Gregory Plotkin is an experienced horror editor and director whose new film Crimson stars one of YouTube's biggest gamers.
If you like horror, it's almost certain that you've enjoyed Greg Plotkin's work. He cut Get Out, Happy Death Day, and Paranormal Activity films 2 through 5. He also directed Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Hell Fest.
This Halloween, he's branching out into something a little different.
His new film, Crimson, stars a member of the hugely successful professional esports organization, FaZe Clan. In the film, FaZe Rug (AKA Brian Awadis) moves into a brand-new dream home but soon finds that his neighborhood is not that friendly.
Plotkin spoke to No Film School ahead of the film's release, sharing his tips for building tension through editing, how being an editor helps him direct, and more. Check out the film's trailer, then dig into his knowledge below!
How editing experience helps
Plotkin has not only worked in horror. He also edited films like Game Night, a fast-paced action/comedy. Does having the mindset of an editor help him approach a project as a director? He thinks yes.
"It helps me in that I always feel confident how the material is going to cut together," he said. "And with limited budgets and limited schedules, et cetera, it's always been comforting to know that I can move on and understand that I have what I'm supposed to get. I can really see the whole film in my head prior to shooting it, and actually, while I'm shooting it. So it helps me also pivot when I'm on set, when I find a good idea—which you always do, when an actor does something fun or the camera moves in a different way."
Sometimes directors approach work just trying to get the coverage done, which Plotkin understands. But he also likes to have a game plan.
"Sometimes you'll shoot a ton of different angles and a ton of different coverage and say, 'We'll figure it out the cut,' and I like to do that of course," he said. "But I definitely always have a good strong point of view within the scene, knowing that I got what I'm supposed to get. I think just like writer/directors are so successful, I've always tried to think, no one should be pigeonholed into one category in filmmaking and being creative. So we're all writing with images, if you will. And it's fun. It just gives me a better sense of the whole process, which is really nice."
Creating fresh horror
Crimson utilizes a found footage, unproduced shooting style that horror fans have come to know well. Plotkin was at home with this style, having worked extensively in the Paranormal Activity universe. But how do you keep this style fresh and exciting?
"I just think it's story," Plotkin said. "I think if you're engaged with your actors and characters with the story, then it's fun. It's a fun, immediate way to get information out to the audience. At the end of the day, sure, there's amazing cam work that that directors use, and so forth, but a drama is a drama. A comedy is a comedy. It's only fresh in that it's great subject matter, you connect with the audience in a certain way, and no matter how much fancy camera work you use in a traditionally shot film, if you're not connecting the story with the characters..."
This is a great point. No matter your genre or shooting style, if your story is solid, then the audience will connect with the work on multiple levels.
What about building that tension and creating dread? Horror, strangely enough, is like comedy. It's all about timing.
"I love the slow build," he said. "I think it's, first of all, set up. It's like a joke. If you set the joke up well, your punchline is going to work. If you set it up too long, it doesn't work. If you don't set it up long enough, again, it doesn't work. So I think horror is the same way. Introduce the dread, and then within a sequence, if you think a scare's coming, you think it's going come in about five seconds, I like to hold it to 10 seconds. Really make the audience wiggle a little bit and get more scared. I would subvert expectations, where you think there's going to be a jump scare, and then there's not, and then you turn around then the scare happens later."
Plotkin also likes to use quiet.
"I really like any jumps or any other scares to come out of silence if I can," he said. "So, again, where there's that lack of sound, the audience just kind of holds their breath with everyone else, and then boom, you get something loud to knock them out. So those seem to work pretty well. And it's just the timing. It really just, everyone has their own sort of inner clock on it. And I just like to play with the time and to try to wring the most out of it."
And, he says, everyone's timing is different. There are no hard and fast rules. We went on a slight tangent about Bong Joon-ho's film Parasite (a favorite of mine) and how the editing works in one pivotal scene.
"There's the great sequence where the family is underneath the table, and the family that owns the house comes in," he said. "And I thought the way that was cut and the way that it was put together—where they didn't cut and they just kept us in the scene—was so good. And it was one of those things where I was watching and went, 'Oh, I would have cut here.' And then I watched it again. I was like, 'Oh my God, no way would I have cut there.' The editor did a perfect job and the director did a perfect job. So again, it was fun to watch that and realize like, 'Oh, I may have to rethink how I do things because someone just did it so brilliantly.' It's fun to learn and fun to see different people try different things."
This was a film that got done quickly, despite the ongoing global pandemic. It was announced in August, shot in September, and is releasing this month. Plotkin said they had a 10-day shoot.
With the members of FaZe Clan not being trained performers, they had to approach the project in a slightly different way.
"Doing a film in 10 days is new to me," he said. "And totally crazy dealing with—and they were great—but they're not classically trained actors. So it was finding our rhythm as to how they like to work best, and how best to get the footage we needed. And also in COVID, with the testing and with the limited amount of crew on set and so forth, it was a challenge at every step. [We had] really good crew. Brian and Anthony [Jabro] and Noah [Rojas] and everyone else actor-wise was great in the film. Great support from my producers. But yeah, it was a challenge. I knew it going in, and I knew I wanted to try something new and challenge myself, and no days were easy. And hopefully within that 10-day period, we got something fun."
The cast and crew received the nasopharyngeal swab test periodically, along with the rapid test daily. Masks were required. The number of people on set was limited to those who had passed testing. No one got sick on the shoot.
"I think on any set, when it's COVID or anything, it's always safety first and I think everyone just really respected that it," he said. "It helped us get through it very well."
What about the actual shooting approach for the film? Since FaZe Rug so often makes his own vlogs, that was something that was integrated here, Plotkin said.
"I embraced Brian and the vlogging style more so than I typically would," he said. "I also embraced music and some other elements that I wouldn't have done in a traditional found footage film, to keep it a little bit familiar and to sort of freshen it up a little bit. Again, I think we created these rules on Paranormal, which were great, and they worked really well for that franchise, but it was fun here to try some new things and actually find that they worked pretty well."
The future of Hollywood
Crimson is a movie that is not following the traditional theatrical model. It's being distributed exclusively online. With this kind of approach, what does Plotkin think the future of Hollywood holds?
He said his own children tend to get a lot of their entertainment online from content creators like FaZe, and he thinks Hollywood is likely changed forever in the direction of online, small-screen viewing.
"I think good content rules the day," he said. "Good stories rule the day. So we may not always watch films in the theater, which is super sad to me, but we're still going to have great films, and there's still going to be great filmmakers and great storytellers. I see David Fincher's new film is coming out on Netflix. David Fincher could just film a blank wall and I'd watch it for hours. I just think he's phenomenal. So again, would I rather see a Fincher film in a theater? Yes. But am I excited to see it online? 100%, because most of us have great TVs and sound systems at home."
He pointed to Crimson as an example of how media is evolving.
"I think it's really going to be the start something for sort of the YouTube-Hollywood marriage," he said. "So I'm very excited."
The film is produced by Adam Goodman and Andrew Sugerman at Invisible Narratives, and Lee Trink and Nikhil Jayaram at FaZe Clan.
Pre-sale tickets for Crimson are available now on Inviz.tv ahead of the premiere on Oct. 29.