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.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Story Is King at Edmonton Festival of Fear

Canada's newest horror film festival, the Edmonton Festival of Fear, will screen for the first time this October. The festival's founder and director, Barry J. Gillis, says that films are more likely to be accepted at his event if their stories are original and entertaining.

"We are looking for movies that will captivate the audience," said Gillis. "This starts with a great story. Original ideas. Stories that keep us on the edge of our seats and entertain the audience."

While story is king, Gillis also stresses the importance of accomplished acting, cinematography and sound. "Sound is important. We would like to see less films with bad sound. And less experimentation that doesn't work. Experimentation is fine ... when it works."

But an entertaining story can overcome even rough production values. "We don't reject all bad films," said Gillis. "Some bad films are what people like to watch, even if the cinematography or sound is not the greatest. We are more likely to reject a movie because it is boring as hell."

Finally, Gillis confirms that the world of film festivals is highly competitive. "There are great movies that we cannot get into the festival because of time slots, and time constraints."

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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.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Buck the Trend to Increase Your Film's Chances for Festival Acceptance

Want to increase your film's chances to be accepted in a festival -- or even win an award? Then try to figure out what other filmmakers are doing -- and do something different.

Every year certain styles and subgenres dominate festival entries. Ten years ago everyone was making zombie films. Film festivals were deluged with the walking dead. Torture porn was prevalent after Saw and Hostel were released. Twilight produced a flood of vampire clones. And they're still making found footage films, often about ghosthunters, shot in the unusual green nightvision.

Film festival directors like to program for variety. If they receive five great slasher film entries, and one mediocre ghost film -- and they only have screening time for five films -- they'll take the mediocre ghost over one of the great slashers. They still have four more of those.

At least six excellent actresses were considered for Best Actress in the 2013 Tabloid Witch Awards. Five had turned in excellent dramatic performances, playing similar sorts of characters (strong, but long-suffering, women). The remaining actress gave an excellent comedic performance, playing an entirely different sort of character (a gonzo mad scientist). As against the five long-suffering women, the mad scientist stood out -- thus Guenia Lemos won that year. Had it been five excellent comedic performances and one excellent dramatic performance, the dramatic performance might have won.

To win it helps to have both talent and luck. The luck that all the other contestants coincidentally arrived in blue dresses, whereas you happened to wear a red dress. The judges couldn't help but notice you.

You can't guarantee luck. But you can watch for trends so as to not follow them. What's currently hot in horror? Are there many ghost films out there featuring strong, but long-suffering, women? Chances are other filmmakers are already "taking inspiration" from those films. If ghosts and slashers are hot, consider doing a mad scientist or alien abduction film. Or better yet, stretch your imagination and scare us with something no one's seen before.

Film festivals are competitive. It helps to produce an excellent film. Even better if your excellent film stands apart from all the other excellent films

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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, April 12, 2017

Are Gender Specific Acting Awards Offensive?

Since the 1970s feminism has been remarkably successful in purging English of gender specific words. Waiter and waitress are out. Server is in. Steward and stewardess are out. Flight attendant is in.

Yet despite feminism's success, gender specific acting awards have proven amazingly resilient. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences still presents Oscars for Best Actor and Best Actress, for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

Are these sex specific categories sexist? I've never known a Best Actor or Best Actress Oscar recipient to complain. Yet when the Screen Actors Guild introduced its acting award in 1995, it argued that actor and actress were inaccurate and outmoded terms. The "proper" term was actor, whether that actor was male or female. Thus SAG's award categories are for Best Male Actor and Best Female Actor.

Most film awards still follow Oscar. In researching my book, Horror Film Festivals and Awards (which records the names of horror film award recipients from the 1960s up through 2010), I learned that Best Actor and Best Actress remain the preferred terms among most film festivals. But some festivals are following SAG's example. Australia's A Night of Horror film festival presents awards for Best Male Performance and Best Female Performance.

Are Best Female Actor or Best Female Performance less offensive terms than Best Actress? I don't see how. You're still recognizing the performer's sex, despite using more words to do it.

And these newer terms still fail to address the increasingly complicated issue of gender. How many genders are there now? How do you categorize them in terms of awards? How do you even know what gender any actor identifies as, unless the film comes with notes for the awards committee? Some people claim to be "non-binary" (i.e., having no gender). How do you honor a "non-binary" performer? SAG's Best Male Actor and Best Female Actor categories fail to address that issue.

MTV's solution is to abolish "gender specific categories." The Associated Press reports [April 7, 2017]:

NEW YORK (AP) — MTV has scrapped gender specific categories for its upcoming Movie & TV Awards. In place of the Best Actress and Best Actor categories, this year's awards will honor a non-gendered Best Actor in a Movie and Best Actor in a Show.
The move follows the Grammy Awards' decision in 2011 to dump gender distinctions between male and female singers, collaborations and groups.

This trend has the potential of reducing acting awards by half. Up until now, actors competed against other actors, actresses against other actresses. (Like Oscar, I use the old terms.) But now actors and actresses will compete against each other for one award. 

This contravenes a longstanding trend among film festivals to increase the number of award categories every few years. Everyone loves getting an award. The more you present, the better liked your festival becomes and the more publicity it receives.

If more festivals go gender neutral, they might compensate for it by increasing the number of acting categories (e.g., Best Actor in a Slasher Short Film, Best Actor in a Zombie Feature Film, etc.) But for now, Best Actor and Best Actress remain the preferred terms among most film festivals.

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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, 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.