Brothers and longtime collaborators Drew and John Erick Dowdle ("Quarantine") know a thing or two about making an effective found footage film, and the first thing is that it's only got easier cameras have become a more ubiquitous part of people's lives. We talked to the Brothers Dowdle about how they made their latest Paris catacombs-set thriller, "As Above So Below," work.
Take advantage of people's dependence on technology:
"We did our first found footage movie in 2005, and justifying cameras back then, you had to spend some time — 'This is why there's a camera here,'" John remembers. "And now everyone has a camera on their phone, on their iPad. We just have cameras coming out our ears now. You don't ask anymore, 'Why was somebody filming that?' You see a guy resuscitating a chipmunk and you're like, 'Of course someone was shooting that.'" It's a new part of our language. Our cinematic language is now very much this.
Break new ground, locations-wise:
"We were the first production to get permission to shoot in the off-limits sections of the Paris catacombs," Drew explains. "And the first one to shoot in the public areas, where the tours of all the bones are. We got permission the day before we were shooting there, so it was always last-second."
Simplify the lighting:
"In the movie, they're making a documentary, and we had to consider, 'How would they light it? They're lighting it with their head lamps,'" John says. "And we lit the whole film with their head lamps. Anything underground was actually lit by the actors. There's no tricks or crew people sneaking things in. The actors are lighting themselves, which is actually sort of amazing. It gave it a great pace where the camera could turn in any direction at any time and it was all lit, all ready to go."
Get yourself uncomfortable to get in the mood:
"The first time we visited [the catacombs], we went through a hole about the size of a basketball and then crawled for four to five hours underground, in water," John says. "We got about a half a mile away from the entrance and I started to feel like, 'Oh my god, what are we doing?' But thankfully we got through that.
Most importantly, terrorize your actors:
"With our actors, we had some sense of some of the sound design elements we were going to use in post-production, and we brought big speakers down there and we would blast these crazy choir sounds and big horns — and not tell them we were going to do it," Drew says with a grin. "They'd be in the middle of a scene, and their dialogue would be ruined but the reactions were great. We'd do that for about an hour and then cut it and do it clean, but by that point they were so frazzled it really helped the performance."
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter @nedrick