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December 2016

Horror Filmmaking: Reasons You Should And Reasons You Shouldn’t Dive In

in Filmmaking/Horror by
Bruce Campbell, shooting The Evil Dead

Horror filmmaking is a great path into the industry of movie making. Plenty of today’s top filmmakers got their start in horror, including Sam Raimi, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, and so on and so on. It’s arguably the most accessible genre, with a large, hungry audience that never seems to be satisfied with the quantity of films that gets put out. But just because it’s convenient for your hopeful horror-creating career, doesn’t mean you should dive in head first. Here are some reasons you should, and some reasons you shouldn’t create horror films.

No One Wants to Watch Your Boring Melodramatic Movie

The Babadook is melodramatic horror filmmaking
The Babadook was a pretty melodramatic movie

Why are beginning filmmakers always so melodramatic? In film school, everyone wrote these ridiculously melodramatic screenplays about dysfunctional families and drug addict fathers and everyone cries and sobs and says very deep things and there’s always a note in the script about the timing of a very somber piano piece that should be included. I recorded sound for one project about a woman in an abusive relationship, and it was just five minutes of a guy beating his girlfriend and another five of her crying and then black frames with “A film by so and so”.

Who cares? No one wants to watch that crap–especially a feature-length version of that crap. There’s a reason that all of those movies that go to Sundance don’t end up in theatres or even on DVD half of the time. Sure, some of them are good films with something interesting to say, but even still, it’s not entertaining. There’s no effort to create something entertaining. The filmmaker’s goal, nine times out of ten, is to make the viewer feel like they watched something intelligent and sensitive. Who cares? A movie should be entertaining. I have using the word film when referring to my own movies because it reminds me of all those melodramatic filmmakers that wear scarves and say the word “film”.

So instead of making that melodramatic crap, consider a career in horror filmmaking.

Horror Sells

The Asylum is terrible horror filmmaking
The losers over at The Asylum make their living exploiting horror fans

Horror has a very large and passionate audience. Distributors are always looking for horror flicks to fill up their rosters. Just look up a few random distributors and then look into their film catalogue. I can almost guarantee it is loaded with horror films–maybe even more than half. There’s a reason distributors stack their catalogues with horror. Because they sell. Unfortunately, they even sell when the quality is terrible and the budget is next to non-existent. I’m not advocating making terrible movies, but it helps back up my argument.

Last year I was approached by a company looking for directors to attach to a slate of projects they hoped to shoot in 2016. After meeting with them, I discovered this small production company shot about ten feature films every year. I asked how long their shoots were and what kind of budgets they dealt with. Each film had a budget of $10,000 each, with a three-day shoot. Can you believe that? I turned the offer down for a number of reasons, but that company is still going strong, and all of their movies sell.

You Don’t Need Name Actors With Horror Filmmaking

horror filmmaking without name actors
The actors from the original Paranormal Activity are still no-names!

Dramas don’t sell unless you have A-list actors. Comedies don’t sell unless you have at least B-listers. Science fiction will sell if the production value is very high, which means you need a good budget. The same goes for fantasy and action.

I suppose with comedy, you might be able to get away with having no big names if you have an incredibly funny screenplay. But you don’t. I’ve read so many unfunny comedy screenplays by writers who are convinced their work is the crux of hilarity. Half of the comedies that make it to theatres don’t even have hilarious scripts, but they do have the comedy talent to make the film work. For example, I read the script for Funny People (Judd Apatow) before it was produced. It wasn’t very funny. I think there were maybe a dozen mediocre jokes and the plot was mediocre.

The film, however, was hilarious, because it had the comedy talent to bring it to life. As you set out to make your first or second or third indie film, you don’t have the comedic genius that Apatow has at his disposal, so do yourself a favour and put your comedy on the back-burner for when you have the money/resources to do it properly.

Good horror filmmaking, on the other hand, is a combination of concept, plot, characters, and an array of editing/filming techniques used to create suspense. Those things, while hard to master, are available to anyone who wants to make a film. There’s no price on a solid concept (unless you’re not writing your own script, in which case there is a price on a solid concept), and there’s no price on good characters. But hey, if your characters, concept, and plot all suck, there’s (unfortunately) still a good chance your horror movie will sell (see above).

If You Don’t Love and Respect Horror, Don’t Waste Your Time

More bad horror filmmaking in The Last Exorcism Part II
The Last Exorcism Part II: More cliches and more garbage. Written by a guy who didn’t want to be writing horror (He went on to write Whiplash)

There are enough losers trying to exploit the genre and the fanbase. We really don’t need one more jumping in on the action. If you’re looking for a quick buck, consider a career in finance or look up courses offered by your local trade schools. A real frustration has been growing inside of film fans over the past decade as more and more crap is being squirted into their faces. Lazy filmmakers see vets like Sam Raimi and Spielberg and thing, “Hey, that’s how he did it, so that’s how I should do it!”. These idiots don’t realize that Raimi and Spielberg and Scott and all the others loved the horror genre when they were starting out (and I can only image they still do, Raimi especially).

They will watch anything, but they’re a tough crowd

Sure, you can fake your way through some pile of garbage that will probably sell to one of the many distributors looking to snatch up anything remotely horror-related, but it won’t do anything for your career. At the end of the day, the horror fans who go out of their way to give your film a chance have eyes and ears and they’re actually really good at telling the difference between what’s genuine and what’s crap. They can see through you’re guise and they won’t give you another chance–and neither will the investors and distributors who end up losing out on your bid.

Apparently, Horror Filmmaking Is Just Too Convenient To Pass Up

horror filmmaking the witch robert eggers hates horror
Don’t get me wrong, The Witch looked stunning and had a great score, but if you ask me, Eggers should have stayed away from horror filmmaking.

I was really disappointed recently when I heard that Robert Eggers, the fellow who directed The Witch, said he didn’t like the horror genre. He only made a horror because no one wanted to make what he called his “genre-less” movies. In other words, he wanted to create pretentious crap and no one cared so he decided to make a horror movie. Like I said, this disappointed me, but it really didn’t surprise me. I wasn’t a fan of The Witch. As someone who went to film school and subsequently worked at a film school helping film hundreds of student films, I couldn’t help but see a pretentious student film trapped in a big budget feature’s body, another film student who wanted to give Andrei Tarkovsky a blowjob. Eggers even said that he’s glad now that the film is out because it means he never has to watch it again.

Maybe it’s my big ego, but I love watching my own work, even the not-so-good stuff (sorry Kankered). I’m able to find elements I like about everything I’ve ever done and watching my old work fills me with pride.

Horror Forces You To Understand And Learn The Art Of Filmmaking

the evil dead horror filmmaking at its finest
The original Evil Dead scared the living hell out of people

Big-league Hollywood producers only look for one thing when deciding whether a filmmaker will make the cut: can he coherently tell a story? It sounds so simple, but it’s really not so simple. How to coherently tell a story is a topic for another post (another slew of posts, really) so I won’t get into it here.

Your goal with horror filmmaking is to scare your audience (and no, that doesn’t mean making them jump). In order to effectively scare your audience, you need to utilize filming and editing techniques that force your audience to focus on the right things at the right time, playing with their expectations, stripping down their defences. You need to create tension and you need to build tension and you need to maintain tension and you also need to release tension so that you can build it up again, even higher.

It Requires Practice

There is a science to it, but it’s also an art, which takes lots and lots of practice and careful analysis to get right. You need to understand editing and pacing and your actors need to be believable in order for the audience to sympathize and care about them.

Horror is a genre that completely relies on your audience’s state of mind, their emotions, their feelings, and their expectations. All of those famous filmmakers I mentioned earlier didn’t just use horror as an easy door into their filmmaking careers. The reason they’re so good at what they do now is because they honed their skills in what might just be the most technically demanding genre.

Hammer of the Gods Behind The Scenes Gallery

in Filmmaking/Horror by

Hammer of the Gods Behind The Scenes

An image gallery full of behind the scenes photos, taken from the sets of Hammer of the Gods. Lots more coming soon!

[SPOILERS] Black Mountain Side Behind The Scenes Gallery

in Filmmaking/Horror by

Black Mountain Side Behind The Scenes

An image gallery full of behind the scenes photos, taken from the set of Black Mountain Side.

The Problem With Your Protagonist

in Filmmaking/Writing by
Josh Collins on the set of Hammer of the Gods

We get a lot of scripts sent to our script submissions inbox over at A Farewell To Kings Entertainment Company. You can always tell the experienced writers apart from the newer, aspiring writers from one simple thing: their protagonist. With the weaker works, it’s almost always the same exact problem–an incredibly easy to identify problem, but a problem that isn’t so easy to remedy. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between well written protagonists and ones that may need some work.

The Protagonist

MacReady, the protagonist in The Thing
John Carpenter directs Kurt Russell in The Thing

Your protagonist is arguably the most important aspect of your screenplay. Too often people outline their entire plot before even defining their main character–maybe they’ll give her a name, but they just think they’ll figure the rest out later. For the sake of your writing, do not approach your script this way.

Plot-driven fiction is boring fiction. It’s inevitably predictable and worst of all, it’s limiting to you, the writer. If you’ve already plotted out your story’s main beats before you’ve even chosen and defined your protagonist, you’ve got a big problem.

So what’s the problem?

Your Protagonist is Doomed to be Uninteresting

The problem you’ve created is, you’ve already made all of your protagonist’s key decisions for her. It’s a character’s decisions that define them as a unique individual. Too often do writers assume that character comes down to dialogue, gender, ethnicity, background, etc. Those things can affect (and should affect) your characters’ decisions, but it’s your characters’ decisions that define them as individuals and drive your story in interesting directions.

A story’s beats should be consequences of a character’s decision, not a consequence of fate or luck. That makes for boring fiction. I’m sure you’re thinking of a bunch of examples to disprove this statement. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but they’re exceptions, and I’m sure they were made by professionals with a deep understanding of the craft, who know what they can get away with.

