Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Wreak Havoc Wants Entertaining Horror

The Wreak Havoc Horror Film Festival screened its third edition this past September, at the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Festival director Dan Sellers has a simple rule for filmmakers looking to screen at Wreak Havoc: Be entertaining.

"There is no particular subgenre we look for or favor," said Sellers. "The best advice I can give to filmmakers is to simply be entertaining! We will not pick a well made film if it's boring. Don't be boring. We are willing to take very low budget films, with poor production value, if there's entertainment value."

Entertainment value is a broad and subjective criterion. However, Sellers does have some additional advice. "Have something you want to say. Or at least do something original and different."

Sellers also emphasizes the need for high quality sound. "Sound quality is often an issue with small microbudget productions. If a film looks visually interesting, but our audience can't hear what's being said, then we're not going to go with it. We're willing to forgive a lot of technical problems if a film is simply fun to watch and entertaining." But not, apparently, if the audience must strain to hear the dialog.

* Tip: Record Quality Sound.

Many film festival directors I've interviewed over the years have complained about poor sound quality among their submissions. Apparently, all too many filmmakers devote much effort toward obtaining beautiful visuals, leaving sound as a mere afterthought. Cinematographers are honored on set, while sound recordists and engineers are treated like second class citizens.

If you're planning to enter the film festival circuit, find a talented sound engineer, and treat him or her like gold. It'll give your film a winning edge.

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For a behind-the-scenes look at horror film festivals and the festival directors who manage them, see Horror Film Festivals and Awards. This book also includes a directory of over 200 horror film festivals, and a list of festival award winners from dozens of festivals over several decades.

Crypticon Seattle Welcomes Northwest Horror Filmmakers

Eric Morgret founded and managed the Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival in Seattle, which ran for three years before folding. Today he runs the film festival at Crypticon Seattle, a horror convention.

I asked Morgret what lessons he learned from Maelstrom that proved useful in running Crypticon's film festival.

"The main lesson was how to sift through and present films the judges liked and we felt would appeal to our festival growers," said Morgret. "A theatrical festival is a ton of work, but we had a projectionist that I could pass the work off to, allowing me to focus on the filmmakers and festival goers.

"A convention is different. The level of work that goes into finding the films and working with the filmmakers is similar, but most conventions do not have a theater. You have to create a "theater" in the hotel. You also need to get the gear to screen the films. So for the tech side, it can be a pain."

Morgret was with Crypticon even before he founded Maelstrom. "Crypticon started about 11 years ago. I've been with the convention from year one. We were showing films on an irregular basis for the first few years. Then in 2012, I started an official film festival for Crypticon. I am the festival director.

"It's hard to say why Maelstrom folded. We did not lose money, but the festival did not grow. Due to this lack of growth, one of our top contributors left the festival. This led to us closing our doors."

Like most horror film festivals, Crypticon accepts all subgenres and styles of horror. But as it's located in Seattle, it's an especially welcoming venue for filmmakers from the region. "We love our Northwest filmmakers," said Morgret. "We have a special block dedicated to them. We had films from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Since they are local, most all of them were able to attend the convention. It creates a sense of community."

Morgret offers the following advice to filmmakers:

* Learn your voice. There are hundreds of resources to learn how to make movies and tell stories. Use them. Once you understand the language of film, you can twist and turn it. You can save that cat in your own way.

* Don't automatically follow the "rules." Learn them and use them in a way that makes your movie better. Do not feel the need to make sure this plot point happens on this page. That is a sure way to get lost and trapped in a cliché.

* Don't think you have it all figured out. Don't ignore all the help you can find in the world now. Film is the greatest collaborative art. To do it at it’s best, you need to work with a team. Find a team that you can work with but will challenge you.

* Avoid ass-kissers. Avoid people who only tell you how amazing you are. If someone reads your script and says "it's perfect" -- probably not someone you should work with.

* Avoid grinches. But on the other hand, if all they have is criticism, with no ideas on how to improve things, they may not be who you want to work with either.

* Make the sound good. Technically the biggest problem is bad sound. Your eyes can process and forgive lots of strange things, but your ears are not discerning.

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For a behind-the-scenes look at horror film festivals and the festival directors who manage them, see Horror Film Festivals and Awards. This book also includes a directory of over 200 horror film festivals, and a list of festival award winners from dozens of festivals over several decades.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

San Sebastian Advises Filmmakers to be True to Their Vision

The San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival is one of Europe's oldest genre film festivals. Its 28th edition will screen from October 28th through November 3rd of this year.

