In news that sounds as if it was ripped straight out of some kind of Movie Mad Libs, Deadline is reporting that R&B singer John Legend has teamed up with rising screenwriter star John Swetnam to make the world’s first found footage dance film. The film will be titled Breaking Through and is described as “a documentary-style dance drama for the YouTube generation.” In addition to producing the film alongside Legend, Swetnam will also pen the feature and helm it, making it his feature directorial debut.
As random as the news may sound, Swetnam’s still-growing resume is actually evidence of his interest in both subgenres – he’s got a pair of found-footage-heavy features in the can (Evidence, which was based on his short of the same name, along with the natural disaster found footage feature Into the Storm, which arrives in August) and a dance film with a beloved pedigree on the way (he wrote the fifth Step Up film, Step Up: All In, which will hit theaters in July). If anyone can make a found footage dance film, Swetnam sure sounds like the right guy, and he’s certainly got the heat on his name to make it happen.
Also? It’s high time that found footage expanded out into other subgenres, and this new one (call it found FOOTage and then pretend I never said that) is just the next step in popcorn cinema progression.
Found footage films have long been confined to the more terror-driven side of cinema, with a bevy of horror films using the ol’ shaky-cam to tell their stories in seemingly more immediate and personal ways (and, no, it doesn’t always work). Although The Blair Witch Project wasn’t the first found footage film – not by a long shot – it is the most enduring modern example, and the one that inspired a thousand copycats over the years. The nineties and early aughts were studded with horror films, mysteries, and thrillers going the found footage route, with some seriously mixed results. But just as The Blair Witch Project kickstarted a trend, Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity franchise lit a damn fire underneath it.
There have been plenty of found footage films that contained terrifying elements, though they were not traditionally horror films – see something like Cloverfield, which is a monster movie told via found footage, or Trollhunter, which did basically the same thing (but with trolls!). Surprise hit Chronicle took it to a new level, using it to illuminate the darker side of superheroics (and, as the film centered on teens, the ease in which they used technology to document their lives was expected and obvious). Recently, found footage has moved into more sci-fi-tinged areas, with features like Apollo 18 and Europa Report taking the gimmick to space (which is, of course, totally scary anyway).
These kinds of progressions are, of course, totally natural and expected. Thrills and chills are well suited to the perceived personal touch of found footage, and as the subgenre evolves, it stands to reason that it will grow to include other kinds of scary films beyond just traditional horror outings. The found footage thing doesn’t have to stay stuck inside a haunted house (or some creepy woods), it can move elsewhere. And it is!
Swetnam’s Into the Storm takes found footage into the natural disaster genre, as the film centers on a tornado that overtakes a small town during a high school graduation ceremony. The film will reportedly be told from a variety of perspectives, with different characters using different devices to record the action – another natural progression of the genre, as new technology has moved it far beyond the “hey, we just so happened to have this camera!” conceit into the more believable realm of “hey, everyone has a camera attached to some other device now.”
Another new found footage film is also bound for the big screen soon – Dean Israelite’s Project Almanac (which was formerly titled Welcome to Yesterday), which chronicles a pack of teen friends as they start time traveling.
Found footage features ostensibly use the subgenre to tell stories with an immediacy and an eye to the kind of technology that is in use today (again, cameras in everything), but while that often means “scary stuff!,” it doesn’t have to. The ease in which people can capture things – yes, call it “the YouTube generation” – means that found footage doesn’t have to be limited to things that go bump in the night, it can also chronicle fun stuff, like booty-shaking competitions that just go bump all the time. Found footage dance films? It’s only natural.
Breaking Through is aiming to start shooting this summer, and will reportedly cast with an eye towards discovering fresh dance talent.