The Official Website of Filmmaker, Nick Szostakiwskyj

Monthly archive

January 2017

Top 10 Horror Fan Posters

in Horror by

Top 10 Horror Fan Posters

If you follow my Twitter, you know I have a soft spot for fan art, especially horror fan posters. I’ve gone back and picked my top 10 horror fan posters. As a bonus, most of the posters in this top 10 horror fan posters also happen to be of my favourite horror movies. Do you have favourite horror fan art? Leave it in the comments, I’d love to see it.

10. The Exorcist Minimalist Poster

Poster by Javier Lainez.

Top 10 horror fan posters the exorcist

9. The Fly Minimalist Poster

Artist is a DesignCrowd user named dbdesign999.

Top 10 horror fan posters the fly

8. Black Mountain Side Comic-Style Poster

Maybe a biased pick! Poster is by Lokhaan.

Top 10 horror fan posters black mountain side

7. Aliens Fan Poster

Poster is by Oliver Barrett.

Top 10 horror fan posters aliens

6. Re-Animator Green Comic-Style Poster

Poster by Dan Mumford.

Top 10 horror fan posters re-animator

5. The Terminator Poster

Poster is by Gabz.

Top 10 horror fan posters the terminator

4. Predator Poster

Poster is by Gabz.

Top 10 horror fan posters predator

3. Evil Dead 2 Poster

Poster is by Randy Ortiz.

Top 10 horror fan posters evil dead 2

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey Poster

Poster by Kilian Eng.


Top 10 horror fan posters 2001 a space odyssey

1. The Silence of the Lambs Skull Poster

Poster is by Gabz.

Top 10 horror fan posters the silence of the lambs

Top 10 Horror Movies List

in Horror by

My top 10 ten horror movies

top 10 horror movies black mountain side
An honourable mention to my own film, Black Mountain Side

There are thousands of top 10 horror movies lists floating around out there, but over the past few years I’ve been asked for my list countless times. So I decided to finally make it. Warning: It’s not the most original list.

I didn’t try to include lesser-known films to show you how hip and cool I am or any super old films in some attempt to make you think I’m super intelligent, and I didn’t include a bunch of foreign films to make you think I’m some cultured savant. I just picked the films I enjoy the most, and uninterestingly, they all turned out to be American films from 1970-1999, almost all of which most people tend to agree are some of the best horror films of all time. Regardless, I present my list!

10. Misery

top 10 horror movies list misery
A cool overhead behind the scenes shot, shooting Misery

Number 10 on my top 10 horror movies list is Misery. Misery isn’t the only Stephen King adaptation to make the list, ironic because I don’t actually like King’s writing. Luckily, other filmmakers do like King’s writing and they see the value in it and they’re able to bring that value out in a way that I can appreciate. I have a lot of respect for King. He’s a writer with an incredible work ethic. I just think he should start making his protagonists something other than writers!

Misery is a great horror film with lots of unexpected twists and plenty of crippling tension. The older I’m getting, the more I’m loving “real” horror films, and the less I’m enjoying the supernatural alternative. A recent horror/thriller I really loved was The Gift (2015), which had a lot of similar tension building as Misery. But Misery combined a lot of elements I love about horror: great characters, an isolated setting, and a reserved use of gore and jump scares.

9. Carrie

Number 9 on my top 10 horror movies list is Carrie. It’s also another King adaptation. It’s not a terrifying movie, if that’s what you’re looking for, but it is a great movie that happens to be a horror. The cinematography is great, the acting is superb, the overall direction is excellent. Though I think the poster sucks, which is why it took me so long to get around to watching the film.

Carrie does an excellent job building characters, which I believe is more important than anything in horror filmmaking. As a result, you find yourself totally invested in the film. When that blood drops, it’s absolutely heartbreaking.

8. The Fly

top 10 horror movies the fly
Applying the special makeup effects on Jeff Goldblum for The Fly

Number 8 on my top 10 horror movies list is The Fly, directed by David Cronenberg. Like Carrie, I don’t believe the film is that scary personally, but again, it’s a great film. The acting is spot on, the writing is great, and the direction is solid. But best of all, the special effects are phenomenal. If you go into the film not knowing what to expect, the film is shocking (as you would expect from a director like Cronenberg).

