Creating Scares: Chatting with Shudder Labs’ Sam Zimmerman (Interview)

Posted by on May 6, 2016 | 0 comments

shudderLabsAs a huge horror fan, I was pretty intrigued when I saw Shudder pop up on Amazon as an optional subscription service. The catalog of films available for streaming immediately impressed me – it goes leaps and bounds beyond Netflix in terms of actual quality films that a horror fan would want to see.

Which is why I was even more intrigued to hear about Shudder Labs, a week-long workshop retreat that pairs aspiring filmmakers with seasoned horror vets to help them develop their craft.

We caught up with Shudder curator, Sam Zimmerman to find out more about Shudder and the new workshop they’re offering.

  1. Tell me a little about Shudder- what was your goal in differentiating yourself from other streaming services?

Outside of a comparatively specific focus (horror), Shudder’s goal as a streaming service is to be sound and trustworthy in its curation. Colin Geddes and I strive to build a library of films that our members feel confident in. We want to be entertaining, we want to be exciting, we want to be a resource. I want Shudder to be a place where members can watch their comfort favorites, check out new releases and discover total obscurities. 

  1. What’s your favorite flick on Shudder right now that maybe a lot of horror fans haven’t seen (ie something that flew under the radar), and what makes it stand out?

This is a challenging one. I think one of our strongest aspects at the moment is a lineup of recent films that, for whatever reason, didn’t make the impact they deserved. For instance, I almost always recommend the Hong Kong slasher DREAM HOME, a smart, violent film about extreme measures. I also hope many of our members discover the long-unreleased Austrian home invasion film ANGST. It’s camerawork is groundbreaking, and the film itself is a totally destabilizing experience. We’ve also recently added NIGHT TIDE, the first film from Curtis Harrington, starring a very young Dennis Hopper. It’s a haunting black-and-white tale of a sailor and the woman he loves, who may be a mermaid. 

  1. How did the idea for Shudder Labs come about, and can you give us a general overview of the program?

Shudder was developed and envisioned as being a part of the horror community, extending beyond simply subscription streaming. With this in mind, Shudder Labs was presented to me as a broad concept, and I was very excited to then build out what it could be. My core ideas were that Labs programs around the world are consistently successful in discovering and encouraging new talent, and so there needed to be a space specifically designed to do that for emerging horror filmmakers. Horror is a spectrum of a genre, and similarly, means many things to many people. It can still be unfairly maligned however, which is why you’ll hear nonsense terms like“elevated horror” to try and code a film out of the genre. Labs is built for filmmakers and talent who believe horror to be something special and something that takes skill. We want to bolster the exciting new voices, most especially because there is still quite a bit to learn and grasp, even with a first feature complete and in festivals. 

The planned program will pair ten Shudder fellows with a lineup of established masters and mentors. At Labs, group discussions, master classes, 1:1 sessions and screenings will provide insight and creative development to the fellows that they can apply toward their submitted project and beyond. 

  1. Tell us a little bit about how filmmakers can apply and are selected for the program?  Is there a level of experience that you’re looking for?

U.S.-based filmmakers with shorts or only one micro-budgeted feature produced can apply at, where we’ll ask for a cover letter, artistic statement and further supporting materials. The level of experience is essentially low. Shudder Labs wants filmmakers with exhilarating new voices in horror that will truly benefit from the program and the support it offers. 

  1. What are the long-term goals of Shudder Labs?  Are you potentially looking to foster more original content similar to Netflix and other subscription services?

The latter remains to be seen. Right now, the goal is to establish a successful program in its first year that can expand and continue in further editions. 

  1. Can you “name-drop” any of the veteran filmmakers that will be mentoring the up and coming filmmakers in the program?

Unfortunately, not just yet, but they will be announced before application deadline. And we’re stoked. 

  1. Many of our readers, myself included, are out there producing content on micro-budgets, and for the first time, we’re getting our hands on relatively cheap tech that lets us rival the quality of a much more expensive production.  With the advent of streaming, crowdfunding, and other changing models do you think there is more of a voice for these types of smaller productions, or does this create an overwhelming flood of garbage?  Where do you see the funding/distribution model going in the next few years?

I don’t know if there’s necessarily more garbage, or if we’re simply exposed to more of it, thanks to the advent of streaming, crowdfunding, etc. Streaming has undeniably changed, and still is, how things are seen. A lot of that is a great thing, though. Productions are hitting streaming and in turn playing with format and structure and are finding much greater exposure than they otherwise would have because of it. I don’t think I’m the person to accurately predict where it’s all going, but I hope for smaller productions and terrific voices to continue finding audiences and platforms. With regards to horror, I hope to be a small part in bolstering those productions and voices. 

Filmmakers interested in fi ding out about this past event and future events can go to:

Mark Colegrove is the director of 2008's horror/comedy Isle of the Damned, which is self-distributed through his production company, Dire Wit Films. Based in Maryland, he currently produces corporate video and is working on his second feature, Driven to Succeed, a driver's ed comedy.

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