You will be redirected back to your article in seconds
Back to IndieWire

How to Make a Found-Footage Horror Film That’s Actually Scary

How to Make a Found-Footage Horror Film That's Actually Scary

My director, writer and I broke into this film loving and analyzing separate pockets of the horror genre only to combine our insights into “Brew House.” But, even after spanning the vast subgenres, we recognized that decades of film history drew a list of genre tropes: girls will always trip and supernatural killers don’t have to run. “Clichés exist because people like them,” the film’s director John Sabatine would say.

READ MORE: How to Make a Low-Budget Horror Film (from “Insidious,” “Paranormal Activity” Producer)

“Brew House” began picking up welcomed, national recognition, reaching one third of its Kickstarter goal barely a week into its campaign (the campaign, which ends February 9, has already surpassed its $4,000 goal. Why did it stick out among the 654 film projects which launched in the same month?

The “Brew House” promotional video focused on a clear, simple description of our story and, more importantly, why this horror story was unique.

Scare tactics


Looking back at ’80s ground-layers, the ghost in the medicine cabinet mirror caught everyone off guard, at least for a while. As the horror timeline rolled from the late ’90s into the 2000s, a new subgenre of “found-footage” had some viewers calling the cops after watching “The Blair Witch Project” and mistakenly spotting the missing actors in the film’s local Maryland area. Following urban explorers into an abandoned distillery only to find the space active with residual dread, “Brew House”falls in this genre.

The introduction of realistic “found-footage” added a higher tier of terror, and brand new scare devices were born from this new format. Audience members soon learned to lean forward while watching quiet scenes like in “Paranormal Activity,” where a still, quiet bedroom was suddenly more nerve-racking than a fake-fog graveyard. A filmmaker’s goal here is to find unexpected ways to suspend your audience’s disbelief before giving them the scare they didn’t see coming.
Villain design


A gamut of monsters, ghosts and killers wear the very literal face of horror movies. The decision about how you want to present your monster is an important one. Sometimes, the answer is the unseen foe that may be a force on the wind or the possession of non-evil entities. Other faces are much more discernable: masks or mugs that were made to be memorable. Our film takes a middle ground on the monster front, building suspense to the final reveal, which, for either type, makes your monster that much more terrifying. We’d tell you about our villain, but we’d rather leave you in suspense… you can actually just go look at the official poster on Kickstarter to get an idea.

Reality that enhances your fantasy

Some supernatural films exist to transport viewers into unimaginable worlds. One of the most common ways to invite fear into the viewer’s mind is to show them something they can relate to. As the horror genre matured over the years, gothic vampire flicks began to be replaced by films inspired by urban legends or seemingly real accounts, like “The Amityville Horror.” The unintimidating, suburban setting of “Halloween” prompted viewers to look behind their own curtains for killers. 

“Brew House” is a story based on genuine and familiar settings. Before the first action slug was typed, historical, forgotten relics in the Pittsburgh area were scouted and chosen for the film, allowing us to write to our locations. The actual leftover artifacts and decaying paint jobs far exceeded extravagant and expensive art production and allowed the story and characters to become grounded in local culture. Dead birds, vintage cigarette poster-ads and dried out brew tanks: all-inclusive.

Lessons from a legacy

In creating the foundation for the film, our collective knowledge and tastes for horror were duly discussed and reflected in our script. It was helpful to pull from older films and understand what worked and what has become overused. We collected our favorite moments with the understanding that we had to save a slice of our focus for the…
Modernization of old hats

Horror has survived for a long time on repetition and redundancy. Surviving victims should be virgins, villains are best with bitter backstories, but steps towards innovation introduce new reasons for audiences to be afraid. Classically, the most passionate of horror filmmakers have contributed something new to the genre in some way.

“Brew House” will be the first found-footage film to be made in 4K with the recent release of the GoPro Hero4, the first action camera brand to exceed 1080p resolution at 24 frames per second. With the actors wearing the cameras, a forced first-person perspective means the audience will be put directly into the shoes of the characters; if they don’t get away, neither can the audience. The film also plays on modern themes of internet fame and the trappings of technology, speaking exclusively to an audience that grew up with YouTube.

As filmmakers, we tried to cover the basics: create characters that viewers care about, build lore and suspense and scare the ticket-holders in ways that exceed their expectations. 

Jess Paul and John Sabatine have produced cross-genre films and series together for the last two and a half years. Individually, Jess has starred in diverse roles and films including 2014 Sundance choice, “The Immaculate Reception” and John has performed various roles in major productions including production design and underwater camera. Learn more about Brew House on their Facebook page or participate in the Kickstarter campaign.

READ MORE: “Insidious” Producer Jason Blum on “Ouija,” His Low-Budget Model and Venturing into TV

This Article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit and tagged , , , ,