On March 13, 1997, several mysterious lights appeared over Phoenix. Three teens went into the desert shortly after the incident, hoping to document the strange events occurring in their town. They disappeared that night and were never seen again. Now, on the 20th anniversary of their disappearance, unseen footage has finally been discovered, chronicling the final hours of their fateful expedition.
As for her “found footage movie” goes, Phoenix Forgotten actress Florence Hartigan believes audiences will get a kick out of seeing one that mixed fact and fiction.
What part of the country do you call home?
I’m currently based in Los Angeles, CA.
Have you always been based there?
I was actually born in upstate New York but my parents are Irish so we lived there for a while before moving to New Zealand, which is where I spent the vast majority of my childhood.
Was the goal always to “be in the movies”?
Yeah, I knew at a very early age that this was what I wanted to do. I’ve always loved movies, and I’ve always loved performing, and I saw “Annie” at the age of four so that sealed the deal for me.
It’d seem to many that you’re some sort of “overnight success”, since you’ve seemingly come out of nowhere to co-lead a Ridley Scott production. But I doubt that’s true – it rarely is, right? Tell us about your journey up to this point?
I’ve been acting since I was a little kid, so I did a bunch of film and TV stuff in New Zealand before I moved out to LA, and this is the third feature I’ve done since being out here. I think you’re right – everyone I know who was an “overnight success” had usually been slogging away at it for years before they got their break! Though I did hear Ashton Kutcher actually just stepped off a bus and immediately got discovered, like on his first day. I’m not sure if that’s just a great rumor or actually true but regardless, it took slightly longer for me! I’m personally really grateful for all the experiences I’ve had in my career so far.
This is a found footage movie, right? Now did you find it harder to work on this, being that it’s supposed to be essentially a documentary, than a traditionally structured film?
There are definitely different parameters working on a found footage style film – you have to be very adaptable. The script changed as we went through every scene and there was a lot of improv. And as we would improv that would sometimes change the story for your character a little so you have to be able to embrace all that and still stay loose and grounded. There are actually real citizens of Phoenix we interview in this film, so that set the bar for our acting – to be able to blend in seamlessly with people just being themselves, while holding on to our characters and the story. And, as with a documentary, you build your story in the editing room, so as the film evolved in the editing process it meant we got to go back and shoot more stuff to fill in the story in its new iteration as we discovered new things. It was incredibly creatively rewarding to be part of an experience like that.
And just how many cameras, and what types, were they working with?
For my scenes there was usually just one which was great for my imagined reality where I’m playing someone actually making a documentary. For a lot of my scenes both in the story and in reality I’m interacting with my friend and cameraman, Jay. I’m not sure what kind of camera it was though I’m afraid!
We’d be remiss to ask, since you’re in one, but do you yourself enjoy scary movies?
I love scary movies! I have a really hard time with anything ghost-related, it takes me weeks to get over it, and I get totally scared of the dark and very wimpy, so I tend to avoid those. But I love a gory or a psychological one. A couple of my favorites from this year have been Ingrid Goes West and Get Out – both super solid and scary (I’d say Get Out is more of a traditional horror, Ingrid Goes West is more in the creepy psychological world) and both are full of social commentary done in really smart ways. I also love a comedy horror like pretty much all of Peter Jackson’s early stuff which was super gory but also had a great dark sense of humor to it, and Shaun of the Dead is one of my favorite films in general. What We do in the Shadows is another great horror/mockumentary/comedy… I could go on all day, shall I stop? I’ll stop!
What do you think audiences will get out of the film?
I hope people will enjoy that it’s a little bit of a different approach to a found footage movie – it blends fact and fiction in a cool way. The story uses a real UFO sighting as a jumping-off point, so as I said we interview real people and use real news footage from the time, as well as building a fictional narrative around it. Also I think if you like true crime there’s a mystery element to it which I really like, but also the film’s about a family that’s haunted by this unsolved mystery, so there’s this sad and emotionally grounded story at the heart of it which I think makes you care about the characters.
Phoenix Forgotten is available now on video.