I think short form film gets a bit of a bad rep... I mean, no one leaves film school and says, "I'm going to concentrate on making short films". The industry drew a line in the sand that says a feature is 75 minutes or longer and THAT is the standard. And that's what people gun for... it's too bad, too. I love short films and I do think that with the advent of the Youtube generation, they're going to grow in popularity. However, that's for another post. Short films have a lot of positives... they're great, economical ways to improve your filmmaking skills, they're great calling card films to get other projects, they don't take as long to make and they don't take as long to watch. Having said all that, they do have a few disadvantages, as well. The main one being, after you've made your short horror film, shown it every festival that'll take it... shown all your friends, family and all that. Well, now what? Usually, at that point, you're out of options. However, thanks to Miguel Gallego, you now have one more...
Gallego is the brain behind "Aaaaah! Indie Horror Hits", a feature length collection of award winning indie-horror shorts. Gallego is a filmmaker himself, having made the multi-award winning short horror film, "The Crypt Club", which is featured on this first installment of the compilation. He also consults on screenplays, provides script breakdowns & schedules for film budgeting, and has created two workshop presentations for filmmakers. So, he kinda knows what he's doing. Well, he definitely knew what he was doing when he put together the compilation. It is exactly what its tagline says - "All Killer, No Filler". There's 7 short horror films, varying in length from 3 minutes to 32 minutes and, having seen them all, I can tell you, without a word of a lie, they're all fantastic.
We had a chance to discuss "Aaaaah!! Indie Horror Hits" with Gallego and we'll get to that in a moment... but first, how about our first contest? We're going to be giving away an "Aaaaah!! Indie Horror Hits" DVD prize package! Just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and answer this skill testing question: What was the name of Gallego's first super 8 film? Hint: read for about one minute, starts with "W", ends with "Y". Word's around 7 letters long. We'll promote the contest in a few places, then we'll pick a winner at the end of the month...
First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you into indie horror?
I’ve loved film since I was a kid, particularly the classic Universal Studios monsters. My doctor dad used to joke that I had ‘monster-itis’. Horror and fantasy films fascinated me and I wanted to learn everything that I could about them.
Among my earliest film influences is Elwy Yost, the father of screenwriter Graham Yost (Speed). Elwy had a nightly show called Magic Shadows and a weekly show called Saturday Night At The Movies on TVO here in Ontario. Elwy would screen and discuss classic Hollywood films. He also did original interviews with the stars, directors, producers, composers, etc. I learned to love films because Elwy was so enthusiastic about them. This was way before DVDs and bonus interview featurettes. Growing up, these shows were my informal film school.
I got into indie horror films because they’re fun to make. You get to do cool stuff and play with cool toys. Just about any day on a horror film set is a surreal experience. Horror and fantasy films let you flex your storytelling and filmmaking muscles. And nothing provides audience catharsis like a good scare.
Film School: Yes or No?
Yes. First, I went to the University of Toronto where I switched from pre-med to the film program after my first year and earned my B.A. At that time the program was all about film theory and criticism, so I did some extra curricular work and made my first Super 8 film, a horror comedy called “Washday”. Thanks to that film, they accepted me into the producer’s program at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. That was an amazing year, learning first hand from working industry professionals. Really worth it!
Tell us about AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits. Where’d you get the idea and what made you go out and actually put it all together?
AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits is a feature length DVD collection of great short horror films from independent filmmakers. Some are completely unknown - for now - and others are industry pros stretching their wings on their own projects. For example, we have a film from the editor of the Saw franchise, Kevin Greutert. This is the film he showed to the Saw producers, and they agreed to let him direct Saw VI. These films caused a buzz on the festival circuit - then vanished. We’re resurrecting them so horror fans and filmmakers alike can benefit. Volume 1 is now available to buy on-line at http://www.aaaaah-films.com. And we’re working on the next volume as we speak.
