afflicted, afflicted movieeOne Films

Derek Lee and Clif Prowse never expected their feature debut "Afflicted" to take off quite like it has, with a successful debut at the Toronto Film Festival's Midnight Madness followed by wins for Best Horror Movie, Director and Screenplay at Austin's Fantastic Fest. With low expectations for their first-ever film, the Vancouver writer/directors did things like put their family, friends and real names in the film, along with their high school home movies. But now that the "supernatural documentary" (as they call it) has been enthusiastically embraced by horror fans both at home in Canada and abroad, the long-time friends don't regret a thing. Well, except maybe putting those home movies on the big screen.

"Afflicted" follows Lee and Prowse as the two jet off to Europe to fulfill Lee's bucket list by spending a year sightseeing abroad, and since they're both filmmakers, they bring a camera along to document the trip. But when a late-night hookup in Paris leaves Derek bloodied and with a mystery affliction, the two friends have to decide how to proceed as things deteriorate, and how far they're willing to go for one another.

With the inventive found footage horror film coming out in theatres, Moviefone Canada spoke to the "Afflicted" co-writers/directors/stars about feeling the love from genre fans, why the whole process felt a lot like making movies as kids, and how the response to their micro-budget feature debut continues to exceed their wildest expectations.

Interview Begins After Trailer

Moviefone Canada: You guys premiered at Midnight Madness in Toronto, then got a great reaction at Fantastic Fest in Austin. How have you been dealing with the overwhelming positive reaction from fans towards this film?
Derek Lee: Honestly, it's just been super gratifying. We spent three-and-a-half years working on this thing with a bunch of filmmaker friends of ours who came out to Europe and bled for us, wearing multiple hats, working 20 hours a day. And after all that work, it is such an amazing feeling to have the people that we are making this movie for, the genre fans, respond to it in that way. The people that like the film like the film for the reasons why we made the film. We wanted to reinvent the creature a little bit, we wanted to have fun with the found footage genre and it's just been amazing getting that response back. It's indescribable, really.

What do you think it says about horror fans that they're so willing not only to watch smaller, lower-budget indie films like this, but also to embrace them and champion them? You don't really see that same passion with other genres like comedy or drama.
Lee: I just think genre fans are extremely enthusiastic, and they love concepts. And if you can execute a great story within that genre, whether it costs $10,000 or $10,000,000, they will get behind you. They're also the most exacting fans in a way, too. Like, they know their films. There's a lot of big genre film fans that see hundreds and hundreds of these films, so they will look at the smallest detail and really hold your feet over the fire on that. But if you are able to execute, they will love you for it. And that's the love we've been receiving. When those fans come back to you and say, "We loved your movie," it means a lot.

Clif Prowse: I think horror films, especially small horror films with a weird idea, it's a safe environment to be weird. It isn't always OK to go against the stream and have weird thoughts and have dark thoughts. And whatever it is that binds all of us genre fans together, a small, indie, violent, scary, gory, weird, offbeat horror film is often a wonderful environment just to be weird, where it's OK to be weird. And I think that makes people cut loose and have fun.

Lee: People love an experience, particularly genre fans. They wanna go on a ride, they want to have the s--t scared out of them and feel like they survived something. And there's something that brings an audience together when you're experiencing that in a room in a really effective genre movie, and I think that's something that you don't necessarily get in other kinds of films, and that's something genre film fans really appreciate.

As far as I know, I don't think we've ever seen a horror movie travelogue before. How did that idea come about? Had you been actively looking for a feature you could make yourselves that you could star in?
Lee: [Laughs] Basically, we had done four short films and we were ready to do a feature, and we'd actually written a script, it was for just a monster of an action movie, a "Bourne Identity"-style international action thriller. And we just thought no one's going to give a couple guys who have never done anything tens of millions of dollars for their first feature. So we just went back to the drawing board and thought, what's a concept that we could do for an amount of money we could raise ourselves? And that's when we did this mash-up of a supernatural documentary. Once we mashed those two things together, we were like, wow, that's something that we think could be really fun for the audience.