Though, there is one major exception to this rule: your inciting incident should be from forces outside of your protagonist’s control. Your protagonist should be forced out of their comfort-zone and into the story. And that brings me to a perfect segue.

Your Protagonist’s Comfort-Zone should not be their Boring-Zone

Will Ferrell, the film's protagonist, brushes his teeth
Will Ferrell brushes his teeth in Stranger than Fiction. This scene actually serves a purpose.

This is the biggest issue I see from new writers. “The Everyman”. The guy who wakes up and brushes his teeth and goes to work and comes home and makes a microwave dinner and watches The Sopranos and goes to bed. There are other versions of the everyman, for example, “the every-stoner-man” — the guy who sleeps in and smokes a bunch of pot and plays video games and probably lives on his friend’s couch.

Starting out (with my first half-dozen screenplays) I was guilty of this to varying degrees. It’s one of the toughest concepts to really grasp: making interesting characters. I’ve experimented with character traits, adding them to pre-existing characters like a lasagna that needs more salt. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. The reason being, the characters’ decisions have already been made for them. Once their decisions have been made, everything else is superficial.

Here is the number one biggest example I find in amateur scripts: the group of friends consisting of at least one quirky friend, and the down-to-earth, everyman protagonist. It’s always the down-to-earth everyman who ends up being the protagonist. Why is that?

The Relatable Lie

Jack Nicholson makes a fantastic protagonist
Not the everyman

Your teachers lied to you. Relatable is Boring. Relatable characters don’t survive the test of time. Think Ash in the Evil Dead. Even in the first film, before he’s reimagined into a badass, takes-no-names monster killer, he’s not the everyman. He’s a bumbling romantic and kind of a sissy. It’s the decisions he makes as a consequence of his character that drive the direction of the story.

Think MacReady in The Thing. He’s a takes-no-shit dude who is completely unsympathetic to the people around him, only really concerned about his own survival. I don’t need to tell you why Jack Nicholson in The Shining isn’t an everyman character, and I shouldn’t have to tell you why Ripley in Alien isn’t an everywoman.

Don’t Write What You Know

My God, do I hate that advice. “Write what you know”. It’s the biggest letdown in any creative writing class. Teachers love to spew it out to their classes, “Just write what you know!” Without naming names, there is a writing instructor at the Vancouver Film School (where I worked as a teaching assistant for years) who would tell this to students before they set off on writing their mid-term projects, which we would make into short films.

The protagonist in Adaptation, played by Nic Cage
Adaptation already nailed it. Time to move onto new ideas.

I filmed close to 200 of these shorts. Easily a quarter of them were about a writer struggling to come up with an idea for a script. More than half were about a struggling writer in some situation or another. Almost all of them were about the Everyman.

The Everyman

I can’t tell you how many scenes we shot with two roommates sitting on the couch watching television together, or scenes where the protagonist brushes his teeth. Why does everyone feel the need to include a teeth-brushing scene?

If you think you know a good film with an everyman protagonist, I challenge you to think about it harder. Remember that, in real life, people try very hard to look and act normal. You can’t sit on a city bus without wondering if everyone around you is some robot clone, but they’re thinking the same exact thing about you. In Taxi Driver, for example, De Niro’s character is quiet and soft-spoken and he can be charming, and it could be easy to mistake him for the dreaded everyman. But he’s actually a character suffering from degrading PTSD and crippling loneliness, and those traits are what determine the direction of the film’s plot.

How to Create an Interesting Protagonist

In Hammer of the Gods, the film's protagonist is played by Josh Collins
Josh Collins prepares to shoot an intense scene in Hammer of the Gods

Interesting protagonists can be created in many different ways. A truly interesting protagonist is not an easy thing to create — it’s not just a matter of pulling up a list of character traits off of Google and picking a couple of them. Characters, like people, aren’t just a couple of character traits. Think about the interesting people you know in real life. How would they react to an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse? What would they do if their girlfriend dumped them? What kind of situations might they get themselves into that other people (the everyman included) might not?

Try to find conflicting traits and combine them. In Hammer of the Gods, the protagonist is the outgoing life of the party, always the last one up, drinking heavily, doing drugs. But he’s also a morning person, the first person awake. He’s already been out fishing by the time you’ve woken up. On the outside he’s a total womanizer, but he’s also a sort of hopeless romantic. And notice how I said he’s “sort of” a hopeless romantic. This is important, and a good segue to my next point.

Try Not To Define Your Protagonist With Adjectives

When you go to outline your script, don’t write down: “Jake: 25 years old, funny, smart, charming.” You’re destined to get a cardboard archetype this way. It’s not a simple matter of writing out a list of traits. You need to be able to imagine your character as a real person. You need to be able to think: “What would Jake do here?” and not “What would a funny, smart, charming person do here?” I know a lot of funny, smart, charming people in real life, and every one of them would react differently to a life threatening danger.

Tom Cruise plays the protagonist in Eyes Wide Shut
Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut is much more interesting than just ‘charming guy’

Not to mention, most adjectives can be seen in different ways. Funny, for example: Is his humour crude? Do people laugh whenever he talks? Does he laugh at his own jokes? Is he aware that he’s funny? Is he trying to be funny? Or let’s look at charming: In what way is he charming? Is he charming to women or to men or to everyone? I know a guy who is somewhat crude and blunt but everyone says that, the way he presents his crude bluntness, is a sort of charming quality. Charming doesn’t necessarily just mean he’s suave and he smiles handsomely when he talks. (And did you notice the return of “sort of”?)

Be More Interesting

Your protagonist doesn’t need to be more intricate, but she does need to be more real–less of an archetype (or a combination of archetypes). And by more real, I do not mean more normal–I do not mean make her into an everywoman. Adolf Hitler was real. Hunter Thompson was real. Charles Bukowski was real. Lady Gaga is a real person. None of these examples are “normal,” but they exist. I’m sure you can think of some pretty extravagant personalities in your own life.

Don’t Make Your Protagonist a Reflection of Yourself

People (yourself included) don’t see themselves as interesting or eccentric. It’s very, very hard to see your own personality objectively (arguably impossible). That’s not to say you aren’t interesting or unique or different in any way, because you are. You just don’t see it like other people can. When you go to borrow from real life, don’t borrow from your own real life, unless you believe your life contains something exceptionally interesting. If you were a spy during the Gulf War and you survived a plane crash, then you might be the exception.

Don’t be a Victim of Falsehoods

The Evil Dead remake's protagonist was a woman playing a man
Feminism has lead to a string of films where women are playing men. Here’s a BTS shot from the terrible Evil Dead remake.

Unless you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, it’s important to be realistic. Society will tell you that realistic isn’t “politically correct”. With Black Mountain Side, we got a particularly negative review from someone who was disappointed that none of the characters in the film were women. Writing the script, I considered making some of the characters women, but it didn’t feel realistic. The reality is, women and men are different in many ways, both physically, the way they think, and with the jobs they take. It’s just reality, nothing to be offended by. I just couldn’t believe a woman taking a job at that outpost. In the end, I figured it would be more offensive to women to force a female into the script than it was to just write the thing organically.

Realism is important in film, unless you’re intentionally making something unrealistic.

You want people to believe your characters. They won’t relate to your characters or care about their wellbeing if they don’t believe they’re authentic. All of a sudden, you’ve lost your connection with your audience because you wanted to be more inclusive.

I have a friend who strongly believes the opposite, who took a script he wrote and flipped the genders of every character in his story without changing anything else but their names. He was convinced that it was just as realistic after the gender-flip. At the end of the day, it’s all subjective–maybe you believe the same thing. That said, I think he turned a strong script into a weak one because I found myself struggling to believe the characters. The piece, to me, read more like feminist propaganda than a genuine story.

 

Find and Hire a Concept Artist For Your Horror Project

in Filmmaking by
horror concept art scary cool

How to Find and Hire a Concept Artist

There are thousands of incredible artists in the world, hundreds of whom are dying to work on your horror project. For whatever reason, artists (and concept artists in particular) are drawn to the horror genre. Maybe it’s the freedom it gives them, letting their imaginations run wild, creating all sorts of fantastic beasts and monsters. But how do you find a concept artist? How do you go about hiring a concept artist? How much should you pay? I’m going to try to answer all of these questions in this article.horror concept art

I’ve commissioned art from dozens of artists. I love feeding a talented artist an idea and then seeing what he/she can create. Sometimes a concept artist can breathe new ideas into your project that you may have never considered before. Or maybe you’re just looking for someone who can perfectly translate what’s in your head into a visual representation. Either way, the artist you’re looking for is out there.

First, determine what you want.

Before anything, you need to know exactly what you want the artist to do, and that may include coming up with ideas. You don’t want to approach an artist and be like, “Well, I think I want something like this but I don’t really know.” As with anyone who works on a contract-basis, you need to provide a clear direction.

What you can say is: “Hey, I’ve got this cool idea for a monster, but I have no idea what I want it to look like. In the story he does this, this, and that. Does this give you any ideas?” Artists love this kind of creative collaboration, and in my opinion, it makes for the strongest work. That being said, approaching your artist like this means you need to be open to different interpretations of your idea–because I guarantee you won’t get exactly what was in your mind when you created the idea.

The creatures in Hammer of the Gods turned out drastically different than what I originally envisioned–so much so that I went back into the script and made changes to accommodate the artists’ designs (we combined two designs together for the final piece).

horror concept art practical
A more practical piece

You need to decide what style you want, and you need to decide the purpose of the art. Do you need a blueprint for a special makeup effects team? Is this a piece for an investment proposal? You may want your artist to create a visual representation of a scene from your project, or you may want something that breaks down your creature into understandable pieces for re-creation later.

So what do you need?

