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by Thomas M. Sipos, L.A. bureau chief.  [October 11, 2003]




[]  Dozens of horror filmmakers showcased their work at the Third Annual Shriekfest Horror Film Festival on September 20-21, 2003, at the Raleigh Studios on Melrose Avenue, across the street from Paramount Studios -- and the Hollywood Investigator was there!

Shriekfest co-founder and actress Denise Gossett -- in an exclusive interview with the Investigator! -- said the festival was inspired by her lead role in the horror film, Chain of Souls.

"I was talking to the producers," Gossett told the Investigator, "and they were saying there weren't any horror film festivals around. I was like, oh my gosh, this was so much fun! Why don't I start this?"

Gossett and Kimberlee Beeson began organizing Shriekfest four years ago. Said Gossett, "There are so many horror fans, and so many horror filmmakers and writers. We thought that it would be great for people to do and come to. It's a great genre that should have the attention that it deserves. I love the creativity. I love the different ideas. Sometimes love the blood and guts. It's almost like any other film [genre]; it just has a little bit of death in it."

Based on submissions, Gossett sees a trend away from slashers. "In the films that we've been getting, so much of it is not the same slasher! slasher! They have their own story. Very creative."

In trying to discover the best in horror, Shriekfest screens both feature films and shorts, many shot on video. It admits both older undiscovered films, and films that have screened at other festivals. Thus, horror films that may have failed at other festivals get a second chance at Shriekfest.

Shriekfest ran a full weekend, from 10 a.m. to midnight. Many of the attendees appeared to be connected to the screened films, but Gossett said of the festival's track record, "The majority of the feature films got distribution after the festival. A lot of them got their distribution [from Shriekfest]. It's very exiting." She adds that Shriekfest is growing in fame and importance. "More submissions, more attendance, more sponsors. It's fun."

Asked how many attendees she expects this year, Gossett says, "I would like to say a thousand, but I don't know. I'll just keep my fingers crossed and we'll see. So far we're very happy. Everyone's great. Horror people are a lot of fun."

Los Angeles hosts another horror film festival, Screamfest L.A., also in its third year of screenings.  Apparently, Screamfest and Shriekfest were founded simultaneously, each unaware of the other.  And curiously, both festivals were founded by women.


* Interview With a Celeb


Actress Julie Hudson came to Shriekfest to promote Feast, a short film in which she plays the female half of a cannibal couple. Reminiscent of Eating Raoul, Feast was written and directed by Chapman University film student George Newnam for his senior thesis project.

"I made Feast close to five years ago when I first moved out to California," said Hudson exclusively to the Hollywood Investigator.  "A wacky horror 'slash' comedy. I'll probably never get to play a cannibal again. One of the most interesting characters I've played to date. So it was a lot of fun." 

Asked for her opinion on the horror genre, Hudson replied, "I like it as long as it's fun and kind of campy. I think Scream and stuff like that would be fun too, as long as I didn't have to maybe get too gory killing. Cause that might be scary."

Much to horror fans' disappointment, Hudson doesn't foresee getting "too gory" anytime soon, adding, "Right now I've mostly moved into the television market.  Mostly sitcom." Hudson is perhaps best known as "Dr. Ginny Gerson" on TV's Scrubs and "Leona" on The Bold and the Beautiful.



* Interview With a Maverick


Like Hudson, filmmaker Christopher Alan Broadstone is not native to L.A. He hails from Texas.

"I came to L.A. about ten years ago with my band," Broadstone said exclusively to the Hollywood Investigator. "But my band fell apart when I got here. I thought, well, I'll see what I can do with film. There's so much film, if you're gonna do it, here's the place to try to do it.

"I had always been a musician, hadn't done film. But I had been a huge film fan, forever and ever. Studied it on my own, reading magazines, books, watching lots of movies."

Broadstone attended several "seminar classes" at the American Film Institute, but never enrolled fulltime. "After about a year, I decided my next step is either go to film school and spend a load of cash, and still have to make a movie in the end, or spend the money to make my own film. I choose to do that instead."

Broadstone's Shriekfest entry is My Skin, a short film wherein Death, apparently angered by people infringing on his turf, plants evidence at a murder scene, then calls the police. The plot is not obviously related to 9/11, yet a desk calendar before Death reads: September 12, 2001.

"For me it's kind of weird," said Broadstone, "because I don't try to make horror films or write horror stories specifically, but all my ideas turn out that way. Always falling into the macabre or supernatural."

Broadstone wants to break new ground in horror. "My goal is to try to get something new and interesting happening in horror, because I think it's gotten, gone by the wayside, in many ways.  Some good supernatural film thrillers have come out, but on the indie side, it's usually either gore or zombie movie, schlock, or this kind of movie, or that kind of movie. I want something more unique, more interesting, more intelligent, and try to appeal to a broader audience than only people that watch the zombie movies, or Dracula films, or what-have-you."

