Venturing into the THE OUTWATERS with Star/Director Robbie Banfitch

A deep dive into the genesis of the latest found footage phenomenon that hits Screambox today

Robbie Banfitch in The Outwaters. Photo Courtesy of Cinedigm.

The latest found footage phenomenon The Outwaters hits Screambox today after a solid festival run. I caught up with the film for my interview with its director/star Robbie Banfitch (He plays the cameraman) and I am here to say the film is worth the hype. The Outwaters starts off as a slow burn story of a group of friends going out to the desert to shoot a music video, and quickly turns into a blood soaked descent into madness. Robbie Banfitch not only utilizes that premise in a way that surprised me, but it felt more original and authentic than most of these films tend to. The characters were in the wilderness for a reason, they were interesting, and the film totally earns that big third act swing.

Afterwards I got a few moments to pick Robbie Banfitch’s brain about how he came to make The Outwaters and he also dropped some pretty big news about his next film, that shockingly is only a month away!

Everyone thinks found footage films are easy, but its the exactly the opposite, because you have to have a really good angle and there are so many rules to the genre. So when did you figure out how you were going to tackle this and figure out your angle into this story?

Robbie Banfitch: I’ve wanted to make a film, a found footage film specifically for a long time, and it took years for me. I didn’t want to do it unless I had an idea that excited me. After a few years, something clicked with the title. I came up with the title first and the title helped me find the story and I just kind of wrote everything around what I could actually accomplish by myself, with my friends, and a small group of people out in the middle of nowhere.

How did you approach this narrative? Was it scripted and shot listed beforehand or was it improvised?

Robbie Banfitch: Definitely shot listed with some experimentation and room to explore. It was scripted in the sense that I knew the main things that were gonna happen in the story and the trajectory of the story. I had most of it written down and in my head. But in terms of dialogue, not that scripted, I just knew certain things had to be said, but we didn’t write out dialogue for it.

I really appreciate the fact that you actually had a reason for the people to go out there, to shoot a music video and everything made sense to me. I have to commend you on that because it’s really hard to get a reason why people would go out to some secluded area nowadays without cell service for bad things to happen. But you covered that.

Robbie Banfitch: Thanks.

Yeah. That was part of the initial idea, like I don’t wanna make a found footage movie unless there’s a reason for the horror and it feels logical to me. I also wanted a logical reason for the camera to keep going, which some people seem to miss with that. But for me it’s pretty obvious why I’m still recording. It’s like a security blanket and I’m totally out of it. So I didn’t wanna make a found footage movie where I would be rolling my eyes being like, why are they still filming?

Robbie Banfitch & Angela Basolis in The Outwaters. Photo Courtesy of Cinedigm.

Well I mean, nowadays, you even had that murder with those influencers. So it makes sense. Like he would wanna document it otherwise, you know, all this stuff would’ve happened and nobody would’ve believed him?

Robbie Banfitch: Mm-hmm.

Speaking of going out into the wilderness for bad things to happen, how did you find the location, because we don’t usually see found footage in the desert?

Robbie Banfitch: Well, the first location that I wanted to go to, we got there and it was so windy that, we could not film there due to the sound. So I went to a Walmart and I asked the guy in the fishing section like, hey, where might be a place where there might be some wind cover and the Walmart guy like pointed me in a direction. So that’s how we found one of the main locations.

That’s great.

Robbie Banfitch: Thank you, Walmart.

Now with found footage there’s always rules? So did you find the rules helped your creative process or did you find they hampered it? There wasn’t anything I noticed that glaringly brought me out of the narrative that I was just like, oh yeah, that’s a cheat. But how was that for you as a filmmaker?

Robbie Banfitch: I believe I had even stricter rules than most found footage, that I gave myself. One was that the footage had to be found and not edited. So there had to be a logical press record, stop, press record point in each shot. Our elements can fuck with that. But I love the rules and I wanted to stick to them, diegetic music, everything’s being listened to in the background.

I followed the rules of Willow Creek, Bobcat Goldthwait made a found footage film and had a pretty strict set of rules. I listened to his audio commentary on that movie and kind of followed those rules, because I thought they were smart.

The Outwaters. Photo Courtesy of Cinedigm.

Were you always going to act and direct, and would you do that again?

Robbie Banfitch: I was always going to act in this case, because I knew I had to hold the camera and it was found footage. My next film, which I already shot once again, I’m in it, because I had to hold the camera and it’s found footage. It’s totally different, in vibes and story, the next one.

I don’t have aspirations to necessarily like be an actor though. So that was more out of necessity and just a practical thing,

Now I read another interview that said you went back and you shot some extra stuff during the festival run. Was that because you wanted to add something, or you realized you were missing something after the fact?

Robbie Banfitch: I’m a tinkerer.

Considering we had no deadline, it didn’t really cost much to make and there were no producers at the time.I just put the movie together and thought of new ideas. I’m like, Ooh, I want to try this or you know, I kept getting new ideas.

I just kept trying to make the movie better and due to the lack of deadline, it was possible to just continue shooting until it felt right. So the movie at this point feels 100% like I want it to be.

Were there any sort of like, happy accidents you had? Like something that you were like, oh, this could completely change the trajectory of the narrative?

Robbie Banfitch: Nothing that changed the trajectory of the narrative. The happiest accident was the donkeys. They were just there, (laughs), oh God, I can’t imagine the movie without the donkeys now. So that was the best. In terms of angles, I usually had the image in my head before I shot it. Although because of the total freedom of shooting found footage, I was able to shoot all kinds of things, in different ways and kind of pick, which I like.

So the donkeys were an accident? At my screening every time the donkeys would come up it would be just like, holy shit, these donkeys again. Like, what the hell? They were like oddly menacing, in a weird way.

Robbie Banfitch: Well we tried to get wild stallions, but they were hungover so the donkeys just kinda like showed up and luckily they had smoked weed so they were pretty chill and we to them.

Michelle May in The Outwaters. Photo Courtesy of Cinedigm

Also as a musician, I love how you also pair the visuals with a sonic assault on the senses, what goes through your mind when you’re architecting that soundscape to take us to those places?

Robbie Banfitch: That’s all experimentation and going through sound libraries and finding interesting things that I haven’t heard before and mixing different sounds. Originally I wasn’t planning on doing any kind of sound design other than the norm. But once I discovered that you can come up with anything, It was kind of like a kid in the candy store and I spent like two years playing with the sound because it was so fun and interesting to me and the possibilities were limitless.

I really dug the third act. I think it’s one of the most satisfying I’ve seen in a found footage film recently. You show enough, but there’s still plenty of room for interpretation. Was it difficult for you to decide what you’d show and what you’d leave to the imagination there? And was that always your end point?

Robbie Banfitch: The end was always the end.

In terms of leaving it open to interpretation, I had a very specific idea that I built everything around.But I did want there to be multiple (interpretations) since it’s set up as police footage. So in a way that the audience is supposed to be a detective trying to solve this. So I did have it organized and edited and placed in such a way that the audience could deduce different things and still not be wrong. That was interesting. I wouldn’t say difficult, but it was, it certainly required some playing around to make that happen.

Thank you so much for talking with me. I definitely look forward to your next film. If you’re gonna do found footage again, count me in, definitely.

Robbie Banfitch: It’ll be premiering at a festival in San Francisco next month, so.

Oh wow.

Robbie Banfitch: I was busy over the pandemic.

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