And once again, the characters are fantastic. Seth Brundle is a captivating character that you can’t not love, and Jeff Goldblum is the only human on the planet who could pull that character off. So many horror movies rely on boring archetypes or worse, the everyman, to lead their plot. The Fly doesn’t fall for that trap.

7. The Exorcist

top 10 horror movies the exorcist
Linda Blair, behind the scenes shooting The Exorcist

Number 7 on my top 10 horror movies list is The Exorcist. If you found this page looking for a scary movie recommendation, The Exorcist is it. A lot of people might be put off by the fact it’s the oldest film on my list, but don’t be discouraged by its age. The Exorcist holds up. This film has scared the living hell out of so many people since its release, and I think it will continue doing so for a very long time. And most hardcore horror fans would agree.

The Exorcist backs up a lot of my horror theories. There are very few jump scares, the characters are great and relatable, and the filmmakers focus on the story rather than just trying to make the film scary. As a result, you are more invested in the material, you care more for the fate of the characters, and you’re more vulnerable to the fear and dread that the film orchestrates masterfully.

6. Eyes Wide Shut

eyes wide shut top 10 horror movies
Cruise, Kubrick, and Pollack on the set of Eyes Wide Shut

Number 6 on my top 10 horror movies list is Eyes Wide Shut. Eyes Wide Shut gets a lot of bad press from film fans, mostly because people love to hate Tom Cruise (Tom Cruise is the best, by the way). There’s some silly theory that Tom Cruise and the studio took the film away from Stanley Kubrick and had it cut his own way and Kubrick could do nothing about it because, well, he was dead. Warner Bros insists Kubrick submitted the final cut before his death. Either way, the film is great. It’s a film that forces you to watch closely, sometimes with multiple viewings, to realize what’s going on. It’s like a puzzle you have to assemble, and every time you get a piece, you get closer to the very terrifying final image.

There is so much happening in the background in Eyes Wide Shut–so many little clues hidden in the frame. In the middle of the film, Cruise finds himself in a secret world that he wasn’t supposed to find. And then the next thing he knows, that world is gone. But it’s never really gone. It continues to exist in the background. The secret world becomes an invisible entity that you, as the viewer, can always feel is around, meddling in plot.

What makes the film even more terrifying are all of the conspiracies surrounding it. Some people suggest that Kubrick was trying to point people towards a very real secret society filled with sex slaves, much like the one in the film. Since the film’s release, there’s been an overwhelming number of testimonies suggesting such a society actually exists. Yikes!

5. Predator

top 10 horror movies predator
The original creature used in filming Predator. They only shot a few scenes with this guy before scrapping him.

Number 5 on my top 10 horror movies list is Predator. Predator is the most entertaining film ever made. It’s got insane action and special effects, incredible stunt-work, an original and fun plot, good characters and performances, and so on and so on. It’s impossible to doze off while watching this movie.

The filmmakers really cared about this film, but they really didn’t have to. They could have shot it on a backlot in Hollywood, gotten some safe, seasoned director, and they could have just made a quick buck. But they didn’t do that. They hired a new director who they thought was a great new talent, they put the script through numerous rewrites, and they shipped the cast and crew off to Mexico to shoot the thing. The first creature they had looked kind of silly, and they could have settled with it, but instead they froze production and had a whole new creature built. An incredible amount of thought went into every shot in the film, and the work payed off because I truly believe the film is absolutely timeless. In 500 years someone will be able to watch it and it will stand up.

4. The Evil Dead

top 10 horror movies evil dead
One of my favourite BTS shots. Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi shooting The Evil Dead, looking so young

Number 4 on my top 10 horror movies list is The Evil Dead (the original, of course). The Evil Dead holds a special place in my heart because it’s part of the reason I went into filmmaking, and it’s the one reason I went into horror. Reading about the production, seeing pictures from set, I was able to see myself doing the same thing. It never seemed like something I couldn’t achieve, unlike other films I loved at the time like The Thing, with incredible production value and stunt work and so on. The Evil Dead was just a small crew of buddies in a cabin with a super simple script.

Does it hold up today? I think so, but not in the same way Predator or The Exorcist holds up. It’s got a special charm to it. You can feel the love and ambition that went into it. I love any indie film that feels completely genuine, but they’re very rare.

