Writing, acting, directing duo Derek Lee and Clif Prowse see the release of their debut feature film, Afflicted, this week. Afflicted is a low budget documentary-style action/horror film that works to revamp the idea of a particular supernatural creature. While many believe the found footage genre to be dead, Afflicted says otherwise (see our positive review and our mixed review), and works within the confines of the genre to deliver an intelligent horror flick.
I sat down with the humble yet passionate Clif and Derek to talk about found footage, balancing action and horror, and the development of their filmmaking careers. Afflicted hits theatres today, Friday, April 4.
Bloody-disgusting: A lot of people say found footage is dead, but Afflicted shows that it’s not found footage as a genre itself that’s the problem. Was it your intention going in to reinvent the genre?
Derek: I think if anything we were trying to reinvent the vampire as a supernatural creature. In terms of found footage, I don’t know that we had the intention to reinvent, but more so just trying to be strict about the rules you’re supposed to adhere to when working within those confines. Like, in Chronicle, a great film that we love, and we take comparisons to it as a compliment, however at the some point in that film it all breaks down because of the multiple cameras. We’re said, “Okay let’s not do that,” because we feel part of it is feeling the intentionality of the person holding the camera. As soon as you break that fourth wall, it can fall apart. So we weren’t trying to reinvent, we were just harder on ourselves than other films have been.
Clif: The other thing is that what makes a good documentary style movie is that you’re playing with an aesthetic that tells the audience, “This is real,” and the excitement from that comes from interjecting something based in the supernatural, and because your brain says it’s real, it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a movie, but a supernatural event, which is way more exciting. That was the core for us. The litmus test for a good found footage movie is if you take the found footage out, would the movie be worse? For us, the movie would be significantly worse. We take a fantasy creature that normally is not grounded in reality and then reinterpret that through the documentary style lens. What would this look like if it happened in real life? That, to us, was what would elevate this movie.
BD: A lot of found footage falls apart in the third act because it begs the questions of why would the characters keep filming? How did you deal with that issue?
Clif: We were very aware of that as a pitfall of the genre, and there were times when we were like, “Oh it would be great to see that character’s reaction,” but we couldn’t show it. Like we said, we decided to be strict with the rules. The other advantage we had was, in the film, the characters have a piece of equipment called a strap-on camera, and it’s hands free, so they’re not conscious of their filming. The nice thing about that was that we could avoid that question of why are they pointing the camera in a particular direction, and they can just act like a regular person.
Derek: Slight spoiler, but the film is meant to be a documented piece, and so as the character’s situation gets worse, they are intentionally trying to film it. It’s not just, “Oh, I’m running from a monster in New York and filming it.” It’s that they know this is a story they want to tell at some point. So those things combined hopefully make it so the audience doesn’t ask the question in the third act. I’m not sure we fully accomplished that, but the response so far has been quite positive.
BD: There’s a real focus on character here. How did you approach writing a character based found footage horror script? Was it a difficult process?
Clif: this script came out of us very quickly and the story didn’t change that much at all.
Derek: We just changed a bungee jump scene to a sky dive scene [laughs]. No, but we knew that with limited budget, because we are action directors at heart, you can’t shoot too much action on a low budget. We had to be careful with that. I think that we had a very attainable goal, and we pulled it off exactly as we imagined it, which was super rewarding.
BD: And your last short film you did with a big crew, so how was it to scale down for this one?
Clif: We started making movies together when we were 16, and when you’re 16 it’s just friends getting together with a handycam, and everyone writes, shoots, acts, and passes the camera around. So in many ways, this was reflective of that mode of filmmaking. The small crew is what allowed us to fly to Europe and shoot all these locations. The minimal gear and minimal crew is what gave the movie scope, so, yeah, it was freeing in this case.
Derek: As much as we did make it found footage for the story, it was absolutely cheaper that way. One lesson we learned was that some things were too well framed and then it didn’t look found footage enough. There were some instances where we shot beautiful scenes, but we realized it didn’t work. Our DoP was like, “This is too pretty.” So we had to re-shoot, take things out of focus, anti-frame. We questioned if what we were doing was sane, but we wanted it to feel real. There’s a scene where we shoot the ground for a good 14 seconds, and people don’t call it on us.
BD: Those long takes are so important for found footage.
Clif: Yeah, we wanted a lot of it to feel like one shot, but we had to fake it because of stunts and special effects in some cases. There’s one that looks continuous, but is actually 25 shots stitched together because it was so complex.
BD: You guys have been making films together for around fifteen years, so I imagine your personal relationship helped to add to that organic feeling.
Clif: Absolutely. Basically our idea was, if we want a movie to feel real, base it in reality as much as possible. The best found footage movies are those where you are unconscious of the fact that you’re watching actors, and it feels like real life. We took advantage of the fact that we could use our real identities, our real photos, our real videos from when we were kids. All those little details, we thought would just give the movie a sense of reality that not many films have. The movie was conceived as a travel blog, where we posted as we travelled, and we wanted something going on where people would see it and google our names and find our real facebook pages to hold up to that level of scrutiny, but that doesn’t work now that we have gotten some press [laughs].
BD: This blend of action and horror is difficult to pull off. There are few examples of films that manage to balance the two without losing track of story or character. How did you approach it?
Derek: I think you just called it. The story was impetrative and it decided the action. It is a horror film, but it starts as a travel log, buddy film. The second act is tense, like The Fly kind of horror. The end of the movie is a crazy quest for absolution and that’s when the action comes out. At that point we wanted to get rid of the slow burn, and just pay it all off and let it rip. Our guiding light was Aliens, the ultimate horror action flick, though we’re not even in the same breathe of that film, but it just continues to build and build, so we looked to that one a lot.
BD: You mention The Fly, which is interesting, because Canada as a strange history of body horror. Cronenberg kicked it off, but recently we have films like Antiviral and American Mary. How does it feel to be a part of that?
Derek: Pretty damn good [laughs].
Clif: It’s just an amazing cast of people to be put in the same sentence with. It’s very humbling.
Derek: There’s so much about Canadian film that we admire and the ones that really succeed are those that pull off something new, that you haven’t seen. If we can even have a tiny bit of unique voice in our film, that’s great.
Clif: The movies you mentioned, they are all movies that are cool and interesting that just happen to be Canadian. I think when we set out to make our movie we’re just setting out to make the best movie possible.
Derek: There was one interviewer who was surprised we were Canadian, and we were like, “Isn’t it obvious?” I’m pretty sure I was wearing a shirt that said “Canada” on it with a picture of a beaver [laughs].
BD: Because you’ve been making films for so long, and you write, direct, and star, do you find it hard to distance yourself from it at all to make creative decisions?
Clif: Yes, it’s an interesting process. I think Derek was more used to it because he has acted in our short films. For me, it was a bit weird to get in front of camera, but it’s crazy how quickly you switch into director mode. You can see what’s working and what isn’t and be quite ruthless with yourself. One of our favorite scenes in the movie was this big emotional skydiving scene that we love, but we had to take it out because it wasn’t working with the film.
Derek: We are our harshest critics. I am more stringent on my own performances and Clif is the same way on his. It’s definitely self-consciousness, but it’s great that there are two of us. There’s always someone to say, “Relax, don’t worry about it.” We can let go when we need to.
Clif: We always put the project first.