For Black Mountain Side, we needed a few pieces to bring our investment proposal to life. We gave our very talented artist, Sean Patrick Thurlow, the script and some photos of our shooting location (which we had just scouted a week earlier) and asked him to create some very atmospheric pieces that would grab the attention of potential investors.

With Hammer of the Gods, we needed a design we could give to our special effects team, so they could turn it into a full creature suit. When we were producing Black Mountain Side, we searched through many, many artist profiles until we found Sean’s, and we knew his style was a perfect fit for what we were looking for. With Hammer of the Gods, we wanted options, so we contracted many artists to create rough designs, and then we picked a couple we really liked to have fleshed out into finished pieces.

Black Mountain Side Concept Art
One of the pieces done by Sean Thurlow for Black Mountain Side

You also need to decide whether you want colour, whether you want something with well-defined lines versus something more realistic or stylistic. Furthermore, you need to decide if you even need a fully-finished piece, or if something rough will suffice. I know that some special effects people will take your design(s) and redo them into a blueprint that works better for them.

Where to start

So you have a good idea of what you’re looking for. Now what? You need to start looking into artists.

The way I’ve always done this is using ConceptArt.org (and no, I have no affiliation with the website, I just think it’s fantastic). You can post a job posting for free. Full disclosure: I’ve never posted a listing looking for free work, though they do have that option. I can’t comment on the quality of the artists or the number of submissions you will get.

I usually post into “Small Freelance,” which means I’m looking to contract a piece under $500. You should be clear with your budget in your posting. I suggest using a profession e-mail account (not your Hotmail account) and looking at a few other job postings before making your own. Please, for the love of God, revise your posting, and if you suck at grammar/spelling, have your English major friend take a look before you press ‘submit’.

Kristian Nokaj concept artist
Work by Kristian Nokaj – You can get a concept artist for your costume and character design, too

Warning: especially if posting a paid gig, you will get tons of e-mails from artists. Their e-mails should include their portfolio and/or relevant pieces they’ve done in the past. From this point on, it’s a matter of picking an artist (or multiple artists) that you like and contacting them. You can initiate a conversation on Skype to get a better idea of what they’re capable of and what they’re willing to contribute to your project.

Some questions to ask

Ask your artist(s) about their workflow–how long they usually take to complete a piece, how many stages they go through, what to expect from each stage. Every artist I’ve worked with has been different. Some send hand-drawn sketches first, before sending finished pieces, while Some send what they call ‘thumbnails’, which are collections of small rough drawings. Others won’t do colour until the very final stages, some will send their thumbnails in colour. Make sure you know what you’re getting into.

concept artist thumbnails hotg
Some thumbnails by artist, Kristian Benson.

Make sure they are clear with your budget, and make sure you agree on a currency. You will find lots of artists living in different countries that may not share your form of currency.

Ask if they’ve done concept art for film before. This is important to know. We hired an artist who created an incredible design for us, but it turned out to be useless because it was impossible to make into a reality. It’s important that the artist understands what is possible and what is just a cool design.

Ask how they would like to be paid. I strongly recommend PayPal and nothing else. Don’t do bank wire transfers, and don’t, for the Love of God, send money in the mail. PayPal is safe, easy, and every working artist should have it set up. I generally do a half now, half when the piece is finished kind of deal, though I’ve done weekly instalments before as well.

Some artists will charge by the hour, and I personally recommend you don’t go down this route for the sake of accountability. Unless you really trust this person, insist on a flat rate.

The Art Test

I hesitate to even tell you about this, but lots of artists will be willing to do an art test. An art test is essentially a ‘tryout’. Before you agree to pay them, they will create you a rough design (and some artists will go above and beyond for this). This is good if you are looking for different interpretations of an idea, and you can’t get a clear enough idea from the artists’ profiles as to whether they will be right for the project. This is also good if the artist doesn’t have any relevant experience but is keen on working on your project. With Hammer of the Gods, we had a few artists who had never done anything in the horror genre, but were eager to prove they were capable. We had them do an art test.

Don’t exploit the art test

I asked one concept artist if he was willing to do an art test, and I got a very, very angry e-mail in response. Some artists find the art test offensive. You’re essentially asking for free work, and it should only be done if absolutely necessary. Some artists may even beg for an art test (that’s how I learned the term), and most artists who aren’t well established in the industry will agree to one. This really should not be exploited. These are hard working, talented people who have bills to pay, just like the rest of us.

Get your paperwork together

Even if you insist on having a dozen different artists do an art test, get them all to sign NDAs (Non-disclosure agreements) and an art release. Before any artist starts a project, get both of those documents signed and saved onto your computer. You can find releases and NDAs online for free with the help of Google. This may require some re-wording to accommodate the specifics of your project. If you have the money, get the agreements from a lawyer.

concept artist Matthew Donnici
Art by Matthew Donnici, one of the submissions for Hammer of the Gods

Be sure to include the rate on the release. In most cases, a creature design is a major spoiler for your project. You don’t want your creature design to end up on a public portfolio before you’ve even raised the funds to shoot your film. Make sure all of your bases are covered.

Be courteous

I make a point of e-mailing everyone back, which takes a long time. Even when I don’t use a concept artist, I always thank them for their submission and their interest in my project, point out something I like about their work, and encourage them to resubmit in the future. They’ve got a tough gig with tons of competition. Some of these people dream of being working artists and you never know when a little bit of encouragement is all they need to push themselves to the next level. You will get submissions from artists who are just starting out, and their work may not be up to your standard. Remember that their are no age restrictions on using ConceptArt.org, and some of these submissions are teenagers looking to get a glimpse into their dream industry. Don’t be a dream crusher.

The Future of Horror

in Horror by

The future of horror, as seen from the past

You may be thinking that the two things are unrelated– or at least, their relation is irrelevant. The points I’m about to make may come across as pessimism, and even notions of hopelessness towards a beloved medium and a beloved genre. That isn’t my intention, and I strongly urge you to consider what I’m saying constructively. The point I’m setting forward to make here is not that horror film is a dying genre, but that it needs to evolve in order to remain culturally relevant. It’s not like horror writing was abolished by the advent of horror film. But any worthwhile writer, or literary historian, will tell you that the art of horror writing (as in novels, non-fiction and poems) responded to the breakthrough and evolution of the film medium in order to remain relevant, and become what it is today. So what is the future of horror?

I hope that this film, The Witch, is a glimpse into the future of horror.

My goal, as a horror filmmaker, is to see the genre from point A to point B. Right now, in my honest opinion, we’ve been stuck at point A for quite a long time, and the much needed evolution is being held back by a number of factors–one being the state of the film industry.

Don’t get me wrong. I consider myself a purist. I’m a very stubborn person with a lot of pre-programmed Ukrainian pride in me. I insisted throughout the entire filmmaking process on Black Mountain Side that everything be done practically. I insisted on having a life-sized puppet made instead of the easier CGI route for our monster. Instead of using simple and common background replacement methods, I insisted that we shoot in the mountains, where the film takes place.

Excuse me while I establish some history.

Horror’s Golden Era

I will honestly admit that the best horror films came out between 1973-1984, and that I don’t care for contemporary horror–possibly (and almost definitely) to my own disservice.

But I am humble enough to understand why horror films are the way that they are today. It’s because of money. Distributors, filmmakers, and writers have figured out a formula that profits 100% of the time. Sure, there may be other ideas floating around out there that would make better stories, scarier movies and more money, but in order to find that out requires experimentation. And experimentation means gambling. It’s the classic conundrum, “You can have the brand new car… Or you can see what’s behind door number one!”

Cronenberg directing “The Fly”

The reason that I love the 70s and early 80s is because it was a time of experimentation. The people in charge–the people with the money wanted to push the limits. There was no “comfort zone”, or “simple winning formula”, so gambling was the only real option.

There were other things at play than just experimentation. During that Golden Era of Horror, independent filmmaking was not just becoming more accessible, but it was in demand. Independent films naturally had an uphill battle to fight in order to reach the same heights that established filmmakers were at. The battle was ultimately fought with experimentation. Some attempts were failures, but others were explosive hits (The Evil Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre). People were fascinated by the films’ grit and the unrefined style. Established filmmakers were forced, in order to remain relevant, to find out what it was about these new films that was so fascinating to people.

Furthermore, between 1973-1984, there was a large leap in film technology. Experimentation saw a slew of “psychological discoveries”, but technology was also pushing the boundaries of what was possible. What could be accomplished in the 60s was nothing compared to what could be done in the 70s. Special effects materials were greatly refined and monsters/effects became exponentially more realistic.

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (which is the definition of a horror movie in my opinion) was greatly responsible for raising the bar of production design and attention to detail.

Filming the iconic scene from “Night of the Living Dead”

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was busy redefining the core foundations of horror–adding a never before seen grit and realism to a genre that was totally unfamiliar with gore. It seems silly to think of Night of the Living Dead as a “gory” or “shockingly real” film by today’s standards, but there was nothing like it back when it came out.

The problem the future of horror film faces today

A quote I heard thrown around a lot when I was in film school was:

Film is the ultimate art form. It is the only art form, which combines performance, photographic, motion, literary, and even musical arts together.

While this may have been true in the early eighties, and even into the nineties, it just isn’t true today. There’s another player that meets that same criteria: Video Games. (Full disclosure: I am not a gamer. I very rarely play video games and I suck ass at them)

Video games—especially modern video games, contain all of the arts that film boasts. A lot of games these days even have celebrity voice performances–and sometimes even physical motion captured performances. Games still practice composition and other photographic skills. They have complex written scripts and lore–some of which is so immense that it dwarfs any film we have today (World of Warcraft comes to mind). More so, video games take musical composition to another level, making it respond intuitively with the unique user experience. And video games have something that no film has: Immersion.

Does the future of horror lie in video games?

Some people may even argue that video games employ something called “Computer arts”, which is the art of programming and computer science. As far as I’m concerned, if it can be admired and appreciated, it is an art. So, if the criteria for being the ultimate art form is how many other art forms you can employ, then film is not the ultimate art form.

