Clif Prowse and Derek Lee talk Afflicted, Found Footage, and believability [INTERVIEW] [FANTASTIC FEST]

It’s easy to market a film to the public if you say, “It’s like Movie X meets Genre Y!”, but those marketing strategies aren’t always accurate. You take two things that are relatively well-known so that an audience can start to anticipate whether they’d like it or not. A lot of the times, these comparisons can be totally off. When I was at Fantastic Fest, someone told me that Afflicted was “If you too Chronicle and changed it to horror”. Well, I didn’t really like Chronicle, so that definitely wasn’t a selling point. And the subgenre of horror that is represented in Afflicted is one I don’t particularly enjoy, so the film was 0 for 2. Despite my low expectations for the film, I had a shit ton of fun, even watching it at 8:30AM. The relationship between the two leads was believable and endearing, there was a lot of comedy, the pacing made it so it wasn’t an onslaught of gore, and the effects and scares were subtle and surprising. Despite the “found footage” or “faux documentary” style of horror being scoffed at, Afflicted is one of the better representations of that filmmaking style of the past few years. I got to talk to writers/directors/stars/best friends Clif Prowse and Derek Lee at Fantastic Fest and I’m sure they are bound to do more really cool things in the future.

afflicted movie poster 2014 derek lee clif prowse

WolfMan: I saw the movie yesterday, went in pretty blind, but had heard a good response out of Toronto. It was one of the better movies, and especially a better horror movie. When I tried to describe the movie to people, well, there’s a movie that came out a few years ago that your film is getting compared to, which I won’t say. There are horror elements, there’s the friendship element, there’s a lot of stuff in there. How do you sell your film to other people without comparing it to other movies?

Clif Prowse: It’s about a couple of guys who are filming their year-long trip around the world and end up documenting this horrific illness that takes one of them over. That’s the hook that brings people in. A lot of the fun of the movie is the surprise. How that manifests itself. One of the most fun reactions we get is people who know nothing about the movie. It starts out as this travel blog and people are going along with it and all of a sudden, a freight train comes and knocks it in another direction. People seem to really enjoy that aspect of it.

WM: And that’s what’s been so difficult for me. Trying to describe it to people, saying it’s like a horror version of…this other movie. I don’t want to always compare it to that movie.

Derek Lee: The timing of it was both the best thing for us and very scary at the same time. We actually cut a version of the movie prior to them releasing their film. I think I mentioned in a Q and A that we lost a scene that was too similar to that as a result. We don’t take the comparisons unfavorably. We’re huge fans and they did a great job. That film opened up people’s consciousness to what can be done with found footage or faux documentary, whatever you want to call it. We’re huge fans and we’re glad they did what they did. It meant that we got to go back and do some cool stuff and play with some bigger toys.

CP: You’re being compared to a movie that people really enjoy, and that’s great. Hopefully you’re not being compared to a movie that’s universally panned.

WM: Alright, let’s clear the air. We’re talking about Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star. How did this concept come about? Was it just an excuse for you guys to go to some foreign locations?

DL: People keep asking that! Do people make movies like that?

WM: Oh totally.

CP: Three years ago, we decided we wanted to make a feature film. At the time, we had made four short films so it felt like the next thing to do. We had written a script, but it was way too huge. We realized that we needed to do something that we could actually produce on money we raised ourselves. That way we weren’t beholden to someone else. We were brainstorming and the idea of this supernatural documentary came up. We knew that was something we could execute on a budget that would be a lot of fun. We think we found a unique enough hook that people would enjoy seeing it.

DL: We’re aware that found footage, or faux documentary in our case, and the “creature”, I’ll say, are all well-worn. We understand that. It was about figuring out if we could use those things to tell what is ultimately a very personal character story about a descent into darkness. We wanted to bring back the horror, the curse element, the no escape, the constant violence, and that was at the heart of it. The way we chose the tropes that we used and didn’t use, they were just the window-dressings to this guy having to go through this terrible affliction.

WM: Affliction…it’s almost like that’s…a good hook. See, I thought it was going to be a documentary about Affliction clothing. You can imagine how thrown off that I was. I didn’t see ANY mixed martial arts. You guys kind of play version of yourselves in the movie. How close is what we see on film are you to what your relationship is really like?

DL: The easiest way to say it is that they’re just larger than life versions of ourselves. It’s really meant to be based on ourselves. We did this as a conscious choice because as the film gets into its more fantastical, crazy, absurd parts, that all has way more impact if you believe these guys are real and can draw real histories and real personalities, real relationships. Those are our families. We put our parents in the movie, which is not a nice thing to do, but we did it. We had to make it worthwhile. It became a question of making a movie and making it about us and taking the absurd thing and just plop it into our lives. That way we did as little expansion as necessary. Hopefully that means you get to know us, hopefully like us, and then when shit hits the fans, you feel for the guys.

