Director of the controversial film The Upper Footage is a bit of an enigma. If you pull him up on IMBD you quickly find that you can't even put a face to the name, as his image is pixelated. He is a man of many talents and creating an air of mystery is just one of them. He recently agreed to speak with me in regard to his film, and the media that helped propel it to the forefront of celebrity news. For those of you who aren't in the know about this film let me give you a bit of background, as the mythology of the film is nearly as interesting as the film itself.
The mythology of the film really starting blowing up when Entertainment tonight picked up the footage, of the infamous night in question, that Justin had Intentionally leaked on YouTube. It was reported as a true story of affluent youth gone wrong. The story just continued to build upon itself from there, and if you take the time you can back track and see various street type interviews where starlets are asked about, or are denying claims that they are one of the girls on the leaked footage. The momentum grew as clips of the young ladies in question were being shown in the midst of illicit activities culminating in an apparent overdose. When it became time to premier the film, the crew went around and distributed missing pictures of Jackie, the "victim" of the night in question. The response was sharp with many accusing the film of using a death for entertainment, the premiering theater backed out at the last minute. The line between fiction and reality was now completely blurred.
Then there is also the story of the actress who plays Jackie in the film and her mothers possible role in the never ending struggles of this film. It has been alleged that the actress playing the role decided she no longer wanted to be associated with the film and that her mother (again allegedly) a Hollywood actress of at least some clout, has been able to manipulate some situations behind the scenes resulting in something akin to blacklisting of the film. Of course I have to make sure you understand this is alleged as Justin Cole nor his cast have yet come forward with any information regarding who this duo of possible bullies are.
Eventually with the questions continuing to swirl around the director and film, and many believing that the film was factual, Justin finally relented and addressed some issues with an open letter to Dread Central March 6th 2013. In it he explains that the film is in fact a work of fiction, he gives the story of the various allegations surrounding the actress playing Jackie and her mothers involvement in ongoing problems with various attempts for theater screening at the time, since then he hasn't said much, so it was quite a thrill to get the opportunity to chat with him about the film, the mythology and the media that helped drive it, almost a year later...
Your film is fantastically REAL, you achieved this several ways, which id like to explore today..
The premise of your film THE UPPER FOOTAGE could very well have been ripped from the headlines of any paper in America, this helps makes the film feel completely real. I was reminded of two cases in particular One being The Preppy Murder case of the 80s, and the other being the sentencing phase of the Karla Homolka case in the 90s, did these crimes or any others in particular help inspire the story?
The Preppy Murder case of the 80's is one that I am extremely familiar with, and that along with the more recent case of Jordan van Der Slout surely had an impact on the story. I always felt like the media sensationalism of these stories turned everyone involved into a character and took away from the horrific nature of the crimes. We never get to see these people at their worst, we hear the stories but visually all we ever see is them in their best attire heading into a court room. Never do we get to see them red-faced drunk, sweaty, coked up, making the decisions where their sexual gratification takes precedence over someone else’s life.
The film is brilliantly acted, its completely in the moment and feels organic, which once again helps instill the reality of the film, how were you able to keep things feeling so unscripted and honest?
Thank you. My goal when I set out to make the film was to make the most realistic found footage film ever made, and to do that I knew that I was going to have to use some unconventional methods to get the performances that I needed.
The plan all along was to use very long takes, which meant that everyone would have to always be on point because even a minor slip could ruin an otherwise perfect long take. To do this we did quite a bit of rehearsal along with some things to make sure all the relationships in the film had a basis in reality off screen.
I really worked on the group dynamic among the cast members, spending a lot of time going out together, sometimes in character, to build bonds that would show up on screen. I made sure to exclude the actress that played Jackie from all of this as I wanted to make sure that she felt out of place when she was around everyone, not just acting like she felt out of place. Even in rehearsals, she would only join us at the tail end and I made sure no one said hi to her when she walked in and when she left early no one said goodbye. I wanted her to feel as awkward as possible around the cast and I think that paid off. By the time we got to our final cut a lot of reality worked itself into the film that was not on the pages of the script.
Another thing that plays so brilliantly into the film, is the performance marketing you employed. Leaking footage of the night in question that was then picked up and reported on, reporters even going as far as guessing who the women on the footage may be. What if any backlash have you received from that?
Sure have. When some of the media outlets first found out that they were duped they did not take too kindly to it. We received quite a few profanity laced emails, which was fun. A couple sites who ran us as reel, jumped on the opportunity to give the film a bad review as soon as it was released, which was expected, while others have completely ignored it, acting as if they were never duped and never heard anything of it.
In some ways it has made getting the word out more difficult. A lot of outlets flat out refused to take our marketing dollars. We have also been duped into giving information that we probably shouldn’t have to some larger publications who promised us large pieces on the film and myself, that never came to be. But no complaints from me, as I did not expect to be welcomed with open arms after leaving them with egg on their faces.
You’ve mentioned previously the continuing issues regarding the actress playing Jackie (and her mother). How you tried to placate the parties by offering reshoots of scenes and eventually going so far as to just blur the actress' image thru the entire film to avoid further problems, all to no avail. For those unfamiliar can you please fill in the back story?
