‘Compliance’ Director Kyle Mangione-Smith On Making A New Kind Of Found Footage Film


Every day there seems to be a new piece of surveillance tech released that increases, whether we know it or not, how closely we are all watched by countless invisible eyes. Such a horrific reality is the source of inspiration for filmmaker Kyle Mangione-Smith, who is currently running a Kickstarter for his feature film debut, Compliance. This is a new kind of found footage and Mangione-Smith wants to stretch the boundaries of what we think of as found footage.

In Compliance,

On the eve of a landmark deal for a major tech startup, they’re faced with a sexual assault controversy that threatens to become a PR disaster. As new hire Sam works to contain the fallout, it becomes clear that not all is as it seems. She quickly finds herself in a game of cat and mouse with a criminal organization taking aim at the company and their investors.

We spoke with Mangione-Smith about changing the found footage game, how Marble Hornets inspires him, and the difficulty of filming via surveillance cameras.

Dread Central: Can you tell me a little bit about your feature film debut that you are currently crowdfunding for called Compliance?

Kyle Mangione-Smith: It’s going to be a found footage horror film kind of revolving around the modern surveillance state and political paranoia. I’m trying to do something a little bit different with the genre than most of what I’ve seen in the past in that the majority of it’s going to be shot through surveillance cameras. But I guess I kind of wanted to just approach it where it’s not as much locked in on the one perspective of this person carrying a camera. It’s more thinking about how can you tell a story using all of these different cameras and modes of seeing things through modern technology that already exists in the world.

DC: I love that in your director statement on the Kickstarter page you talk about re-imagining found footage and drawing attention to the apparatus of found footage. This sounds like Compliance is really tapping into what I think found footage is so good for, which is discussing tech and seeing all the different ways you can tell stories.

KMS: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, there are a few other recent movies that I think do a similar thing to what I’m trying to do. Spree I think is a great example where it functionally is a found footage movie, but it’s more like this collage of all of these different images that are facilitated by the technology in this world. And I’m just really interested in the possibilities that approaching it from that perspective opens up. So yeah, that was the basis for this project.

DC: I’ve seen your short Annihilator, it screened as part of Unnamed Footage Festival last year. What has drawn you to found footage? Obviously, Annihilator is more of a hybrid, but there’s obviously an interest in you with digital horror and digital elements of horror. What inspired you to dig into this topic with your filmmaking?

KMS: I found footage horror since I was super young. I watched Marble Hornets as it was coming out, I think I got into it on entry 11 or 12 or something and watched the whole thing for years. So I’ve always been super into it. But I think also just, I’ve basically lived my entire life with some sort of presence on the internet, and that’s shaped so much of how I view the world. It’s a natural extension of my own experiences with these things. I mean with Annihilator, that explicitly is about the experience of being a teenager and getting into shit online that you really, really shouldn’t be looking at, and just how far down that rabbit hole can go.

I’m taking a similar approach in terms of the narrative with Compliance, where it is also utilizing that aesthetic of things that you can see online that you know really shouldn’t be watching and thinking about what our relationship with that experience is. How does it change how you understand a horrific event if you can actually see it happening on your laptop? That was why I gravitated towards that aesthetic and the ideas that I have with it.

DC: What about Compliance feels right for your first feature?

KMS: Part of it is the approach that I’m taking with the found footage slant, it’s just not something that I’ve ever seen done before. And I mean, purely part of it is I want to be able to get in on that before anyone else thinks to. But also, part of what I love about the genre is it’s one of the last really thriving areas where true underground DIY filmmaking can really excel. I don’t have a huge budget for this project. I’m doing the Kickstarter and I’m getting money from a few other places as well. But basically, it’s one of the few places where I think if you’re working on the budget that I’m working with, you can really still make something cool and expansive and new that people haven’t seen before. So yeah, that’s why this just makes sense for this point in my career.

