Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Nightmares Film Festival Asks: Does Your Film Improve Horror?

The Nightmares Film Festival is a new kid on the block. Its first screening was held on October 19, 2016.

When I asked Nightmares's Jason Tostevin (head programmer and co-founder) what filmmakers can do to improve their chances of being accepted to his festival, he provided six suggestions:

1. Have a fresh, powerful premise. (I take that to mean originality.)

2. Characters that make natural decisions from their motivations.

3. Tell the story visually at least as well as, if not better than, through dialog.

4. Maintain a distinct voice and tone throughout.

5. Be efficient with the runtime (i.e., no padding or wasted time).

Tostevin wants "more short films that get in fast, land a powerful punch, and get right back out. Many great premises end up watered down in a too-long runtime."

6. And the final item on the judging sheet: "Is horror is better with this film?"

"Sometimes it's originality that gets a movie in, despite uneven writing," Tostevin said. "Sometimes it's a shocking gag or reveal, despite missteps in performances. Sometimes it's a moving story that overshadows production issues. But all of them are highly rated on that one item -- Is horror better with this film? 

"We exist to elevate horror and inspire horror filmmakers. When we see something that makes horror better, we find a way to play it."

* What sorts of films screened at the first Nightmares Film Festival?

"We fielded a very strong thriller category," said Tostevin, "But we'd love to see even more true thriller shorts and features." By thriller, Tostevin means "dark suspense. We operate under the idea that the key element in a thriller is tension. Suspense."

* What should filmmakers avoid?

"We'd like to see fewer slasher setups with undefined characters. The best horror we see invests in character so the stakes can be raised, and the horror can pay off.

"We aren't tired of them yet, but the '70s and '80s throwback homages, with film grain added, washed-out color palettes, and synth scores, might be reaching their peak. There are so many of them.

"The things that we especially reject are stilted writing, runtimes that exceed the premise of the film (i.e., the movie goes too long, and the tension dissipates), and distracting performances."

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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, February 15, 2017

Calgary Horror Con and the Problem of Unoriginal Horror Films

Canada's Calgary Horror Con welcomes every horror subgenre, yet some are more played out than others, leading to a glut of unoriginal submissions. "It is all about seeking a good mix," said Calgary Horror CEO Dan Doherty. "I don't care for paranormal movies, yet we have had paranormal movies win for Best Feature."

Even so, he adds that "We typically stay away from experimental films." And he has grown "tired" of found footage and generic zombie films.

CHC receives "a flood" of zombie films, but rejects many "because if you're not a true horror fan, your film lacks sincerity. Most zombie submissions are neither original or interesting." Doherty likes The Walking Dead, yet "their fan base are not necessarily horror fans, so the ones making zombie films, for the most part, are just jumping on a trend."

The two determining factors in selecting winning films are story and the technical elements. "Ninety percent of submissions are the same gag, over and over again, with nothing added for originality." If your story is unoriginal, Doherty advises to add some unique element to "make it your own."

Such as last year's Best Short winner, Night of the Slasher. "While its story was pretty typical for the subgenre, it was entertaining and had its own little twist. The slasher wore a painted white Leonard Nemoy mask, whereas in Halloween, Michael Myers wore a white painted William Shatner mask."

A good story can "carry" a film despite its technical flaws. "I loved H.G. Lewis's Two Thousand Maniacs because I loved the story," said Doherty. "The effects were not at all believable. He used paper mache for severed heads."

The reverse is also true. Superior technical elements can help compensate for an unoriginal story. Again, while Night of the Slasher "was nothing we hadn't seen before, it was done so well, from casting to cinematography."




Regarding technical elements, "Can your audio stand up to any feature you see in the theaters? If you use digital FX, does it fit the movie? You don't need a high end camera, just know how to use the one you got. You don't have to be a professional to know about filmmaking -- camera angles, types of shots, lighting, sound, music."

Found footage films pose an additional critical challenge during the judging process. "Where is the line between found footage and shitty camera work?" asks Doherty. Is the filmmaker hiding his incompetence behind the found footage style?

The Calgary Horror Con is in its 7th year. "We screened films from the beginning, but were not a true film festival until the last four years. We are the first convention in Canada dedicated to horror, and also the largest -- with over 800 films submitted annually from around the globe, then narrowed down to 16 hours of screenings."

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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, February 8, 2017

Wreak Havoc Wants Fast-Paced Horror

If you want your horror film screened at the Wreak Havoc Horror Film Festival, it should be fast paced, not sluggish or dull.

"The biggest mistake of filmmakers is that their films are boring," said Wreak Havoc HFF director Dan Sellers. "Many of these films are slow paced, don't have a strong point of view, and lack entertainment value. Our award winning films are enjoyable. They're fun to watch."

Wreak Havoc is currently accepting films for its third edition, to screen this September in Greensboro, North Carolina's Carolina Theater. Its first edition had been in Wadesboro, NC. "Where they filmed Evil Dead 2," says Sellers.

