Any aspiring filmmaker knows that the film industry is an unforgiving one. Financial- and distribution-related woes inevitably weigh down even the purest of passion projects. Even if the film manages to wring itself through the logistical nightmare, it will be splayed out to the saturated market to be torn apart by the circling critics. Under this spotlight is Taylor Richard’s directing debut, “The Final Project,” in which a group of college students investigates the paranormal activity of a historic plantation in Louisiana.
“The Final Project” marries a Lovecraftian South with the found footage aesthetic. Unfortunately, found footage is the low-hanging fruit for pundits, who are quick to challenge the genre’s apparent contradictions. The form begs the audience to suspend their moment of disbelief yet consistently breaks the rules of cinema by drawing attention to it. As a practical challenge, its cost effectiveness and handle to the horror element make it an attractive but crowded arena for many student filmmakers. Despite its current reputation as a hackneyed trope, it has its roots in experimental filmmaking. The frequent reminders of self-awareness and the use of the shaky-cam effect lead critics to dismiss its excessive impulses. However, found footage is really an exercise in restraint — restraint in that it calls for the director to relinquish creative control such as lighting. It is a hard ball to juggle, as the trade-off for a believable illusion is a filmmaker’s apparent skills. Ri’chard shares his experience with the genre and its difficulties.
“This will be my one and only found footage film; I had a great time with it,” Ri'chard said. “But it’s time for me to move on to something different and to show my directing talent in a different way.”
Micro-budget films can serve to fill in where Hollywood misses. Especially in light of the “Oscars So White” controversy, “The Final Project” reflects timeliness with its diverse cast of characters. Notably, Arin Jones plays one of the people of color in the ensemble and carries a worthy performance. Ri’chard discussed the importance of diversity in his vision.
“What I bring to the table is diversity,” Ri’chard said. “Diversity will be my driving factor because I want everyone to take part of what I’m creating.”
The film industry is a cutthroat business, and in that regard, like any enterprise. College students can especially relate to the Sisyphean struggle a first-time director experiences. Just putting oneself “out there” feels like an immeasurable task. And even so, sometimes effort does not correlate with reception.
“The Final Project” had its limited release on Feb. 12 and will be widely released on March 4.