I am the most annoying person to watch a reality show with because I am constantly picking them apart. Like, "Oh, that was set up," or, "I know somebody who worked on that and that's not the way it really happened." It's impossible to watch a reality show with me, and lots of my other producer friends would say the same thing about themselves. It's like watching a magic show as a magician—they can see through every trick. Your suspension of disbelief is ruined. You don't want somebody to pull the curtain up and ruin the show. That's what I do: I'm a magic-killer.
But I love the found footage movies—I love Blair Witch—because they just put you in the mood to believe that it actually happened. Which is the fun of movie-going. When we went to see The Devil Inside, we actually had to go see it twice. The first time was opening night and it was so crowded we ended up in the front row. It took about 10 minutes into the movie before we were like, "There's no way we can watch this because of the camera movement." It's shot documentary-style, but it's shot badly—it's so jerky and there's so much focus-pulling going on that the front row was just not an option. So we left and came back to see it Sunday afternoon and had a better experience. I went to Catholic school, but I didn't even know how to read a Bible when I started there. But when I went home after the movie, I did say a Hail Mary before I went to sleep—just an extra layer of caution.
For the first 20 minutes of the movie, I was like, "Whoever is the DP of this film needs to be fired immediately because they can't hold a camera steady to save their lives." I know that's part of emotionally involving you in the whole film because it's supposed to be jarring and give you a reaction, but as soon as they brought the DP into the film as a character, I was like, "Well that's the guy I would fire." It was overdone. There were all these scenes where the focus was not correct. There'd be shots of the side of the girl's head for no reason and then it would zoom in on the priest. It was like, "Here's the side of the girl's head. We're not sure what we're filming, but hey! Look at those priests over there." I've worked on the crappiest of reality shows and there's no way that any of that is done—they edit that crap out. They were trying to make it look more real, but in reality shows, we make reality look better.
That found footage look, the "Oh! These people died and we just found this footage and put it together," it's not very believable. The people who make these films forget that who ever found the footage would have hired a real life editor to make it smoother. No one ever thinks about the person who splices everything from all of the cameras together. If you're going to make the DP a character, make the editor a character.
I would love to do a reality show about exorcisms—that would be amazing. I would watch a reality show on exorcisms for sure. I suppose you'd have to get a priest involved to see if the casting is legitimate. But even if it's not, it's a reality show—you're just going for the most compelling characters. Actually, part of finding the people to be on the show would be part of the process. You'd show all the crazies who are trying to act like they're possessed and then we'd find out if they're really possessed. There would be a lot of fakers. And then when we do find people who are actually possessed, we'll exorcise the demons at the end of the season. We couldn't do it at the end of each episode—I don't think there's that many people out there who are truly possessed.
Then the question is: how do you find the possessed people? Primarily on reality shows we use casting companies who have lots of outreach. They go to clubs if they're trying to find hot girls, they do email blasts to people who want to be actors and think that getting on a reality show is a good start. But if I'm working on a show and need to find an expert of sorts, I go to the Internet and I find interesting websites and I ask colleagues for recommendations. "Do you know any magicians?" things that like. The people I find on the Internet, I call them up and interview them and eventually we get on Skype to do more of a face-to-face interview.
I've met all kinds of people doing this job. Every day is different. I've met hot grandmothers who we want to give lap dances to young men. I've met paranormal experts, rappers, hypnotherapists, farmers, an array of pole dancers, strippers, erotic dancers and strip teasers, and Chad Ochocinco. That's what I like about it—you're always conversing with the craziest of people.
But to find my possessed person, I'd start by Googling "exorcist needed," or "seeking exorcism." Sounds like a personal ad. I'm actually working on a show right now dealing with a haunted hotel, so I've been working with a few paranormal experts to find out the story of the ghosts who are living in the hotel. They actually have a woman who channels the ghosts, they come inside her and speak. But I wouldn't say I've ever been scared doing my job. I'm usually around a lot of people, so that's kind of comforting. If I was doing an exorcism show and the girl jumped off the table, I'd be freaked out. But she'd probably attack someone else first.
Usually when we interview our subjects, there's a story producer sitting to the right of the camera prompting the questions. It might be safer to do it confessional-style like they did in The Devil Inside where you just basically give each person a camera and say, "At some point during the day, give us a diary of what you're thinking and feeling." Confessional just feels so cheesy—at some points during The Devil Inside, I felt like I was watching Big Brother. I personally like the interview style better because you can get more directed with the questions. I guess we could dress up the story producer in crucifixes to protect them.
