Project X As Found Footage

Found Footage as a Phenomenon

Found Footage is a film making technique which results in a movie that comes across as casual (often amateur) recordings of events. The footage seems to have been made for one use but then found by an audience different from the intended one.

In October 2012, 3 hours of personal footage was reported to have been stolen from Justin Bieber. Soon rumours that an anonymous blogger had illegally uploaded the footage onto YouTube created a frenzy to a tune of 10.6 million views in 24 hours. A Vevo record at the time. Fans watched the conspicuous video. It starts with white text on a black screen describing the aforementioned theft. We then see Justin in the dark, adjusting the camera, before a swoosh takes us to another clip of him on the keys. A montage with music ensues as we head into a party and Nicki Minaj rhymes Bieberr with Selenir. Justin sings lyrics insinuating the world will end in 3012. 

The footage we see in Beauty And A Beat is comprised of 4 elements, Justin, Nicki, the extras and us. We are who Justin takes/hands the camera to. Passing a camera that we understand to be there, back and forth, with our point of view. We the audience are watching a music video in which we are an integral element. We are both spectator and participant due to this narrative that has been built. We 'fans on the hunt' are tricked into thinking we found something and then knowingly guided out of the shadows by Justin. This isn't just breaking the fourth wall, this is we are in the video. Us the fans, not just the wider audience, via the camera, are inside the video.

The video manipulates our knowledge of characteristics of recordings released without the consent of the subject to subdue our expectations. Actively foregoing the standard in support of a creative narrative. So what is the standard in Found Footage?

Project X, The Premise

Similar to the Bieber video, Project X opens with white text on a black screen. This time an apology is made towards the audience as well as a thank you to those who contributed footage to the film.

First on screen is Costa. He appears to be the instigator, employing a kid named Dex to document Costa as the main character at Costa's friend's birthday party. He walks backwards, takes a stance and grabs his crotch while greeting the audience. He speaks profanity in front of the birthday boy's mom. He opens the fridge only to call Thomas's dad a cheapskate. He rubs soap onto his toothbrush and lies on Thomas's bed with his shoes on. Thomas is Costa's friend and the birthday boy. He is turning 17. 

When we meet Thomas he acknowledges and talks to Dex like the person that Dex is. Contrasting Costa, who tends to talk to the camera that Dex is holding rather than including Dex as part of the group. Whenever Dex is cued to speak it is never by Costa. He would rather have Dex be like curtains on a rail, present but not addressed. We as the audience understand that though Costa is speaking straight into the camera he is not talking to us.

Dex, as the character who is carrying the camera, constructs the audience's point of view. Dex is not a stand in for the audience. Dex is a character on his own ,separate from the audience. For instance, Costa convinces his friends Thomas and JB (from here on referred to as the boys) to buy weed for the party. The boys visit a dealer who seems to be acquainted with Costa. Yet instead of going into the dealer's house with the boys, Dex remains outside, filming from a window. The shot jerks quickly to the side when the dealer turns to the window. Visually communicating the actions Dex takes to not be seen by the dealer. This instance lets us know that the dealer didn't want to be filmed, and that we, the audience, will only be able to see what Dex is able to show.

Last of the boys is JB, pun heavily intended. Costa likes to abuse JB. That’s pretty much it. JB tends to get dismissed by Costa. Thomas will hear him out all the while Costa's convincing Thomas that JB isn't worth listening to. Which brings me to this section of the essay:

The Boys, Interrupted

It is eluded in the 1st act that Costa is a new addition to the boys. Only he speaks like a Katt Williams impersonator, if Katt Williams sounded like Vanilla Ice. He claims to have been a teen-year-old player before moving to this town, and then blames the boys for his new found mediocrity. 

Thomas and JB both seem to have interests and friends outside of the boys. Both of them come across as well rounded personalities that wouldn't have had any trouble socially after high school. Heck, I even think they weren't as concerned with how they were perceived by their peers until Lucifer, Costa, I mean Costa showed up and told the only people who willingly befriended the new kid that they weren't shit, daily. Costa came with his slue of perverse ideas, force feeding them to Thomas and JB, and they swallowed. Costa is the antagonist, the villain. 

