The current found footage genre can be traced back to “The Blair Witch Project,” a 1999 thriller about student filmmakers exploring a terrifying legend. The shooting style and realistic acting by the “students” made people wonder if these poor kids actually met their final fate on film.
In the words of director Zoe Quist, “Raw Cut” is a film that turns that genre on its head. “It’s really like a Metafilm: it’s not as much found footage in the traditional sense,” Quist explained when reached by phone. “It’s a twist on the genre. It’s a neo-noir feature.”
Written by her husband Daniel Ponickly, the film, which premiered at the LA Femme Film Festival, follows four friends on a Wyoming weekend getaway. Adam (Ponickly) and his new love Stephanie (Quist) invite Amanda (C. Ashleigh Caldwell) and Adam’s long-time buddy Jack (Christopher Soren Kelly) to help make Stephanie’s thesis film.
Things start off well enough, but old feelings and secrets bubble to the surface as Stephanie captures everything through her camera lens. The shooting doesn’t quite go as one would hope, which is something the real-life crew experienced as well.
“Our producer fell down the mountain. We were literally hiking in the mountains of Wyoming, carrying all our grip and electric, the wardrobe and makeup,” Quist said. “A full crew like Sherpa’s going up this mountain. Our producer was helping out in sound, took a step too far back without looking, fell off the mountain, and had to go to the Emergency Room to get all sutured up.”
Finding the sweet spot in independent film-making
Even in the summer movie season, big budget productions don't always turn out so well. Ponickly talked about finding the “sweet spot” between budget and story that yields the best result.
“If someone gives you free reign to create a fantasy version of some story, you kind of get bogged down in all the freedom,” he said. “When you have a few restrictions, you can come up with something pretty interesting because you have to work within that paradigm
Ponickly said the idea for “Raw Cut” came from a discussion he had with the director over what assets they had to make a movie. “We have a friend who has this really beautiful cabin in Wyoming, and then we started crafting a story around that,” he explained. “In a way, it’s a tiny, low-budget film—and I am not ashamed to say that. But it’s a really, really well-made movie.”
Ponickly continued by saying horror films are Quist’s favorite because they are so much fun to make.
“Everyone has such a good time on them, no one is under the misconception that you are going to be battling Daniel Day-Lewis or Meryl Streep for an Oscar. People who are doing it, you get to have these really great emotional scenes with screaming, blood-curdling cries—and then [the director yells] ‘Cut!’ Then, you get to relax and laugh about it,” he explained.
Doing double-duty on “Raw Cut”
By playing two of the lead roles, the writer and director wore many hats during the production.
“It was intense for sure, a labor of love as they say. I wasn’t first choice for the film,” Quist offered. “I was going to hire someone else, and then we had to replace [the actress] at the Eleventh Hour. Since my origins are acting, I stepped in and was able to do it. That worked out well.”
Ponickly added that as a producer, he was worried about making the pages for a shooting day. As an actor, though, he wanted to get the best takes possible.
“We come from the school of if you’re going to make the thing, you’ve got to do it yourself, you’ve got to lead by example,” he said. “We wrote this film, we shot it ourselves, we’re acting in it. We are pitching it and selling it. Zoe’s mother came up to cook for us. This is like an in-family production. If we’re not doing it, no one else is going to do this for us, so we had to do it ourselves.”
Quist even said their composer, Toly Ramirez, wrote a memorable soundtrack, was almost too brilliant for them: “He wrote this Hitchcockian soundtrack. It’s beautiful.”