Thursday, December 21, 2017

Terror Film Festival Is Keeping It Real

Horror film festivals are not known for their staying power. Every year new film festivals are founded to much fanfare. Many disappear within a year or three. Longevity confers legitimacy.

Entering its 12th year (having been founded in 2006), the Philadelphia based Terror Film Festival is among America's longest running horror film festivals. It's also run by one of the more enigmatic of festival directors, preferring to be known only as Claw.

Claw welcomes films and scripts (TFF also hosts a screenplay contest) that contain horror, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, or dark drama. "We watch every film, every frame, and have long discussions about it. If there are great moments, we love it."

* Be Real, Not Clever

While he remains open to any subgenre, Claw says, "It would be nice to see a few character driven movies. Or some actual heroes taken from the news. Be honest with your movie. Don't try to be clever, or original, or fresh. Don't try too hard. Just tell a story that has no holes.

"Be plausible. I mean, within reason. After all, you're making a movie with monsters. But, still, make sure there's a reason for everything that happens."

* Write Tight and Edit Tight

"Avoid a weak story or scenes that drag. Nothing hurts more than a scene than goes on and on, with mostly dialog. Make your point, then move on. Three minute scenes max. Focus on that script. Make it lean. Make it move. We love films that don't limp along.

"Bad editing can kill a film. One mark of an amateur filmmaker is a shot that should have been cut much sooner. Mechanics and software are important. But a genius who knows when to cut, and why, is the reason your film will flop or fly. Hire your editor based on their demo reel and your gut."

* Keep Music in Its Place

"The other mark of an amateur filmmaker is when music is too prominent or gets too much screen time. When the music is the star of the shot, then let's hear it. But when the faucet dripping is the star of the shot ... lower the music! Too many times, I've seen music ruin a really well done film."

* Free Your Actors

"When you cast the project, put your auditioning actors to the test. Push them respectfully. An actor is a delicate instrument. You must only urge and instruct, and then let them show you what they can do.

"Sometimes stars help a film. Sometimes they hurt it. Don't use stars to make up for weak filmmaking."

* Film Before Food

"Use your money wisely. Lunch is important. Feed your people right. But don't make it a banquet. No one signed on for the food. Get the shot before you interrupt the set mentality with food."

* Ask Questions

"Remember this from Terror Film Festival -- the professional filmmaker asks a lot of questions, and gets the answers. And they apply those answers to make the best film they can."

* Princess Horror

The Terror Film Festival is especially proud of its official hostess, Princess Horror. According to Claw, "Princess Horror is the love of Terror Film Festival. Without her, we're just trying to sell tickets."

* What You Get

Claw believes the TFF offers much to entrants. "We've helped our submitters get agents and screenings in other fests. We've helped actors gain a following or move from one coast to another. We sponsored a filmmaker's first trip to America from France, based on the quality of their film. We've helped writers get work and given endless critiques. Some of the stuff we've done is downright shady to me! But it's all done to get that filmmaker or screenwriter a real shot at success. We treat every Claw Award like it's an Oscar.

"I remember MovieMaker Magazine did an article on "the top 50 film festivals that are worth the fee." Then, it turned out they selected the fests based on how much advertising they did in the magazine. What a scam.

"Oh, and we don't charge an admission fee to the audience. We want the world to see these films and to become die-hard fans of these filmmakers."


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, November 22, 2017

Phoenix FearCON Offers Distribution to Winning Films

Phoenix FearCON is an oddity among horror film festivals in that its first venue (in 2006) was "in a very small art gallery." It's since "grown and expanded into a film festival & horror convention," says founder and director, Chris McLennan.

Apart from the film festival, FearCON offers "celebrity guests, panel discussions, flash mobs, special effects workshops, vendors, and many sideline entertainments and activities."

* Quality Over Variety

FearCON's most recent screening featured a glut of zombie films. While McLennan says she welcomes diversity in horror, she doesn't mind any particular subgenre dominating the event, provided the films are of high quality. In this she differs from some festival directors who, for the sake of variety, will screen one great and one decent film of two different subgenres, rather than two great films of the same subgenre.

"If the film is good," says McLennan, "it doesn't matter if it's been done in quantity. We always search for quality no matter what."

* What Is Quality?

What makes for a quality horror film?

McLennen seeks "A film that is solid. A great story, with a twist or two. A character study, with believable characters. Good locations. And great cinematography. With all the technology now available, that should be easier than it used to be. Our award winners all have those qualities.

"Filmmakers who win receive a one-of-a-kind awesome trophy, made by me. [See right.]

"And a bag of swag.

"And the best part -- a contract offer from one of two major film distribution companies for domestic and international distribution of their film."

McLennan offers some additional tips on how to win one of her cool trophies.

* Horror Is International

Keep in mind that horror serves an international audience.

"We get submissions from many countries. We hope they express horror in a way that everyone can appreciate it.

"We got a film from a country that could have been great, except the filmmaker used very colloquial language, and scenes specific to that area. Anyone outside this country became lost in the film translation, and couldn't appreciate what the filmmaker was trying to express."

* Avoid Shaky Cams

"My opinion, but the hand-held, shaky cam is old and worn out. I can't watch shaky cam at all anymore. I'd stay away from that, if possible."

* Continuity Matters

"I am a complete anal critic of continuity. Once there's a break in continuity (e.g., clothing, location, food, etc.) I tune out the rest of the film, looking for more faults. It's a small thing, but, in my past experience as a filmmaker and producer, I took great care to make sure the continuity was spot on. Sometimes it can be nearly impossible to do, depending on the scenes. But I like to see filmmakers try hard to keep it flowing continually."


