Editor’s Note: The Final Project is currently playing in NY/LA. It opens today at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, OH.
In a genre that is tragically bereft of African-American writers and directors, Taylor Ri’chard is well on his way to marking his territory as a prominent voice in the horror community. After working as a production assistant on HBO’s Oscar-winning doc Murder on a Sunday Morning, Ri’chard served as a producer for TV magazine “Where’s the Music?” in New Orleans, then moved to Atlanta to direct sketch comedy spoofs. Most recently, Ri’chard founded 3rd Fathom Entertainment, an independent film production company based in Atlanta. The Final Project marks not only Richard’s directorial debut, but the production company’s first outing as well.
Set in Louisiana, The Final Project follows a group of high school students as they film a documentary at the Lafitte Plantation, a an allegedly haunted Civil War landmark. Ri’chard is an avid fan of the found footage genre, using a combination of handheld and Go-Pro cameras to make for as immersive and realistic an experience as possible.
“What I love about the genre is, to simply put it, FUN,” Ri’chard gushed. “I enjoy the creativity and the break from the normal narrative horror stories that you see. Let’s be honest. There are hundreds of slasher horror movies, so with this genre you get to experience something different from the norm. It’s too bad that some people don’t allow the genre to manifest and accept it for what it is.”
One need look no further than the film’s title to see the influence of The Blair Witch Project on The Final Project. Ri’chard was certainly influenced by the 1999 game-changer, but he was keen to bring his own voice and personal touch to the genre.
“In my mind, especially in the beginning, I thought of The Final Project almost as a re-imagining of The Blair Witch Project,” Ri’chard acknowledged. “I wanted the raw and natural lights that Blair Witch provided as well as the authentic narrative. But somewhere along the process The Final Project became artistically very different from The Blair Witch. I think while we were able to pay tribute to The Blair Witch in our conceptualization of The Final Project, we are a very different movie. For one instance, The Blair Witch was about implied events, where The Final Project has actual visuals. For me The Blair Witch served as a template for what I wanted the movie the look like, but The Final Project doesn’t share many similarities with The Blair Witch outside of that.”
Despite pressures of a tight shooting schedule, Ri’chard’s remained focused on bringing his story to life.
“Believe it or not, I’m actually buried in every scene. It was very personal for me, and I wanted to make sure that I was watching and coaching the development process piece by piece. There were no storyboards, but we were able to conduct enough rehearsals to help the actors develop a good personality for the roles. They did have some freedom to ad lib and handle the camera to ad to the realism of the film.
Although he is passionately immersed in the filmmaking process, Ri’chard wasn’t always doing his dream job.