This weekend, Barry Levinson's disgustingly gelatinous eco-horror tale, "The Bay," will be unleashed in theaters and on iTunes. A cutting, inventive found-footage tale of a Fourth of July weekend that goes horribly wrong, we saw it at the New York Film Festival (where it was part of their inaugural crop of midnight movies) and pretty much loved it. The movie is all the more surprising for coming from the gentle, humanist creator of "Diner" and "Tin Men." We caught up with Levinson at this year's New York Comic Con and talked about what brought him to the found-footage horror genre, where film is headed, and what he thought of that gushing Vanity Fair piece on "Diner" from a few months ago.
Initially, the project started as a straight documentary about the Chesapeake Bay, a body of water that, the film points out, is now 40% dead. (Yikes.) Levinson realized that there was already a documentary on the subject, though, and feeling that he couldn't "necessarily improve upon it," changed course. "What stayed with me was all of these frightening facts," Levinson explained. "So I thought, well, storytelling, that's what I do, why not bring that into it…" He said that this line of thinking got him into a "sci-fi/sci-fact/eco-horror" thing that reminded him of the movies that played up timely social and political fears. "It's not unlike in the fifties, the scare of atomic energy unleashed," Levinson said. "You apply factual stuff to other things and create a piece of entertainment."
Levinson said that he wasn't looking to do a genre movie ("It didn't jump out at me") and even the found-footage aesthetic wasn't something that readily presented itself. Instead, it was born out of Levinson's desire to tell the most human version of the story, which is unsurprising given his oeuvre. "I was thinking about – this is the first time in history that in the midst of all this big stuff going on, you can find all of the small human behavior that was taking place," Levinson said. "So you can hear telephone conversations, people that were texting, people that were doing all these things – and we can find the small moments, which never would have been done before, against this catastrophic backdrop."
Capturing those moments, though, required a fair amount of research. Levinson said that the movie used "21 types of cameras, all of them consumer grade." He explained, "I didn't want to shoot with all these high-end cameras and have to degrade it later. We did all the tests earlier – what's the Google camera going to look like, what's the iPhone camera going to look like? Which was rather interesting to see the capabilities of those cameras." Levinson added, "I had a lot of fun in that."