Making Horror Films with the Scary Success Panel

This week we feature the LIVE panel from Scary Success, hosted by Peter Storey of Greenlit in association with Kino. On the panel were Jake West, Frighfest’s Paul McEvoy, Alix Austin, Keir Siewert, Sarah Appleton, Giles Alderson and director/sales agent Julian Richard discussing all things horror filmmaking – from casting to marketing and everything in between.

Going to Film Festivals

Julian reminded the audience that it is possible to be picked up by studios, like Paranormal Activity did, by ‘getting attention through the film festival circuit. You probably need to premiere your film at Toronto, Midnight Madness, Sundance, Tribeca or SXSW.’

Jake’s film Evil Aliens went to Toronto Midnight Madness, ‘which is an amazing experience as a filmmaker. Any festival is an amazing experience for a filmmaker because it’s a chance to see your film with an audience.

But Midnight Madness is insane because 2000 people turned up at the screen and literally queued around the block. It was my film and I made it for f- all.

The exposure was really interesting. But we already had deals, so it didn’t blow up in the sense of Paranormal Activity because we didn’t have an American studio attached. But it meant I got a chance to talk to a lot of the bigger distribution companies. 

And Giles’ film The Dare was picked up at Popcorn Frights ‘because they had distributors there. It’s so important to be there. Having your film shown makes such a difference.’

Bypassing the Studio System Circuit

Paul’s ‘got a film, which I saw a very rough cut of just the other day, which is going to be amazing. Their strategy is to go out with, in their opinion, the three key festivals worldwide.

Then they are going to self-distribute after they’ve premiered it and they’re going to reap the rewards of the festival, exposure and reviews, and the word of mouth and the buzz and they’re going to sell straight to the fan.

So that’s just one example of how you can bypass the studio system circuit because as Julian said, the P&A (press and advertising) where you’ve got something like Dr Strange or Jurassic or Top Gun flooding all the cinemas and swamping the market. So anybody trying to release independently is going to catch a cold.’

Digital Distribution

In reality, digital distribution is a rabbit hole. It’s really difficult to know how to navigate it and therefore it takes a level of expertise to know the landscape.

And it also takes a level of expertise in marketing to actually get the audience to watch the film. The reality is, the way that digital distribution is evolving is that the audience doesn’t want to watch your film unless they’re getting it for free.’

And to make it more difficult, Julian goes on to say that ‘in order to get some traction on digital, you need cast. Horror has always survived, as a genre, that doesn’t require cast; but on digital, you need cast to get traction.

Plus the digital landscape is somewhat conservative. So certain kinds of horror can struggle to even get accepted by the platforms and you can see that with the way that they’re dealing with trailers. They won’t allow you to use a trailer that’s not family-friendly.’

The Value of Short Film

Alix and Keir ‘think there’s a lot of value in shorts. We’ve made way too many ourselves. But I do think is a great way to learn. What we’ve talked about a lot recently is this idea that you used to have to shoot on film and that meant it had to be a proof of concept type short.

And that was, in itself, cost prohibitive for a lot of people but now it’s less cost prohibitive, which is great because we can practice more.’

Creating A Sensation

It can be tough to break through with new stuff, but Giles says that it can help ‘if you’ve got something cool that adds to your product or that stands out. Something different, you do need it all. The more you can have, the better.

You really do have to think, why should anyone want to watch my film?’

And Sarah agreed by saying that going viral can be very ‘unpredictable. Nothing’s guaranteed with marketing’ but she remembers a great promo for Devil’s Due. ‘They had this pram with this demon baby in, and they just left it out outside the cinema, which totally went viral.

If you have a cool idea, especially in horror you could use gimmicks like that to try and utilise the internet. Just try and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.’


‘Film is very collaborative but in every industry, you need to do networking. And then you meet people who can help you with your project or you can help them. And then, things happen. That’s never going to happen if you don’t go out and meet people;’ Sarah said.

And you should always mention your film to people at film festivals. Giles believes that ‘word of mouth is one of the biggest tools in your toolbox. Get the word out and keep doing that forever. You’ve got to keep thinking outside the box.’

Keir said that was his problem. He didn’t understand why his film was getting traction after putting it up on YouTube. ‘It took me way too long to realise that you have to go to events, you have to meet people, you have to talk to people. You have to tell them why your film is interesting and why they should care. Networking is a big part of this.’

Tapping into The Horror Community

‘If you want to make horror films, the good thing is that the horror community is there. It exists.

It’s not a community that you have to build yourself, it’s something you can tap into from film festivals and online forums.’

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, for more tips and advice, listen here.

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