Horror films are big business these days. Just ask Screamfest founder and festival director Rachel Belofsky, who has done her part to help shepherd the slasher and sci-fi industry into its newfound respect.
Genre movies have come a long way since the era of video nasties. The masked maniacs, mad scientists and knife-wielding boogeymen who once drew the ire of parents and critics have finally found a place in Hollywood's good graces thanks to a little Oscar attention and a whole lot of box office appeal.
“I started in 2001 when I had produced a documentary called Fast Women, about women in auto racing. I took it to festivals and it won awards, but the experience wasn't enriching. I felt lost in festivals,” Belofsky says. “After that, I felt I wanted to do something to help filmmakers. It really came from a place of understanding that you go to these festivals to show your film, but now what?”
When Belofsky aimed to start a film fest of her own, she quickly noted that there wasn't a local festival for horror pics. “It was baffling to me since it was genre that makes Hollywood millions of dollars, yet it's treated as the bastard child of the industry.”
A longtime fan of the genre, the director-producer made the jump. She was quickly supported by Hollywood's neglected film community.
Now in its 18th year, the “Sundance of Horror” spotlights short films and features that offer gore, guts and grime dripping from each frame (it runs Oct. 9-18 this year, and submissions are open). Embraced by genre-loving cinephiles, Screamfest has made its mark on the industry as a fount for new talent.
“Paranormal Activity was probably our biggest achievement: discovering those filmmakers and having Oren (Peli) go on to build a successful franchise,” Belofsky says. “But really, it's the small, individual moments that are great, like helping a filmmaker get his film sold. This year, for instance, there was an unknown filmmaker who directed Vidar the Vampire and it got sold to Epic Pictures. And he said the best thing to ever happen to his indie film was coming to Screamfest, because that's where they saw it and bought it.
“It's awesome. We make those connections and we see the results the next day.”
While it's taken a while for traditional Hollywood to cozy up to its genre peeps, there has been a gradual switch in attitude toward the scene, which validates Belofsky's hard work.
“The genre is slowly becoming more accepted,” she says. “We just did a screening of Mom & Dad. It's bloody but it isn't a horror film, per se. It's a black comedy. Yet we were able to do a screening last month with Nicolas Cage right before its release.”
This is a big change from past requests, when studios and producers did their best to avoid a genre label. “There wasn't that automatic shutdown that might have happened in past years,” she says.
“Screamfest benefits the community by giving them a place to come and show their work while we try to pair them with like-minded filmmakers that can help,” Belofsky says. “It's a place to come and not be judged. Everyone here gets everybody.”
To help budding scribes, Screamfest offers a screenplay writing competition; the winner gets a chunk of change to help with their chosen path and a sit-down with a Blumhouse exec as a way to help open doors.
“I would like the festival to be remembered as an event that really helped filmmakers while championing the genre,” Belofsky says. “And to give the people of Los Angeles a chance to experience new indie films, see them first and to jump on the next big trend or cult hit before anyone else.”