I got the idea for AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits while travelling the festival circuit with The Crypt Club. Talking with indie horror filmmakers a question that always comes up is, “What can you do with your short horror film once it’s done its festival run?” Distributors aren’t interested in individual short horror films. So, why not create a compilation DVD? After speaking with several enthusiastic filmmakers I realized the idea didn’t have to stop at one disc. By creating multiple volumes we could continue showcasing films and filmmakers, making the project more attractive financially.
I came up with the name ‘AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits’ so that it would appear at the top of catalogue lists and at the front of store shelves. It took a couple of years to put it all together and develop a simple business model that would attract filmmakers. Then it took about a year and a half to source and license enough good films to create volume 1. If I had known at the start how much work it was going to be I’m not sure I would have done it. But now it’s underway, and, with volume 1 a market reality, it’ll be easier to move forward and keep bringing fans some top-notch indie horror films.
What do filmmakers get out of having their film be a part of the DVD?
Well, financially, there’s the opportunity to make some money because we split profits 50/50 with our filmmakers. And there are no up-front fees to submit films. There’s also extended exposure and a wider audience for their films – this is especially useful for calling card films.
Most important for us is that the filmmakers get to keep 100% of the rights to their own films. We use a non-exclusive license agreement so filmmakers can sell their film elsewhere as they see fit. That keeps us motivated to promote and sell AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits. We want to become the indie short horror filmmaker’s first choice for distribution.
When you look for films to be a part of the AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits DVD series, what are you looking for?
Well, not to be too boring, but first I ask if the filmmaker has all the film’s rights clear for licensing. That’s part of the submission release form questionnaire that must accompany every submitted film. You’d be surprised how many filmmakers have no written agreements to secure the rights to their films.
Whether it’s a short horror, a thriller, or a dark fantasy film I want it to be engaging. I like a good story, well told. I look at both the creative and the technical aspects of each film. Originality and good production value certainly scores bonus points with me. I don’t mind gore as long as it serves the story and isn’t the only reason the film was made.
I also look at each film’s bang for the buck. The longer the film, the more dramatic weight it has to carry. I take the ‘all killer, no filler’ idea to heart so viewers won’t have to sit through a half hour film with only one good moment. I also prefer brief titles and credits (to save on disc space), and that the titles and credits match the film that’s sandwiched in between them. There’s nothing as disappointing as a great opening title to a poorly executed film – except maybe end credits that go on as long as the film itself.
Once the individual films are selected it’s time to make the best compilation. I’ll combine films with different topics and durations to create a balanced variety. In the future we plan to put together themed discs, like an all zombie or all vampire disc for the die-hard fans.
I don’t rush the screening and selection process. I’ll watch every film twice, sometimes more. And I get opinions from trusted colleagues. Once in a while a film that I wasn’t sure about will linger in my mind. That’s when I know it’s worth another look and that viewers will appreciate it on repeat viewing. Finding and providing good quality films is the key to this collection.
I’m assuming that budget isn’t a huge factor for you, as there’s a couple of films on there that were obviously done on low budgets – I’m thinking about Ghost Busted and The Ninth Entry, specifically. Talk about indie filmmakers working with next to no budget.
Yes, a film’s budget is not a huge factor in my selections for AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits. If the film is engaging then I’m hooked – regardless of its budget. I think that as audience members we’ve become far too preoccupied with a film’s finances. Disclosing financial information is just another way to generate publicity.
In many ways it’s a blessing for filmmakers to work with a low budget. It challenges your conviction to make the film, it forces you to find creative solutions, and it helps you to build friendships based on mutual support. Having a low budget also helps strip away everything that isn’t critical to telling the story so you get a really tight, creative film with no dramatic flab.
I’ve seen many miserable films that had plenty of resources available and no creative or technical ingenuity. It’s nice to know a film’s budget so you can gauge how effectively the filmmaker used it. However, no one frames a copy of the budget to remind them of the film. Not even the accountants.