"We are mainly focused on hardcore genre," reports festival director Josemi Beltran, "but sometimes we also include a wider concept of fantasy or art house movies. Extreme horror, horror mixing with comedy, the experience of watching the movie with the audience is very important for us when we select a movie for the festival."

So audience reaction is a consideration in selecting films for screening.

Beltran welcomes almost any horror subgenre, provided the film "has quality. You can say that everything is already invented, but when you find a zombie movie so entertaining as Train to Busan, you forget that you're tired of zombies. Of course, we must confess that horror 'found footage' is a sort of plague."

Thus does Beltran join a growing list of festival directors who have tired of found footage horror films. (Or at least until filmmakers put a new spin on what has become a slavishly unoriginal subgenre.)

San Sebastian welcomes films with an authentic voice. "You must be honest with your style and your idea," Beltran advises. "Don't try to make everyone happy. Don't think about a festival's criteria or commercial criteria. Then your movie will at least be sincere and authentic, no matter what kind of fantastique film you have created. Production values and money are not the most important things to be successful. If you've created what you were aiming for, there will always be somebody who will value it. No rules. Please, we need more original and independent movies."

Although San Sebastian is held in Spain, English soundtracks or subtitles are acceptable for submissions. "We'll do the Spanish or Basque subtitling if your film is accepted for screening."

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For a behind-the-scenes look at horror film festivals and the festival directors who manage them, see Horror Film Festivals and Awards. This book also includes a directory of over 200 horror film festivals, and a list of festival award winners from dozens of festivals over several decades.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Horror-on-Sea Wants Endings that Make Sense

Debuting in January 2013, Britain's Horror-on-Sea Film Festival most recently screened on January 29, 2017.

Festival director Paul Cotgrove considers his event to be a big supporter of indie horror films, adding, "We are always on the lookout for new grindhouse and cult titles, such as Zombie Women of Satan 2 and Night of Something Strange."

His advice to horror filmmakers:

1. Try and keep the film's running time down to 80 minutes.

2. Finish with a good ending. A good ending to a feature or a short, that ideally makes sense, is crucial, especially with low budget films. Many films that we view have such disappointing endings, or just leave us wondering what the film was all about."

3. The only subgenre that we are getting a bit tired of is found footage films. We are really getting fed up with films that contain shaky camerawork.

Like some other horror film festivals, Horror-on-Sea offers year-round screenings in addition to their annual festival. "We run a monthly cult/horror double bill in our small 40-seat cinema. The last double bill that we screened at our Cult Film Night was Texas Chainsaw and The Town That Dreaded Sundown."

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For a behind-the-scenes look at horror film festivals and the festival directors who manage them, see Horror Film Festivals and Awards. This book also includes a directory of over 200 horror film festivals, and a list of festival award winners from dozens of festivals over several decades.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Knoxville Horror Film Fest Seeks More Animation Films

The Knoxville Horror Film Fest, founded in 2009, screens every October, coinciding with the Halloween season.

Film Programmer & Festival Director William Mahaffey shares some tips on what to takes to be accepted into Knoxville.


* Tight, Original Stories Rule


Tightness and originality are two key elements in determining whether a film is good enough to screen at Knoxville. No padding. No clichés.

"Work on your script and make sure it's tight," says Mahaffey. "Don't be overly attached to things you shot. The films that perform the best at festivals are usually around five minutes.

"Try to be as original and inventive as you can. If you look at your story and see things that have been done before, come up with something different. Or at least take a different approach. If you recognize that it's something clichéd or overused, then I guarantee the people screening your film will."


* Production Tips


Naturally, your film should look and sound its best. Many indie filmmakers seem especially prone to neglect sound. Poor sounding films is a widespread complaint among festival directors.

"Take your time and make sure you get sound and lighting right," said Mahaffey. "Sometimes your film might have an amazing script and acting, but it's hindered by poor production values. Bad sound is super common. Sound is a pretty hard thing to deal with, but if you take the time to get it right, or hire someone that knows what they're doing, it will make your film better."


* Shortage of Horror Animation


There seems to be a festival-wide shortage of animated horror. As with Crimson Screen, Knoxville welcomes all subgenres but is short on animation.

"We used to get more animated films," said Mahaffey. "I would love it if we got more of them."