Wreak Havoc has many award categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Special FX, and Best North Carolina Film.

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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, February 2, 2017

Hot Springs Horror Advises Filmmakers to Focus on Sound


Poor sound quality is the most common mistake committed by film festival rejects, says Bill Volland, director of Arkansas's Hot Springs Horror Film Festival.

"You can tell in the first few minutes of a film if a technical area is bad, be it sound, photography, or lighting," said Volland. "If your film is noticeably weak in one area, it draws you out of the film and into critique mode. You lose the story because it doesn't feel real. And that one bad area will most often be sound. A lot of new filmmakers overlook sound."

Volland also recommends that filmmakers invest a lot of time on pre-production. "Unfortunately, many people who love horror films acquire a camera thinking they can just run out and shoot a film, with no pre-production or planning. The good films benefit from good pre-production, a good crew, good post-production, good actors, and a little luck."

Hot Springs Horror last screened on September, 16, 2016. In future, Volland hopes to receive more feature length entries.

That's to be expected. Because features require more effort and expense than do shorts, fewer features -- much less features of quality -- are being made than are shorts. So if you're working on a horror short film, yours must be extra impressive to perform well on the festival circuit. Plan well, and pay attention to your sound recording and mixing.

Finally, Volland wants to see more horror films like they made 'em in the 1980s, "when the plot was thrilling and the scares were big."

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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.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Russian International Horror Film Festival & Awards Seeks Horror Trash Comedies

The Russian International Horror FilmFestival & Awards is in its 7th year, having last screened in March 2016. I asked the festival's president, Victor Boulankin, what filmmakers can do to increase their chance of being selected for his event.

"I definitely would prefer to see trash comedy horrors," said Boulankin. "Although it is not popular in Russia, I love this subgenre."

He is, however, tired of vampires. "Too many of them, especially films like the Twilight saga. But the biggest mistake is cliché. A film should be original, specific. Not the 1,376th film about a zombie virus.

"My advice is to try to analyze what is scary in your country, following your history, origins, and traditions. Then shoot such a story based on local traditions, scary tales, maybe even literature. This would be interesting. This would help your film to be accepted."

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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, June 11, 2015

New Orleans Horror Film Fest Wants More Heart

I asked JT Seaton of the New Orleans Horror Film Fest what he's looking for in a horror film.

"I would like to see more horror films with heart," Seaton told me. "Films that have an emotional impact beyond fright. There is no reason why we can't cry, laugh, or be moved emotionally by a horror film, in addition to being scared."

This is similar to what I've been about the importance of emotionally engaging characters in a horror film -- how characters are the car in horror's rollercoaster.

Seaton goes on to add, "Show us something we haven't seen a thousand times. Stretch your films, your stories, beyond 'found footage' featuring amateur ghost-hunters. Beyond a handful of survivors of a zombie apocalypse. Beyond five college friends partying in a location with an evil history. Beyond women being abducted and tortured. Surprise us!"

And if your film lacks heart or surprises, don't fret. Quality still wins out, says Seaton. "We have awarded all sorts of films and subgenres at the New Orleans Horror Film Fest. From dark drama, to dark comedy, to sci-fi, to supernatural, to thriller, to LGBT, to experimental. The common denominator is quality. Excellent films made by filmmakers with unique voices."

The New Orleans Horror Film Fest, now in its 5th year, will be accepting submissions for their 2015 screenings until June 30th.

===========================

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, March 20, 2014

New Competitors Challenge Withoutabox


While some film festival directors have praised Withoutabox for increasing the quantity and quality of submissions (and entry fees) to their festivals, other festival directors and filmmakers have complained that Withoutabox drives up the cost of submissions -- and thus the price of entry fees.

It seems the marketplace has responded. New festival submission services are now challenging Withoutabox's dominance. FilmFreeway, FestivalFocus, Festhome, and ClickForFestivals all claim to offer more for less -- to both festivals and filmmakers.



In response to my query, FilmFreeway told me that they do not charge anything to festivals or filmmakers, though they do take a commission. "For festivals that charge entry fees, we take a 8.5% commission of fees. We also offer commission rates as low as 5%."

FilmFreeway's pie chart compares its festival commission to Withoutabox's:





FilmFreeway is Withoutabox's newest competitor. "We launched last month," I was told. "February 2014. We are a small group of engineers and programmers, led by our founder, Zachary Jones. No big corporations behind us." The service claims to have registered 332 international film festivals and "over 17,000 international filmmakers and screenwriters" so far.

Yes, that's right. Screenwriters. Some festivals do have screenplay contests. Screenwriters can submit PDF files of their scripts through FilmFreeway, free of charge. (Naturally, they must still pay the festival's submission fee.)

Being the newest film festival submission service, FilmFreeway lists the fewest festivals. Yet they boast that "We have more free [No Entry Fee] festivals listed than any other submissions platform in the world." I haven't verified that, but, since they charge nothing, filmmakers may as well register and see what's out there. FilmFreeway is nonexclusive, as I believe are most of Withoutabox's new competitors.