I watched The Evil Dead for the first time when I was 13 years old, on my laptop in my dark bedroom, with headphones on. It scared the hell out of me. I had to pause it multiple times to build up the courage to continue. Despite the film’s low budget, it still has good characters, a good plot, great atmosphere, great cinematography. It’s proof you don’t need a massive budget to make a great movie.

3. The Thing

top ten horror movies the thing
Original concept art for the film, The Thing (1982)

Number 3 on my top 10 horror movies list is The Thing (the original, of course). If you’ve seen my film, Black Mountain Side, you probably saw this pick coming. Black Mountain Side has been tirelessly compared to The Thing, but I don’t really mind, seeing as The Thing is commonly considered one of the greatest horror films ever made.

The Thing has amazing cinematography, special effects, and a captivating setting and story. But best of all, it has amazing characters. None of the characters are dull or boring. Watching the film, you feel like there’s life in every one of them, and you care for all of them when shit starts to hit the fan.

Carpenter made some seriously awesome films in his early days, though if I’m going to be honest, he kind of loses me shortly after The Thing. I actually don’t like In The Mouth of Madness, I think They Live is pretty corny, Big Trouble in Little China didn’t do much for me. I think The Thing and Escape From New York were the films he was born to make.

2. The Shining

the shining top ten horror movies list
The Shining also has some of the best behind the scenes photos of any movie

Number 2 on my top 10 horror movies list is The Shining. The Shining is one of those films that you just have to see to understand. Whenever I hear people saying it’s too long and too boring, my mind is blown. I wish the film was longer. I wish it was twelve hours long. And boring? That I can’t understand.

The acting is Oscar-worthy. The production value is perfect. The setting is awesome. But what takes the cake is the tone. From the opening frame right ’till the end of the film, there’s an intense sense of dread that never goes away and continues to grow and grow and grow. Watching the film, you really feel like you’re in that empty hotel. It’s a truly surreal feeling that really can’t be described.

Stephen King supposedly hates the film because it isn’t faithful to his source material (which I’ve read, and it’s true, it’s not very faithful). But I really do believe Kubrick took the source material and made it better. All of Jack Torrance’s backstory that Kubrick cut out from the book is still there, in Jack Nicholson’s performance. After I read the book, I understood his character so much better, but I think I ruined it somewhat. The power of that performance is that you can see the man is tortured but you don’t really know why. It’s more interesting when it’s left mysterious, and it allows the audience’s imagination to fill the gaps.

1. Alien

alien top ten horror films the best
The miniature sets in Alien are breathtaking.

Number 1 on my top 10 horror movies list is Alien.

I don’t like the sequels (sorry, but I don’t really like Aliens) or the spinoffs, and to be honest, I almost wish they didn’t exist, because they try all to explain things that are better left unexplained. The Blair Witch Project (original) is a great film, until you go and watch the putrid sequel, which attempts to explain everything that happened in the original. It ruins it. It takes away the mystery and then there’s nothing left.

Alien is still a good movie, despite the existence of its sequels. It’s got everything: isolated setting, great production value, cinematography, acting, characters, special effects, and so on and so on. In fact, I am willing to suggest that the film has no flaws whatsoever. There isn’t a single line delivery that doesn’t sound authentic, there isn’t a single set piece that looks fake, there isn’t a single shot that feels out of place or unnecessary. Technically, it’s a perfect film.

Ridley Scott’s tension building is phenomenal. He increases the tension in perfect amounts and gives the audience small, perfectly timed breaks to keep us from being overstimulated. He uses his jump scares sparingly and they’re always unexpected (sometimes even to the actors). Alien is the perfect example of a team of filmmakers working at the top of their game, pushing the boundaries of filmmaking.


Filmmaking: Making a Living

in Filmmaking by

A career in filmmaking

filmmaking predator horror
Behind the scenes on Predator. Back when filmmaking was profitable

Back before the 90s, breaking into the filmmaking industry was extremely difficult, but established filmmakers generally made an alright living. Even into the 90s, with the rise of independent film, filmmakers were still able to make okay money off of their craft. The same isn’t so true today. With the rise of technology, anyone can make a film. When you take a high-demand job and remove the restrictions, naturally you’re going to get a flood of newcomers, eager to get their work out there.