DC: Cool. And I know that with Annihilator, it gets talks about snuff films and pushing boundaries in a lot of ways. Are you hoping to do the same thing with Compliance in terms of discomfort?

KMS: Yes, yes. There are two or three moments in particular that I think if I can execute them the way that I have in my head, they will really, really blow people’s minds, especially the climactic moment. It’s one of those things where, going back to what I was saying earlier, I’m trying to mimic the experience of seeing something really horrifying and haunting that you just stumbled upon online. And I do think if I can get everything to come together, how it’s supposed to, it will have that effect.

DC: Oh, that’s so exciting. Have you seen The Den?

KMS: Yes. Yes. I’m a big fan. That movie and Unfriended: Dark Web are two of the films that I think are close-ish to what I’m trying to do.

DC: But it’s interesting, we always have the perspective of one person whose eye we’re seeing through, but this is much more voyeuristic. It sounds like you’re going for the much more detached in a creepy kind of way.

KMS: Yeah, I mean, it definitely is going to have kind of that same atmosphere and some of the same narrative components as The Den or Unfriended: Dark Web, but it also goes in much different places that I don’t think either of those movies touches on at all. So if you’re into those two, I think you’ll probably really enjoy what I’m making.

DC: Hell yeah. You mentioned Marble Hornets. Do you remember any of the other found footage movies you watched when you were younger?

KMS: Yeah, I think I saw The Blair Witch Project for the first time when I was 11 or something. I mean, speaking of being an internet native, I basically figured out how to watch horror movies online before my parents were okay with me doing that

DC: Big same. You’re like, but why is the computer running slow? I’m like, I have no idea. I definitely did not accidentally probably download malware onto it going onto a sketchy website.

KMS: Of course. But yeah, so I saw that when I was 11 or something. [REC] was another one that is still one of my favorite movies. Also a big point of inspiration for me, just in terms of the pacing of it and the atmosphere. I tried to do a similar thing both in this project and with Annihilator that [REC] does, where it just does not give you a second to breathe ever. From the moment that it really starts going, it just holds you by the throat. It feels like a panic attack for 70 times.

DC: It totally does. And yet I love it so much. I love it when a movie feels like a panic attack. What’s wrong with me?

KMS: Yeah. I feel like a lot of the time I’m just trying to make movies that feel like having an extended panic attack.

DC: The vibes with all of the materials you’ve made, especially that teaser video, are just so spot on.

KMS: It’s cool actually. I mean, that video worked out well for the campaign. I spent a super long time experimenting with a bunch of different methods of how we would go about shooting it, because it was really important to me that if I’m going to make it so the whole thing is staged through security cameras, I want it to actually look like security cameras. So that in part was just a camera test to figure out, “All right, can we pull this look off the way it’s supposed to look?” Which I think it came out great.

DC: What kind of cameras did you use then?

KMS: There are a few shots in there that are actual security cameras, but it’s mostly shot on GoPros.

DC: Oh, cool.

KMS: So I’m going to shoot Compliance with a bunch of different cameras, partially on actual security cameras. But I just realized GoPros, they’re so easy to shoot with. I figured out that I could take that footage, and as long as the lens width and everything else and the placing look right, I can basically just run it through the analog processes that actual security cameras use after the fact and get that authentic look. So it’s taking that footage and then throwing it through an RCA cable, and then having an RCA sender and receiver, so you can introduce interference, and then recording that and sending it back to digital.

It really obscures the fact that it’s mostly just shot on GoPros. When I figured out I could do that, I was like, “All right, this really changes the game.”Originally I wanted to shoot it on actual security cameras, which we will do a little bit of, but the more I experimented with them, the more I realized it was completely impractical. It’s just the way they’re set up is not meant for how you would use a camera in production. They’re not set up so you can hit record and hit stop easily. They’re meant for you to set them up in one corner and just not fuck with them.

While Compliance is currently fully funded, you can still donate to the campaign, which runs until Saturday, March 9, 2024!



Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter