Horror filmmaker Frank Merle talks about his latest film, the found footage spookfest #FromJennifer, which is released later this month.
What was the pitch for the movie?
A struggling actress plans to make herself internet-famous by filming herself getting revenge against everyone who has wronged her. But like everything else in her life, it doesn’t go according to plan.
And if the trailer is anything to go by it would seem to be a dig at technology?
I’d say it’s more of a cautionary tale. There’s nothing wrong with technology itself, it gives humans more power. But that power can be used for good or for evil.
How hard is it to ground a horror film – especially one like this?
Grounding it is my specially. Grounding has nothing to do with the story. You can have a grounded story with dragons and spaceships, as long as the performances are believable. That’s all it takes to ground any genre, committed performances. I have a theater background, with classical training working with actors, so I know how to get good performances from my cast. Of course, it helps when they’re insanely talented.
And would you call it a straight-up horror or is it a mix of genres?
I would say that #FromJennifer defies genre labels. It’s very funny at times, very suspenseful at other times, but much of it is a social-commentary character-study. All of this, withing the found-footage style of storytelling.
Is there another movie you’d say your movie is reminiscent of?
George Romero’s “Diary of the Dead” uses a mix of first-person camerawork with YouTube videos and other found-footage technics to piece together a story in similar way. #FromJennifer doesn’t have any zombies though.
What about the story – any influences there? Maybe something you read about in the newspaper?
Yes! There’s a “revenge porn” element to the plot that came from a news story I read. I was outraged by the injustice of a high school teacher who was fired after her ex uploaded an intimate tape of them together. She didn’t do anything wrong, in fact, she was the victim, and yet she was punished for it. I found this shockingly unfair, and I thought it would make a good trigger for my main character’s decent into madness. Although I assume (and hope) the person this happened to in real life handled the situation better than Jennifer does.
How much did you go and learn about these types of incidents on Wikipedia and on Reddit before scripting?
I did enough research to get even angrier at the injustice of “revenge porn.” In most states, the way current laws on this subject work, as long as the person in the video was aware that it was being recorded at the time, it’s not illegal for their ex to upload or even profit from it, without their partner’s consent. I personally find this to be pretty messed up. The original script for #FromJennifer dealt with this legal stuff more, but a lot of that got cut because it wasn’t essential to establishing Jennifer’s outrage. The act of betrayal on the part of her ex was enough to set the story in motion.
What’s coming up for you?
I’m currently attached to three very exciting projects: I’ve written a farm-set slasher film with a meta-Scream vibe called Broken Oaks that I’m hoping to start filming soon. The other two are top secret because they involve very popular existing properties, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to announce those soon as well.