There are so many people trying to make filmmaking their career. I don’t say this to discourage you, but it’s important to have a healthy perspective on the industry. Just in Vancouver (where I went to film school), there are four serious film schools that take in large groups of students every year. The school I went to, The Vancouver Film School, has intakes of 30-40 students every two months. Sure, many of these students end up dropping out, quitting their film pursuits, or they end up working on sets across various departments. But most of them have dreams of making films. On day one of school, one of our teachers said, “With a show of hands, how many people here want to be directors?” Every single student in our class raised their hand.

Luckily for the determined, most people who set out to make a feature film don’t succeed, usually because of lack of confidence and/or lack of motivation. Still, thousands of films are made every single year.

The tyranny of distribution

filmmaking film markets
The American Film Market, crawling with filmmakers trying to sell their movies

Distributors no longer pay money for independent films. Thanks to over-saturation, they don’t need to pay. They have hundreds of filmmakers sending them films, all willing to give away the rights for a small cut that they may or may not ever get. Decades ago, before the Great Independent Film Flood, distributors would offer big sums of money as minimum guarantees, or MGs. These days, MGs are rare, mostly non-existent. Back in the day, you sold the film and the distributor did the rest. These days, filmmakers are expected to provide everything from artwork, posters, subtitle files, commentary tracks, and so on.

A typical deal goes as follows (and this is if you’re lucky): A distributor will take your film with no MG, and usually around a 70/30 split (in their favour). They will spend a small amount on marketing, usually around $25,000 (much of this is to pay themselves). Then, once the film is released, you aren’t paid until they recoup that $25,000. Not until then will you start to earn your 30%. If you want to learn a little bit more, read my article on the state of the film industry today.

film distribution filmmaking
If you really want money, look into a career in distribution.

Unless you raised all of your finances through crowd sourcing, or you paid out of your own pocket, you will have to repay your investors before you see a dime. Most filmmakers will even sell their movie to a sales agent, whose job is to take the film and sell it again to a distributor, or multiple distributors. They will take an additional percentage and will have their own marketing expenses that need to be recouped.

More often than not, filmmakers who are successful in making a film will never see a dime.

How you won’t make it

Hoping to make a living off of a film’s (or multiple films) royalties is nonsensical. It won’t happen. In making Black Mountain Side and Hammer of the Gods, I was lucky enough to meet some established filmmakers, with films I had both seen and enjoyed. I was shocked to learn they all had other jobs on the side that they worked between productions.

Many filmmakers pay themselves a portion of the film’s budget, which is fine, but you won’t (you shouldn’t) make enough to pay the bills. Even if you’re insanely efficient, making a film every year, you’re only going to be making about $5,000-$20,000 off of every film. For most beginning filmmakers, that money is better used on other things. I wasn’t paid anything out of the budget for Kankered or Black Mountain Side, my first two features.

low budget filmmaking
As profits shrink, so do budgets. Lots of film sets these days look like this

Here in Canada, we have decent tax credits. In BC, you can get up to 35% of labour costs back. During the beginning stages of Black Mountain Side, our accountant told us that this is how most filmmakers pay themselves, with the tax credit money. We used a portion of our tax credit to paid ourselves, but again, it was nowhere near enough to pay the bills.

If you pay yourself out of the budget, and you give yourself a bit of your tax credit, and you manage to make a chunk of money from royalties, you STILL won’t be making enough to live. So what can you do? How do people do it?

Finding work elsewhere

Most independent filmmakers have other jobs. Many work in the film industry. I worked as a boom operator for a few years, until it started to take a toll on my back. Some filmmakers have more standard jobs, in restaurants and bars, in retail stores, and so on.

Here’s the best advice I can possibly give: do not work in the film industry if you want to make films. The years I worked in film were my least productive years, and I regret them. There’s a stigma in the film industry, especially with those who went to film school. People seem to think working outside of the industry is, in some way, giving up on filmmaking. People feel they need to live in one of the big film cities and work tirelessly on sets. You don’t, and you shouldn’t.

filmmaking at home
Shooting Hammer of the Gods would not have been possible had it not been for my stay-at-home job.

Film industry pay is mediocre, even once you work your way up the ranks (which is difficult), and the hours are absolutely brutal. Working fourteen hour days, sometimes seven days a week, you aren’t going to have time to write scripts or plan your projects. When you do get downtime, you won’t have the energy. Set work is where aspiring filmmakers go to die.