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, November 18, 2017

The Void Welcomes Smart Horror/Sci-Fi

The Zone SciFan International Film Festival screens at Comicpalooza, a Houston comic convention. Entering its fourth year, The Zone is both a film festival and a film race. It accepts entries of completed films, but also runs a filmmaking contest at the convention.

Initially, The Zone was a sci-fi only. "But this year we ventured into sci-fi horror with our newest film race, The Void," said J'Nathan Gwynn, who is both a festival director and filmmaker. "The Void has the same rules as The Zone, but with an additional challenge -- no blood. We want to challenge filmmakers and expand their talents."

Science fiction has been called a genre of ideas, a philosophy embraced by Gwynn's events. "We look for the best sci-fi ideas and concepts. Sci-fi is at its best when it addresses current issues in a unique way. It's a genre that lets you explore morality and ethics in way that no other genre can. Plus, it's one of the few genres that can combine with others to create something unique. Some of the best horror films are sci-fi."

* Avoid Clichés

"Many filmmakers just go for the cliché, because it's what they've seen," Gwynn laments. "They don't ask why it should be there. Don't just drop it in. Give it a reason. Otherwise, clichés take your audience out of the film and makes them roll their eyes.

"The days of the slasher are dead. We've seen everything we can. In the 1980s, slashers were fresh and new. For a brief period in the late 1990s, they became fresh again with Wes Crazen's Scream. But since then they've become cliché.

"We have an annual event at a local theater, called Horrorthon. The creator, Damir Catic, gets horror directors to come and screen one of their films. This year he had the director of Jason Goes to Hell premiere Secret Santa -- a hilarious horror film that also made me jump. It used clichés in a way I hadn't seen. He made the clichés work.

* Monsters Should Be Scary

"I love zombies," said Gwynn, "but not only have they become cliché, few movies or TV shows use them in a fun, scary way. Everyone wants to make them cool.

"And I'm sick of beautiful, sexy vampires. Enough already. They aren't fabulous creatures. They're monsters who feast on our blood. They don't fucking sparkle and have perfect jaw bones. They are to be feared.

"If anything in current horror annoys me, it's making monsters cool and sexy. Keep them frightening. Make me want to run from them, not fuck them."

* Keep the Monster Offscreen

"The best tip is an old tip: What you don't see is always more terrifying than what you do see.

"I miss 1970s horror. The smart horror that made you think. That terrified you by showing nothing. The mindfuck horror. Tension is the best horror aphrodisiac.

"It's started to make a slow comeback with films like The Babadook and It Follows. Those films scared me and made me anxious. What made It Follows scary wasn't what you saw, but what your imagination created. Fuck with the mind more. Be less visceral. We've seen just about everything. Now scare us with what we can't see."

Despite all this, Gwynn admits that he "personally loves gore porn."

* Future Growth

Like Crypticon, The Zone and The Void screen at a convention. "Presenting at Comicpalooza has been a great success. It provides us with a built in audience.

"We've reached out to the Hollywood indie scene for judges. They've been spreading the word. Some of our films have garnered international attention. Our mayor has a new initiative to bring films to Houston. We are working with him on that. But currently the city is still trying to rebuild itself after Harvey.

"We canceled The Void this year because it was to take place a week or two after that disaster, and we know no one could afford to spend money on it. Nor were they in the mood. We'll try again next year."


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, November 11, 2017

Horrific Film Fest Encourages Newer, Indie Filmmakers

The Horrific Film Fest in San Antonio, Texas held its 10th anniversary screening last October. That's an important milestone. Many horror film festivals arrive with a big promotional splash, only to disappear after their first year. To survive beyond two or three years is noteworthy. To attain a full decade shows admirable staying power.

While the Horrific Film Fest accepts "all kinds of horror films," shorts and features, its emphasis is on indie horror. "Our festival was created to help independent filmmakers show their films, and help them get distribution," said HFF owner George Ortiz. 

He adds that "X rated" films are not welcome.

Ortiz, who is also a filmmaker, offers the following tips to indie horror filmmakers:

* Budget for Marketing

"Many filmmakers only budget for their movies. They don't consider the marketing side and film festivals." Many film festivals charge hefty admissions fees. Make sure you've raised the money to pay for it, because Ortiz advises to "submit to as many festivals as you can" -- with the following two caveats ...

* Some Festivals Are Too Big

"Many filmmakers want to submit to bigger festivals. Nine out of ten times, they don't get in. You need to submit to the smaller festivals. Get your name out there first, before you try the big ones. That's just my personal opinion. No disrespect to anybody."

* Some Festivals Are Too Small

"Be careful with those online festivals. They are not real. They just want your money. You get nothing in return."

* Avoid YouTube

"Don't show all of your movie on YouTube. Only the trailer. You want to take your film to a festival. If it's on YouTube, nobody will come to see it at the festival."

* Meet Other Filmmakers

"Every year, I see filmmakers who just come to see their own film, and then they leave. You should want to see all the films, so you can see who you going against, and to cross promote, make friends, and ask questions of other filmmakers. Ask what kind of camera they used. Bond with actors and filmmakers, often from another country. Filmmakers who have won in past festivals have a greater understanding of film festivals, and how to take advantage of them. They know to bring posters, promotional materials, their cast. Newer filmmakers can learn from them.

Ortiz encourages newer filmmakers, and film students, to submit their works. "The Horrific Film Fest was created to help filmmakers showcase their talent and get distribution. Eight movies have been distributed from my film festival."


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, 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.


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.


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."


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.