Like I said before, I am a self-proclaimed purist. I don’t like video games and I admittedly don’t like “gamers”. That being said, it takes a lot for me to admit that there is any significance to gaming in the world of film.

And I don’t really believe that gaming does have any significance in film in general. But I do strongly believe that horror specifically may be ushering in a new go-to medium.

Where is this notion coming from?

The horror film audience is a unique audience to film, in that it is generally an audience of thrill-seekers. Thrill-seekers, by nature, are always looking to match or out-do their most intense experience. It’s why people jump out of planes and ride roller-coasters. I mean–just look at roller coasters and how intense they’ve gotten!

An old Alien video game

And that’s nothing compared to what you can find in some theme parks these days. At the Stampede, they have this enormous elastic band thing that throws you to what must be over 100 feet in the air. They aptly call it The Slingshot.

Let’s get back to film. When you talk about art, there’s no limit on what can be done. There’s always going to be more to be said. There is no cap on expression. It’s silly to imagine a scenario where an artists releases his work to the world and everyone goes, “Yep–That’s it. Art’s been done now.” It’s a ludicrous notion.

But as crazy a notion as that is, there are limits that inherently exist in different art forms. There may never be a definitive ballet, but dancer can only leap so high. A horror film can only be as “scary” as its parameters. Some of those parameters are intrinsic. You have a two dimensional screen, for example. Or, people will always be watching the film from either a warm theatre seat, or the cozy comfort of their home. Although we can cheat those parameters sometimes with things like forced-perspective 3D, or rumbling seats, the reality is the same. Another ingrained parameter is the fact that the experience isn’t intuitive with the audience. There will always be the frustration when the gang of teenagers decides to split up to look for the missing friend.

Consider The Parameters

Then, there are the parameters that we’ve created. There’s the budget–You can really only do so much. While some filmmakers are fortunate enough to bypass this parameter for the most part (James Cameron), more than most cannot. We’ve created a time restriction of roughly 140 minutes. You might be saying “I’ve seen longer movies!”, but the reality is, distributors won’t touch your epic-length horror movie, and audiences today simply don’t have that kind of patience.

A horror game is free from most of the aforementioned barriers. Sure, budget still applies, and we’re still dealing with a two dimensional screen, but even those aren’t actually totally valid parameters. I mean, without even jumping to things like Oculus and Virtual Reality, there is technology to bring the gaming experience out from the screen. Just look at the gun-controllers they have these days, and the Wii Remote controller.

A horror game generally moves at your pace. There is no “first act timeframe” in which a game needs to establish its setting, tone and characters. It lets you take your time, absorbing everything.

Five Nights at Freddy’s

I’ve mentioned it before: For a scare to be effective, the audience has to connect with the victim. It’s an unfortunate reality that, no matter how strong your characters, some people just won’t relate to them. Some people simply won’t care for them. It’s an inherent downside of subjectivity. But in a video game? That’s not even an issue worth mentioning, because you are the victim. You’ve already had an entire lifetime of character development.

Immersion is the secret–the key–the everything when it comes to horror. If people aren’t submersed in your world and your characters, then everything is in vein. The potential for submersion is unmatched in horror gaming. Just by picking up a controller, you are already partially submersed into a game. It doesn’t take much more to bring you all the way in.

There is a lot of tension when a character slowly approaches a door that could have a monster on the other end. If the filmmaker has done a good job, and made us truly care for that character, the tension is even greater. If the threat has been well-established, even better. But imagine the level of tension when it is you that has to approach the door. When you have to open it, not knowing what’s there. Imagine it being your decision to open that door, and not the fictional character’s decision–all of the responsibility, and the gamble.

The reality is–film has never and won’t ever be able to match gaming’s immersion. Call me a pessimist, but I really don’t see it happening with what exists today. The immediate future of horror films is seemingly safe.

Still a sceptic?

Just play a horror game and you will see what I am saying. By no means has horror gaming come far enough to challenge horror film in a storytelling perspective. So far, from a literary perspective horror gaming’s originality has been lacklustre at best. While graphics are becoming more impressive, film as a visual art is still greatly superior, and if you admire a strong performance like I do, you won’t find it in a game just yet.

But the fear–the potential for tension in gaming is absolutely astonishing. What a game is capable of doing to your heart rate is astounding–possibly even dangerous. Just watch as this fellow’s heart rate increases a whopping 40%.

Is the threat imminent?

No, probably not. The future of horror isn’t quite that bleak yet.

Horror video games still have a long way to go before horror film lovers jump ship. While modern graphics are impressive, they still aren’t “real”, and realism is one of the keys to successful horror. Even the best graphics today aren’t good enough to be “compared to reality”. I mean, just think about how many films were ruined by CGI. Let’s face it, the artificialness of CGI will pull any horror buff out of any movie.

Another issue gaming still has to resolve is accessibility. Anyone who knows how to operate a DVD player, or an Apple TV, or even their cable remote can sit down and watch a film. A lot of people (maybe even most people) can’t boot up and play a game, for a number of different reasons. One–there are system requirements that aren’t easily met for most of the general public. Two– There is a learning curve that programmers take for granted.

This absurd stock image is beyond unrealistic.

I can pick up a controller and figure out the controls of any game fairly easily. The same can’t be said for my mother. Even if it is just a simple matter of “walking around”, gaming requires a coordination that gamers have developed over years of playing. It’s just a fact– most people who didn’t grow up during the dawn of gaming don’t have the hand-eye coordination to play most games, and it takes away from the intended experience when you are not skilled enough to actually complete the game. As a matter of fact, it is downright frustrating. And while my mother has gotten pretty good at Bejewelled over the past few years, she just isn’t ready for the level of coordination and muscle memory necessary for today’s games. Does that mean, as the Baby Boomers pass the torch to us Gen-X and Gen-Y babies, things will change? Who’s to say, really? But for the sake of film, I optimistically doubt it. That being said, if Virtual Reality works out its flaws and kinks, a whole new world of horror would be imminent.

Fans of psychology may be aware of something called “The Cuddle Effect”. The Cuddle Effect suggests that, part of the horror film allure has to do with the satisfaction of fulfilling sociologically determined gender roles. Studies were done by pairing a man with a woman (I believe they were strangers) and showing them a horror film. After the movie ended, they were asked to rate the film. Men actually rated the experience higher when their female counterpart showed more intense signs of fear. Likewise, the women preferred the film when the man was braver. The results suggested that at least part of the enjoyment of horror films was to do with the satisfaction of fulfilling sociologically determined gender roles.

Feminists may not like the idea, but it at least helps to explain why horror films are popular choices among couples and groups–and why the horror watching experience is almost always better with an audience.

Moving Forward

As a screenwriter, or a filmmaker, you shouldn’t be jumping ship to game design just yet. Nor should you be dismissing this article as horror blasphemy. Challenge yourself, as I am myself, to look objectively at this relatively new medium of horror gaming, and figure out what we can learn from it. What can we take away from it? What does it tell us about human psychology? What does it tell us about where the genre is headed, what the future of horror has in store?

I can’t tell you what the answer is, but I can at the very least tell you what it isn’t. I guarantee that there will be at least a few people who read this article and think, “Of course! It’s the first person view!” Believe me when I say that isn’t the answer. I guarantee there will even be some people who go, “It’s the Slenderman!” There will always be people who can’t see past the surface. Just look at all of the independent Slenderman movies and Slenderman knockoffs that people are trying to make.

It’s going to take some seriously creative thinking to tap into that well of terror that is horror gaming. And as much as I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, maybe trying would be a waste of time.

My ideology on the future of horror

The evolution of things is out of our control. I think that no matter what we do in the world, nature has its way of eventually landing on its feet. In my opinion, horror is in the Horror Dark Ages right now. Between the constant revisiting of old ideas, the downright dumb reliance on tired gimmicks and the gallons and gallons of fake blood trying to compensate for the absence of any genuine fear, horror needs a complete overhaul if its going to survive the twenty-first century. It’s only a matter of time before audiences are completely over the “creepy kid”, the black CGI demon eyes, and the burlap mask.

I say let gaming take the thrill-seeking reins. Once the technology is ready, let that be where we go to get our fear-fix. I can’t wait for the day where I can experience John Carpenter’s The Thing from an entirely immersed perspective. I can’t wait to re-experience The Evil Dead from inside of that cabin, or The Shining from inside of the Overlook.

No idea if this Evil Dead game is real or not.

Take the burden of “being scary” away from horror film. Let the genre mature and become something more respectable than it is currently becoming. Let it go back to that experimentation stage where it can find itself all over again. I would be more than happy to see the emphasis of a horror film shift to achieving incredible performances and beautiful and haunting photography. I would love for horror to be about how directors and actors face a subject like death from a more mature perspective than just how many you can squeeze into one film, or how bloody it can be. I would love to explore concepts that are terrifying at a deeper level than our fight-or-flight response. I want to see an artist’s haunting observations on mortality or existence, without the pressure of “making it scary”.

I want horror to become like expensive wine or scotch. I want to revel in a horror film’s complexity and appreciate all of its subtleties. Like a sommelier who picks out all the intricate tastes on her tongue, I want to admire everything that goes into a horror film–not just count and rate the gags and scares–Appreciate the performances, the direction, the cinematography, the writing, the soundscapes and the music.

The next master of terror could be a game maker, and not a filmmaker at all. I’m okay with that. Just maybe it will be the kick in the butt that horror needs to mature. Personally, I think there is room for books, movies, and video games in the future of horror, but maybe I’m old fashioned that way. Younger generations may not agree.