There are arguments for working in the film industry but maybe that’s an article for another time.

Work part time, or from home

Two years ago, I quit the film industry and started working from home doing private graphic design work, mostly for publishers and web designers. I also do a good deal of ghostwriting and editing between design jobs. I get to work from home, I make far more than I was making working on sets, and my work week is only about 30 hours. Thanks to this work transition, I was able to make Hammer of the Gods, and I’ve been able to write multiple screenplays and do plenty of market research.

A filmmaker friend of mine works as a bartender. He sends his boss a text message when he needs two months off for a shoot, and his job is waiting for him when he gets back. I have the privilege of being able to e-mail clients that I’ll be away for a few months, and I know there will be work for me when I get back (I also make royalties from my ghostwriting efforts, which helps).

These days there are tons of ways you can work from home. It’s not easy; it takes a lot of discipline (which you should have anyway if you want to be a filmmaker). Working from home is low-stress, which is important for creativity.

You need to be stubborn

filmmaking child's play horror
Behind the scenes, shooting Child’s Play

The word stubborn has such a negative connotation, but I’ve found it’s actually one of my more valuable traits. If you’re going to make a living with filmmaking, you need to be stubborn. You need to be able to live off of very little, you need to put in hours when you sometimes don’t want to put in the hours. The truth is, you can’t finish a screenplay without being stubborn. Most people get ten pages into a script before throwing their hands up and yelling, “this story is crap!” Every script is going to suck in its first draft. You need to be stubborn if you’re going to see it through to future drafts and through to production.

Final thoughts

Don’t expect to be making money off of your first film. Don’t expect to ever make real money off of a career in film. It’s not guaranteed, and distributors will make it their goal to get all the money they can. The best way to approach it, is to treat it like a hobby. Find a job on the side to support your hobby, the way you might if you’re an avid skier. My brother-in-law is an avid mountain biker. For years, he went on mountain biking circuits and he tried to make a career out of it. Now, he makes a comfy living as a carpenter and he has plenty of spare time for biking. He’s probably the happiest person I know.

Filmmaking doesn’t need to be your job. In fact, you shouldn’t want it to be. If you try, you will just end up becoming jaded and you’ll begin to hate the process. Filmmaking should be fun. It’s an art. There’s a reason it’s such a sought-after career choice.

Orchestrating the Perfect Jump Scare

in Filmmaking/Horror/Writing by

The jump scare: cliche or useful tool?

jump scare mirror evil dead
A take on the mirror gag

If you’ve seen Black Mountain Side, then you know I’m not a big fan of jump scares. In fact, there isn’t a single jump scare in the whole film. That was intentional. When making that film, I was totally convinced that jump scares lessened the value of a horror film, and that the state of modern horror was in ruins solely because of the overused gimmick.

Was I right? Maybe to an extent, but I’ve since come to believe that jump scares can, and do, have a very important role in horror films. A successful jump scare is more complex than you might think.

Why do we need jump scares?

alien jump scare chestburster
No one saw this one coming. Not even the actors.

What is the point of a jump scare? It’s not simply, to make your audience jump. The goal of a horror filmmaker should be to leave the audience with a lasting sense of dread and, of course, fear. Yelling “Boo!” and making someone jump will get a rise, but it’s not enough to leave a lasting impression. If you rely on jump scares as the only form of horror in your film, you will undoubtably end up with a bad product. Feel free to read my article on “scary storytelling”, which may echo a lot of what I’m going to say here.

Jump scares serve a single purpose: to break through your audience’s defences. It makes them pay close attention, it makes them fear what is going to come around every corner, what is going to be in every reflection, and so on. People don’t like being jolted into jumping (which is why films that rely heavily on the jump scare aren’t so good), so they’re going to do their best to try to see the jump scares coming. A good jump scare makes them vulnerable to the real horror–the content of your story. This audience vulnerability will allow you to unravel the real goodies, unnoticed, so that you can hit them with a real surprise later on.

The importance of character

the shining jump scare
Jack Torrance is strangely relatable in The Shining.

