Production Insights for Be My Cat: A Film for Anne

Be My Cat: A Film for Anne is Adrian Țofei‘s first film and Romania’s first found footage horror movie.

Adrian Țofei: “My filmmaking method usually consists of working for months on an alternative psychological reality for the actors including myself, partially living in character, so that when we start improvising, I mainly need to record the unfolding events and to make sure the improvisation goes in the right direction. The script mostly consists of plot points. I shoot tens of hours of footage guerrilla style (25 hours for Be My Cat: A Film for Anne), and then I watch the footage like a documentary filmmaker would and I create the details of the story in post-production during the editing process. This method of filmmaking, combined with the mockumentary / found footage approach, leads to incredibly creative and realistic results in terms of both acting and storytelling, but it’s almost impossible to work in the system this way. Since there’s no traditional script, I have no traditional ways to convince investors and production companies to finance my films, other than the success of my previous works. Therefore I rely on crowdfunding and those who appreciate my films and trust my method.”

A year in advance before shooting the movie, director, producer, writer and lead actor Adrian Țofei moved to his hometown Rădăuți with his mother Dorina Țofei and began to experience some of the circumstances that surround his character’s life. The guy played by Adrian Țofei in the movie (who’s also named Adrian) lives with his mother in a small Romanian town, raises money through an Indiegogo campaign, makes an online casting call and selects the actresses by their pictures and videos, then rents a pension and waits for the actresses to come. For the psychological realism, Adrian Țofei also raised a part of the production budget through Indiegogo campaigns, selected the real actresses (who played the actresses in the movie) only by the pictures and videos they sent, rented a pension and met the actresses for the first time at the filming location. 

Director and star Adrian Țofei told actress Sonia Teodoriu to respect the indications that his character in the movie (the filmmaker) was going to give to her character (the actress) during improvisations. Therefore, when he asked her to reject him, she unexpectedly called the police for real in character while shooting one of the scenes, surprising Adrian both in and out of character. The policemen who came understood and just wrote a warning for calling the emergency number for no reason. The moments were caught on camera and some of them are in the movie.

All the movie’s credited cast members are professional actors. Adrian Țofei studied Ion Cojar‘s acting method.

One of the reasons why Adrian Țofei chose to make a horror movie was his theory that horror films put a mirror in front of the audiences, a mirror in which they see reflected their darkest and most violent subconscious impulses, and so they become aware of them and get to control them in real life, which is the reason why most horror fans are nonviolent persons, with a high level of consciousness.

This may be the first movie ever to be directed by one of its characters. Actor and director Adrian Țofei planned in detail all the circumstances of his character’s life, the way he lives, his psychology, his main goal in life, he assumed them, he experienced them over the course of one year and then fully plunged into his role during filming and directed the majority of the scenes while in character.

Adrian Țofei, who came from a background in method acting and theatre, partially improvised the movie in his hometown on a $10,000 budget as director, producer, writer, lead actor, cinematographer, editor and other roles usually done by a film crew, he never used a camera before in his life, had no crew present during shootings other than him and the actresses, partially lived in character, met the actresses for the first time in character with the camera on, and kept only first takes in the final cut.

There were no crew members during filming. Looking for authentic acting performances, director and star Adrian Țofei decided to shoot the movie alone with the actresses in order to create similar circumstances to those surrounding their characters in the movie. This also fit perfectly with the budgetary constraints.

Adrian Țofei worked over five years on the movie from the moment he came up with the title on December 6th, 2012, to the release by Terror Films on April 27th, 2018. He moved from Bucharest to his hometown Radauti, didn’t socialize and stayed at home all the time the first two years in order to live in character on one hand, and save money and concentrate only on the project on the other hand, working for hours each day and night, learning and applying at the same time all the aspects of filmmaking and film production. He suffered from anxiety for the first time in his life and hasn’t fully recovered since.

Actress Florentina Hariton gained 15 pounds (7 kg) for her role in the movie.

One of the found footage films that impressed and influenced Adrian Țofei the most was Exhibit A (2007). He proposed to Exhibit A‘s star Brittany Ashworth an essential role in Be My Cat, but she refused.

The character played by Adrian Țofei in the movie was developed by Adrian over the course of 5 years. It started as a 15 min monologue in a theatre-dance show in college, then Adrian transformed it into a full length 50 min one-man-show called The Monster, and then the character in The Monster ultimately ended up being adapted for the movie.