Avoiding Clichés

in Filmmaking/Horror/Writing by

Avoiding Cliches — What just isn’t scary anymore

Like I said before about crafting a genuinely scary script, horror should be inherently scary, and you shouldn’t “chase the scares” when you write. The scariest things here on our planet are scary because of what they are–what they represent, not because of what they look like. That being said, something can look unsettling, disturbing or even disgusting. That isn’t “scary”. A scare is an emotion. It’s something you feel. Sharks are scary because of what they represent–a giant creature capable of ripping you to shreds, which could be just inches below your feet at any given moment. Freddy Kruger is scary because of what he represents, not because of how he looks, how he sounds or how many times he jumps from around corners. Sure, all of those other things add certain elements to it, but Freddy is genuinely scary because of what he represents–a sense of helpless vulnerability. When you sleep–when you are your most vulnerable, he strikes, and you can’t do anything about it. Want to write a good horror script? Avoiding cliches is the first step.

Horror as a film genre has been evolving rather quickly over the past century. In that time, a lot of trends have come and gone. Today, in the twenty-first century, the art is evolving so fast, that it’s more important than ever to avoid those trends. By the time your script is picked up by a production company, filmed and distributed, those trends will be long gone.

A Farewell To Kings Entertainment Company has a script submissions inbox, which gets lots of scripts every week. It’s sad to see that most of the horrors that come through are glorified Paranormal Activity rip-offs. That movie came out about 8 years ago, and the endless sea of rip offs has sadly reduced it to cliché. If we look back a couple of decades, trends held on much longer.

I said that you shouldn’t chase the scares, but at the same time it’s unfortunately important to be marketable. The name of the game is still fear, after all. And although I still think that the best fear comes naturally and effortlessly though the fiction, the characters, and the world of your script, you still have an audience to cater to. Whether it be producers, distributors, investors or theatres full of people waiting for their cheap thrills, you need to deliver. And as you may remember, I don’t have a lot of faith in the film industry today, I still think you can still be “scary” on a contemporary level, without stooping to painfully overused cliches, like the “creepy” long haired child, or the burlap-sac mask.

Creepy Child

Avoiding cliches like creepy kids
A kid is incapable of hurting a grown human with an ounce of common sense, so why do we keep pushing this trend?

Enough is enough.

Unless you intend to bring something new to the game, kids just aren’t scary. I’m so sick and tired of the ghost or the demon turning out to be some “creepy” kid (mind the quotation marks around the word creepy).

It just isn’t scary anymore. When it first hit the main-stage in The Ring, sure–it was pretty scary. But that was a long time ago, and since then, there has been a “creepy” kid in every second Hollywood horror movie–and far too many indies as well. Let’s put it to rest already.

In case you need another reason to write that little ghost kid out of your script, consider this–In horror, your antagonist is your brand. Regardless of how prominently featured they are (or aren’t) in the movie, they will become your film’s brand. Distributors will use your antagonist to leverage your film. And while there are distributors out there looking to cash in on dying tropes, with the creepy kid as the face of your film, at best your film will be lost in a sea of creepy child movies, forgotten outright by even the most hardcore horror audiences.

The Old Lady

Avoiding cliches like creepy old ladies
Yes, when the Shining did it, it was scary… almost 40 years ago.

Same as the creepy kids, they just aren’t scary. Between the late nineties and the early teens (Let’s say 1998-2011), there was some strange fascination with horror filmmakers and things that were the complete opposite of harmful or menacing. People loved to turn convention onto its head in order to take people by surprise. And that was fine, but now its commonplace. And now that its commonplace, its counterintuitive. It’s no longer a surprise when the old lady turns out to be violent and disturbing, because its been done in a hundred different movies in the past decade.

So now that there isn’t the “playing with your preconception” angle, what is still making old ladies scary? Nothing.

Taking something harmless and making it into something to be feared isn’t new by any means. As a matter of fact, the most effective movies in the history of horror did just that. Before It (and John Wayne Gacy), clowns were no more than joyful entertainers. Horror writers and filmmakers used the clowns’ innocence and harmlessness to their advantage, in order to create something memorable and unique. Likewise, Chucky did the same thing to dolls. Turning something inherently innocent into a symbol of terror is part of the game.

Horror movies are unique for a number of reasons. One of which is that people tend to remember them because of their scenes, more than their plots (with some notable exceptions). People remember things that are unique. People are keener to remember the maiden voyage, than the subsequent voyages. For instance, I bet you can name more members of the first crew to land on the moon than you can of any subsequent Apollo mission. If you want to make a memorable film–a memorable script, you need to find that next clown. That next doll. That next old lady. The first person to turn a clown into a symbol of terror wasn’t sitting there thinking “I need something scary. What is something scary?”. No–He/she took the clown and made it scary.

The Burlap Sac Face

Think: The Orphanage

Avoiding cliches like burlap sac faces
Not scary.

I just don’t understand why anyone would want to redo something that’s been done one million times before. Just do something different for crying out loud! I understand why the burlap thing was so hot for a while. It has a lot of creepy properties. Like any mask, it hides any emotion. It adds anonymity and, going back to my rules to a scary script, it leaves plenty to the imagination, letting the audience’s mind create something more terrifying than any prosthetic face you could possibly create. The burlap adds a grunge and distortion, which can be creepy…

But it’s been done so many god damned times over!

There is nothing left to add to the burlap sac mask.

Just let it die. Enough is enough already. Time to start avoiding these cliches.

The Bad Guy Being… Creepy

Avoiding cliches like guys standing stupidly for no reason
What exactly is he trying to accomplish by standing there, in a perfect spot of light? Enough already.

I’m so sick of seeing this in movies–The hero walks out into the hallway, or into the empty park at night, and the antagonist is simply standing there, being creepy. Whether they are just standing straight, or in some weird pose–what are they doing? What are they trying to accomplish just standing there? Why is the antagonist putting so much effort into being creepy? Is it because he knows that he/she alone isn’t actually inherently creepy?

Even worse is when the hero completely doesn’t see the static enemy. Like when the protagonist walks across the hall, completely oblivious to the killer standing in the doorway. What did the killer just accomplish? Should we feel bad for his missed attempt at being scary?

Don’t get me wrong I understand the gimmick. I understand that there is a scare when the audience realizes they aren’t alone in the house. If you insist on using the “Killer in the house” gimmick, at least give the killer purpose. Have them doing something productive–Cutting the wires in the breaker box, smelling the hero’s panties, or… I don’t know—HIDING for Christ sakes. You want your audience to respect your antagonist, not question his/her common sense and ability to hide in a dark house.

Just use common sense

I mean, I could go on for hours listing more dumb and annoying tropes that will ruin your horror script, but all it really comes down to is common sense. Are you relying on jump scare gimmicks because your subject matter is weak? Does your story not stand-alone without cashing in on popular trends?

Just ask yourself “Has this been done before?” If so, “Am I bringing anything new and special to it?”

And then take a look through your scenes and ask yourself “What is the motivation behind this? Or did I just include it because it is scary?” Take a look at that scene where your hero closes the mirror and sees a man standing at the end of the hall–Now question that scene the way your audience is going to: “Why is he just standing there? Is he doing something?”

And while you’re at it, ask yourself “Has this mirror gag not been done to death already? What am I really adding to it? Or am I just too lazy to think of my own scare gags that I need to reuse this one?”

Aspects of a Scary Story

in Filmmaking/Writing by
black mountain side concept art deer god

Breaking down the aspects of scary storytelling

I’ve always been obsessed with horror movies. So much so, that I set out to making horror my career. In 2012, I wrote, produced and directed my first horror feature film, Black Mountain Side, which premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal in 2014, and eventually released on DVD/VOD in 2016. I finished directing my second horror feature, Hammer of the Gods, in August of 2016. That being said, I’m no expert on scary storytelling, but I like to think I have an idea or two to throw into the mix.

My obsession with all things horror goes back to my early childhood. Every Friday night, my dad would take us to the video store, where he would rent two movies to watch–one for that same night, and one for the following night. My dad would also let me and my brother pick one thing each to rent. My brother would always rent a video game, and I would wander into the 7 day rental section, where they kept older movies. Always, I went straight to the horror section, and I would pick the scariest looking movie. It was the same thing every Friday, like clockwork. I would watch my horror pick during the daytime the next day, and have horrible nightmares the subsequent night(s). I slept in my parents’ bed more than I would ever admit. Why my parents kept letting me rent horror movies, I will never know.

Dissecting Horror

Not the greatest example of scary storytelling
This masterpiece left a real impression on me as a child.

Into my late teens, I started to look closer at every horror movie I watched. I began to dissect them meticulously, asking myself “What made that scary? Why wasn’t that scary?” I began to notice interesting things. Movies with the “coolest” and visually “scariest” monsters weren’t actually the scariest movies. I began to realize that there was much more than the physical “monster” that made the film scary at all. I started to notice similarities in movies that I deemed “terrible” and not frightening at all. Interestingly enough, I started noticing that some of the most frightening scenes weren’t in horror movies at all.

I found that certain movies left a lasting sense of dread, whereas others were just cheap thrills–no more than a haunted house attraction, where people in suits jump out from around corners.

I began to realize that horror movies were like wine. It was a game of subtlety that required very careful steps to be taken to achieve the desired taste. My dissection process became much more complex, and then I made some very interesting discoveries.

Here are my three rules to an excellent movie monster:

  • Character development is crucial
  • The unseen is far more powerful than the seen
  • Your audience’s mind contains a scarier monster than your own

Points 2 and 3 are very similar, but are also very different, and I will talk about why in a moment. Let us first talk about my number one rule to making a truly scary horror movie.

Before going on, I’d like to point out that, despite popular belief, a horror movie doesn’t have to be scary. As a matter of fact, chasing “scary” for your script will end badly. Good horror is inherently scary. A good starting point is to read some good horror literature. Horror literature doesn’t lean on the clichés that contemporary horror films have come to lean on. A horror novel can’t jump out at you. A written story can’t yell, “BOO!” in your face–or play a sudden music cue. Without the gimmicks, literature is forced to truly dig deep and figure out what is actually scary. See where I talk about What Isn’t Scary.

