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."


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.