I don't want to go into too much detail on that whole situation. I have done my best not to say too much about it since my open letter a year back because the whole story reeks of the media sensationalism that we exploited to make the film in the first place. I wish I never even had to say a word about it but the circumstances around us didn’t make it possible without lying to our fan base whom have been insanely loyal to us for a long time.
As for blurring her face I have seen some places misconstrue that as something we did just to placate the actress, which is true in some respects but not the whole story.
We actually considering blurring all of the faces in the film at one point, but did not think it was fair to the actors involved. We played around with blurring all the characters individually and blurring Jackie was the option that made the most sense by far. Being that she was originally very excited to be a part of the film it was not something I felt was right to do, but when she later voiced her concerns I tossed the idea to her and she liked it.
It all worked out for the best because I had an idea of what her face being blurred would do to the audience, and it has had that effect along with many others that i did not foresee. It has be really interesting hearing peoples interpretation of that character.
In a film that takes the found footage genre as far as this one its seems a bit strange that the scene where Jackie is taken advantage of sexually by two of the male characters is not included especially since she is blurred throughout the film, can you tell us about why you chose to exclude that?
There is a bit that went into that decision but I am going to keep that one quiet for now.
The mystery continues even now around the film adding to the conversation the viewers have once they finish watching, your actors have remained anonymous, no one has outed the supposed trouble making actress that has cost you in various ways with the release of the film, even your picture on Imdb is pixelated, how have you managed to keep all theses facets under wraps?
Luck. We had everyone sign extensive non-disclosures but I was sure when everything came out people would start talking and things would start leaking out here and there but everyone has stayed silent which I couldn’t be happier with.
At one point shortly before viewing The Upper Footage I read somewhere that you had been taken in for questioning in regards to allegations that the film was believed to be an actual snuff film, and that you were asked to present a certain actress to a judge as evidence, is there any truth to this?, or is it an example of the mythology of the movie continuing to take on a life of its own?
No that one is not true at all but it’s pretty funny to hear that something like that is floating around out there. The mythology at first was created by us but looking back now there has been so many stories/rumors that have come out that leave us just scratching our heads. It truly has taken on a life of its own.
Speaking of the mythology of the film, you saw just how easy it was to create a fevered response to fake footage in the media. The shows that covered it thrive on celebrities lives, one minute convincing us to aspire to them and the very next tearing them down, exposing them for their very human failings, and the public cant seem to get enough of it, what do you think that says about our society on a whole?
I think it shows how much of our perception of life is based on what the media tells us, and seeing how a guy with a small team, no financial backing, and a few ideas was able to fool so many outlets into reporting a fake story, I think it should cause some pause before believing the next thing you read or see.
Personally it makes me wonder if there is any limit to what can be created by the media by those with unlimited funds and connections.
I have always been fascinated by conspiracies, and the psychology behind those who believe every conspiracy theory and those who don’t believe anything unless it is reported by a mainstream outlet. People act as if mainstream media reports something it’s fact, while having the knowledge that there are people out there with a lot of money and a lot of influence that profit greatly by making you think certain things. When you dive deeper into where all your information comes from you see that you have the illusion of different sources, but they are all owned by the same small group of people. Makes me wonder how much information out there is actually truthful.
Given what you know now, is there anything you would do differently with this project if you had the chance? And if so what and why?
For sure. As for the final product I wouldn't change a thing about it as I am extremely proud of what I was able to create and how people have responded to it. With that being said I have 10 times the knowledge that I had when I started this project so If I were to re-start it now in 2014, I would escape a lot of the trial and error and be much more efficient with my time. Also I still can't help but wonder if there were ways I could of pushed the media even further.
And finally can you tell us anything about current or future projects for you? And can we expect the same jaw dropping, envelope pushing type of sensibility or are you ready for tamer waters??
I am in the early stages of developing my next project now, and it is surely not any tamer. That’s actually one of the main reasons why I have been so aggressive with trying different distribution methods with this film as I would like to set some groundwork for myself in the future. We had a lot of people who were interested in distributing the film but wanted serious changes to be made. I heard everything from the characters were not likeable enough to that the film overall was “Too Real” which I took as a compliment. I actually did a more “marketable” cut and I absolutely hated it. I didn’t want a film that pandered to the audience and made these characters redeemable because they aren’t. I knew there was an audience out there for this film, with my cut, I just had to go prove it myself. Since our release we have had steady growth every week and now distributors who were not interested in this cut before are now contacting us again. I feel like when film is at its highest form that it is something that sticks with you and leads to conversation afterward. That’s what I strived to make when I made this, and that will be my goal with every film I make going forward, until I sell out and start my heroine addiction. Hopefully by then they will need a director for Transformers 37, and I'll be set.
Thank you so much for sharing your time and discussing your film with us. I have no doubt that it will continue to grow both its mythology and audience for many years to come. Its hard to imagine where you go from here, you've set the bar incredibly high for yourself, but I can definitely say I will most assuredly be anxiously awaiting...
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