CP: There’s the stuff that’s overt, that’s talked about, like our relationships and the photos of us and videos of us when we were kids, all of that is authentic. Situating it in our actual lives, in our relationship, it just sort of infuses it in that environment. Hopefully you feel the authenticity coming through in every aspect.

afflicted movie clif prowse derek lee

Clif Prowse and Derek Lee in Afflicted

WM: Obviously it’s fun to see splatter films that are just about the body count, but you feel a lot more for what these characters are going through. It’s a much more powerful, resonant feeling than just how much blood you can put on-screen. You say these are heightened versions of yourselves, so do either of you actually have any sort of superhuman abilities?

DL: Clif doesn’t need to sleep. That’s impressive. I can’t punch through walls or jump off of stuff.

WM: You can’t? Well, it was nice meeting you guys. I only decided to do this interview because I have walls that need punching.

CP: You mean beyond our raw sexual magnetism?

WM: Well, I just don’t know if that will come across in this interview.

CP: It’s up to you as a writer to put that in there.

DL: Did we test well in the 18-24 demographic?

WM: How do you react when people try to marginalize your film by saying that it’s just another “found footage” movie? The negative reactions?

CP: What we were very conscious of was to make this film have a very specific purpose. once you see the film, hopefully you’ll understand that it’s been put together by the characters for very specific reasons. That was exciting to us. In traditional found footage, it feels like a bunch of shots that are stitched together quasi-randomly. We really wanted to explore the idea that these guys are creating a finished product as they’re going through their journey. It starts off as this polished, fun travel blog with title and music and all those things, and then as the situation gets more and more crazy, and more and more grave, all that artifice starts to strip away and it just becomes a documenting thing and eventually becomes this kind of message that they’re sending. That journey of the aesthetic and the way it’s put together that we thought was a cool layer for the story.

DL: I think to get over the hump of people’s reluctance towards found footage, and we totally know where they’re coming from, is to make it character based. To drive it with a strong story about two guys dealing with something terrible. What that would feel like and how you would deal with it. The other thing is to make sure that it was fun. Even if it was old or was done before, that people would enjoy. Everything is from something else, so if it works for some people then it’s because we did our job. If it doesn’t work for people, we understand that there’s that hump to get over. Hopefully the character work, this dream of Clif and Derek, is worth it.

CP: Hopefully the spins that we gave it gives it a unique feel and not feel like every other film.

WM: I sometimes feel like one of the few horror fans that, when I hear “found footage”, I’m not deterred. I feel like with found footage, it challenges the viewer to take an active involvement in whether something might happen in the top left or is it the bottom right. We’re constantly searching because it’s not structured like a bigger movie. All of your gags are very subtle but also really succesful.

CP: I think the thing that’s exciting about found footage, when it’s done right, is that all of a sudden, it can feel like reality. If you’re watching a huge budget superhero movie and you see someone punching through a wall, it doesn’t have the same impact. You’re very aware of the art of cinema. When it happens in a movie like this, you’re like, “Holy shit, he ACTUALLY did this.” It’s like you’re witnessing someone punching through the wall. That’s your relationship to the audience with found footage and when it’s done well, that’s when it’s exciting.

DL: It’s fun to believe it. When I punch through a wall, I’m obviously not doing that. I wish I could, but it’s still fun to see it. There’s a level of the audience thinking how cool it would be.

afflicted movie derek lee

Derek Lee in Afflicted

WM: How many of the effects were practical versus CGI later on?

DL: The original shoot that we went on, We knew that we’d have to do most of the effects practically because we had a very limited VFX budget. Image Engine came on, who did District 9, offered us six shots, which was really, really awesome. We knew that our shots couldn’t just be barely strung together, they had to be photo real to keep this found footage thing. Things like the rock break were extremely nerve-wracking for the both of us because I was punching air. They’re saying there was going to be a perfectly photo-realistic rock that would break apart and look great. Thankfully, for their amazing skill, it is phenomenal. This film would’ve tanked if every time we saw a VFX shot, it takes you out of the movie. Bearing that in mind, we tried to keep as much as we could practical. That’s where found footage works because if you want to cut the frame of something or use less lighting or change the depth-of-field, then that works. If we can play with that and plan everything out meticulously beforehand, there was a lot of that. If anyone is derogatory towards found footage, we didn’t know this going into it, but it is a monumental task to do it well. It is a technical feat. Everyone that came before us, that we borrowed from, we have so much respect for. Like, The Blair Witch Project…that’s not easy at all.

CP: The Blair Witch Project is a work of genius. It really is. It’s an amazing film.

WM: I just hate when people try to say “Who would have edited this movie? How is this possible?” It’s like, guys, you’re in a fucking movie. Are you really going there for believability? You just paid money to see this. Clearly this is not a real thing.

DL: It’s fun to believe. If you can’t get over that, then what are you there for?

Afflicted is in select theaters and available on VOD on April 4th.

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