As we near the end of Found Footage Month here at Nightmare On Film Street, I felt it was appropriate to squeeze in one last interview on the subject. Jerome Cohen-Olivar has a few opinions on the film subgenre, and he worked them into the script of his latest film, the 16th Episode, a movie about three Youtubers who travel to Casablanca to film their most daring episode yet. As he explains below, Cohen-Olivar waited years to get financing and a director for his screenplay. Tired of waiting, he decided to do it himself, taking a new approach to the found footage format.
Chris Aitkens for Nightmare On Film Street: So you’ve worked as a producer, a director, or a writer, but for the 16th Episode, you worked as all three. Why did you not want anyone to produce or direct your script?
Jerôme Cohen-Olivar: It was a process that happened over time. It was more wanting to direct, than it was not wanting anyone else to direct. Sometimes, you just don’t have a choice. The process was a bit tedious because you have options and you have hopes that the movie’s going to get made and then it goes into development hell. At some point, you do a little math in your head and ask “why am I doing this?” Am I doing this for money? Obviously no. Am I doing this for fame? No. Am I doing this because I’m really passionate about what I do? The answer is yes. The movie went into development hell and I didn’t renew the option, so I ended up with my script and not much else. I went to some producers in Morocco. Fantastic guys, they had never produced an English language film before, but I told them what the movie was about and the backstory of behind the movie. And they went for it, and we made it with my own company in the US for a bit of money. And now it’s finally out there!
“Am I doing this for money? Obviously no. Am I doing this for fame? No. Am I doing this because I’m really passionate about what I do? The answer is yes.”
NOFS: You filmed in Morocco before. What’s your connection to the country?
JCO: I’m Moroccan, I grew up in Morocco. I was born in Paris, but I only lived there for four or five years before we moved to Morocco. My father was working in France temporarily. So I’m more connected to the Moroccan culture. And I learned about filmmaking in the streets, because there weren’t any schools. My dream was to come to America, but at the time, I didn’t think that filmmaking was an actual job, so I went into economics. It didn’t last long. I dropped out and ended up making movies.
NOFS: When you were shooting the 16th Episode, why did you choose to switch between handheld shaky cam and stable image?
JCO: That’s an interesting question. When Oren Peli optioned the script initially, it was supposed to be found footage. Then quickly, over the course of a couple years, the landscape for found footage films had become a little bit saturated. It was almost like shooting yourself in the foot if I were to make a found footage film, being an unknown. Even if Oren helped to do it, it still could have been a disaster, because sometimes you get all the publicity behind it, there’s still nobody to watch the movie. When I got the script back, what I immediately started to realize was that I wanted to combine objective filmmaking with the subjective. I knew it was a risk to combine the two because I was afraid that people would get immersed in the film, then be taken out, so I was afraid of losing the connection. Thankfully, it didn’t happen. I think the balance works pretty well. I never thought I was inventing a new kind of filmmaking or doing a new take on found footage. It just came very naturally. There are things you can’t show in found footage, no matter how creative you are. I didn’t know how to tell part of the story, especially after the middle of the movie, there’s a shift in points of view. How do you do that with found footage? You would have had to stay with the main characters, and I didn’t want that. I wanted to lose them for a moment, so they can exist even more when we come back to them.
NOFS: It makes me think of that scene when Cody [Heuer] and Einar [Kuusk] are hiding in the closet, and they talk about how found footage is dead. This past month, our website dedicated all of June to found footage films. Do you believe found footage is dead?
JCO: No, I don’t. That was a way to say I’m in deep shit with this movie. That was a way to deconstruct the found footage aspect. I don’t think it’s dead. I don’t think any genre is dead, it’s like saying Western is dead or musicals are dead. I believe it’s become more difficult because a lot has been done. And I think people are getting tired, not of found footage itself, but I think the quality has gone down because anyone with a camera or an iPhone can do make a found footage movie. I think this is both good and bad. Sometimes you don’t get the fresh quality that you had with the movies that were written with time and passion, like theBlair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, [REC]. All these movies were really thought out for a long time and you can feel the writing process in there. I love found footage. I want to see it anytime, if it grabs my attention and has good characters. There was one film that I thought was just hilarious and scary and frightening. It was Creep. I loved that movie and I loved the second one. It was a fresh take on found footage, by virtue of the characters and not the technique.
NOFS: Going back to what you said about how anyone with a camera can be a filmmaker now, how do you feel about the rise of internet content creators, like the characters in your movie?
JCO: I don’t know how it’s all going to end, if it ever does. I’m conflicted about it. I think there’s a lot of junk out there, and it’s sad, because I wish there were more stories. And you get submerged in all this content. Some of it is fantastic, but sometimes, you watch it for hours and wonder “why am I watching this?” We’re all in the same boat, I’m not going to pretend I don’t watch the bad stuff. I do. And my girlfriend does to. To answer your question, I hope it’s going to filter, and at some point, just as when digital came out, people like me were freaking out, time will do the work. Time will put all the bad stuff in the trash while all the good stuff will resurface and be displayed in the right type of platforms.
“..you get submerged in all this content. Some of it is fantastic, but sometimes, you watch it for hours and wonder “why am I watching this?”
NOFS: What’s next for the 16th Episode?
JCO: The movie is coming out on June 28th, in a limited amount of theatres and digital platforms. I hope it will do okay. But I have no idea what’s going to happen. I guess no one knows. I feel that some people will like it, hopefully a lot more people will like it. I’m not worried, I feel very confident, and the reason why is because I made this film the way I wanted to make it. There are very few moments in the film where I feel I should have done things differently. Whatever happens, it’s my voice.
The 16th Episodewill be released on June 28th, 2019, in theatres and VOD, through Gravitas Ventures. Share your thoughts on everything Found Footage with the Nightmare on Film Street community over on Twitter, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!