Asked how My Skin appeals to a broader audience, Broadstone replies, "Number one, I always try to achieve a fairly decent production value. I think that's one way to appeal to a broader audience. And number two, having a story that kind of sucks you in, and keeps you thinking, is gonna appeal to a more intellectual crowd. People that are looking for more in their films than Oh look, the zombie's head got cut off, and that's the story. There's a hot chick, now she's taking her clothes off. I try to do something that's a little bit different. A story that people can relate to in their subversive mind somewhere, whether they would normally watch that stuff or not. Try to get offensive. I don't know, it's hard to explain."

My Skin won 2nd Place in Shriekfest's Short Horror category, and is available on DVD via the Nightmare Collection.



* Interview With an Outsider


Not everyone who visits L.A. stays. Filmmaker Dan Mundt lives and films in Iowa. He came to Shriekfest for the screening of his futuristic 30 minute film, Damaged, but afterwards he'll return to the Corn Belt.

Mundt described Damaged as "a Twilight Zoneish" story of a female soldier. "My third complete film," Mundt exclusively told the Hollywood Investigator. "As opposed to incomplete film, of which I have several."

Mundt financed Damaged the old-fashioned way. "I paid for it from my own pocket. The budget was about $2500, but it looks like we spent a lot more. Just a matter of choosing locations, and props and costumes that we could get a hold of, without expending a lot of money. I think it looks like a million bucks."

Mundt teaches at Iowa State University. His actors are all local talent. "We have a number of actors from Ames, Iowa. Megan Finch is the lead actress, and she's great. Michael Dahlstrom is the lead actor. We had a couple of kids who were wonderful to work with."

Mundt is big on female soldiers. In addition to Damaged, he's completed two feature films, including Escape Velocity, about a WASP (a female pilot in World War II) seeking a stolen plane. "Escape Velocity is set in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, France, Germany, and a South Pacific island -- and we shot it all in central Iowa!"

Although Damaged failed to win any awards at Shriekfest, Mundt said, "We won the Broadcast Education Association festival a year ago, an international film festival for instructors. It was runner-up at the Cedar Rapids Independent film festival this spring. Next week it's at the Wild Rose Independent Film Festival in Iowa. I don't know how it will do, but it's an official selection."



* Interview With a Player


While some filmmakers operate on a shoestring outside the studio system, others enjoy industry contacts. One of Shriekfest's slicker short film entries, Black Gulch, by USC graduate film student Michael Strode, benefited from top music, established actors, and a donation from The X-Files.

"The primary personnel were all USC graduate [students]," said Strode exclusively to the Hollywood Investigator. "But my director of photography [Jonathan Hale] graduated from USC undergrad about five years ago, and had been shooting low-budget features, so he was very good. And the production designer [John Collins] has done a lot of plays, a lot of different format type things. I got lucky.

"A lot of people responded to the script, and I had some good producers who managed to put together a lot of things for free. The rights to Bad Moon Rising. Professional screenings. A film donation from The X-Files."

Although obtaining free film from The X-Files was a simple matter of Strode's producer calling the show's line producer, their USC connection helped. "It was the end of the TV season," said Strode, "so [The X-Files] had a lot of short ends that they weren't gonna use, and they get a tax write-off, since USC's a not-for-profit organization. They were happy to write it off as a tax thing. And they were nice."

INVESTIGATOR FUN FACT: "Short ends are unexposed leftover film stock that are sold to film dealers (at about 25% of retail value) then resold to filmmakers (at about 50% retail value).  Recans are film stock that has been opened and loaded into a magazine (the camera's film container) but then recanned, unused. Recans are usually of full or nearly full magazine length, since the roll has not been shot. Short ends are leftover pieces from rolls that have been partially shot, thus short ends occupy less than a full magazine." SOURCE: Horror Film Aesthetics.

Black Gulch is the story of a gang of bank robbers who target a small desert town, only discover the town empty, save for the Grim Reaper -- and a mysterious blond boy reminiscent of The Twilight Zone's "A Real Good Day." Filmed in an actual ghost town, with established actors such as Christopher Bradley, Joshua Miller, and Graham Chase, Black Gulch was expensive despite the donations and freebies. Strode financed much of it himself -- and finds himself in a deeper hole than does Mundt.

"The budget was about $55,000," said Strode. "Enough to put me in debt two years ago for the next 15-to-25 years."

Strode hopes to follow George Lucas's path to success. While a film student at USC, Lucas had shot a short version of THX1138, then upon graduating, remade it as a feature. Strode describes his planned feature length Black Gulch as "an exploration of the town beforehand. The scary aspects of the town. I think there's a lot of breathing room for people to react to. They don't have a chance to react [in the short]. Just go go go, round around [from one scare to the next].

Strode says of horror: "I think it's usually dismissed as a genre. But I've always had a great affection for horror, if it's action/horror. I think it's something where, if it's done well, it can instill a lot of fear, and help drain away that fear."

Black Gulch won Best Film in Shriekfest's Short Horror category, but is only beginning to get attention, as Strode just finished it. "In late August we were timing the print. We screened it at the L.A. Shorts Fest about two days ago."

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