VOTD: Found Footage Sci-Fi Short 'Montauk,' Plus An Interview With The Director Charlie Kessler

Growing up, we all hear stories. Myths and rumors about our hometown and surrounding areas that probably aren't true. But... maybe one is. Maybe one was about an older kid at your school who did something crazy, or an old man who lives in the woods who may or may not be a killer, or a secret government facility one town over. Every town has its stories and director Charlie Kessler decided to make one a reality.

The result is Montauk, a six minute short film combining several different types of "found footage." The media cleverly overlap to tell a surprising story of a violent and horrible incident on the beaches of the Long Island community from which the film takes its name.

After the jump, check out the film and read our interview with the director for a few answers to pressing questions.

Here's Montauk, directed by Charlie Kessler.

Montauk from CHARLIE KESSLER on Vimeo./Film: Where did the original idea for Montauk begin? Is any of it based in reality? Are you from Long Island?

I did grow up on Long Island, I had spent a lot of time going out to Montauk. Was always fascinated with urban legends in general and specifically local folklore. So having loved the area, I especially got fascinated with one called The Montauk Project, which was a supposed set of highly classified government experiments in Camp Hero State Park out in Montauk. It's based on that, if it's real or not is certainly up for debate. If people on the site are curious, there's a ton of literature out there in print and online, a lot of which helped inform the events in the short.

How long did it take to shoot? How long did it take to complete? How much did it cost, if you don't mind saying?

It was shot over the course of a weekend. VFX and cutting took a couple months. It was a pretty smooth process overall, and I work in Film/TV production in New York, so I had a lot of help from some of my friends in the industry. All in, even with gas and food, it was basically very low four figures cost/budget wise.

The found footage genre is dangerously close to being overdone. Did you take that into consideration when choosing your medium?

I definitely had thought about how many found footage projects were starting to come out. But wanting to create something for a low cost, I felt I could use it to my advantage. I also felt since the film is supposed to serve as a mystery/tease for something more that the genre would work well with the subject manner. I also hadn't seen too many short films in the genre and that interested me as well.

The film employs multiple versions of "found footage:" news footage, home video and then street camera. Were they all shot differently or did you effect them each after?

Using multiple sources for found footage was something that I thought could be used to the advantage of trying to do something fresh in a genre that was starting to get oversaturated. More importantly, it felt right for the story and not just to do it for the sake of doing something that could be seen as different. We shot the film all with the same camera. The grainy image for the home video was done with VFX. A photographer friend shot the street camera sequence, a friend in graphic design created the street cam effect on the photos.

The film recently won an award at the Hamptons Film Festival, was that the only festival it was in? What others did you apply to? What thoughts do you have on that whole festival world and process?

I thought the Hamptons Film Festival was the ideal place to premiere the film, since the story takes place very close by. I was very grateful to have been selected, it's an awesome festival and gets a lot of great press. I did not want to try too many festivals partly due to my budget but also I thought being a found footage short film, online was the appropriate home for people that would appreciate a short like this. I wanted to at least premiere at a festival, and I was really happy that the Hamptons was able to be the one.

Currently the movie lives on Vimeo. Knowing short films are most likely going to be seen online these days, how did that change your approach to the movie?

I don't think online ever changed my approach to the movie. It was more that online was in the back of my mind from the early stages of making the movie. I feel it's becoming more and more the best place to maximize a short film's exposure, especially a genre piece.

I saw a URL in the middle of the movie, what's that about?

 I've always enjoyed viral marketing and since the film remains a mystery, I thought doing a little something viral would be a fun way to expand more on the history of the urban legend and tease more of where the story could expand too.

What's next for you and for this film? Will we see more of it?

I am actively developing a feature version of Montauk, which has a more traditional narrative story that mixes with different genres. I am also developing a few other projects including an adaptation of the book "Lapham Rising", I would like to not limit myself to a specific genre and look at all types of stories that I would find interesting to tell. Be it a found footage horror/sci-fi mystery project to a romantic comedy.


How did you guys go about doing the special effects?

A friend who is a VFX supervisor with an awesome company called The Molecule, advised me on how to get the floating woman sequence. It was pretty simple and straight forward, the actress (Kelly Deadmon) simply stood on a rotating wooden rig that was painted chroma green. The rig was gently pulled by fishing wire and she simply started doing the motion of bending back. Movie magic finished the rest! The rock that makes contact with the father's face was a cut/painted sponge.

Beyond what we see in the film, how much mythology did you create around the movie? Was there ever more to it?

There's certainly more too it and that is something that I want to expand upon in a feature version. The short is supposed to ultimately serve as a mystery/tease for something more. Mythology wise, if you ever research The Montauk Project, you'll find that it dealt with almost every cool sci-fi thing out there... psychic weapons, portals to other dimensions, time travel, etc. There were elements about the actual piece of land and it's history where it took place that intrigued me. Those things ultimately influenced me in creating some of my own mythology, but I definitely mixed that along with the more known/popular elements of the mythology that I mentioned.

Is there anything in the movie that we don't catch at first glance?

There is definitely an easter egg image or two... a photo of Stephen Talkhouse that was altered. He was the chief of the Montauk tribe. A reflection in the newsvan's window. Some of these things link back to the url that you noticed. There are some other cryptic like messages on the map with the url. There is definitely some dialogue that if you pay attention to connects with some things that happen in the film. Like the father and mother discussing night vision on the camera.

Thanks to Charlie, a longtime /Film reader, for the heads up about his short and congrats to him and his crew for the impressive work. What do you guys think of Montauk?