Friday, May 8, 2009

Interview with Asif Ahmed, Festival Director of The Vampire Film Festival

I believe the future of entertainment will be niche. It will be specific and cater to your individual tastes. I mean, you can be a general horror fan, but you can also be a fan of 'zombie survival horror' or 'teen slasher flicks'. Where as we used to have only a handful of genres and categories, say... drama, comedy, horror, sci-fi and documentaries, the categories will be endless. Just think about how you can break out your choices on Amazon now... I think we'll get even more precise.

The way I look at it, as the people who sell, rent and stream content and films continue to categorize and specify genres, it's only a matter of time before the festivals do, too. It almost seems archaic to have a genre neutral festival, doesn't it? Like, "Hi, we're the ABC Film Festival and we accept ALL genre's and they'll ALL be competing for the same prizes." (I mean no offense to any existing festival that may or may not be called the ABC Film Festival) Right now, we have hundreds of horror festivals every year, but even those are becoming a bit too general. So, when I heard about The Vampire Film Festival, I really thought they were on to something...

The Vampire Film Festival takes place in New Orleans this Fall and it's not open to JUST vampire films, but all vampire related films... which can incorporate lots of things, such as goth, werewolves, zombies, etc. If you're working on something that could be considered vampire related, you're into vampires or the goth scene, this is something for you. Hey, even if you're just interested in how the festivals work, you'll want to give this a read, as we had the opportunity to discuss it all with the festival director, Asif Ahmed...

Tell us about yourself, how’d you get into the indie horror scene?

I’ve been working on small horror films since I was in grade school. My first film was about a killer bunny rabbit that sucked blood. We created a monster bunny from a stuffed toy, added fangs and the engine from a remote control car. It was great! One day I want to remake this film. Growing up I made vampire shorts, gothic films, and more.

Some purists might consider horror the “easy” way to make a film, just mix some corn syrup with red food coloring but I don’t. You learn the essentials of character, plotting and story from horror.

Tell us about the Vampire Film Festival. When and why did it get started?

We had our first in Los Angeles in 2003 at the Los Angeles Film School. Short Vampire Films and video of the event are on our site. The Red Cross blood mobile was parked on Sunset Blvd in front of the theatre. We had a gothic music performance artist in the theatre performing live between films and a red-carpet Vampire costume ball. Our plan was to always bring the festival to New Orleans but Katrina got in the way. We are looking forward to bringing the festival there this year and making it a permanent fixture of the city and we plan to travel with this festival to many other cities around the world – the touring Vampire Festival.

There’s a lot more to the festival than just films, tell us a bit about what you have going on.

First we want the festival to be part of the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans. It’s very difficult to go back to the city and see the parts that are still devastated. The Lower 9th is an open field with a scattering of homes and it’s depressing.

Our mission with the festival, beyond the films, is to showcase vampire art, screenplays, novels and theater as well as have some great parties! We also plan to use some of the local bands and hope we can attract some New Orleans vampire writers. The event will include panel discussions, meetings with filmmakers, parties, fashion shows, music and some surprises.

Why vampires? Talk a bit about vampire films and what they mean to the horror genre.

Vampires are an enduring cultural phenomenon and are found in every culture. The literary genre, and it truly is a separate genre, can encompass horror, romance, humor and the erotic, really whatever you want. Regarding films, Nosferatu and Dracula actively engaged the world audience to the joys of being scared to death and they are still enjoying it. Regarding horror, the classic Hammer vampire films with Christopher Lee, some of the lesser know films like Near Dark and the newest classic, Let the Right One In show what the vampire film genre can be. I’m also looking forward to Johnny Depp’s Dark Shadows.

From the perspective of the filmmaker, what can I expect to get out of attending and/or having my film screen at the Vampire Film Festival?

Attendees are going to have fun. This is going to be an international film festival in one of the greatest cities in America. Attendees will be meeting filmmakers from around the world- we already have submissions from 4 continents. Filmmakers will get a chance to showcase their works in the vampire, gothic, supernatural genres. We want ghost films, werewolves, witches, mythic creatures, films that span these genres will all be considered. We are talking to some distributors who want to see what films get selected.

As a horror fan, what can I expect to get out of attending the festival?

The audience gets a chance to let their hair down, wear costumes, drink some booze and have a truly visceral experience. We will have panels, filmmakers, live music and more and of course you are going to see some trendsetting, genre defining films about Vampires, ghosts, werewolves from filmmakers around the world and might get a sneak peak of some of Hollywood’s latest offerings as well.

When you’re accepting films, what are you looking for?

Submissions are now OPEN. You can submit from our site or on Without A Box. We want creativity above anything else, a coherent plot and story, good photography and acting. Audiences are tired of stupid horror films and I’m wondering about the future of slasher films and remakes of Asian horror films too… unless the filmmakers start using more creativity. A good story is a good story….

Does budget come into play when you’re considering films?

No, absolutely not - a big budget is just that, more splash but it sure can’t guarantee a good film. We’re looking for artistry, a good story, creativity, not bucks splashed across a screen.

So, in general, why should indie horror filmmakers try to get their films into festivals?

It’s very difficult for indie filmmakers of any genre to get their films seen. There are more and more films being made and less outlets for them. The Internet has been a game changer but how can one distinguish their work from thousands if not millions of other films online. The majority of films end up as a dusty dvd. Filming in the horror genre makes it even harder as a lot of critics come out with their fangs out without knowing anything about the film.

Festivals give filmmakers a forum, more options for distribution, a chance to build a fan base, and more exposure for their film. The more a film is seen, discussed and critiqued the better.

Festivals are also the way to get the kinks out of a film especially with digital editing being the norm now. Once a film goes before an audience, all those little flaws you never noticed suddenly pop out. Festivals allow you to erase them before they are distributed.

As a filmmaker, what can I do to make my film more festival friendly? Should I even be thinking of that?

Make a great film and be willing to submit to festivals. Some filmmakers are hesitant to get their film out there or worse don’t know what to do once they complete their film. Filmmakers need to believe in their film and push it every chance they get.

At what point in the filmmaking process should I be thinking about the festivals?

From day one. As a filmmaker you need to understand your film and which festivals match its style, genre, and tone. A filmmaker should never rush their film to meet a festival deadline.

What advice can you give to an up and coming filmmaker in the indie horror genre?

Study the great films of horror including ones from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Read about film and see everything. Who would have thought the one of the classics in vampire cinema would come from Sweden in 2008. There are new films coming out everyday and it’s important to see them. A lot of people don’t want to hear this, but it’s also very important to learn the nuts of bolts of filmmaking, including marketing. Some don’t think it’s creative but you can’t have show business without the business.

Where do you think the indie horror scene is now and where do you see it going?

With the new digital cameras, editing equipment, power computers, the sky is the limit. Also a lot of noted directors and actors who were initially put off by the idea of horror are looking at it with kinder eyes. I think a new wave of horror classics is just on the horizon

What’s next for you and Vampire Film Festival?

We’ll continue expanding our site and make the Vampire News Network a reality on the web. We also want to have on-going Vampire Fests in other cities – Las Vegas, San Francisco, Boston and maybe go to Europe. We also want to look for scripts and novels too. It’s hard to believe it but American vampire lore is still untapped. There are legends with historical roots that haven’t even been touched yet.

Where can people find out more about the festival and how can they go about entering their film? - Look at our articles on film and television and expect a lot of surprises in the future – We’re trying to expand our content on a daily basis. And if you are interested in being a contributing writer, please contact us!

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