A jump scare will never work if we don’t care about your characters. Again, I touched on this in my piece on scary storytelling. There is nothing more important in storytelling than strong characters. As soon as an audience begins your film, they will subconsciously begin the process of trying to relate to the characters. They will decide quickly who they like and who they’re rooting for.

And when I say they will attempt to relate, that doesn’t mean make your characters as relatable as possible. Make your characters interesting and unique and people will relate to them more than if you make them boring and standard. No one actually sees themselves as boring and standard.

Jump scares should be natural

When you sit down to write your script, don’t write it around those wicked jump scares you have in your mind. You should be focussing on your story, on your characters, on your plot–on good writing. If you end up with a great horror script without a single jump scare, great! Don’t go and add one in for the sake of having one.

jump scare it follows gimmick
The beach scene in It Follows

Jump scares should only end up in your script if they serve the story. Interjected scares will stick out like a sore thumb and take your audience right out of their trace. Because that’s what it’s all about: the trance. Horror is a unique genre in that you need to keep your audiences on the tension train, constantly rising them up and lowering them down, within your control. If they fall off the train, it’s almost impossible to get them back on.

I liked the movie It Follows up until the scene where the invisible monster starts throwing the kids around. To me, the scene felt forced, as if the filmmakers felt they needed to up the ante. They had a great tension going, and then they lost it, and I just couldn’t get back into the film after that. I started noticing little flaws here and there because I was no longer absorbed into the plot.

Don’t be cheap

jump scares japanese horror
After the Japanese got into the game, it became the game of jump scares.

You know that scene in that movie where the guy hears something outside, so he looks out the window, leans closer and closer, and then a bird slams into the window? It’s not just in that one movie, it’s in hundreds of them, and it’s cheap. Its intentions are good–the filmmakers are trying to lower your defences and get you nice and vulnerable early on. But what are they trying to achieve? Are they trying to make you fear stray animals flying into windows?

These failed attempts are actually working against the filmmaker. They’re conditioning the audience into knowing when to expect the jump scare. They’re giving away the music cue, the buildup, the timing, everything. Now the audience knows when to cover their eyes. The whole point of a jump scare is to surprise the audience. Now you’ve lost it.

Use your jump scares sparingly

jump scare the gift 2015
The Gift (2015) is highly recommended

One of my favourite horror films in the last five years has only one jump scare in it. I won’t spoil it, but the film I’m talking about is The Gift (2015), with Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton. There’s only one jump scare, right in the middle of the film, but its affects are tremendous. After the scare, you can’t help but sink back into your chair every time someone turns a corner, every time someone looks out the window. The tension, at times, in unbearable.

When you hit the audience over the head, over and over and over, with your jump scares, you lose the potential power of the jump scare altogether. You only need one well-placed, well-timed scare, and you’ll have your audience on the edge of their seat.

Not too early

One big mistake many modern horror films make is they blow their scary load too early. If it’s ten minuted into the film and we’ve had three birds, a cat, and the jokester buddy fly at us with sharp music cues, we’re going to be numb. When the real content comes our way, it will have little affect. Contemporary moviegoers know what to expect. They know about the music cue that is followed by the long silence, which is followed by the sharp sound. Make an effort to bring the audience into your story, so they can forget about their programming.

The music cue, silence, sharp noise gimmick

Jump Scare modern king James Wan horror 2015
Director James Wan and his creature on the set of The Conjuring

Some people like these kinds of movies. There are reasons dozens of them get stuffed into theatres every year, and people continue to pay big money to sit through them. There are two kinds of horror fans: the ones who like to be afraid, and the ones who like to be thrilled. There’s nothing wrong with either group. But there’s no reason your film can’t appeal to both crowds.

If you’re interesting in making that kind of fast-paced horror movie, then it’s important to know how to orchestrate your jump scare. It’s important to wait until your audience is drawn into the story, invested in the characters, and they aren’t expecting it. Your first scare is the most important. It needs to take them by surprise. If you insist on including a “false scare” (a cat in the closet), then don’t give it all away. Include the rising music cue, the long silence, but don’t throw in the sharp noise. Save that for when you really want to make an impact. Don’t let your audience be expecting it when it really matters.

Don’t rely on the formula. Have a few scenes where you take your audience by surprise completely, without the music cue and the long silence. Go straight for the sharp noise and the jump scare. It’s important you vary it up so your audience doesn’t start to predict your hand.


