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.