Character Development is Crucial in Scary Storytelling

Scary storytelling personified with great characters
The cast of The Thing — some of the best characters in horror.

When I was eighteen I got into a fight with a filmmaker who made a very awful film, which I will not name here. The film was so bad that for once, I felt the need to go online and leave an IMDb review (as an adult, I hate myself for doing this). When I went to the IMDb page, I noticed that there were a bunch of rave reviews, which were quite obviously written by the filmmakers themselves. I left my review explaining why the film was bad, and I outlined the criteria that I’d developed, and explained how the film met none of it.

Not even 24 hours later, I received a response from the director himself, telling me I was an idiot and that what he’d made was a masterpiece, and people were just too dumb to see it. The film had (and still has) a rating of 2.2/10. The director took none of my free notes and went on to make his next film, which is currently scored around 2.3.

So what was so bad with his movie? The movie’s main characters had only about a combined total of 20 minutes of screen time. The movie opened with the “monster” going around and killing people who had about 0-2 minutes of introduction, for about 20 minutes. Then, they introduced the main characters, and then returned to the killing.

But certainly, that should make a great horror movie right? I mean, you’re cutting out all the talking and getting right to the action! You’re getting more monster, and more scares for your buck. But this flawed outlook misses out of an incredibly fundamental piece of the puzzle:

We need to care about the victim of the horror.

If you change your television channel and land on Movie Central, during the last five minutes of Titanic, when Leo is sinking away from his lover, you’re probably not going to break into tears and begin yelling “Leo! No!” But if you watch it from the start, you’ll get attached to the characters. You’ll get attached to the girl, and you’ll get attached to Leo. The movie brings you close to those characters and makes you feel like you know them. You care about what happens to them. So when the scene rolls around where Leo sinks away, you’ll be emotionally invested. Not only for Leo, but for Rose as well. The same logic applies to horror. The movie’s characters are your vessel into the world of the film. They bring you inside. Without that emotional tie, it’s just flashing colours on a screen.

A well-written character is relatable. When we relate to a character’s life, hardships and quirks, an emotional bond is created. When that bond is created, we let our guards down. Your number one goal, as a horror writer, is to rip down every protective screen between your film and your audience. You want to make them as vulnerable as possible.

A Character’s Stakes

Characters are key to scary storytelling
I thought You’re Next had some great characters. Here’s a bonus behind the scenes shot. Edit: I’ve been told this is from REC 4

Here’s a little thought experiment. As yourself this: “Whom do you love most in the world?” Is it you? Chances are, it isn’t. Would you risk your own life for your wife? Your brother? Your mother? Your little sister? If there was a killer inside of a house, and you saw your little brother walking through the door from across the street, you might run into the house to save him.

If you saw some guy you met briefly on a train, who you didn’t really feel one way or the other for walk into that same house, you probably wouldn’t run in and risk your life. You probably wouldn’t feel the same lump in your throat or the same sense of dread that you felt for your little brother. Sure, you might get close and yell for the poor guy, but more than likely, you won’t risk your life. (And if you would, then la-de-fricken da, aren’t you special).

So make those characters into your little brother and sister. Make the audience love your lead like you love your mother. Make it difficult for the audience to disassociate from the film. Make it hard for them to see your characters as fiction.

Have you ever watched a movie a second time, and wishfully thought, “maybe this time, X problem won’t happen to X character”?

That’s when you know that you’ve done a good job. If you come to the point in your story where its time to kill off your character, and you think “oh, maybe I don’t have to. Maybe she can live.” Then you’ve done a good job. If you like the character, others will too.

How do I make people like my characters?

This is the single most difficult task as a writer, in my opinion. Characters are the movie. The plot is secondary. Never forget that. You can have the most unoriginal plot ever, but if the characters are good, the movie will be good. Take The Evil Dead for instance. A group of kids go to a cabin in the woods and are picked off one by one by some demonic force. Sounds pretty unoriginal to me (although it was more original at the time it was released). But the characters were great. They were relatable. They all had their own little quirks and flaws. A viewer could easily jump into their shoes.

And as the characters evolve, and overcome obstacles, we like them even more.

Let’s take a look at John Carpenter’s The Thing (a true masterpiece of horror and character development). I remember finding an old shooting script of the film online a few years ago, and it had John Carpenter’s character descriptions written at the start.

The script is floating around online, and is fairly simple to find by searching “The Thing Screenplay” on Google. You will find a single page at the start of the screenplay, describing the characters. Everyone has their own little quirk and a couple of contrasting qualities.

Macready: Likes chess. Hates the cold. The pay is good.

This little line says so much about the character. Three words: “Hates the cold”, is such a strange trait, given that he is working in the Arctic! “Likes chess”, again is a huge character trait given the environment. It’s a harsh, tough-as-nails place where only the toughest men are working, meanwhile, Macready “likes chess”—something so innocent and intellectual.

Palmer: Sixties acid damage

Again, three words that create an interesting character. Saying “sixties acid damage” implies a rich backstory–a history. How did a longhaired acid-abusing hippie end up as a mechanic/helicopter pilot at an arctic research base? Just having that little bit of information, we can already start imagining this character in our heads.

My writing teacher in film school said that his three favourite ways of creating a connection between the character and the audience are:

  • Make the character funny
  • Make the character very smart/cunning
  • Throw the character into the action, and have him/her display courage/heroism

It’s worth mentioning that I’m not a fan of any of these approaches, although I agree that a funny character is more likeable, and thus the audience will care more about them. But I think writers rely too much on these almost cliché approaches. My teacher always started with a scene where the hero either solved some complex problem, made some hilarious joke/observation, began with the hero narrowly avoiding death, or all of the above.

A bad example of scary storytelling
Filming the crap that is As Above, So Below

As a matter of fact, these approaches are so cliché that just about every Hollywood horror movie relies on them. I recently saw an abysmal pile of garbage movie called As Above, So Below, where the movie begins with the main character narrowly escaping a collapsing underground city with cunning MacGyver like means, while making witty jokes. Pulling out every single trope in the book of lazy-modern-filmmaking, As Above, So Below completely failed to connect with myself and the group I was with (my girlfriend and her waitress friends—not film school people like me). I was even surprised to hear the group of waitresses talk about why the movie sucked—surprisingly eloquently (no offence, Rachael). The way they put it was:

“It was just like they were trying so hard to be scary.”

Interesting.

Technically, the movie employed all of the same techniques that successful horror movies employed. It had countless jump scares, people standing eerily in corners, the piano gimmick, and every other trope in the book. Sure, if it was ten or fifteen years ago, people may have eaten it up. But now, all that stuff is cliché—overused and beaten to the ground. See What Isn’t Scary.

The unseen is far more powerful than the seen

In the fall of 2013 I conduced my own little private study (which I promise to make a post about in the near future). I had people (mostly friends and family) sit down and play a computer video game that they’d never played before. I turned out the lights and made them wear headphones.

The game was one of those Slenderman games.

I told them that the objective of the game: to walk through the house and collect all of the little “notes” hidden around, and I told them that there was something in the house with them, and that it gets closer to you as the music gets louder. They knew that the bad guy could appear when a corner is turned, or when you turn around and look back.

None of them knew what the antagonist of the game was, or looked like.

The results were quite fascinating. As the game opens, the player was always a little bit on edge. As they became more absorbed the objective of the game (finding the notes), their anxiety grew. As the music became louder, their anxiety grew even more. As tension grew, they began to jump at turn of nearly every single corner. Some would scream at anything that remotely resembled a person. One of the players even quit before seeing the Slenderman, closing his computer screen outright.

When the creature finally appeared, there was a quick shriek and a moment of panic as they tried to run away and were subsequently killed in the game.

Then, I had them play a second time.

The most interesting part of my little study was, not one single person was as scared the second time around, once they’d seen what it was they were running from, and once they knew what would happen to them if he caught up. Sure, the second round had its share of jumps and “Oh shits!” but the tension was drastically less.

The game was free, and you can conduct your own little study by downloading it here. If the link doesn’t work, or you are not on a computer, you can search for “Slender Man’s Shadow Game” on Google, and you will find it.

This little study reveals a very interesting aspect of human nature–the unknown is scarier than Slenderman. However, I’m sure if you swap Slenderman out with any other 3D model, you would get the same results.

Jump Scares

An alternate view on scary storytelling
A screen grab from the Slenderman game

The impending jump scare is a popular device in modern horror: Where a rising music cue leads up to something pouncing out of the closet or the like. The impending jump scare is a powerful tool if used correctly. Ironically, it’s purpose is NOT to scare the audience. The jump scare is a tool used to tear down pre-conceptions. A good jump scare strikes when you aren’t expecting it, and leaves you feeling vulnerable, as if you could be hit at any moment.

When done correctly, it removes years and years of conditioning away from your audience. People will be emotionally prepared for something to jump out of that closet, because they’ve seen it one hundred times over. Sure, you might get a wince and maybe even a look-away from some of the more sensitive audience-members, but you aren’t being fully effective. (Plus you are resorting to an overused trope).

Jump Scares are gimmicks but that doesn’t mean they should be avoided.

The reason that rising music cue is there is because that is the scary part. What jumps out of the closet isn’t scary. What is scary about the impending jump scare is the fear of the unknown. It’s the fear of vulnerability, knowing that they are completely out of control of what is about to happen and when.

Evil Dead (1981) is the ultimate example of how to use jump scares, and the fear of the unknown effectively.

Sam Raimi always hits you when you are least expecting it because he knows how to play with tension and he knows how long he can let it burn before it’s too much. He lets the character look in the closet, and then move onto the next door. Sometimes, he will even let that door be safe. Other times, he attacks long before the character reaches that first closet door. Sometimes he will hit without any music cue warning. Sometimes he lets those music cues fizzle away. The audience is left vulnerable—clueless as to when they will be hit next. Never does it feel “cheap”.