Focus on the horror, not on the gimmick

Predator jump scare horror action
Scary or not, Predator is just an awesome film.

In the end, content is king. Think about those haunted house attractions at amusement parks. Do you really think a long hallway with lots of turns and lots of people waiting around each one, yelling “Boo!” is going to leave much of an impression? Sure, it may make you jump a few times, but it won’t be a memorable experience. A horror film is no different.

Now picture this: you walk into a haunted house and there are little hints suggesting that there is someone following you, but you keep turning the corner to see nothing, except maybe little clues as to who is in the house with you, what he might do to you. You keep looking back, but there’s no one behind you. Little noises keep you on edge.You hear an inhuman gurgling noise and your imagination starts to create an image of the fiend. Finally, you turn a corner and there he is, inches from your face. That will have an impact.

Filmmaking: Compromising Integrity for Political Correctness

in Filmmaking by
Mary Elizabeth Winstead in The Thing

Diversity in Filmmaking

Filmmaking has never been more diverse in terms of race and gender than it is today. Still, it’s just not good enough for some people. As filmmakers become more and more inclusive, more and more rules are thrown into the mix. Vanity Fair even suggests we need to see more leading characters with disabilities. But why? They complain that only 12.2% of characters in American films are black, and that’s just not enough. Is it not enough? Blacks make up 13.2% of the American population. They are only underrepresented by a single percentage point. Still, they want more, and not just in front of the camera either. Did you know that less than 8% of directors are female, and more than 92% are male.

But is this really a problem with filmmaking? Do we really need to do better?

Filmmaking: Will Smith Academy Awards
Will Smith was nominated twice for the Academy Awards.

Back in 2014, my film, Black Mountain Side, was criticized for its all-male cast. The critic wrote:

“There are plenty of lady archaeologists and medical doctors, and the fact that this still needs to be stated in 2014 is my frustration […] I do see it as shortsightedness on behalf of the filmmakers.”

In pre-production, diversity was the topic of conversation multiple times. Many of the people involved in the making of the film urged me to change one or two of the characters into females. I said, “We can, but it means rewriting the script,” which had some people scratching their heads. “Why can’t you just make them females instead of males? Why do you need to rewrite anything except for their character name and description?” This had me scratching my head.

Ignoring Facts

Men and women are different, it’s just a fact. There is a strong contingent of people who would like you to think otherwise, but facts are facts.

In 2016, the struggle for diversity and equality reached its crux. The Oscars were all about addressing the diversity issue, and shortly after, all anyone could talk about was the “wage gap“. Amy Adams decided to speak out about how she was paid much less than her male co-stars in the film, American Hustle. This, of course, outraged many people, mostly feminists who saw it as blatant proof that the wage gap was real. But they were all (and still are) ignoring the facts. The reality of Amy Adams’s situation is that Amy Adams was paid less than her male co-stars because she was billed lower than her male co-stars, she worked far fewer days on set, she had far less screen time, and, most importantly, Amy Adams is not as big of a household name as Bradley Cooper or Christian Bale.

Amy Adams, filmmaking, American Hustle
Her performance wasn’t even that great.

Jennifer Lawrence on the other hand — she is on par with those big hitters. It was leaked that she too was paid much less than her male co-stars, and this further infuriated feminists and the like. If you’ve seen the movie, you know she’s only in a handful of scenes, and was probably on set for less than 10% of the shoot. Jennifer Lawrence was reportedly paid 20% less than Bradley Cooper, but she most definitely worked far less than 20% of the shoot days. It’s the same as working four days a week at your job and complaining that you didn’t make as much as the guy who worked five. If you calculate the days worked of each actor, both Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were actually paid more per day than their male co-stars.

An unrealistic fantasy

The problem is, what these people want is utopian fantasy. They don’t care about the facts. Going back to the critic who slammed Black Mountain Side for having no women in the cast, calling it “shortsightedness on behalf of the filmmakers” — What she doesn’t know is that we actually auditioned women for one of the roles in the film. We considered casting asians, blacks, first-nations, Indo-Canadians, and whites for many of the roles. In the end, we chose the strongest actors.

Filmmaking is in trouble

In making Hammer of the Gods, there was once again more pressure to add gender and racial diversity to the cast. The pressure was even greater than before. Another project we had in development, a comedy, was also criticized for its lack of female protagonists. It’s a shame that film has become a political battleground.

