If you’re reading this article, you may be an aspiring filmmaker or already established, maybe even an award-winner with worldwide fame. For the most part, you and I are in the same boat. We’re not exactly famous, but we’d like to create work that can be recognized and appreciated.
A great place to start is by making a horror film. It’s affordable, rather straightforward, and in high demand. But the real question is, how do you make one and why should you make one? Well, let's go through the list together.
Horror Films Are Affordable
A horror film can cost between $100 to several million but we’re going to narrow down that budget to a solid $3,000. Why such a specific number?
My first ever short was a horror film and produced with a mere $3,000. Was it good? That’s up to the audience to decide, as the creator is always hard on themselves. The response I received was overwhelmingly positive at the premier in my hometown of Winnipeg, however. Why did it have such a positive turnout?
Because I was capable of telling a compelling story with a mere $3,000. That blew people's minds, and it’ll draw in the attention of producers too. Something to consider when you make a film is that you only need the essentials, which are a camera, an actor, and the unknown.
Mix things up, put a sinister twist on it, and you may have a real winner. The basic breakdown of my budget was -- 25% on equipment, 15% on feeding my cast/crew, 20% post production, 35% on my monster and the effects, and 5% to host the premier.
But Troy, why was your monster and the effects so expensive? A: Because I was a naive young man that took a risk. B: I took a risk that eventually worked out. I only chose to do this because some of the great films of the past have done the same.
The monster costume was co-created by my makeup artist and I with a budget of $1,200. The mask alone cost me $800. I still have it in my office today. I chose to pump a lot of love into the big baddie because, well, the movie built up a lot of hype around the monster and I wanted the reveal to be horrifying. I wanted my audience to be shocked at how real it looked.
I also bought two hollow wood doors for a scene where the monster busted down the protagonist’s door, one to break down in my backyard with a friend and another I installed in the location’s basement, only to bust that down in one take.
It was a big risk, but it was absolutely the turning point in the theater where it transformed the film from a thriller to a true horror flick.
Huge Audience Range
There is a huge draw for filmmakers in horror because everyone is sick and tired of the same formula, namely jumpscares, loud shrieks, and the protagonist’s acting like dummies. The list goes on, but for us, our job is to break this cycle and really give the audience another reason that the indie world is worth a shot.
My audience that I target is around the age group of 16-30. It’s the younger generation primarily, as I try to make thrilling stories with light scares.
I like to lean more towards dread and suspense rather than absolute horror. I find it’s far easier to approach, and people appreciate a proper set-up for a horrifying finale. It’s vitally important for you to figure out who you’re telling your story to and to know whether or not your message is landing. If it isn’t, it may be time for you to reconsider if your films are clear in their direction or clarity of story. That is the fatal flaw for almost every low budget production.
Low Budget Horror Forces Creativity
This is by far the best part about indie films, especially horror. The options are endless. You can mix and match genres and still make it a horror film. For me, I love to really build suspense and take my audience on a wild ride. But I had a huge challenge. I had to subvert my audience’s expectations and surprise them. Here are some elements I capitalized on that helped my film stand out.
HO-MAN, did I ever spend a long time on the sound mixing for this movie. I mean, I did all the foley work, sound mixing, sound repair, and I even hired a composer from California. I was determined to make this film’s atmosphere killer.
The creature would break into the protagonist’s house, but I reveal the fact the creature is sound sensitive and it’s hunting for someone. As it lurks around the house, you hear the creaking footsteps and the camera follows along. The impacts, the unnerving giggles, and the roar it would unleash was astounding. I really put some love into how it would sound and when I premiered it in a theater -- being surrounded by that love was apparent and terrifying.
The Gloves are Off
As a director, I challenge you to attempt difficult tasks that you think will push your film further creatively. For me, I wanted a story that felt lively. I wanted a dog. So my protagonist had an innocent buddy to look after him, and my friend volunteered his pet to act in the film.
Mid-way through the film, the dog runs upstairs and into a room above the protagonist’s. The monster chases after him and you can hear the fight occuring upstairs -- only for it to end with a loud snap.
The dog’s neck was snapped, and the absolute shock my audience endured gave me goosebumps. I did something that the audience thought I didn’t have the balls to do, to expose how threatening the monster is by any means necessary. Was the dog really hurt? Not at all. I recorded myself taking a couple big bites out of a big ol’ pickle. Let me tell ya, it was real juicy.
Alfred Hitchcock had taught me something that I think every filmmaker should consider when making a film, not just strictly horror. He was talking about how he builds suspense.
Imagine this. Two men sit at a table, smoking and chatting away. The camera pushes towards them for two full minutes. As the men chat away, they put out their cigarettes and shake each other's hands. KA-BOOM! A bomb goes off.
Wow, but what happened? Why did the bomb go off?
You see that? The confusion you just felt? Typically, if that’s not where the story is meant to go, this would pull your audience out of the story and force them to ponder as to what has happened. Now let’s go back and adjust one thing.
Imagine this. Two men sit at a table. For a mere five seconds, we gain X-ray vision and can see through the table cloth. Taped under the table is a bomb, ticking away for two minutes. The men smoke and chat away. The camera pushes towards them for two full minutes. As the men put their cigarettes out and shake each other's hands -- KA-BOOM! A bomb goes off!
That entire time, you as an audience member would be leaning in closer and closer to the screen to see what will happen because the director gave you a clue as to what may happen, but you really want to know how it ends.
For my film, I established early on that there is a monster lurking around the house. It’s clearly audible and an active presence. I make sure you never forget it. As the protagonist attempts to figure out what’s going on, the monster closes in, and the bomb is about to explode.
Find a way to create a compelling setup and see if you can show the audience a brief clue, but nothing more. They’ll hunger for more, most notably how the scene will end.
In summary, don’t be afraid of trying to make something daring and compelling. Find your audience, and really take the time to find who you’re speaking to. Go down the list of your favorite movies and ask, what was the director saying with this film?
Suspense is an excellent and free tool to use to build up tension in a scene, while using sound is a creative way to establish something that you couldn’t do in camera. Music and sound effects go a long way in establishing a spooky atmosphere.
But remember, at the end of the day, your audience needs to react off whatever you produce. Make something that will cause a reaction. For a horror film, usually that would be dread, fear, sickness, and or sadness. But give your movie some ups and downs. My horror film had a happy ending.
I wish the best to you, and if you do end up creating that film, send it my way and we can chat about it.
Follow HorrOrigins Social Media Pages