I think filmmakers should replace the terms ‘no-budget’ and ‘low-budget’ with the term ‘high ingenuity’. It takes the focus off of what they lack and creates an abundance mentality around their creativity and resources. I think that’s what Anthony Falcon (The Ninth Entry) and Vance Null (Ghost Busted) did. They maximized what they had at hand to make highly watchable films. And I know that other films on the collection rose above their limitations and triumphed over financial and logistical adversity. That’s a mark of great filmmaking.
Now, you’re also a filmmaker and included your film, The Crypt Club, on the DVD. Tell us about the film. What festivals did it screen at and what kind of run did you get out of it?
The Crypt Club is a dark cautionary tale about three teenage girls who drive a vintage hearse to a deserted country cemetery for a midnight initiation that will challenge each girl’s conscience – with horrific results. It stars Alison Pill (Milk, Dan In Real Life, Pieces of April), Jessica Greco (Across the River to Motor City, The House, Mutant X), Kerry Segal (Goosebumps), and Michèle Duquet (Kaw, Earth: Final Conflict).
The film won 18 awards while screening at over 45 international film festivals in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. The festival run started in early 2004 and ended on Halloween 2007. The most recent screening was at the 2008 World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Crypt Club aired on the CBC national filmmaker showcase Canadian Perspectives and on Ciudad Abierta in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Crypt Club has also been used in a couple of classrooms, including a lecture that I gave at Notre Dame University. That was really cool.
There’s a complete list of screenings and awards on-line at http://www.thecryptclub.com. Looking back on this list I’m amazed at all the cool people and places I’ve seen thanks to The Crypt Club.
What was your budget for The Crypt Club and how did you go about securing it?
The Crypt Club was completely self-financed by my wife and me. But we couldn’t have made it without a lot of donations and discounts. PS Production Services in Toronto helped us out with camera and grip/electric packages through their Kick Start program. Through ACTRA’s Toronto Indie Productions program we secured a huge discount on our actors’ rates. We also got a great deal from our post house for transfers and on-line digital editing because we were willing to come in at odd times to fill in their shift schedule. The hearse was a donation from a filmmaker who was sympathetic to our production. And most of the crew were volunteers.
The question I’m most often asked is “What was the budget for The Crypt Club?” My usual response is, “Did you enjoy the film?” Because if you did, then it was worth every penny we spent on it. And if you didn’t, then it doesn’t matter. We made The Crypt Club as a calling card and were able to get back some of its costs through a television sale, labour tax credits, and now DVD sales.
I ran the numbers to know what our film would have cost us if we’d had to pay cash for everything. Our cash outlay was under 20% of the film’s total worth – with no deferrals.
One of the big lessons I learned on The Crypt Club was that if you insist on getting everything for free you risk ending up with nothing. Bartering works fine for some things. But, if you can offer partial payment to a supplier during a slow period they’ll see you as an entry-level customer not as another mooching indie filmmaker. For example, we needed two 80-foot cranes for our night exterior shoot. We needed them both on the first night of filming and then only one crane for the remaining five days. Because of the time of year we were able to strike a deal where we got seven nights of crane rentals for the price of two, including pick up and drop off in the country. We gave a little to get a whole lot.
Can we expect any more films from you in the future?
Oh, yes. There are a couple of feature film treatments I’ve been working on that desperately need my attention. Launching and promoting AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits has been a full time job. Once it has some momentum I’ll get back to writing my next big thing. Of course, I’m always open to an offer to direct.
Talk about the indie horror scene… where is it at now and where do you see it all going?
In the past, indie horror filmmakers had distribution available through the drive-in, grind-house, home video, and cable TV outlets. But now, what used to be the exclusive dark domain of the fringe is being eroded and assimilated into the mainstream because it’s become lucrative. Horror, like porn, is becoming gentrified as society evolves (or de-evolves, depending on your point of view). Hit TV shows now feature murderers (The Sopranos) and a serial killer (Dexter) as lead characters. The public’s appetite for horror (although it’s not called that) keeps growing.