* Zombies Okay, Torture Porn Not So Much


The zombie glut continues, making for an overdone, overtired subgenre. But don't despair. Your zombie film might still get admitted into Knoxville -- provided you've breathed some originality into it.

"I personally am pretty tired of zombies," said Mahaffey. "But I am occasionally surprised with how people can still bring something fresh to that genre.

"I do still get torture porn films, and for the most part, I don't want to watch another one of those."


* Not Just an Annual Event


In addition to their big annual screenings, some horror film festivals present smaller screenings throughout the year. Knoxville is one of those.

"We do monthly screenings," said Mahaffey. "Our last screening was on June 12th. It was an annual event we do called Terror in the Woods. It takes place at Ijams Nature Center. We showed The Descent and had a local haunted house create a haunted trail at the event."

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For a behind-the-scenes look at horror film festivals and the festival directors who manage them, see Horror Film Festivals and Awards. This book also includes a directory of over 200 horror film festivals, and a list of festival award winners from dozens of festivals over several decades.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Crimson Screen Encourages Filmmakers to Attend -- and Schmooze

Founded in 2014, the Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest had its fourth event last May.

Festival founder and director Tommy Faircloth offers advice to horror filmmakers planning to submit their films for the 2018 edition, to be held in North Charleston, South Carolina.


* Films are Heard as well as Seen


Like many festival directors, Faircloth emphasizes the importance of a film's audio quality. It should be clean, crisp, the dialog easily understood by viewers -- who are also listeners.

"We do our best to make sure your film looks and sounds great," said Faircloth. "But if you had bad audio, we can’t do much for you."


* Wanted: Animated Horror


If you're working on an animated horror film, you're in luck. Competition is currently low for this particular subgenre.

"We play all types of horror films," said Faircloth, "from established to first-time filmmakers. But we would like to see more animated horror films."


* Audiences Love Horror Comedy


After a film is shown at Crimson Screen, Faircloth says that "many" elements determine whether it goes on to win an award. Films are judged not solely by artistic merit, but also by entertainment value. 

"It's not only how good the film is," said Faircloth, "but also audience reaction."

So by pleasing the audience, your film stands a greater chance of walking off with an award. Any tips on how to please an audience?

"Comedy horror is always a bit hit with audiences," said Faircloth.

The takeaway: It's not that dramatic horror films don't win at Crimson Screen. But if you want to boost your film's chances, consider tossing in some laughs.


* Slashers Face Stiff Competition


"We have seen a lot of slasher films," says Faircloth, although adding, "We love slasher films."

Is there a slasher film glut? If something's trending at one festival, it could be trending throughout the festival circuit. And because most festival directors like to schedule for variety, a slasher glut means that your slasher film must outperform other slashers to get screen time on the festival circuit. Whereas a decent enough alien abduction film, if it's the only one submitted, might be a shoe-in.

The takeaway: If you're still in pre-production, consider changing your film's monster from a slasher to a radioactive porcupine, or some other rarely filmed creature. Even better if it's a funny radioactive porcupine.


* Schmooze or Lose


Winning an award at Crimson Screen is, to some extent, a popularity contest. (Actually, that's true of most awards, including Oscar.) Filmmakers must please audiences because their reactions while seeing a film matter in the judging process. But it's also important for filmmakers to "schmooze" audiences and judges between screenings, because another factor is ... Do they like you? 

Or as Faircloth describes it, "How the filmmaker helps promote their screening and what type of person they are. Don't be a dick. Don't think your movie is the best out there. It's okay to praise others.

"Making friends and showing support to other filmmakers is something we push at Crimson Screen. The fest should not only be about seeing movies, but about making a connection with the audience and other filmmakers.

"Filmmakers should not think that getting into the festival is the end of their work. They should promote their screening in any way possible -- social media, websites, etc. Especially if they can't attend the fest. But attending the fest is key."

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For a behind-the-scenes look at horror film festivals and the festival directors who manage them, see Horror Film Festivals and Awards. This book also includes a directory of over 200 horror film festivals, and a list of festival award winners from dozens of festivals over several decades.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Horrible Imaginings Seeks Horror with a Personal Vision

Horrible Imaginings screened most recently in September 2016. They're now preparing for their 8th event in 2017, even as they host "year-round monthly screenings in San Diego."

