An interview with Adrian Tofei, director of the most ambitious found footage film since Blair Witch, Be My Cat: A Film For Anne

A historical film that will change a genre

Next year will see the debut of a new found footage horror film called Be My Cat: A Film For Anne. This movie is historic for two reasons: 1. It is the first ever found footage film to come out of Romania and 2. It is the first ever found footage film with an entire cast of classically trained actors. I am lucky enough to be executive producer for this venture. But that just makes me one of the money guys. I only just got to see the finished movie a couple of weeks ago, having only been shown a couple of clips prior and having no creative control. But when I saw that writer/director/producer and star Adrian Tofei was looking for an executive producer, I couldn’t pass up a chance to be a part of history. So, now that the movie is complete but before it debuts at film festivals all over the world and then, hopefully, has a widespread theatrical release, I figured I’d have a talk with Adrian regarding what led up to this and what lies ahead.

John Lepper: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Adrian. You are the writer, director, and star of upcoming Romanian found footage film, Be My Cat: A Film For Anne. In your own words, how would you describe this film to potential viewers?

Adrian Tofei: Thank you, John, for inviting me!

Be My Cat: A Film for Anne is Romania’s first found footage horror movie. It’s in English because it’s main character deliberately uses only English and forces the other characters to use only English in order for him to achieve his goals towards actress Anne Hathaway. He becomes obsessed to make a movie with Anne after seeing her in The Dark Knight Rises. He tricks three Romanian actresses into thinking that he is a film director and shoots scenes from the movie that he wants to make with Anne in order to send them to her as proof of his filmmaking and acting skills, to convince her to come to Romania and play in his movie. The actresses are unaware of his goal towards Anne and think that they are making a genuine found footage movie. He records not only those scenes, but also the whole process of working with the actresses and his personal messages to Anne, going to shocking extremes in order to convince her that they are meant to change the world together. He is also playing the leading role in the found footage scenes that he is shooting – the role of a guy obsessed with a fictional actress played by the real actresses – and the line between reality and fiction starts to blur, with both devastating consequences and unexpected revelations.

Although it features some very disturbing scenes, the movie is not the “blood and gore” horror movie type. I remember that Eduardo Sanchez, one of The Blair Project creators, asked people not long ago in a Facebook group if they are not bored to see the same themes and stories repeating again and again in found footage films. Well, Be My Cat: A Film for Anne is that movie: a film with a story and a concept never before seen in any other found footage movie!

JL: Very well put. Now, as you said it is a very original concept. How did you come up with it? What inspired you?

AT: In 2012 I wrote a one-man-show called “The Monster”, a black comedy with horror and drama accents, also about a guy obsessed with an actress. I played, directed and produced it myself and went with it to a lot of Romanian theatre festivals where the audiences and the critics were ecstatic! I remember one incredible moment, at UNIDRAMA Festival, where everyone in the audiences was in tears and laughing at the same time at the end of the show! They even called me back again and again for another round of applauses, about 5 times! So, after that show I believe I realised that I definitely need to make a movie and play in it, to be seen by the whole world, not only by Romanian theatre audiences. The revelation came on the grounds of my lifelong huge passion for film! But the success of “The Monster” made me realise that I’m capable of doing the movie all by myself, that it’s time for me to make the step from moviegoer to moviemaker!

Be My Cat: A Film for Anne is not an adaptation of “The Monster”, but the character I play in Be My Cat has a lot of psychological traits in common with the character I played in “The Monster”.

JL: Very cool. Can you tell me a little bit more about your theatre back ground? What sort of training have you received?

AT: I studied Ion Cojar’s method acting in college under Professor Mircea Gheorghiu and then continued with a masters degree in drama/acting. I directed and produced three theatre shows and played in some others.

Ion Cojar is the pioneer of the Romanian method acting school. His method helped me a lot not only with my acting, but also to understand the found footage concept! Cojar struggled all his life to make that unique theatre show that would not look at all as a theatre show, where the audiences would find no elements whatsoever to indicate them that it’s a show and not a genuine life event, and this way they would totally empathise with what they will see and hear. I translated this into filmmaking and discovered the found footage concept, where the audiences, in order to fully empathise with what they are seeing and hearing, must not have the impression that they are watching a movie made by filmmaker and actors, but genuine events recorded by people like them that were part of those events! And I also used Ion Cojar’s method to achieve this, a method which demands actors and directors to create the circumstances in which the truth of life can occur, and the actor to go during filming through authentic psychologically-realistic processes that cannot be anticipated or consciously controlled, at the end of which he would be actually changed as a person, so that the audiences may be able to follow the lifelike processes, to understand and believe what they see and hear, to empathize with the actors.

For those interested in these professional details, I wrote a lot more about my revelations with Ion Cojar’s method and the found footage concept in my Found Footage Manifesto.

JL: That amazing, especially considering that when I ask most people what their biggest grievance is with the found footage genre is, one of the top answers is bad acting. Can you describe what it was like to film this movie using your method? What type of preparation went into it.?

AT: In 2013 I moved from Bucharest, Romania’s capital, to my home town of Radauti, with my mother, and began to live in character and experience some of the circumstances that surround this character’s life. He lives with his mother in a small Romanian town, raises money through an Indiegogo campaign, buys a video camera, makes an online casting call and selects the actresses by their pictures and videos, rents a pension and waits for the actresses to come. I also raised a part of the production budget through Indiegogo campaigns, selected the real actresses only by the pictures and videos they sent online, rented a pension and met the actresses for the first time at the filming location.

