I’ve written previously that low-budget filmmaking is an ideal entry point for screenwriters to break into the film industry.
Found footage films have catapulted many newbie filmmakers into megastardom due to their ultra-low budgets and stellar profits. The Blair Witch Project has made over $140 million in theaters off a reported budget of $60k. That’s a return of over 200000%
Found footage is a unique genre that combines a documentary style with horror or thriller elements.
Your job as a screenwriter is to understand the tropes of the genre. These include grainy or poorly shot footage (which holds vital clues), shaky handheld camera work, murky darkness and a natural, free flowing unstaged action.
You must comply with most of the tropes to satisfy your audience. But also exercise your artistic flair and subvert or outright reject others so it’s not too cliched.
Your audience cannot simply be observers of your film, they must be active participants and experience it through your characters.
So what are the secrets of writing a successful found footage films? I’m glad you asked.
Suspense thriller and horror are the key genres explored in found footage films.
There is usually a mystery or an investigation in the plot. Someone is murdered, goes missing, or strange happenings occur. I’ve yet to see a sci-fi, comedy or musical found footage film. Perhaps with good reason.
Aim for no more than around six characters, including the villain. This should be a rough ball park figure for all low budget films. The difference in found footage films is that a camera becomes a character (and the footage it produces). A camera often has its own point of view and the other characters must unravel the mystery without fully realizing the danger they’re in.
The dialogue in found footage films is often loose and conversational. Sometimes, it sounds improvised, impromptu and workshopped. It should never sound tight and rehearsed like a speech.
This keeps the feel of your film current and intimate.
Much like the camera footage, your location should be a character in its own right. Typical locations include a house, a secluded cabin, the woods, a basement or some other confined space.
Choose a location that is familiar such as being locked in a grocery store overnight. Make sure it’s got 360 degree easy access and you can film in low light. Found footage films are often shot using natural light anyway. They shouldn’t have a polished, well-lit look.
This is perfect for low budget filmmaking. Make use of silence and atmospheric “wild” sound. Record the howling wind, leaves rustling in the breeze or just plain nothingness.
Although many of these points are the domain of the filmmakers, a skilled screenwriter can write the mood of the location and sounds into their screenplays.
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