Let’s start with the basics for those who may not be familiar with your work. How long have you been an online film critic? Where did you get your start?
My first published review was Lake Placid, and that was 1999, which means I’ve been doing this for… 32 years. I wrote for a fantastic site called eFilmCritic (back in the day, it had a sister site called Hollywood Bitchslap); they’re still around, just as a handy springboard for film writers who want to write well, get notes, and find their voice. Never made one nickel at EFC but I did learn how to write like super awesomely, plus it got me on local and festival press lists, and when you’re just starting out, those lists are extremely helpful.
You have recently become a producer on the Found Footage 3D film; how did this come about?
A very nice guy called Chris Hyams (whose dad (and brother) are filmmakers you may know) recommended me to Steven DeGennaro, the soft-spoken maniac who wrote and directed Found Footage 3-D. Steven needed a film critic type to play him/herself, and he knew some of my writing, so he took Chris’ advice, tracked me down at Fantastic Fest, and asked me to be in the movie. I said yes.
Once Steven and I became friends he invited me to come on board as an associate producer, which was later changed to co-producer, which I believe is a promotion. So I was hired to play myself, but then I became a producer before I got to the set. I took it upon myself to show up and be a very positive, optimistic, energetic, etc. Steven’s (awesome) ensemble had already been running through forests and falling on porches for two weeks, so as a producer, I wanted to help keep everyone happy. It wasn’t difficult; our entire crew was world-class.
Other than my week on set, I’ve done a ton of “moving and shaking” (I think that’s what they call it out west) for the film, and while it’s absolutely Steven’s baby, I’m very proud to be adopted as the film’s uncle. Co-uncle. David Fried and Charles Mulford are the other producers. Uncles. I’ve destroyed this analogy. Sorry.
What, specifically, drew you to the project?
I live and breathe horror films. I love independent film/makers. I really like found footage. I really hate 3-D. Just seemed like a fun mixture. Also: I was asked to come on board. Amazing what “being invited” can do, right?
Have you been involved on a producing level before?
Several years ago I co-produced a documentary (about, wow, horror films) that may or may not ever see the light of day. Flew myself to L.A. and London. Interviewed tons of great people. Learned a lot, honestly, but yeah, I’d like to see the film come out eventually. Totally out of my hands, obviously.
Steven DeGennaro, the film’s writer and director, says that you are the first actor to be cast in the film. Is this your first acting job?
Actually, no. I’m the worst actor you’ll ever see, but I never say no to friends. I did some voice work in Burnie Burns’ awesome Red vs. Blue series; I played a teacher in Grow Up, Tony Phillips for the lovely Emily Hagins; and I played a producer in Open Windows for the wonderful Spaniard called Nacho Vigalondo.
I cannot watch myself recite dialogue, honest, but I was proud of my brief appearance in the excellent Troll 2 documentary, Best Worst Movie.
Mr. DeGennaro spoke very highly of you and even said that no one knows horror movies as well as you do. That being said, how will Found Footage 3D rise above the current black cloud hanging over the found footage genre?
Oh, I know plenty of people who know “more” about horror cinema than I do. I’ve always aspired to be “an” expert, not “the” expert. But Steven is right. I am freaking super amazing.
As someone who watches and reviews tons of indie horror films, I completely understand why fans are “fed up” with this particular storytelling gimmick. When it’s done well, found footage LOOKS remarkably easy; like you run into the forest and then come out the other side with a movie. So good movies often compel unprepared filmmakers to make sub-par films.
Instead of pointing fingers at the “lesser” titles, I can point to 2014 releases like The Sacrament, The Den, Mockingbird, Afflicted, The Sacrament, Inner Demons, and The Taking of Deborah Logan. And there are others. Steven loves one called Skew. The Possession of Michael King is another one. “Found footage movies” are just like other movies: smart, creative people will often make interesting films.
3D has a very uneven history in the horror genre and is not always immediately embraced by fans. How is Found Footage 3D going to change that?
I get why 3-D was a fun novelty back in the 1950s, but I lived through the Vile 3-D Uprising of 1983, and that’s when I learned this: I don’t want to be “immersed into” a movie. I want to watch a movie. Yes, there are exceptions in which 3-D is legitimately creative or at least visually diverting, but for the most part I think it’s an empty, soulless gimmick that often inspires filmmakers to simply FLING STUFF at the camera for no good reason.
Oh, the question was about how our 3-D is awesome, wasn’t it? I’ll start over.
I can tell you this much. On a purely visual level, I was honestly impressed by the cameras that Steven and DP Drew Daniels showed me, and the playback was actually cool. There’s a difference between 3-D that offers a deeper depth of field and 3-D that just FLINGS STUFF at the camera, On a thematic level, the 3-D is just a funny hook. The joke is right there in the title: a 3-D “found footage” movie is a terrible idea!
What have you learned being on this side of the moviemaking experience that you didn’t know before?
If you grow up studying film, watching documentaries, and reading books, you already know that making a movie is hard work. But you really DON’T know until you’ve been there, at 3am, splayed out on the floor, under a chair, with a spike in your back, and spiders near your face, and the first AD tapping his watch, and the make-up crew begging for 45 extra seconds, and the script supervisor reminding us we have three more shots to do… and I just blew one of my lines. Crap.
It’s super intense, very difficult, and somewhat surreal. It’s also a lot of fun if you can focus on the end goal and think about what you might be creating.
Do you have more projects in the works and are you able to speak about them?
I do! Kinda. I’m writing a screenplay with the great Todd Farmer (dude wrote Jason X!) called Tendril, and I’m also working with a very cool author named Roberto Calas to try and bring his medieval zombie adventure The Scourge to a movie screen of some sort. (NOTE: Jason X and The Scourge are now available at all fine retailers.)
After Comcast demolished Fearnet I just decided to try and write some screenplays in between “normal” writing jobs at Geek Nation, The Horror Show, and Nerdist. I also have a collection of short horror stories that is a long time coming, but that I desperately want to finish.
What has been the most exciting aspect of working with the Found Footage 3D team?
Being part of a great team is always the best part of any project, really. I love Steven, the actors are great people (yes, really!), and everyone on the crew taught me something. Also I learned that not only do I know what a producer does, but I’m actually pretty good at it. Maybe. It’s easier than screenwriting, that’s for sure.
What is your cat’s favorite type of junk food?
Any of those nasty salty treats that come in a pouch. Little monster devours those. You really shouldn’t give your cat too much salt. It can give him or her a urinary tract infection.
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