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How Shudder Is Fostering a New Breed of Horror Directors

Seven filmmakers gathered in upstate New York to workshop their new horror projects. Here, they reflect on what they learned.

shudder labs

The team behind the 2017 Shudder Labs for rising horror filmmakers at the Mohonk Mountain House


Evan Brace
Next Project: “Known Among Mountains”
Plot Synopsis: In a rural Midwestern town, a quiet working-class community bears witness to strange events after a discovery in a rock quarry.

The duration of the lab creates an avenue to break the ice and to get to know your mentors and fellows. One of my favorite moments of the lab was just sitting down for dinner with a handful of mentors and hearing about the worst jobs they had to endure before they were making TV shows for Netflix or getting their newest film released in theaters. It was very encouraging to hear; still being a filmmaker that is pushing through the rough gigs.

Shudder Labs is more than just a horror film workshop; it’s a serious lab that gives the fellows the ability to see how they can reach that next step into feature filmmaking.

I see horror as a way to communicate struggle, whether it be mentally, physically, spiritually or all of the above. Horror allows me to push moods, imagery, ideas in a realm that elevates the viewers perspective on the subject matter. If I can find truth in the horror than I know it’ll do most of the heavy lifting.

Daniel DelPurgatorio and Anthony Williams
Next Project: “Wither”
Plot Synopsis: How do you stop a ghost from haunting you? Bring it back to life.

AW: I love movies that make your imagination go wild. My sister is older than me, so as a kid her and my mom would talk about horror movies they watched. Since I was too young to see them myself, I had to imagine what they were like and my mind was able to conjure all kinds of interesting things based on their conversations. Even though I couldn’t see them, my mind was fascinated by the movies. I had to become an active participant in these experiences and I try to incorporate mysteries that allow audiences to engage the same way.

DD: We’ve been very fortunate to surround ourselves with a fantastic group of artists and filmmakers. Nothing could be more exciting than continuing to work with them on larger and more ambitious projects. And as opportunities continue to come, we can push ourselves to accomplish bigger things and reach a larger audience.

AW: Shudder Labs really opened my eyes to where I should set my sights and the different ways to create content. If the universe lines up to allow us to continue to grow and produce, it would be more than incredible to one day find ourselves in a position where we can pay it back to other filmmakers the same way Shudder Labs has given us so much.

DD: Horror has the innate potential to resonate with everyone, but only if it is well thought out. I try to constantly challenge myself to make work that will tap into emotions the viewer can relate to, regardless of who they are or where they are in their life. Without a core to the film that is well executed, the scares become meaningless.

AW: The genre has grown leaps and bounds in the past decades so it’s no longer about just being scary. The bar has been raised and the biggest challenge, to myself as a writer at least, is creating something that has characters and hooks to really pull you in. It’s not just creating a fear of death, but to get people emotionally involved in the world so they care about more about the losses a character endures than their potential demise.

Danny Valentine and Reid Engwall
Next Project: “Fishhook”
Plot Synopsis: On the verge of starvation in the brutal Alaskan winter, a callused single mother and her eccentric son must find a way to save themselves and the isolated community they call home from a parasite that curses its hosts with insatiable hunger and libido.

DV: Speaking with Larry Fessenden was the most valuable and inspiring moment at Shudder Labs for me personally. I respect his approach to filmmaking and he encouraged us to go into “Fishhook” the way we always wanted to. I was concerned that trying to shoot it on location would be too logistically difficult, but throughout our conversation he gave us a lot of practical advice, which I know will pay off when we begin to approach shooting the film.

He also spoke with us about trying to make “Fishhook” even if we have to make it on a slightly smaller scale than we had originally planned. When discussing the scale of the film, he asked us, “Do you want to spend a year in meetings? Or do you want to spend a year making a movie?” That’s going to be our motto going forward.

RE: Fear is a much more complex emotion than many people realize. It forces us to ask question of a dark existential nature, and causes us to look inward for those answers. By playing on a plane of universal relatability, horror allows storytellers to access themes ranging from the mundane to the macabre, will still keeping their audience on the edge of their seats.

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