Costa seems to see Thomas's birthday as an opportunity to throw the party he wants to have. Thomas is shown to be made anxious by the idea of having dozens of people in his home.  Rightfully hesitant of the damage, theft and debauchery that may occur if too many people that he does not regularly associate with show up. What Thomas wanted was a game night with the boys. But calm and safe does not a big man on campus make. So after being chastised by Costa, Thomas finally agrees to let Costa invite no more than 50 people max. 

The Party

Though post release the movie did ignite a frenzy with regards to having unsupervised adolescent parties where copious amounts of debauchery take place, Project X's genesis was a real party. The movie itself is inspired by real events. 

Reportedly, in January of 2008, 500 people showed up at Corey Delaney house in Melbourne, Australia. Corey who was a high schooler at the time had posted on MySpace about his intentions to host a party while his parents were away on holiday. Party goers allegedly caused damaged that extended beyond Delaney's premises into several neighbours' homes. Police were called and they showed up with helicopters and dogs as depicted in the movie. Corey was charged with creating a public nuisance. After the incident, he was called onto a news station where he dared anyone to pay him to make their party as epic as his. 

The party in the movie occurs under similar circumstance. We are shown, through Dex's camera view, a slue of moments where Costa is promoting the party to everyone in school. He sends out mass texts during class and calls a radio station against Thomas's wishes. It is also mentioned that some attending the party read about it on Craigslist and it is insinuated that the boys had nothing to do with that particular post. Telling us that the initial technique to control the size of the party (only telling a few select people about it) has been forgone without a plan b. This fits quite well into the way the party itself is filmed. 

Until now we are guided through the events taking place by Dex being apart of them all. However the party itself grows out of control and too large for Dex to film everything. There were people in different rooms and outside the house, on an off Thomas's yard and beyond. So while we still get to see footage taken by Dex throughout the party there is now incorporation of what seems to be cellphone and sometimes GoPro footage taken by party goers themselves. This footage shows us the party from the perspective of the attendees. It is especially concentrated when the party has become a chaotic stressful situation. We jump from cellphone footage depicting harm being done by party attendees to Dex's camera footage of Thomas's reactions. The cellphone footage informing us of the stressors at play and Dex showing us how its affecting Thomas. I found this blend effective at creating tension. 

As the police get thrown into the mix reporters also show up. From news footage we are able to see the full extent of the havoc from the perspective of non-participating onlookers. From neighbours airing their grievances to the considerable resources it takes the police to disperse the party in the negatively toned news story. It is here where Thomas is painted as the sole proprietor who intentionally incited destruction in an otherwise quiet suburb.  

While Thomas's personal responsibility does come into play, I will say, I would've loved if Costa died at the party. Costa could've easily been written as a passing phase that JB and Thomas endure together. A lesson learned. Instead this parasite lives among them, he is one of the boys and his plan worked. I'm not saying this is bad writing. I'm saying I hate Costa. I actually quite like the writing.

The Greatness

Typically in a movie you have the main character, the protagonist we all root for and the villain, the antagonist we all hate. In the real life party that inspired this film Corey Delaney himself is the birthday boy, he himself posts about the party online and then goes on tv and ends up taking no responsibility. I believe the image that the general public had of Delaney after seeing him on the news was what inspired the creation of Costa for the movie version of the events. While this was inspired by Delaney's party he couldn't be portrayed as the main character. The perception of such a main character would be too negative to gravitate towards, support and relate to.

Thomas Kubb was written as that character the audience would root for. As you watch Thomas what you see is a person who had bad judgement and is now in over his head, surrendering to the water. Similarly JB was written to give us a common point of reference for Costa and Thomas. JB is a neutral character antagonised by Costa and supported by Thomas. Further emphasizing the contrast between Costa and Thomas.

The main cast is made up of unfamiliar faces. Each member of the main cast makes use of their real first names or a nickname derived from their real names. I imagine this was deliberately done to add a layer to this found footage style film. The characters are still approached as characters only cannon to the movie universe but with the same name as the actual actors. So you have a combination of these actors that you've probably never seen before using their real names in the movie and its shot as if some kids were vlogging. The writers do a good job at getting close to the uncanny valley without actually crossing into it. Miles Teller being one of the exceptions to this rule, playing a caricature of the real life version of himself.

Prior to the movie audiences could already identify vlogs made with cameras, cellphone footage and news footage. These three mediums are thus capitalized upon to provide us the boys', party attendees' and onlookers' perspectives. The end product comes across as a compilation beautifully assembled by Dex. I hope Costa paid him handsomely for the genius that is Project X.

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