The actresses Sonia Teodoriu, Florentina Hariton and Alexandra Stroe play three actresses in the movie named Sonya, Flory and Alexandra. Furthermore, the actresses they play are playing another actress in the found footage scenes that the main character is shooting. And actor/filmmaker Adrian Țofei plays in the movie a guy named Adrian who pretends to be actor and filmmaker.

Adrian Țofei shot the movie in chronological order over a 20 days period, during which he lived in character for most of the time.

The film starts with the onscreen text “This film has been edited from the 25 hours of footage found at the ‘Be My Cat’ crime scene in Rădăuți, Romania, on May 20, 2014“. Adrian Țofei actually shot 25 hours of footage and finished shooting on May 20, 2014.

Almost all of the scenes in the movie are first takes. Adrian Țofei did multiple takes in the beginning, but then he realized that the first ones are always the most natural and authentic ones and decided to include only first takes in the final cut.

The laptop that Adrian Țofei holds in the scene with Florentina Hariton is the same one that he later used to edit the movie.

Director Adrian Țofei asked the actresses months in advance before shooting to see The Blair Witch Project and read his Found Footage Manifesto in order to understand the found footage concept.

Although it’s a Romanian movie, the spoken language is English because the main character deliberately uses English and demands from the other characters to use English in order to achieve his goal towards Anne Hathaway, who doesn’t speak Romanian.

Adrian Țofei became inspired to make the movie after the success of his one-man-show The Monster in 2012, also about a guy obsessed with an actress. The film was initially supposed to be an adaptation of The Monster, but as the project evolved, it became an original story and Adrian kept only some elements in his character’s psychology.

Adrian Țofei was very impressed by Anne Hathaway‘s performance in Les Miserables, and, considering that she also played the catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises and she’s a worldwide known celebrity, he decided to choose her as the object of his character’s obsession in the movie

In Be My Cat‘s initial concept, the character played by Adrian Țofei was rescuing a captive girl trafficked by a dangerous pimp and taking her into the attic of his mom’s house. The girl’s initial joy of being saved from the pimp was soon to be replaced by the shocking realisation that the guy who saved her is a psychopath who wants to turn her into his pet cat by implanting claws into her flesh and by other atrocities that he claims to do out of love, not realising the pain he’s causing. When the dangerous pimp finds Adrian’s house and comes to take the girl back, she’s faced with a huge dilemma: scream for help and risk being trafficked and raped in the Western EU, or stay with the romantic psycho who wants her to be his cat and live happily forever after in his attic. The confrontation between Adrian and the Pimp was going to change something in Adrian’s awareness and transform him into a sort of antihero. But during pre-production, the actor who was going to play the pimp all of a sudden stopped answering Adrian Țofei’s messages and calls. Adrian took that as a sign that he’s not on the right path and decided not to replace him, but instead to change the movie’s concept to not need that actor anymore.

The blood looks unrealistic because Adrian Țofei used strawberry syrup mixed with red paint for Easter eggs, since he couldn’t find professional fake blood for a good price anywhere in Romania, and also to experience the “do it yourself” indie style. Adrian later regretted the decision.

[SPOILER] One of the movie’s executive producers, John Lepper, watched online some of the footage during production. The kidnapping scene looked so real that he contacted the actress Sonia Teodoriu to see if she’s OK, if she wasn’t genuinely abducted.

During filming, there were three kinds of relations between actor/director Adrian Țofei and actresses Sonia Teodoriu, Florentina Hariton and Alexandra Stroe:

1. The real relation between him as film director and them as actresses. This relation is not seen onscreen.
2. The fictional relation between the so-called film director played by Adrian in the movie (who’s also named Adrian) and the fictional actresses played by the real actresses. This relation is seen through the camera of that so-called film director.
3. The second fictional relation between a guy played by the so-called film director mentioned above and a fictional actress played by the fictional actresses mentioned above. This relation is seen through that guy’s camera, which is also the so-called director’s camera and also Adrian Țofei’s camera.

It was great when confusion emerged between the two fictional relations during improvisations, since this is one of the movie’s themes, but in order to clearly differentiate the real relation from the first fictional ones, Adrian Țofei used a language switch during filming: Romanian meant out of character for everybody and English meant going back in character (except for some scenes that required Romanian in character).