Happy Camp Starts Well Enough and Goes Down Hill To A Horrible Ending

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by Carrie Specht

Some ideas for a film start out pretty good and for some reason just turn into a great big disappointment when you actually put them onto the screen. That’s the case with Happy Camp. Although I am not a fan of the “found footage” genre, the film had a pretty good idea that seems to have begun with the premis of a group of twenty-somethings documenting a friend’s return to his creepy childhood town where hundreds of people (including his little brother) have over the years gone missing. But sadly, the concept mutates into a found footage horror film. Like the residents of the remote Northern California town where the story is set, the production of Happy Camp the movie went missing somewhere along the way and came to a horrible ending.

Happy-Camp-2014-620x320When I first read about the concept I actually believed it was a real documentary about a strange little place where there have been nearly as many people who have gone missing over the years as those who currently live there (missing people over twenty years: 627, current population: 1100). I suppose I didn’t read the press release closely enough, or the misdirection is a clever part of the promotional strategy. Either way, I was intrigued and continued to be until about ten minutes into the film. That’s when I began to suspect the worst, and by twenty minutes in I was certain that the plot that once had great possibilities was nothing more than another imitation of The Blair Witch Project with a supposedly clever twist. Unfortunately, it was a twist that I feared was going to be pretty feeble. You will feel the same way the moment the group of friends roll into town in their fully camera equipped RV and see a larger than life image of a local legend. I won’t ruin that moment of stunned disappointment for you by telling you exactly what that tribut is, but I literally scoffed and said out loud, “oh, please no”.

maxresdefault2Although the film becomes rather tiresome once you realize the direction it’s going, the cast is for the most part very likable with the exception of the girl who gets pretty annoying with her increasingly frequent use of the expletive, “guys”! And in case you’re wondering the dictionary definition of expletive is, “a word that contributes nothing to meaning but suggests the strength of feeling of the speaker”. In this case it made the girl, Annie sound like a college girl mad at her buddies during a drunken party.

I went into this film wanting to like it. However, Happy Camp did a very good job of removing that desire from me every step of the way. Most insulting to the viewer is the sudden ending that appears to be attempting a shocking twist that you’ll see coming a mile away. You’re going to be hoping that the film isn’t going there, but your hope will be in vain. And worst of all is a what seems to be tacked on last few minutes that for the first time introduces the concept that everything you watched was found footage. Duh! Add in the cliched cue music (for those sudden scares), and the illogically selective use of camera angles from supposedly constantly running cameras and you have a mess of a film that could have been so much more if only a little more effort had gone into it. Happy Camp is one to be missed.

Red Carpet Morning at the Oscars

by Carrie Specht

IMG_1643Today is an unusual day. Today is the day the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out Oscars for what they consider to be the best of the industry produced during the past year. Today was also the day I, and two of my production students spent the morning on the red carpet outside the Dolby Theatre shooting a segment for my site RetroSpecht.com. For most college students that’s an unusual morning.

That’s the two of them in the picture standing next to an oversized golden statue. They were acting as my crew as I oversaw my sister and her husband (that’s us in the next picture) as they reported on the tremendous impact Australian actors have had on the Oscars. That’s it that was our whole crew. That may seem small, but in actuality, most of the reporters populating the pre-show red carpet were either in pairs or by themselves pulling selfies with their iPhones and other portable cameras.

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Although it was early morning (we started at 5:30am ) there was a hive of activity happening all around us and it just got busier and more hectic as the morning went on. The feeling became palpable and an overall sense of excitement came over the entire area as the clock ticked closer and closer to the time where we were required to leave the area in order to make room for attendees, entourages, and the rest of the media hullabaloo.

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After driving into LA, finding a spot to drop our equipment and then park we spent an exciting two and a half hours getting the footage we needed. When we got to our spot just inside the entrance to the Dolby stairs it was notably busy, but by the time we finished there was a constant drone of sound tests, a steady rush of reporters whizzing by with hand held cameras talking about the famed Oscar staircase, and an automated recording blaring with information for attendees about which escalators to take to get to the Governor’s ball. It was an electrifying circus… and the real show hadn’t even started yet.

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Because our bit was to be a record segment to be edited with “B” roll pictures of the surrounding scenery we had to shoot many takes, or repeats of the same information. There was no way we were going to be able to control any of the action in the background, so we decided it was best to just go with whatever came our way. This included dealing with competing reporters standing so close we could pick them up on our microphones, and paparazzi helicopters circling above. It was rather impressive how our on air talent kept their composure through all of this. I think the Ugg boots helped. And a great big woolly jacket between takes. Of course our appropriately dressed reporter became so uncomfortable with the cold during part of the shoot that I stepped in as her double to hold the microphone during a close up on the interviewee. Sine the picture was framed in such a way that you couldn’t tell whether the original reporter was there or not, she took the opportunity to get warm, and I got my moment on the red carpet. It was an unseen moment , but it’s a step in the right direction.

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Unlike the on-air talent I was not dressed for camera. I never am. However, I noticed that most of the other camera crews were dressed to the nines with many members of the behind the scenes crew looking ready to jump in front of the lens at any time. I suppose this is  befitting of a red carpet event, and reflects a certain level of professionalism, but I think most of these people were either overly excited about being involved with the Oscars (even if only in a minor way) that they over-dressed, or they knew they were going to be interacting with the nominees as they arrived, so dressed for the occasion. We on the other hand had only limited passes that required us to leave by 11:00am. So we were never going to be anywhere near the stars.

IMG_1654No indeed, it wasn’t until hours later when we had already packed up our camera, had a good breakfast and driven back home that any of the night’s honorees had even stepped into their limos to head for the red carpet on which we had earlier been standing. But then this is only a first brush with Oscar for my two students. It’s entirely possible that they will have future opportunities to spend a greater amount of time on the red carpet, and in better outfits. It’s even possible that there will come a day when one of them will walk up the same tapestry without the need of a press pass before taking his seat as a nominee. And he will be calm and feel right at home. Because after all, it won’t be his first time at the Oscars.