Safety is important. I would definitely have a priest on hand the way you'd have a set medic on hand on any other set. In their kit would be holy water, extra robes for the rest of the crew to wear, candles, probably some kind of baby's blood, garlic. It would be a superhero kit to ward off anything supernatural: werewolves, demons, vampires. We've got to think of everything because you never know what's going to come out of these crazies. And I don't know who would insure you.
If instead I took over The Devil Inside, if that was a real documentary, for sure I would have fired the cinematographer. But I would have kept the girl in the cast. She was a little cheesy, but I liked her character. Her mother, I could swear she was actually possessed—she was creepy. And I definitely would have employed that weird, creepy nun with the blind eye way more often—she was underutilized. We need more creepy nuns. I can speak from my Catholic school experience that there's plenty of creepy nuns out there. If we had the Irish albino nuns from my high school, they'd definitely be in the movie.
I understand why the cameraman needed to be a character, but during the first part of the movie, I thought it was a little self-righteous when he started including himself. The whole production crew is meant to be these silent participants in film and television, and it just felt kind of conceited when he started showing his face and saying, "My opinion matters here, too." It made more sense when he came to be an active participant in the exorcisms, which you would be if you were a small crew. Although there was no participation from the audio mixer or the lighting crew where we also obviously there. If you're going to break the fourth wall and show the crew as being active participants who are hanging around while someone is getting exorcised, just break it completely and show everyone in the room. One person didn't make that film. And if you show the sound guy, that's one more person you could kill off—they're way more vulnerable. More victims!
The tension between the camera guy and the subjects was absolutely true. On reality shows, we're constantly walking a fine line between provoking our cast to be the most explosive characters they can be while trying to keep them from walking off set. At the end of the day, they do have that control: they can just walk away. If you don't have their trust then you don't have a show. It's almost like playing good cop-bad cop. You have some producers who really push them and try to get the most answers out of them, push them to go the furthest. And then you have another producer who they're close with who almost becomes like your buddy that you feel comfortable talking with. They'll be like, "Oh, this is just you and me talking—there's no cameras." You need the dual roles within a producing team to help you keep you cast controlled.
One thing that all reality producers have in common is the ability to talk to anybody, whether they be possessed or complete narcissists. If I walked into the room with a possessed person, I'd have to be able to start a conversation with them. Maybe I'd open with, "Hello. My name is Caitlin and I'm here to speak with all of you." Another thing is you have to be able to react to what is actually happening. You can only anticipate and plan a reality show so far, and then when you're actually filming, you're reacting to what's happening in the moment. The story is constantly changing and something you've planned might not make sense anymore if you're dealing with people passing out or not being as good of a character as you wished they would be. You have to focus and recreate what you planned on producing.
The film felt very scripted. Every beat felt like it went exactly where it was supposed to go, so that went contrary to the reality side of the film. Reality shows do a pretty good job of covering their tracks. Except that in the movie, it also seemed like all of a sudden this girl was living with these two priests, which came out of nowhere. If that was my documentary, I would have wanted more development time with those characters. And maybe a little more involvement on behalf of the Church.
But their camera set-ups were pretty good. The eye camera was great, the camera above the possessed girl in the basement was really cool. The car cameras were good—they set up the impending disaster in the car. It didn't tip me off at the beginning that it was overkill, but it was cool. And in that last scene where the camera guy, Michael, is now driving the car, at that point, it's no longer being filmed by the director of photography—it's being filmed by these cameras that are left in the car. That's cool because Michael is no longer in control. He's just now an active participant in this crazy situation trying to get his friend some help. That end scene was the best found footage in the movie—that was probably the highest point that my blood was boiling.
Which is why I was so pissed off at the ending. The ending sucked—even if that was the footage I ended up with, I don't think that showing people a website address at the end of the film would do any good. You need a fuller conclusion, another interview. Maybe the police at the site of the crash at the end. Some kind of follow-up. I was pissed to see a website address at the end of the film that said, "Go here for more information." F--k you! Give me my information now, I paid $10. We're so trained to need conclusions. I guess that's probably a fault of our own agendas, wanting closure with everything. But I guess in reality, that's not always true.