Thank you for having me.
In this industry when a film is easily compared to others like it, Upper Footage seems cut from a separate cloth all together. This got the minds at Horror Central wondering, if you could look at The Upper footage from a non-biased point of view, in your opinion, what has made the film stand out in the found-footage genre?
I would have to say because the events of the film could have happened in real life, and in some ways they actually did. The fact that we fooled the media into thinking the project was real for several years, and incorporated it with the final project, gives us something that is unique in this genre.
You mentioned that you were influenced by The Blair Witch project, one of my personal all time favorite movies. What made you want to follow in their footsteps? What was appealing to you about the found footage sub-genre?
The Blair Witch Project is one of my all time favorite movies as well. The experience I had watching when I was younger was something that I remember to this day, and I always wondered why no one really went for it since. So many found footage films have come out since, but no one really attempted to recreate the feeling of watching a film you think may actually be real, which in my opinion is the genre at its best. I always wanted to have that experience again, and figured hey if no one else is doing it why don't I?
At the same time, I knew doing what Blair Witch did in 1999 (making a website stating the events as real) simply wouldn't work in today's day and age. I thought the only way people would believe that the events of the film were real were if they would be able to do a Google search on their own and see the events and people actually show up as real on several popular websites and eventually on TV.
I love the concept of the found footage genre, but I really can't say I am a fan of many films within it. A lot of it is repetitive, but because you can make them cheap and fast they have flooded the marketplace. It's a shame because there have been some amazing found footage films that don't get the credit they deserve, such as "The Dirties", because a lot of these rushed out films give the genre a bad reputation. The genre as a whole has so much untapped potential that has yet to be explored.
When we were in distribution talks it was amazing to hear industry people talk about the genre. Movies within it are treated more like amusement park rides than actual films, with the number and placement of jump scares taking precedent over story and any over-arching themes.
The reception has been as great as I could have imagined. I wouldn't say that I expected it or that it was a surprise, I'm just really happy because it is exactly what I was hoping for. For all the bullshit we went through to get this out there, especially with this cut, it really has made it feel worthwhile a thousand times over. Our fan base has been amazing and I make sure to write everyone back that emails, Facebook messages, or Tweets me. I couldn't be more appreciative to them. Due to our marketing, a lot of sites refused to let us advertise with them and some who we fooled have gone out of their way to bash the project since. Without our fans getting out there and spreading the word we wouldn’t be getting anywhere near the attention that we are getting.
In an open letter you released regarding the film, you go into detail about some of the initial and ongoing hardships you faced with the theatrical run The Upper Footage. Without rehashing said controversy here, have those struggles deterred you from starting a new project, or has it had the opposite effect?
It surely has had the opposite effect. As frustrating as it has been at some points, I look at it as a positive. It has forced me to evolve and learn a lot of stuff that I wouldn't have otherwise. For every pitfall and hardship, it made me think outside of the box a little bit more, and most of the time this led to me learning something new. I couldn't be more excited to jump into my next project knowing what works and what doesn't. Also, to be fair, some of the hardships were brought upon by myself, but were necessary to make the film what it is. I pissed a lot of people off that have a much larger platform than I do, so some backlash was to be expected.
Sorry to use this correlation again, your film was destined to be compared to the Blair Witch project, almost all found footage pictures are. What makes The Upper Footage unique is that it actually lives up to and in some cases rivals that classic film. What was your reaction when reviewers like Horror Movies Uncut and Trust Movies hailed your film as the best since, or in some cases better than, The Blair Witch Project?
I was thrilled. Those are some lofty comparisons. Our goal all along was to try to raise the stakes on a great concept that was created long before us, and to have others say that they think we did just that is awesome. I see some people today that weren't around for The Blair Witch Project at its peak, and they just don't get how amazing that film was for its time. I still think it’s a great film. It was just so unique and ballsy. I look up to those guys a lot, along with creators in any field for that matter that take risks and really go for things completely outside of the box.
As we said before, we loved your execution of the film. Can you us and the fans at home a little glimpse into the process of actually making the movie?
Thanks! The feasibility of the story really came to life prior to shooting. A buddy of mine is a minor celebrity in Sweden and before I wrote the script I took a trip out one summer to hang out with him. I figured I would take my camera and see how much I could get away with while shooting complete strangers. We basically went on a 2-week bender throughout the country, getting into fucked up situations with my camera in tow the whole time. The results exceeded my expectations. While some were hesitant in the beginning, the camera quickly became part of my body to them and if anything they behaved in a more extreme way than they probably would have if the camera hadn’t been there. I wanted to really learn how to shoot things to make people comfortable, how to sneak shots, how people behaved with a camera when they were drunk, how they behaved when they were on coke, what was realistic, and what wasn’t, so when the film was made it would have a base in reality. I knew if I shot people I knew or had mutual acquaintances with in NYC that when they sobered up the next morning I would have issues, so going to another country to do this gave me a lot of freedom.
As for the shoot we did a lot to make sure that the performances were as genuine as possible. On our first night of shooting we actually shot the whole film from start to finish. I knew it was going to be rough, but I wanted a blueprint to work from for the rest of the shoot. I also wanted the cast to really feel what going through a night like this would be like so that they could pull from that experience in later shoots.
We also made sure to have the main cast bond as much as possible before the shoot even started, while making sure Jackie really felt like an outsider. The main cast spent a lot of time going out to social functions together, sometimes in character, while the actress that played Jackie was excluded. Even during rehearsals, she would come late, leave early, and the whole cast was informed not to greet her or say goodbye. The lack of comfort between her and everyone else was one of the things I felt would be the difference between the film looking legitimate or fake.
Well, I wouldn't say eerie or coincidental but some events similar to those I talked about in the letter have occurred since as well, even though we have stayed away from speaking about them publicly.
So what's next for Justin Cole? New projects or anything we can look forward to?
For sure. Me and my partner in crime are actually heading out to Sundance this weekend to discuss a potential opportunity. It's outside the Found Footage and Horror genres but certainly unique, and it pushes the envelope a bit further than "Upper" did.
Great! I don't doubt that we'll be seeing more of you in the near future. An independent filmmaker doesn't make quite the stir that you did without following it up with something equally as brilliant and HOPEFULLY... Just as shocking!
UPPER FOOTAGE IS AVAILABLE NOW IN SELECT THEATERS AND STREAMING ON VIMEO on demand!
L.A. Gore has been writing professionally for many years, with his articles appearing in numerous publications including Bibliotheca Alexandria, Waters of Life, Pangaia, Witches and Pagans, Playgrounds and The Circle. He has spent most of his life studying ancient and modern religion, and most of his work thus far represents his findings. He is a self-proclaimed horror movie fanatic, with over four hundred in his personal collection. A few of his personal favorites are Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Phantasm, Suspiria, Return of the Living Dead and Dead Alive.