One common element to all these new film festival submission services is their emphasis on online screeners as opposed to DVDs. Filmmakers upload films to the website. Festivals are supposed to review the films online. They can request DVDs, but automatic DVD submissions are not the norm.

FilmFreeway lets filmmakers upload an HD film to their site, or to Vimeo, or YouTube (and then link to that from FilmFreeway). They can also submit a DVD if the festival requests one.

"Withoutabox does not permit YouTube or Vimeo submissions," notes FilmFreeway. "And they charge almost $3 to submit [a film to their site]."



FestivalFocus is likewise "entirely free" to both festivals and filmmakers. When I asked how they make their money, or if they charge commissions, Chris replied. "We're a free service. We don't charge anyone."

In which case, FestivalFocus is the only festival submission service that is free to all involved.

They were founded in 2006. "It's run by Blue Compass Ltd, the company behind Casting Call Pro and Film and TV Pro." Chris adds that, so far, they have listed 2,433 festivals, 33,000 filmmakers (by which number he includes "cast and crew"), and 76,000 films.

Like FilmFreeway, FestivalFocus lets filmmakers upload films to their site "or link to films stored on third party platforms (Vimeo, etc.). This ensures short-listing can be done without incurring any fees (postage, import, etc.) and filmmakers know when their submission has been viewed. If selected for screening at a festival, you may be required to send a DVD, but that's down to the individual festival."



Daniel L. Fenaux says that Festhome is "completely free" for festivals, but charges a small fee to filmmakers. "We do not believe in charging festivals, since they need the money to make the festival happen.

"Our direct fee system links festivals' PayPal accounts to our site. They receive their entry fees the moment the submission is done, directly to their accounts without us having to handle any money or charge commissions."


Fenaux believes that filmmakers are the main beneficiaries of Festhome, "so we charge them, which also makes us responsible toward their submissions and what happens with them. Filmmakers are charged from $1 to $2 when using credits or making single submissions. We also offer an Annual Pass for $40 and $55, which lets them submit to any festival for a year. Considering the amount of festivals partnering with us, it amounts to about 10 cents per submission."

So unlike FilmFreeway and FestivalFocus, Festhome charges filmmakers. But Fenaux believes they offer value in return. "We make sure that festivals allowed in our service are actual festivals. We try to protect filmmakers. Also, every festival in Festhome is aware they are using our service -- which doesn't happen everywhere. Festhome is also pushing other platforms to talk, and create a code of ethics, even an association, that guides how platforms should operate with best business practices and avoiding scams. This is probably one of our biggest enemies right now, as it is a new market for everyone. Having competitors do things unethically is going to hurt all of of us in the long run."

Fenaux says that "Festhome was founded in 2010 and started its beta in 2011. Moisés Tuñón and myself are the owners. We are filmmakers who used to submit a lot to film festivals, and hated the process that existed back then. We thought it could be done a lot better -- easily and cheaply.

"We have over 400 festivals, and we keep adding new festivals each week. I am sorry that I cannot disclose our filmmaker numbers at this time, due to fierce competition. But it is over 10,000."


As per the new norm, "all submissions must be made online." But Festhome recognizes that some people still live in the previous decade. "We do have a service for people with bad internet connections to send us their DVD so we can upload it for them. We also have a system to upload files to our servers that saves the progress of the upload, which helps in areas where internet is not stable. Vimeo linking is also possible."

All three of these submission services say they're evolving, and express eagerness for suggestions from users. Festhome says they offer "quick phone or chat support. Reaching us is easy. We travel to film festivals and markets to meet people, so they can put a name to our faces."



ClickForFestivals did not reply to my email, but some information can be gleaned from their website.

They do charge filmmakers. "The more clicks you buy, the more you save every time you send a film." Apparently they charge per submission, and offer volume discounts. "You can consult our price list on the top menu of our website. Both distributors and schools [film schools, I suppose] will be offered special promotions, once they have signed up in our system."

It sounds like they do not charge festivals, as they don't handle submission fees. "ClickForFestivals is not responsible for fees payable to festivals that require them. Every participant is responsible for such payments, according to the regulations set by each festival. During the process, users will be informed that a submission to those festivals is subject to the payment of the required fees."

Festivals can invite filmmakers to submit. "The organizers of our associated festivals will be able to consult your data sheet and invite you to join their festivals."

ClickForFestivals has its own server for online screeners. "Your file can be stored in our server for a maximum of 2 months without being submitted to any festival, and for one month after the end of the last festival to which it was submitted." I'm guessing this means that it's free to upload files, but since they make their money per submission, if a filmmaker doesn't submit for two months straight, the film is deleted. It also sounds as if films must be kept on their servers -- no linking to Vimeo or YouTube.

Who's behind ClickForFestivals? "This platform is backed by Promofest." I'm not sure who they are, but from a logo on their site
(right), and the words: "Actividad subvencionada por el Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte," I infer that they're funded by the Spanish government. The site is available in both English and Spanish.

=====================

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.