Was there ever a debate about which of you would play the lead role?
Prowse: It's funny, Derek has been the lead actor in all of our short films heading into this one, so we knew at the beginning, OK, Derek is going to be playing the lead. But it wasn't until we came up with this concept of the supernatural documentary that we decided that I should be in the movie. And essentially that was a conceit to realism. We became obsessed with creating a sense of reality, so we thought, Derek, you're not just going to be the lead character, we're going to make this real, so you're going to play yourself. Let's take a genre movie and just drop it into your actual life. So Derek will be himself, Derek has a best friend who's going to go on the trip with him, that'll be me, all of our friends will play their friends, all of our family will play our families.

And hopefully what that does is, all the little details, all those photos and videos we have of ourselves as kids together, hopefully what it does is infuses the movie with a sense of reality that you couldn't get if you were trying to build fictional characters from scratch. So that's how I got involved. It was never a case of I was fighting for the lead role. I have a feeling that the extent of my ability to act is to play the role of Clif Prowse, and that's about it. [Laughs]

That bond really seems like it's the key to buying the whole idea of why these two would keep going and keep filming, which can be a big problem in a lot of found footage movies.
Lee: Absolutely. We were very conscious of that. Arguably, it happens in our film too -- we're not pretending like we're immune to it -- but every found footage film has that moment of like, "You're about to die, put down the frickin' camera!" [Laughs] And if people don't buy into your reasons, then it kind of stretches plausibility, which is not a good thing for a found footage movie.

What's your collaborative process like? How do you split up the duties when it comes to directing? Is it easier with the found footage, since one of you is almost always behind the camera while the other is in front of it?
Lee: Yeah actually, that's exactly right. It's usually Clif holding the camera on me or vice versa. So often, what it'll be is just delivering lines for timing for the actor on camera, so that they can get their lines out with as much emotion as they can and then adjusting performances in additional audio recordings afterwards. It is an awkward process, but one that we got very, very comfortable with halfway through the first shoot.

We write together, but directing we sort of take turns based on who was holding the camera. When it got really tricky is when we're both in the scene, so then both directors are acting as actors, which means we shouldn't be judging each other as directors. And often times what that would mean is the process was simply do the scene four or five, six, seven times. Stop everything, go review, be as honest as we can, and then make adjustments and do it again. Because we can't be sitting there doing a take and going, "You know what? I think you should be better at this." Because that's going to break down the whole process.

Prowse: The other thing too is that we've been working together since we were 15, like, we learned how to make movies together. And when you're 15, everyone's writing it, everyone's directing it, you're handing the camera back and forth, everyone's acting in it. We evolved as filmmakers from that process and just continued on. So it's a very natural progression for us, and in many ways, this movie felt like a return to some of those tiny crew, everyone's doing everything roots of our filmmaking careers.

It must be pretty surreal to see that home video footage of you guys playing on the big-screen now.
Lee: Surreal-slash-incredibly embarrassing.

Prowse: Yeah, what were we thinking? [Laughs]

Lee: When we first set out to make this movie, we thought, oh, it'll go up online, it won't be a big deal, and hopefully we'll get a couple hundred thousand people to download it at some point over the next five years. Then when CBS and Sony and eOne picked up the film, we're like, "Oh God, that means our pimple-faced high school images are going to be plastered all over movie screens everywhere."

Do you regret using your real names as your character names at this point?
Lee: Um... I have a daughter now, so... [Laughs] There are elements to not putting our public life out in the world like that that probably would've made sense in the long run, but there's no part of this process where we were expecting to be where we are now. So it's hard to second-guess ourselves.

Prowse: Yeah, and I think conceptually, we're still very much behind it. It is very much grounded in who we are. So even though it's a genre movie, it's actually very personal. And I think that's one of the strengths of the film. The thing that's interesting, that we never really realized, is normally when you're a director, I mean, how many people know what Denis Villeneuve looks like? Or even Alfonso Cuarón. But the difference is with us, our faces are plastered all over this movie. [Laughs] So people do recognize us coming out of the screenings as the directors, which is a weird result of having cast ourselves.

So what do you think you're more likely to do after this, another found footage movie, or another movie where you're lugging cameras and equipment up and down the hills of rural Italy?
Lee: [Laughs] Found footage was never really our natural habitat. We grew up loving "Desperado," Luc Besson and very cinematic films. So we would love to on our next project, which we're writing right now, get back to the really cinematic roots where we can get coverage, and multiple angles, and dolly track and soundtrack. We missed music being able to control pace and drive the movie forward. In fact, we were just talking to our editor about that this morning, we're very excited to get back to what got us into filmmaking in the first place.

"Afflicted" opens in limited release on April 4.