’m fine with a found footage f13th, or something else, as long as it’s something different (I for one salute the NewLine movies for trying something different within the franchise).

  • Francesco

    do we know more next friday?

    • tlyon2

      I believe they will tell us more next friday,we know now they got a new subtitle or number for it! But that’s all we know so far about it,what can the new name of the title be?

      • Francesco

        i would like to know if this will be a lost footage or not… something official

  • aka_scream

    I didn’t particularly enjoy the 2009 version but I still saw it on its release date in theatres. I am kind of a tough person to please when it comes to horror and action movies though. In reality I was the person shoveling nachos down my throat trying not to scream anymore about how certain things upset me. Which is funny now because I can’t remember what made me so upset I had to yell out yet I remember my bf and I making friends with some huge guy while waiting in line to be seated. Unfortunately I just can’t help myself when it comes to horror movies though. Whenever a “good” horror movie is released to theatres I have to go watch it. I am compelled to get the most out of the movie but the idea of found footage kind of turns me off for this film. I will still go see it in theatres on its release date; if it goes to theatres….

  • SaltSlasher

    You know how many said Jason was dead after #8…

    You know how many said Jason was dead after #9…

    You know how many said Jason was dead after #10…

    You know how many said Jason was dead after 2009 reboot…

    The second you believe Jason is dead, is the second you die. He can’t be killed, not no cheesy sci fi version, not some jason in hell story line, and no reboot can kill it.

    If anyone calls themselves a Jason fan, then they should know Jason will resurrect, and will never die, ever!!!