Michelangelo Racist Painting
Look at this racist garbage!

My fiancee and I were recently watching the new Netflix series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and couldn’t help but notice that not only were characters from the source material changed to accommodate greater diversity, but their backstories were completely changed in order to make it happen. This means that the production team actually went out of their way to make the show more diverse. That’s bad filmmaking. Diversity shouldn’t be forced into art. You wouldn’t tell Michelangelo to paint more blacks and asians into his paintings so that people would feel more included at the museum. Diversity should happen naturally. People should be rewarded based on talent, not the colour of their skin. Filmmaking shouldn’t cross over into politics.

The diversity myth

Some people reading this might think that I’m suggesting that white men are better actors than their non-white, non-male counterparts, but that’s not at all what I’m suggesting. For Black Mountain Side, when we put out the casting call to men and women for the role of the Professor, we had an astounding two women show up to audition. We probably had about fifty men, if not more. For Hammer of the Gods, we had two blacks and one asian show up for the characters Eric and Mitch, and many, many more whites. For the single female character we cast, we had hundreds of white girls submit, and very, very few non-whites. The role ended up going to one of those non-white actors simply because she was the strongest actor of the lot.

Filmmaking diversity Friday the 13th
The Friday the 13th remake with an almost perfect diversity. Much better than the horribly oppressing original.

Forcing diversity into fillmaking is the real crime. To give someone a role because of the colour of their skin is the real injustice. And despite what Google says, it is possible for whites to be the victims of racism. If you have thirty white people audition for a role, and one Vietnamese person, and you pick the Vietnamese guy in the name of “diversity”, not only is that borderline racism as far as I’m concerned, but you’ve effectively made your film worse by ignoring potential talent. Hard Boiled has almost exclusively Chinese actors, and when I watch it, I don’t feel oppressed because there are no white guys in the flick.

People are different

Men are different than women. They have different hobbies and interests. The big news of 2016 was that women, on average, make 78 cents for every dollar men make, but this isn’t because of oppression or inequality. It’s because women tend to prefer jobs with lower pay. Women tend not to take jobs in construction or waste management. Out of high school, ladies tend to take jobs at clothing stores and pet stores and other jobs with low-stress environments. Men tend to go into trades and higher risk occupations. Despite what feminism wants you to think, many women still prioritize time with their children and families, while men are more likely to work longer hours and over the weekends.

Filmmakers who deny these real differences are compromising the quality of their films. They’re substituting realism for equality. I still stand by my claim that 99% of women wouldn’t take a job at the fictional outpost in Black Mountain Side because of its horribly harsh conditions and labour intensive environment. In defending this claim, I compared it to an oil rig, where female workers make up only 4% of the workforce.

In Black Mountain Side, a female character would have not only been unrealistic, it would have changed the whole dynamic of the cast. It’s a scientific fact that men act differently around women. Had we cast one of the women who auditioned for the professor role, I would have rewritten her scenes. The line, “I just want to settle down with a bottle of whisky and a box of porn,” probably wouldn’t have made the cut, and the characters wouldn’t have proceeded to cheers “to whisky and porn”. Black Mountain Side is a movie about men, and I find that interesting. I didn’t set out to make the most politically correct and diverse film I could make, I set out to make the best possible film I could make.

The goal

filmmaking diversity star wars
FINALLY, some female and non-white Star Wars protagonists. Notice how all the bad guys in movies these days are white. Hmm…

The filmmaking goal should be to make the best possible film without compromise. You wouldn’t make a film about the Holocaust with a perfectly diverse cast, nor would you make a film about the Rwandan genocide with a perfectly diverse cast — because it would be offensively unrealistic. The real world isn’t some perfectly diverse utopia, so your fictional world shouldn’t be either. Chinatowns exist in every city because Chinese people prefer to surround themselves with Chinese culture. People prefer same-race neighbourhoods. Art should reflect the world it is created in. When I read a Dostoyevski novel, I want to get a sense of what life was like in Russia, pre-Russian Revolution. Let’s leave utopian fantasies for fantasy and science fiction and embrace the world we live in now for the sake of future generations who will look to our work to get an understanding of where they came from.


Go to Top