Likewise, Sam Raimi understands that what we don’t see is insurmountably scarier than what we do. He practically invented the antagonist POV, which lets the protagonists see and react to the bad guy, but leaves the audience in the dark, with their own ideas and nightmares. Likewise, we never actually see, in any Evil Dead film, what it is the characters are running from.

Your audience’s mind is scarier than your own

It’s nothing against you as a horror writer. The fact is, different people find different things scary.

Get two people. Tell one of them that there is “something” behind a closed door. For the other person, show them a picture of what is behind the door. 100 times out of 100, the first person will be much more anxious opening that door.

It’s a simple matter of psychology. We, as humans, are afraid of what we don’t know. We’re afraid of what we can’t see. It’s why death is so scary–because we don’t really know what happens after it. Sure, we have some ideas and theories–some are even terrifying. Your movie is no different. Once you establish those theories–once you tell the audience that there is “something” there, they will immediately be creating their own something, consciously or subconsciously.

I think the Paranormal Activity sequels are the greatest bastardization of a good film ever. Left alone, Paranormal Activity would have reached a timeless cult status like its predecessor, The Blair Witch Project. But instead, they decided to make sequels attempting to “explain” the events in the first. (Actually, now that I think about it, The Blair Witch Project did the same thing. At least that sequel didn’t get seen by too many people) I saw Paranormal Activity on opening night, in a packed house. Incredibly, by the end of the film, people were all screaming and hiding into their friends’ shoulders. Two–not one, but two–girls even threw up in the theatre; they were so scared (one made it out to the hallway, but I digress).

Let’s take a closer look at why that film was so effective:

The Something

It establishes the “something” through suggestion. The characters talk about their house being haunted. A paranormal expert comes along and tells them they have a demon, and Micah finds an old drawing of a hellish beast in some demon book. At this point, we are at our film’s midpoint, and we still haven’t seen the monster. But still, we don’t feel cheated. We’ve gotten some great quality scares and we’ve had some great bonding time with our characters.

Great, so we’ve established our “something”. Let’s move on.

The Tease

Paranormal Activity knows that if they don’t deliver something, the audience will begin to feel cheated. They also know that as soon as they deliver, they will lose that great imaginative tension.

So, the film very cleverly teases us, placing the monster in front of the camera. Of course, if you’ve seen the movie, you know that we don’t actually see the monster. But we do watch as its footsteps enter into the room (seeing as it is invisible). In the next scene, we get a closer look at the demonic footprints it left behind. The hooves-esque prints are a subtle little connection to that demon Micah showed us earlier in the book. So in a way, the film did show us the monster, without actually showing us. The film says, “this is what you saw, but you didn’t actually see it.”

Paranormal Activity is a good example of scary storytelling
The demon’s footprints in Paranormal Activity

The film constantly teases us, bringing the creature closer and closer into the physical realm. What starts out as odd sounds soon becomes physical interaction with the characters. We always feel as though we are on the cusp of seeing the monster. They’ve given us enough information to create our own monster, but not quite enough that the tension is released.

Build & Release

Just like The Thing and The Evil Dead, we never really see what was behind all of the chaos. But at the same time, it’s not that we, as audience members didn’t know—we did, it was just in our own heads. You may remember people saying they couldn’t sleep in their own homes after seeing Paranormal Activity. People said things like “The film is haunted.” Steven Spielberg supposedly felt the need to put the film into a garbage bag, outside of his home after watching it.

Why? It’s a simple matter of psychology! People went home with that monster they created in their minds. The monster never became a latex costume, life-sized puppet or cheesy CGI model. It never became some non-real piece of the fictional movie, because it wasn’t created in the movie. It was created in our own minds, and that’s where it remained.

It’s not your monster; it’s how you define it

Don’t get hung up on the creature in your script. Do yourself a huge favour, and leave the description very vague. The more detail you add, the less your audience will be able to add themselves. Don’t reduce your monster to a cheap gag by throwing him into every second scene.

I can think of plenty of great-looking movie monsters in movies that are just not great. Pumpkinhead, for instance, is an incredible creature. But the film is lacklustre at best. Pumpkinhead is just any old killer. The only difference is, he looks cool. And sure, that movie (and series) gets a lot of praise for having a great creature. It has a decent cult following. But that is entirely because of Pumpkinhead. Unfortunately for you, Pumpkinhead came out during a time where movie monsters were absolutely everything—The eighties. Now, people expect the full package.

Now, let’s look at the other end of the spectrum—not at a movie, but at a legend.

I’m sure you are aware of the old urban legend of Bloody Mary. If you say Bloody Mary a certain number of times, she will appear in the mirror and kill you.

This myth has been parodied in countless movies and television shows. This myth continues to haunt children (and I’m sure even some adults) to this day. It’s an incredibly simple concept that can be summed up in a single sentence. My girlfriend, to this day, doesn’t like being alone with a mirror at night.

Why is Bloody Mary such a powerful tale? I mean, we don’t even know what Mary looks like, or what she will do! Oh wait, it’s what I’ve been saying all along: that is precisely what is scary about it! It’s the fear of the unknown. It’s a myth that completely relies on the audience’s imagination.

Most importantly, Bloody Mary has been relevant and terrifying for a long time–Since the 1500s, as a matter of fact. That’s one hell of an effective horror tale!

How to be a Horror Writer

in Filmmaking/Writing by
Nick Szostakiwskyj Hammer of the Gods Behind the Scenes

You want to make a career as a horror writer — maybe that means a screenwriter or a novelist. Either way, these tips should help. I don’t like “how-to” books. I especially don’t like “screenwriting how-to” books. Never has a screenwriting book brought something exciting and new to the table. Never has a screenwriting book challenged the way I think about the craft of screenwriting.

A few years back, I stumbled upon a “how to write horror” book. I read it. I was hugely disappointed. The book was simply re-hashing old concepts from old screenwriting books, and using a single screenplay to draw parallels. What made the book so disappointing was that the author of the book himself wrote the aforementioned screenplay.

I had written a script before—many, as a matter of fact; a number of which were horror scripts. Also, at that point I’d produced and directed a feature. I was shocked by some of the points the author made in his book, which shocked me from a producer’s perspective. I realized something.

Screenwriters should not write books about screenwriting

There are enough of them out there. While I consider myself a screenwriter, I am a filmmaker first. To date, I have produced two feature films, and I have travelled deep into the money side of the film industry. I understand what producers are looking for in a script, I understand what distributors are looking for in a film, and I understand what makes a good script, seeing as I am a working writer.

I also want to be a horror writer

ATFK At AFM. Tips for the aspiring horror writer
Myself (left), Cameron Tremblay (middle), and Samantha McDonald (right) at the American Film Market in Santa Monica

The process of filmmaking is lengthy and sluggish. Once a script is written, it can take months to finance, and then there is the actual process of producing, filming and posting the film. Then, there is distribution, which is a whole other can of worms. While there are busy days, the role of a “filmmaker” isn’t always a day-to-day operation.

For instance, my company is composed of three producers. We each have individual tasks, with some crossover. We have a producer who handles financing and relations, a producer who handles budgets and numbers, and then there is myself. I spearhead the hiring and execution of the technical stuff. For me, there are large time gaps during the financing months, as well as during the distribution months (or years, in some cases). I am lucky enough to have time to write.

I write between 5,000 and 10,000 words every day, seven days a week. Whether I am working my side-job as a ghostwriter, or I am working on a screenplay, I make sure to write every day.

What is this rant getting at?

If you want to be a horror writer, you need to write every single day, with no excuses. You need to finish works. I know too many self-proclaimed screenwriters who “write all day”, but have no scripts to show for it. A writer does two things:

  • Writes; and
  • Produces work

If you aren’t producing anything tangible, you aren’t a writer.

Your early stuff is going to suck

Accept that your first few screenplays are going to be bad. Accept that there are no exceptions to this rule. There really isn’t. Don’t bother trying to research your favourite writers to see—just accept it.

I have a good friend—we will call him Rudiger, the aspiring horror writer. Rudiger was a self-proclaimed “screenwriter”. Sure, he had written a few shorts. But he’d never written a feature. It was his dream to write and direct a feature. He would constantly ask me for writing advice. He was always in awe of my ability to produce multiple scripts a year.

Rudiger would ask me, “How do you do it?”

The only answer I had for Rudiger was, “You just have to do it.”

Rudiger would go home and hideaway while he wrote—sometimes for weeks at a time. When I asked him if I could see what he’d written, he would always say, “It’s still too rough. It’s not finished.”

Rudiger was never able to finish a feature script. He would always give up before he even reached the halfway point. Sometimes, he wouldn’t even finish the first ten pages. I found it strange that someone who claimed that their dream was “to write and direct a feature” couldn’t even write a feature. I thought, “Certainly, the determination to achieve your dream would be enough motivation…”

What’s wrong?

Rudiger’s situation was no unique. As a matter of fact, his situation is surprisingly common with aspiring writers. Here are the problems:

  • Perfectionism
  • A feature script appears to be a massive undertaking
  • Distraction

You see, the problem Rudiger face, like so many other aspiring writers, is a psychological one.

I came here to learn horror! Not for Rudiger’s dumb problems!

Honestly, I see no point in jumping directly into the meat if most of the people reading this won’t end up even finishing their script. I would rather take a moment to address the issue of writer psychology, before diving into the psychology of fear. After all, in order to understand the psychology of fear, we need to have a basic understanding of general human psychology. And no, I’m not going to turn this into a textbook, but I will at least give a few tips to defeat the mental block that Rudiger and so many others face. If you insist on skipping this chapter, do so by all means—it’s your book, after all. Just don’t be upset when you don’t finish your script.

