The Fright Stuff

Thursday, August 4 2011
The Fright Stuff

It’s the Bank Holiday August weekend, the sun may be shining, Leicester Square and its environs will be packed full of tourists and holidaymakers, and in and around London there’ll be outdoor music events such as Reading and the world’s largest street party, Notting Hill Carnival, and all its surrounding brouhaha.

But in one part of the aforementioned Leicester Square, you’ll find a packed out cinema, full of horror junkies and gore freaks, lusting after blood, chills and a plenty more.

For the annual Film4 FrightFest event is nearly upon us, taking place at its newest home, the Empire in Leicester Square.

It’s the 12th time out for what has become the UK’s, if not Europe’s, most important event on the calendar for horror aficionados.

The facts and figures make for compelling reading. Running over five days, there’ll be a total of 37 films aired, emanating from 11 different territories. Seven of them are world premieres, 20 represent either UK or European debuts.

We wouldn’t dream of listing everything on offer st Film4 FrightFest, we haven’t got the space and it’s already been done here.  Suffice to say, among those airing are Optimum’s eagerly-awaited Kill List, Kaleidoscope’s closer A Lonely Place To Die and a record five from Anchor Bay, highlighting its increasingly canny acquisitions of genre fare.

Talent flies in from around the world, knowing that, for genre fans, a screening at FrightFest marks an official seal of approval.

For UK distributors and labels, the event is key. Get the right reaction at FrightFest, and you’re on the way to a success.

As Anchor Bay’s Thom Leaman says: “For any genre film’s DVD campaign, getting a screening at FrightFest is a great way to kick it off and gain that vital early awareness and exposure. A screening, and especially a premier at FrightFest has also has become a great key selling point for trade sell-in. Indeed I know a fair few DVD buyers who attend the festival for themselves so are fully appreciative of its importance as a marketing tool.”

One of those is HMV’s Tim Scaping, a long-time fan of the event. “FrightFest provides a showcase for filmmaking that is outside of the mainstream. The hundreds of people who attend each year are really passionate about film and generate great word of mouth for the movies that are screened, with many of the big hits at Frightfest going on to have successful DVD and Blu-ray releases.”

So why does it do so well? Anchor Bay’s Leaman has his own theories. “Alan [Jones], Paul [McEvoy], Greg  [Day] and Ian [Rattray, the four directors of the event] know horror better than almost anyone around. But I’m sure they won’t mind me saying that it’s the assembled hordes that turn up each year for FrightFest that really make the festival and indeed from our end of the industry provide the most use. I don’t wish to portray the festival as a glorified market research event – it is anything but. Nonetheless the FrightFest audience is the ultimate litmus test for any genre film, particularly those of a horror bent. From the moment the line-up is announced, and particularly post-festival I can normally be found lurking on the FrightFest forums gauging responses not just in the films that I have a specific business interest in, but also interest in trends and emerging new sub–genres and directors.”
Anchor Bay has got a whopping five films airing in this year’s event, its greatest number ever and a figure that could prove to be a FrightFest record.
As Leaman notes: “We’ve been proud supporters of FrightFest for a number of years now, and its been great seeing them grow and grow and grow.”

Another independent operation that has a proud record with FrightFest is Kaleidoscope which, with its A Lonely Place To Die, offers up the festival’s closing flick.

The company’s Spencer Pollard says: ““Frightfest is such a fan friendly place that it’s the perfect arena to launch a theatrical or DVD campaign from.   We’ve had great success with titles like Pontypool, The Horseman and Colin in the past which all had their UK launch at Frightfest.   Films that entertain and capture an audience could find no better place to premiere than Empire Leicester Square on a bank holiday in August.”

For the event’s organisers and directors, that growth, particularly in importance, has been pleasing. “We’ve always been aware of building good relationships with the distributors and they have come to trust that we will deliver them a fantastic true fan-based audience and lots of pre-event awareness,” says co-director Greg Day. “And it’s not just the films they have to give us. We dedicate a lot of time and passion  – particularly Paul (McEvoy) and Alan (Jones) to discovering the ‘under the radar’ films, which the distributors either don’t know about or, more likely, are uncertain about and want to see how they play at the festival. We’ve also built up a reputation for discovering new talent (Chris Smith, Jake West, Simon Rumley) so the distributors have come to trust our judgement.”

In an increasingly competitive market, especially when it comes to DTV titles, many of which are horrors, the FrightFest effect can be a major boon. With the growth of social networking, the positive word of mouth a film can generate at FrightFest has become even more important. As Day notes: “This year we’ve had over 250 websites request accreditation and last year our media report showed that online social media was the most prominent media type by volume of mentions.”

The buzz created at FrightFest can get a film off to a perfect start and can place it ahead of its rivals in a packed marketplace. “Traditionally a lot of horror titles rely on the home entertainment market for their very survival,” says Day. “The way the retail side is going, with supermarket chains dominating volume of sales, the distributors value the weight of critical awareness we can bring to a title.”

Nick Gibbs McNeil, a long-time fan who also sells advertising on the organisation’s online magazine (and has also worked on the trade press), concurs. “FrightFest is the most important horror brand in the UK for supporting this genre. Many horror, sci-fi and fantasy movies struggle to find the budget for a big screen presence these day – and a cinematic release does make a difference to retail and the public once a title comes to home entertainment. 

As well as providing what Day calls “a solid platform” to launch films, it also offers plenty to film-makers too. As Day adds: “[FrightFest offers film-makers] the chance to be discovered, embraced, adored – but also honestly criticised. Also, the festival is a great networking opportunity for them and in many instances deals have been done in the foyer.”

Some of those deals may now see titles heading towards FrightFest’s own imprint, with its home entertainment arm having launched this year, the FrightFest brand is growing.

“FrightFest Features has got off to a quiet but solid start and we have some exciting titles in the pipeline.  Yes, there is a synergy between the two and it is likely than any title we release will have had its premiere at FrightFest.”

So how will the organisers ensure that its brand is protected and not over-used or diluted? For Day and co the answer is simple. “As long as we remember who we created this festival for in the first place – the fans and whom we wanted them to meet – the filmmakers – the brand will take care of itself,” he concludes.

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