Released this week on Blu-ray and DVD, the horror film Afflicted (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 86 minutes, R) centers on two buddies (Derek Lee and Clif Prowse playing a pseudo version of themselves) who attempt to capture their around the world trek documentary style. It’s a once in a lifetime shot for the pair, and although their initial excursion to Europe literally starts off with a bang (Derek has a one night stand with a stranger), things take a turn for the worse. Although Derek has his share of health problems, his recent sexual interlude leads to a physical transformation neither he nor Clif could image.
Although it’s a found footage feature, Afflicted doesn’t resort to the same easy tricks of the well worn genre. The scares don’t come from the quick cut edits but rather in the gradual pacing of the storyline and what’s actually not shown on screen. Since co-directors Lee and Prowse are lifelong friends, placing themselves as the leads gives Afflicted an intriguingly personal tone amidst all the thriller elements (luckily, both filmmakers are pretty decent actors as well).
During our interview, I asked the filmmakers about the challenges of making Afflicted, a flick which received a slew of awards at Austin’s Fantastic Fest. I really loved the film, so to make a long post even longer, here’s my Q&A with the Derek Lee and Clif Prowse.
Can you talk about bringing a human element to Afflicted amidst all the thriller/horror trappings?
Lee: Thank you for saying that because that’s really super important to us. We love doing genre movies. We love big fantasy, big action, big horror and all those things – but to us it all kind of falls flat unless you really identify with the characters. By its very nature, Afflicted was our way of saying, how do we make the vampire story incredibly personal and feel incredibly real?
The choice to go found footage, the choice to cast ourselves. To write a story on what it would be like for two buddies that you would go out drinking with (and witness them as they go) through this harrowing experience. If you didn’t connect with the main characters on a real human and visceral level with them, then why just make another vampire movie? We had no interest in doing that.
How hard was it to make a film on just $2-300,000 and still make it a visually arresting film?
Prowse: Basically when we conceived of the idea, we knew as first time filmmakers, we weren’t going to get access to millions of dollars. We wanted to come up with an idea that we could do for money that we could raise ourselves. Once we came up with the idea of a vampire documentary, we thought, ‘great.’ Conceptually, we’re taking something that’s fantastical and then throwing a realistic lens on it and that’s going to create a story that we hadn’t seen before.
Because of that documentary style, we could execute that for $2-300,000. And then we wanted to have a small crew, but that was fine because we wanted to be able to travel around and move quickly and get shots in places that a full size crew never could.
The found footage conceit meant that we were shooting our action sequences basically just from one camera angle and we could use a lot of tricks to imply external action to make things seem bigger. We also didn’t have to get coverage (laughs). Once we have it in that one frame, we moved on. In terms of the limitations, once we came up with the concept, there weren’t too many times when we felt limited.
Do you see a parallel with the story’s plotline (traveling around the world for a year) and your own filmmaking journey with Afflicted?
Prowse: We’ve been reflecting a lot, now that the journey is done, on what a unique experience making this movie was. It was basically a small group of filmmakers making this. A lot of the times there were only 7 to 10 people. A lot of filmmakers don’t get the chance to make their first feature film, but we got the chance and got to fly to Europe and do it. You’re learning how to make a feature film with a bunch of your friends while traveling through Italy and Spain and France. It really was a dream come true. When you’re making a movie there is so much logistical and thinking that goes into it, that you don’t get a chance to think back and say ‘wow, we’re actually making a film in Europe.’
Lee: The parallel makes sense. It’s a year around the world and making a movie are both incredible commitments that are filled with many highs and many lows and a lot of hard work and an insane amount of fun. You come out the other end a changed filmmaker. We are better filmmakers, better friends with our crew and our cast. We could not have asked for a cooler first feature experience.
It must have been great to win at Fantastic Fest, especially since horror audiences are a very discerning bunch.
Lee: That was exactly our trepidation going into Fantastic Fest and Midnight Madness in Toronto and Sitges out in Spain as well. We made this film that we thought, as you pointed out earlier, that was super personal, visceral, and fun for us. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to connect with everyone. It doesn’t mean it’s going to connect with people who love vampires and who love horror and probably watch ten times the number of horror films every year that Clif and I watch.
They are hardcore and will throw it back in your face if they didn’t like it. We thought that if we were lucky, we would get (something like) “hey not bad guys, great vampire film.” (But) to win Best Horror out of Fantastic Fest was a complete shock to the point where Clif and I left Austin before the awards ceremony because it hadn’t even occurred to us that we could win. We get this email (saying) “Where are you guys.” Well, we were in Vancouver, Canada. And they’re like “but you won the thing so you should come back and get your award.” It was a blindsiding but awesome experience to find out that we totally won this thing and were totally legitimized by people who really know what they’re talking about.
With easier access to digital cameras, are you seeing a new crop of filmmakers getting the chance to mount interesting films without having to worry about a big budget?
Lee: I think absolutely. We live in a really exciting time where – I mean we shot our entire movie on a Canon 5D, which is basically a $2500 camera, right? The visual polish of that camera – there is no barrier between having to convince the audience of “hey this is a real movie.” It looks very cinematic. We had a mobile editing station while we traveling throughout Europe and we were cutting the movie while we were on laptops. Your ability to create world class visuals and present that to the audience, the barrier to that is much, much lower now which is exciting because hopefully all that means is that it’s going to come down to your ability to tell good, compelling stories.
Prowse: I think the shift in the industry too where the middle ground film, the $10-50 million film, is a really rare beast these days. So you’re kind of either where we are, which is just starting and obscure and getting very little money, or you’re dealing with enough money to make whatever the hell you want because you’re making a $150 million where you can do everything in post (production) and CG.
There’s a whole bunch of filmmakers like us who grew up on Star Wars, The Matrix, Die Hard – these big movies that you can’t really make anymore so we have to find different access points. Smaller stories or clever stories in order to come back to the films we grew up on and got us to become filmmakers in the first place.
Where do you see your careers going forth post-Afflicted? Are you getting different offers for big budget films and are you taking in meetings for future projects?
Lee: We have been taking some of those meetings. We don’t know how legitimate they are (laughs). We don’t know if anyone is going to offer us a $150 million picture – but that would be nice to hear. We’re genre guys. We love horror. We love science fiction. We want to stay in that space for a while. It would take a pretty big push to get out of that space. I don’t Clif and I are necessarily thinking about what’s the budget – we’re thinking about what’s the right project and how much could we make it for. (Just) expanding our vocabulary and our relationship with our fans.
For our next film, one of the criteria is that we definitely don’t want to do a found footage film right away. We didn’t grow up on found footage. We’re naturally very cinematic – big soundtrack, big sound design. Everything you can’t use in found footage, we love. While it was really fun making Afflicted, we’re looking forward to proving ourselves with the non-found footage crowd. That to us, in and of itself, would be a goal for the next project.