The movie’s script had only plot points that needed to be respected, with no lines, which needed to be improvised, because that’s real life: you never know what the other person will say or what you will say of what will happen until the exact moment when the words are being said and the events are happening.

All our words and actions in real life are the result of our goals, of our efforts to achieve our goals. We can achieve our goals only by interacting with other people, by changing something in the people with whom we interact in order to achieve our goals. But we are not aware of the other’s goals, so, when they have a goal towards us that is incompatible with our goal towards them, conflict arrises! So, months before they came to the filming location, I spoke with the actresses by email and on the phone and instruct them to select goals for their characters (the actresses that they are about to play in the movie), goals towards my character (the guy who pretends to be film director in the movie). I gave them a list of goals, but told them to select whichever they want, but keep the choice secret, only for themselves. I didn’t want to know their exact goals because that way genuine conflict could not be born during filming (conflict in character, between the director that I was playing and the actresses that they were playing, not between me and the real actresses).

The actresses also didn’t know much about what was about to happen at the shooting and also they knew very little about the movie’s plot. This was because I wanted to capture on camera their authentic reactions to new, surprising elements. No matter how great actor you are, I’s impossible to perfectly recreate an authentic reaction to something that should be new to your character, but it is not new to you as an actor because you read about it in the script or rehearsed it. That’s why the actresses didn’t knew a lot of plot elements, didn’t knew what I was about to say or do in character, and I also didn’t knew what they were about to say or do in character. But this wasn’t random improvisation! Their performances were directed by the goals they previously selected from my list and the plot’s key points! We also didn’t rehearse the scenes and didn’t take double shots, because the second ones would have never been authentic, the reactions would have never been authentic as in the first ones. We just shot a lot of footage and then I selected the best of it!

In order to clearly differentiate the fictional relation between the guy I was playing and the actresses they were playing and the real relation between me and the real actresses, I implemented this rule: whenever it’s the real me giving them instructions we speak Romanian, and when I switch to English then that’s the sign that it’s my character giving instructions to the actresses they are playing. The Romanian-English switch was the out-of-character versus in-character relation switch.

An this method of work reworded us big time! Because we actually went in character through authentic transformations during filming, we had real revelations in character! Two of them are the ones that my character has near the end of the movie; one of them was not scripted at all, it was just the result of creating the right circumstances for such a thing to happen! I needed almost a month after the shooting to wash those experiences from my soul.

JL: Not a lot of horror movies can claim such authenticity. So, lastly, what’s next? The movie is done. What happens now? What is left in the journey and what future plans do you have?

AT: I want a worldwide theatrical release! And for this I hope to be selected in some powerful film festivals like Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, SXSW, Toronto etc. and to be seen and bought by distributors! I have a list of almost 100 international film festivals worth submitting; it’s best to submit to as much as possible in order to secure the chances of being selected in at least some of them, because they all receive thousands of movies annually and the competition is very tight. I’ve launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for festival submission fees and also for the very expensive digital copies of the movie named DCPs that are needed when it gets selected to a festival. And I tale advantage of this interview to ask people to check out the campaign, check out the great perks that are offered there, like having your name forever written on the movie’s end credits and IMDb page, contribute with anything you can and make this happen!

I also have very serious plans for a sequel! I would love to shoot it in Los Angeles or New York! I even put a perk on the current Indiegogo campaign with a supporting role in the upcoming sequel!

JL: Fantastic! Well, thank you, Adrian, for taking the time to do this interview with me and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of this historic film. Is there anything further you would like to say before I go?

AT: Thank you, John, for the interview and for contributing to the making of this movie!

I’ve just remembered my acting bachelor’s degree graduation thesis back in 2010. Its title, translated into English, is “On the Way to Oscars”. That’s my dream! And I live my live by venturing into the unknown, taking risks and constantly checking if my day to day actions are aligned towards achieving my dream! This way of thinking, feeling and acting brought me from having nothing to having this movie and will sure bring me to the next level! So, advice to everyone out there having big dreams: think, feel and act day by day towards that dream, venture into the unknown, take risks and the dream will come true!

And there you have it! Stay tuned and, if you can, please contribute to our Indiegogo if you want to ensure a chance to see this film for yourselves. Every bit helps and we have all sorts of amazing perks! If you can’t contribute, please just share this article around and help us to build awareness. It’s free and takes 2 seconds of your time.

This isn’t just some movie made in the backyard to make a quick buck. As you can see, this is a film put together with passion. It is, quite simply, an artistic endeavor. Not a lot of horror movies can say that. This has the potential to put a genre sinking into the depths of thousands of Paranormal Activity rip offs back on its wheels and into brand new territory. This movie could do for found footage what Scream did for slasher films. Join me in helping this historical film get the release it deserves!

PS: for those not into art, the film also made Adrian’s mom cry and my parents were unable to sleep the night after viewing it. It’s artsy and disturbing!!!

Indiegogo Campaign

Official Website

Found Footage Manifesto

Official Facebook Page

Official IMDB Page

Official Twitter

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