What scares you? What goes bump in the night and fills your heart with dread? Think about it; envision it; and that is your next horror film! Take what scares you and turn it into a work that others can gasp and awe at. Creating a spooky horror film is not easy; but with hard-work, forethought, and planning you can make a truly frightful film.
It's Pretouch not Retouch
Preproduction is extremely crucial to your horror film’s success. Pre-planning and organization will keep you and your crew ahead of the game and in front of any problems that can pop up unexpectedly. Believe me, there will be problems. You want to make sure that you understand the story that you are trying to tell AND how you want to tell it. The perfect amalgam of aesthetic and story can build a great movie whether it Is this a modern-day vampire teen scream or a found footage B-rated monster film.
When shooting your next cinematic scare you'll want to create a list and sketches of all the major elments needed to build your project. This bit of pre-production will help you form a budget for props, costumes, makeup and special effects. It will also help your art direction team organize everything that is needed before production. If your main character is scripted to rip someone’s arm off to “feed”, you are going to want to make your that you have that spare arm prop on set and ready to shoot with on that given day. I don’t know how many small budget projects I have worked on that have completely unraveled simply because the various departments hadn’t collaborated on what was needed for the day. Communication during preproduction is not troublesome at all and it’s one of the most important things you must execute to have a successful production.
“A Goal without a Plan is just a Wish.”
Production time is a hectic time, whether it’s on a fully planned feature length film or a run and gun-guerilla filmmaking type short. It’s a high energy and high stress environment for all of those involved especially your cast. On a horror film set your main talent and extras need to be submerged in the story whether they are “method actors” or not. The director should be aware of completely briefing talent by explaining the scenes and actions in detail. Great acting and direction is what sells superior horror films. Remember this; acting is the act of doing. You will get the performance you are looking for if you actor is working actions of the character though that specific persona. Helping your actors feel comfortable with their character and the forkflow of your film will encourage the creation of an awesome show.
In The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Anthony Hopkins
plays Dr. Hannibal Lecter, an incarcerated cannibalistic murderer. According to interviews Hopkins never blinked once while he was in character to help bring a hugely creepy vibe to his characterization of Lector. He was quoted saying he watched tapes of the convicted murderer Charles Manson to prepare for the role. Anthony helped the genre of horror make it to the Academy Awards and received an Oscar for his performance.
Give it the Final Cut
Horror films have benefited greatly from the post-production technology of the modern era, the current possibilities for postproduction filmmaking are endless andthe technology is getting better and cheaper. There are so many things you can do in post. You can add in CGI monsters and ghouls, change color temperatures, add in shadows and you can beautify your actors. Anything you can imagine, YOU CAN CREATE! My tip for having a smooth transition into postproduction and coming out with a product that you will love is to have a good relationship with your editor. Make sure that they understand the story that you are trying to tell, sit in on editing sessions and brainstorm ideas with your editor. I’ve been a part of one too many projects that have not measured up to anything because the story was not clear in the final edit and that can be heartbreaking if you had high hopes for a film just to see it crash and burn at the end of the process. The success of many films have been decided on the cutting room floor, take the time that is needed to give your film the proper timing and flow and test it on colleagues, friends, and family before you reach the final cut.
The best advice I can give you is to go out there and make mistakes. You will learn from your blunders and that will make you a better storyteller and filmmaker. Filmmaking is a journey that will take unexpected turns; it's how you handle these curves that will shape your work ethic and success in this industry. It’s a great time to be a filmmaker!