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Interview with Sarah Appleton co-writer and co-director of The Found Footage Phenomenon
By James Whittington, Sunday 5th September 2021
Sarah Appleton

The final documentary of FrightFest Online Edition looks to one of the most misunderstood genres out there. The Found Footage Phenomenon dissects this often over-looked type of movie with interviews from many key players. We chatted to co-writer and co-director Sarah Appleton about this very informative piece.

HC: Have you always been a fan of horror movies?

SA: Yes, I grew up watching Hammer horror movies and Japanese horror because my dad was a film critic, so I used to look through all his VHS tapes he'd taped off the late night tv and pick something to watch. Evil Dead II was one of the first horror movies I ever saw, aged about 8.

HC: Can you recall the first found footage movie you saw?

SA: Yeah, I saw Cannibal Holocaust pretty young and thought it was pretty exciting. Back then I wanted to see the goriest things I could, but it wasn't until later I realised the significance of the film within the found footage genre.

HC: How did this documentary come about?

SA: I've wanted to make this documentary for years. I was well into found footage from around 2011, when I saw Megan is Missing and since then I started working in documentaries and figured this was the subject, I'd want to work on for my first feature. Phillip, my co-director, was working on Second Sight's release of Lake Mungo around this time last year and we were discussing how a found footage doc could work well for an extra on the disc, and we quickly realised it had to be made into something bigger than a disc extra.

HC: Was there one person you couldn't get hold of to interview?

SA: Yeah, we weren't able to get hold of M. Night Shyamalan, understandably. But his The Visit is an absolutely brilliant use of the found footage technique with his traditional twist ending storytelling. So much suspense there with the oven! You know what I'm talking about... For anybody who hasn't seen The Visit... the nappy. That is all.

HC: What did you learn about this genre when making this documentary?

SA: I learnt that found footage hasn't had its fall yet. I honestly started the project thinking this is the perfect time to do this doc, just as the genre is winding down. But I couldn't have been more wrong when the likes of Host came out and we were like, oh ok, this is not the rise and fall, it's STILL going.

HC: Is there a found footage movie you think that is criminally overlooked?

SA: Most of them!!!! But if I had to pick one it would be Afflicted. Afflicted is Clif Prowse and Derek Lee's amazing vampire movie with a twist and it is exciting, intuitive, well written and most of all, the characters are just so likable you get properly into the film and for something so well done I'm not sure why nobody seems to have seen it. Oh, and Frankenstein's Army, so much work went into those physical effects it's unreal. Go see.

HC: Did much material end up on the cutting room floor and if so, will there be a director's cut release?

SA: Well yeah with interviews you tend to get an hour of content and you only need maybe 5 minutes from each person, so yeah you get a LOT of footage. We don't believe in docs being too long, however, so as for a director's cut, this is the director's cut. We were our own producers after all.

HC: If you made a found footage movie, what would it be about?

SA: Vampires. Not because of Afflicted, just because they seem to be overlooked a lot these days and it was one of the first characters I enjoyed in horror, watching Christopher Lee as a kid. Saying that, I think they're under done because it's so difficult to make a realistic vampire these days. I LOVE What We Do in the Shadows, but obviously that's a comedy. Things like The Visit, The Borderlands, The Blair Witch Project, these simple ideas set in a real place which feels like it's you know, in our reality, those are the ones which work the best for me.

HC: OK, what is the greatest found footage piece ever made?

SA: The Last Broadcast is up there. I feel bad separating them because they're all my little babies, but this one is so clever and does a lot more than just telling a story about some friends who go up into the pine barrens in New Jersey. It's about reality and the best found footage movies really play with the audience's perception of reality. The Last Broadcast goes a step further and asks you to question everything you consume as reality and whether you're really being told the whole truth. If I were picking a film on scare factor however, then Lake Mungo is terrifying.

HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?

SA: I'm working on a documentary feature for Severin Films which is almost like a true crime, covering the disappearance of an English film producer from the 70s and 80s who got caught up in a whole load of crazy. It's almost done actually.

HC: Sarah Appleton, thank you very much.


Related show tags: EVIL DEAD II: DEAD BY DAWN, FRIGHTFEST
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