* Horror with a Personal Vision

Like the Great Pumpkin, festival director Miguel Rodriguez believes that "The most important element of any film is sincerity. Horror is the most personal and sincere of genres when done well -- honest appeals to our fears, or expressions of the film makers' fears." Thus, his festival seeks "to showcase the inherent eccentricity and variety within the macabre -- to expand typical definitions of what makes horror.

"Our program can be extremely eclectic. A film on the periphery of horror has a chance of acceptance at ours that it might not have at another horror festival."

Which is to say, low-budget oddball horrors -- it they convey a strong personal vision -- have a better chance of acceptance than slicker, more traditional horror films that lack soul. (Or sincerity, as Rodriguez might put it.)

* Short Films Are Making Anthologies Obsolete

"Anthology films have less chance of acceptance -- not no chance, but less of one," says Rodriguez. "In a festival with short film blocks, an anthology can feel like just another short film block, taking up a feature film slot." Especially if each segment in an anthology film has its own director. "Films like Tales of Halloween, Southbound, and XX are not like the old days of Black Sabbath or Creepshow or Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, all of which had one director and a unified feel."

* Retro '70s Glut

While Rodriguez won't discount any subgenre, like other festival directors, he's tired of some. "There are still an over abundance of '70s grindhouse throwbacks, which started churning out after Tarantino/Rodriguez's film. But I was also tired of zombies. Then we get a Pontypool or a Train to Busan or a Girl with All the Gifts, and I feel the joy of proving myself wrong. So I try not to think of subgenres as being played out, and focus on each film individually."

* Tips for Getting It Right

Rodriguez recommends that filmmakers always be making films. "Even if with just a few friends and a cell phone every weekend. Then show it to people, get feedback, and make another. Many filmmakers want their first film to get into all the festivals and get all the attention, but filmmaking is a skill and a craft that is honed with practice.

"And watch films. Voraciously consume the cream of the crop, and incompetent films as well. The horror filmmakers I see doing some of the best work are able to have obsessive conversations about The Red Shoes, Seven Samurai, or Midnight Cowboy every bit as much as about films like The Beyond, Nightmare on Elm Street, or Night of the Living Dead. Become entangled in the unique and potent language of cinema, and how you can use that language to make an audience feel something.

"I was conversing with a guy who made a zombie movie. I mentioned Lucio Fulci. He had never heard of Fulci, so I gave him some recommendations. He said he didn't want to watch them because, in his own words, "I want to stay original." Unsurprisingly, his film was an unwatchable turd. Not seeing movies does not protect you from unoriginality. It just makes you ignorant, and unable to even identify when you are being unoriginal.

"Surround yourself with people who are the best at their jobs. Make the other creatives working on your film -- actors, cinematographers, composers, sound engineers, etc. -- truly understand and become unified behind your vision. An audience should not see separate parts, but one whole piece of art called a film. The director's job is to make the parts come together coherently.

"Some microbudget filmmakers defend their works by saying, "Yes, I know the sound was not so good, but I am proud of the script." Or they point to a couple of strong points, as if those should be enough to overcome glaring flaws elsewhere. That doesn't work. The finished film needs to be the best it can be of everything."

* Mistakes to Avoid

"Lack of purpose is mistake number one. It leads to other big mistakes, like a weak script and too many clichés. There is something exciting about having a finished film with your name on it, so many people make a film for that reason. The only good reason for making a movie is you have a story you are yearning to tell, and cinema is how you want it told. Why that story? What does it mean to you? Why is it important you share it with other people? A filmmaker should be able to answer all of those questions with vigor and passion."

Other mistakes include "technical problems like poor lighting, sound, color, and incoherent editing. (Especially for horror, sound is critical. Do not cheap out on your sound engineer. Sound is 80% of your film's effectiveness.) This is important even for microbudget films. Audiences don't care how much you spent on a film. They just want the film to transport them. If they get that experience, then learning a film was made for five grand might impress them, but they won't feel impressed if the film fails at that mission.

"Some filmmakers who finish a film for zero money feel entitled to a screening just for finishing a film at all. Unfortunately, there are thousands who that did the same thing and that entitlement doesn't exist. Their accomplishment is worthy of respect, but they should keep growing and improving."

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For a behind-the-scenes look at horror film festivals and the festival directors who manage them, see Horror Film Festivals and Awards. This book also includes a directory of over 200 horror film festivals, and a list of festival award winners from dozens of festivals over several decades.