Project Almanac is a thoughtfully crafted found footage-style film that keeps its way-out time-travel premise grounded, thanks to authentic performances and well-composed visuals. We talked to director Dean Israelite, and he told us the secret of making a high-concept science fiction film feel realistic.
What's been going on all this time? You shot this so long ago.
Dean Israelite: We did. We shot it, we finished it, it was finished in February, ready for its release date on February 28th and I think the honest answer, what happened is that we started to preview the movie and it started to get really good test scores, and it seemed to connect with – especially the younger audience, teenagers, and the studio got very excited about it and they wanted to put more marketing power behind it so I think they said, 'Okay, time out for a second. Let's wait, get more materials together, be able to come to Comic-Con and let's sort of push it later,' and that's sort of what happened. That's why we're here [at Comic-Con].
I don't think this was on anybody's radar. To be doing Comic-Con and all this marketing, and hopefully the marketing push will happen in the fall, I don't think that was on anyone's radar when we were shooting it — and then we made the movie and it came together.
How was it going from being on set to editing? With found footage, you probably go in with a ton of material, so did anything crazy come out that you didn't expect?
Israelite: Yeah, we definitely found moments in footage that [make you say] "I'm so glad we shot that" — kind of sometimes when we're shooting it. [You think] "I don't really know why we're shooting it," but we had the time and I just thought to play with the actors and improv some stuff, and a lot of that stuff ended up saving us in interesting, cool ways, and you could use that footage and appropriate it and dig in to storylines that we hadn't fully executed properly in the script or the shooting, so all of that stuff helped.
I think, on the whole, a lot of the scenes though came together in the way that we conceived them. So a lot of the stuff, it was found footage, but it was stuff that was always storyboarded, that shot-for-shot is in the movie because we wanted to try and make it feel, on the one hand, very real and authentic, but on the other hand, inventive and imaginative — and that only comes from all this preparation that you do.
Have you seen anything in any other found footage movies lately that make you think, 'Wow, I'm glad I didn't do that?' I guess without throwing anything under the bus …
Israelite: I mean, look, we definitely break rules in this movie, but I hope in the best way possible where it's at times where you're into the story and are not really thinking about it. And of course there are gonna be moments where you go, 'Whoa! Who's shooting this right now,' and honestly, if that's what you're thinking, I think I lost you two scenes back and I didn't do my job there, so that's why you're having that question. My barometer was always [that] the editor would cut stuff together, if I was into the scene and I wasn't asking the question [about the rules being broken], then I was okay with it. It's gotta be about the story and the characters. Found footage to me is just part of a much bigger device to try to make it authentic, but there's a whole lot of other stuff you've got to do as well.