Perfectionism

Sam Raimi is an incredible horror writer
Even Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead is flawed, but that’s why we love it.

This is the hardest point to deal with. It’s a mental hurdle that is especially difficult to jump, seeing as it can also serve as a very good quality later on. My brunette girlfriend always says that she wants to have long hair, but she can’t grow it past her shoulders because it has been so damaged from past bleaching attempts. I constantly try to tell her that she needs to cut her hair down past the point of damage for it to grow past where it is now. She needs to take a step back before she can take a step forward.

I hate analogies, so I apologize.

But the issue of my girlfriend’s hair and your inability to finish a script is the same issue. Your desperate desire for something is literally the thing holding your back from having it.

Your Baby

There’s no secret to it. If you are one of those people who have their “babies”—those “ideas” that are so precious, they dare not be written unless written with absolute mastery. I’m sure most of you have your “baby”, which you have tried on at least one occasion to write, and then you stopped because you weren’t happy with it.

I don’t care about your baby. Stop caring about your damn baby. Write that idea into a script. Here’s an exercise—make it intentionally shitty. Shit all over it. “How dare you suggest I shit on my baby!” you cry.

Want to know something funny? That “baby” of yours is actually damaging the creative centre of your brain. Constantly dwelling and returning to one single idea is limiting your creativity. You are training the part of your brain, which creates ideas—the part of your brain that observes life objectively to think of only one thing. Therefore, it is shutting down. Like any part of your body and brain, when you stop using something, it stops working to its full potential.

Once you’ve written your baby, you are freeing your brain. You are allowing yourself to allow new ideas to form. There will be more babies. The next baby will make the one you are clinging onto so tightly look like one of those annoying babies that won’t slamming the pans in the kitchen together.

Unfortunately, people are stubborn. Rudiger is stubborn. Oh boy, is Rudiger stubborn. He refuses to let his baby go. He’s been trying to write the same script on and off for about five years now—and that is a true story.

Rewrites

If you are one of those “writers” who claims they never rewrite (Tarantino is liar), then you need a serious reality check. It’s common knowledge in the writing community that first drafts suck. Your first draft will suck. There will be things you like about it, but it is going to suck. The dialogue is going to sound stupid. There will be stupidly long boring scenes. Characters will be talking about stupid irrelevant stuff. You will have entire scenes of “character development”, which will render your pacing slow and muddy.

After finishing the first draft, put the script away for a month and don’t look at it. Start your next script. When you finally come back to your first script, you will be far less emotionally invested in it. You will be able to go, “this scene can go, this character can go, this dialogue can go…” Before you even read it, save a copy and then as you go through it, literally just start deleting stuff, and rewording dialogue to make it sound better. In every one of my second drafts, I usually cut out at least 10%, and I reword close to every single piece of dialogue. It sounds like a lot of work, but it generally takes a day or two.

You will make it better. It might still suck, and that’s fine and normal. Shelf it again, and do the same thing in another month. Eventually, you will be able to look at it and say, “Hey! That’s actually pretty cool. I can’t believe I thought of that.”

That’s just the writing process, and you need to accept it.

The Exception

You are not the exception.

I really hate to break it to you, but you aren’t the exception. The most dangerous thing any teacher has ever said is, “Yadda, yadda, yadda… with a few exceptions.” For example, “The Weinstein Company is not interested in indie movies, except for a few exceptions.” The moment you tell someone that there is an exception; they will assume that they are the exception. It’s a universal phenomenon that every damn person seems to think that they are the exception. I bet you are sitting there thinking, “Oh, but I am the exception.” No, you aren’t. If, in this book, I ever say “with a few exceptions”, I want it to be very clear I am not talking about you.

A Massive Undertaking

A feature length script intimidates people. “One hundred pages!” you cry. “How will I ever finish one hundred pages?”

You see an actor on set with his screenplay in hand—and it looks like the damn Bible! It isn’t just long, but you have to have story arc, and character arcs for all of your characters—Not to mention all of your subplots, and that thing they call “layering”. “Surely, it is impossible.”

The truth is, a screenplay isn’t very long at all. A screenplay is actually between 15,000 words and 25,000 words. Black Mountain Side was a 100-page script, and it was about 16,000 words long. Let’s put that into perspective…

A novel is a minimum of 55,000 words, or, at its minimum it is roughly 3.5 times longer than a script.

A novella is a minimum of 25,000 words, or, at its minimum it is as long as a very long screenplay.

A screenplay is equivalent to what they call a novelette in terms of word length.

Novelette—reminds me of “Coronita”, those little Corona bottles they give to old ladies. Too often do we put a novel on the same level as a feature screenplay, but the reality is, they are nothing alike. As for elements like character, setting, pacing, layering, plot and subplots—there are tools that help us separate those into easily manageable chunks. We’ll get to those later.

It wasn’t my finest work, but I once wrote a full feature script in four days. Not that I would recommend you try that—in terms of putting it into perspective, screenplays truly aren’t very long.

Distraction

Stephen King, probably the most famous horror writer, is a serious advocate of eliminating distractions, though that corgi makes me wonder.

You may not realize that this is holding you back, but I guarantee it is. And no, I’m not necessarily just talking about that cat you regret adopting that won’t stop eating your plant. I’m talking about the smallest, tiniest, most unnoticeable things. In order to fully harness all of your creative potential, you need to be able to focus your brain entirely on the act of writing.

If you’ve ever written anything—a script, a novel, a novelette, a letter, a review, or even a lengthy email, then you’ve probably experienced the “good days” and the “bad days”. Most people say, “I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t write anything good today,” or, “I don’t know why, but I wrote like fifteen pages of great stuff today! I must have woken up on the right side of the bed”. Well, the reason is life. More specifically, it is your life at that given point in time.

When you have a productive day, it is because you mind is fully present in your writing. Your creativity centre is focussed on the task at hand, and not “what am I going to make for dinner?” You aren’t wasting brainpower on irrelevant things.

Eliminating Distractions

Albert Einstein owned multiples the same outfit, because he believed that “not wasting any thought on what he would wear” would help his brain focus on his work. While I don’t own multiples of the same outfit, I do just put on whatever is at the top of the pile. I have friends who spend far too much time (male and female) deciding what they are going to wear, which means that they are probably expending at least a little bit of thought throughout the day on their wardrobe.

To maximize your creative output, you need to eliminate as many distractions from your life as possible. I’m not saying throw out your cat and divorce your husband—but try to seriously, and objectively look at your life and determine a few things that could be changed.

One of the biggest subconscious distractions is “cold hands”.

Writers are always complaining about having cold hands. They are always stopping to rub their hands together. They are always getting up to adjust the heat. Having cold hands makes them irritable and frustrated.

Likewise, writers are always complaining about their sore back, constantly have to stand up from their desk and walk around. They waste entire days going to the mall and spending large amounts of money of ergonomic chairs. They waste money and time at the chiropractor, and the massage therapist.

The solution?

Ten minutes, twice a day of stretching.

“I don’t have time for this New Age crap!” you cry.

Stretching out every muscle in your body, twice a day forces your blood to flow through your entire body. Stretching also strengthens muscles, like the ones in your back. Stronger muscles provide more support, which means less pain. I’m not saying to go join a Yoga class. Just look up some “stretches for blood flow” on Google. Your body will adjust to the new routine, and it will continue to keep your blood flowing. Your hands will stop being cold—believe me. You will notice a difference on day one. Stretch your neck, your arms, your back, you hamstrings and even your feet.

Stretching improves your writing stamina as well. You will be able to sit for longer periods of time. Best of all, the increase in blood flow will stimulate your brain, and you will be just a little bit more creative, more articulate, and more confident in your work.

More Distractions

A simple thing like an apple core left on the desk is enough to pull you out of the writing zone. Every time you notice it, your brain have a subconscious “hiccup”. If you work at the same desk every day, your brain knows what is in its place and what isn’t. Do your mind a favour and tidy up.

If you know that you have to do the dishes at some point, or the laundry—get it done before writing. That is just one more thing to creep into your brain.

“The CREATURE begins to walk down the hall towards JIM. JIM turns around and begins to run towards the laundry—Oh shoot, I still have to do the laundry!”

Do you have e-mails that you were supposed to reply to a week ago? Do it now! Don’t let that subconscious stress affect your storytelling!

The woes of a horror writer (and every writer in general)

Only writers understand writers. As a working writer, I see The Shining in a whole different light. When Wendy asks if she can read what Jack has written and he turns into a passive-aggressive beast—I can relate to that. The writing process is a quirky thing. It is affected by so many little factors. To others, it always sounds like writers—and artists in general are making excuses.

“Why aren’t you writing?” my girlfriend asks me.

“The neighbour keep walking past the window,” I reply.

“So? He’s doing yard work.”

“How can I possibly write under these conditions!?”

It helps to have some other place you can go when you feel like nothing is being accomplished at your usual office. I generally write in my home office, but sometimes I will spend weeks at a nearby café because I’m just not able to get into the right headspace for whatever reason.

The trick isn’t to make excuses, but to create solutions. Rather than simply submitting when my neighbour insists on walking around in his own yard, I will go to the café. Likewise, when I’m expecting an email or a package, I will just go to the café, instead of it being on the back of my mind. At my café, I don’t know the wireless Internet password, and I intend to keep it that way.

The Internet is the ultimate demolisher of productivity. If you truly want to write, you need to disconnect. No one writes to his or her full potential while connected to the Internet.

Black Mountain Side Trailer

in Horror by

The official trailer for Black Mountain Side, starring Shane Twerdun, Michael Dickson, Carl Toftfelt, Marc Anthony Williams, Timothy Lyle, and Steve Bradley. Black Mountain Side was directed, written, and produced by Nick Szostakiwskyj.

You can buy or rent Black Mountain Side on Amazon or iTunes by clicking the links below.

Buy Black Mountain Side on Amazon

Buy Black Mountain Side on iTunes

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