Looking Alive: Five Ways to Survive Your Horror Film’s Festival Run

Now that your genre film has gotten into a festival, how will you survive it?

1. If your horror film is screening at a mainstream film festival with multiple genres, you’ll probably be placed in a midnight section with similarly-themed films. The audience will be excitedly anticipating the scares, but midnight-to-2 a.m. is a tough time slot and the audience can taper off in the morning hours. Ditch the alcohol and bring a thermos of coffee, and be generous when sharing it.

2. If a festival screens only horror films all day long, you might get stuck with the dreaded 10 a.m. time slot—the least-attended time slot of all horror film festivals. If you end up screening at such an undesirable hour, enlist your friends and family to show up to support you. Make sure to go to as many of the other screenings as you can, as the filmmakers will likely return the favor by coming to yours. At a sparsely-attended all-horror film festival, the other filmmakers are essential for networking, socializing and getting the most out of your screening, so cultivate those relationships and clap loudly during all the credits.

3. You’ve been invited to participate in an onstage Q&A. Congrats! If your film is a feature, you might be up there with other members of your cast and crew. If your film is a short, chances are you’ve been grouped onstage with other filmmakers from your shorts block. Be prepared to talk about why you wanted to make this particular film, what you shot the film on, and why you chose the cast you did. After that, the audience usually gets a chance to ask some questions, some of which can be unpredictably stupid or strange. Someone will inevitably ask you, “What scares you in real life?” Just roll with it and try not to get flustered. Be thankful the audience is interested in what you have to say.

Actor Rob Archer from A Christmas Horror Story at Fantasia Fest. Photograph by King-Wei Chu.

4. Make sure your film looks great onscreen by talking to the programmers and technical directors about what file type you should provide, in which scope your film should play, and the right format (DVD, Blu-ray or hard drive). Ask if there’s a pre-screening run-through with the projectionist and if you can be present. The most prevalent technical issues at smaller film festivals are the films not playing at the same sound levels or scopes, and long delays between different films as discs are changed. Be proactive to ensure that your film is not one of these unfortunate messes and that the audience sees it at its best. Don’t assume the festival has it under control.

5. Promote your own screening. A festival will promote the overall event, but your individual time slot and screening, especially if it’s a short, will be lost amid a sea of other horror films. Tell everyone you know about the screening time. Make your own online invitation to the screening and invite everyone you know. Create your own online poster with locations, dates and times of your screenings. Once you get to the festival, invite everyone there to come. Take advantage of this opportunity to show your horror film up on the big screen. It might be horror, but it’s still showbiz. MM

This article originally appeared in MovieMaker’s 2016 Guide to Making Horror Movies, featured inside our Fall 2015 issue. Featured image photograph by Vincent Fréchette.

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