Through the Looking Glass: How Found Footage Films Might Be Best Left Unfound


Thea Cabrera

In this new era of social networking, micro-budget filmmaking, and the proliferation of front-facing cameras, someone had to come along to combine these three. Out of this brief flash of genius, the Found Footage style of filmmaking was born. And, regardless of opinions, this genre is undeniable.

However, the first person perspective through a medium of smart devices is not a novel approach for filmmakers. This handheld, self-reflective filming method has been a presence since the 1980’s, but has experienced a renaissance in the past few years with Project X, Cloverfield, the Paranormal Activity series, V/H/S, and even a light-hearted Modern Family episode called Connection Lost.”

Though the field is still experimental, the genres success is debatable at best.

While Found Footage serves as a great opportunity for low-budget filmmakers, in regards to box office production, the writers and directors seem to be so immersed in style of the genre that it becomes an excuse for inadequate quality. Found Footage gives everyone with a low resolution camera the opportunity to be a filmmaker—but with such a low threshold for quality, this availability can be a real detriment to the craft.

The artistic method of production therefore becomes so processed its almost artificial. The genre falls flat when there is no plausible reason to be filmed through a first person point of view; the film itself becomes transparently insufficient, in regards to its content as well as its production quality.

The genres trend could possibly be due to an opportunity to be frugal and still produce something mildly captivating. The shaky footage is then called into question: does this genre serve as an excuse to produce cheap footage, along with a phoned-in story?

The shaky camera, the eye contact, and the intense commentary provides an engaging experience for the audience. Unfortunately, theres a reason people shy away from a first person perspective within storytelling: it is a disadvantage. The lack of an omniscient audience is tactical, but it provides a very narrow field of vision to tell the story. The P.O.V. focus on the Found Footage aspect tends to almost compromise the potential of a rich storyline. By limiting the plot to only what the protagonist can see, we are usually left with little character development, emotion, and an inherent lack of interiority.

Documented narcissism have made various social medias like Vine, Snapchat, and Instagram prominently successful and undeniably rich. This new wave within the past decade has made Found Footage a much more lucrative, and more available path to explore. The pervasive presence of smart phones, tablets, and laptops can now be another camera angle. The genre allows the suspension of reality and provides a plausible impression, without the spine tingling preface that its based on true events.

These stories are told through the same smart phone, the old Nikon camera, and the worn out laptop we use everyday, possibly bringing the story closer to home. There is much potential within the field of Found Footage because of the fact that any camera is within reach—but the films throughout the decades have not fulfilled the promise of what it could be.

It could be an impressively substantial genre, but the fact of the matter is that the story falls short of the style. Found Footage should enhance the narrative, not substitute it. Though it is interesting, it does not capture the attention of the audience as well as it possibly could. I am not eager to write off the genre for its inadequacy just yet. At best I am unsatisfied, but in the simplest terms, I just don’t believe Found Footage needs to be Inferior Footage.