As a culture we still need the cautionary tale that’s at the heart of the horror genre, but its dramatization will keep changing. The cinematic monsters of the 1930s that terrified a generation are now merely quaint icons to many. “More Count Chocula cereal, Billy?” I’m sure there’s someone working on a Freddy Krueger children’s vitamin. So horror films will keep evolving to reflect society’s fears.
The recent trend has been for gore/torture porn from the independents, and re-makes of old films as Hollywood cashes in on the indie film model. I’m hoping that when the public tires of carnage and uninspired re-hashes that the horror film will return to solid storytelling.
I think the Internet is a logical place for the indie filmmaker to seek distribution – as long as it remains an open market. Already you can see the big corporations carving up and claiming the Internet, trying to figure out how to control it for use as a delivery medium. As ever, the indie horror filmmaker will have to be innovative in order to create and be noticed.
What advice would you pass on to an indie horror filmmaker who’s just setting out to make a film?
Oh boy. How much time do we have?
I’ve worked on many student and short indie films. As a result, I developed a workshop presentation called “Indie Production Planning: Getting Your Day”. I teach filmmakers about production planning with an emphasis on getting your day, because if you can plan, prepare, and complete each shoot day you’ll get your film. If you can’t, then all your visionary genius will never see the light of a screening room.
So, on a practical level, I’d say: learn, plan, and prepare. Learn about filmmaking and learn about the business because you’ll need both sets of knowledge to succeed. If you have commercial hopes for your film get the paperwork done in advance or as you go. Trying to get signatures on deal memos after the fact is a nightmare that can hold our film hostage.
Plan your film down to the last detail. Only then will you be ready for a better idea. Prepare for every contingency. When you need Plan B (or C or D) is not the time to think it up.
On a philosophical level I’d say: be passionate about your films. It’s contagious, so it helps get things done. Take your films seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Be a friend to everyone who might help you. Be inspired by others, but find your own voice so you don’t become a copycat filmmaker. Work safely. Have fun, have a life, and remember that it’s only a movie.
Where can people find out more about AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits and, better yet, buy a copy?
Oh yes, please buy a copy for yourself and for your friends and loved ones. Why not harass complete strangers with anonymous gifts of indie horror films? Indie filmmakers will be eternally grateful.
We’ve got a web site chock full of information about AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits at www.aaaaah-films.com. You can also get our company information and buy the DVD through www.thecryptclub.com.
The DVD has a link to a secret web page with exclusive content about the films and filmmakers. We also provide a secret web page where accredited media can download press kits, images, trailers and more. We’ll be updating both secret pages from time to time to keep them fresh.
If a filmmaker has a short that they’d like to submit for a future volume, what should they do?
The first thing filmmakers should do is support their peers and buy several copies of AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits, Volume 1. But seriously… I’m kidding. Not really, but it’s worth a shot.
All the submission information is available on our web site: www.aaaaah-films.com/pages/submit.html. You download the submission form, fill it in, and send it to us with a copy of your film.
Basic things to keep in mind are that filmmakers must hold all the rights to their film and have the paperwork to back that up. The submission form has a checklist of some of the paperwork required. And you can download our Rights and Clearances Guidelines for free. It’s very helpful for first time filmmakers too. We’ll be posting other helpful documents for filmmakers.
So, I hear there’s an AAAAAH!! Indie Horror Hits, Volume 2 coming out… what can we expect out of the next volume?
Yes, we’re already gathering and screening films for volume 2. So far, people who’ve seen volume 1 tell us they like the variety of films we’re showcasing. There’s something for everyone. So expect more of that.
A couple of the filmmakers from volume 1 have sent us other worthwhile films. We’re glad for that. And we’re getting some pretty interesting films from outside of Canada and the USA. So look for some non-North American short horror films to creep into the mix as well.
In the future, as we build up our library, we’ll look at releasing themed volumes, like an all zombie or all vampire collection. Can’t wait.