One of the film festivals I became immediately impressed with when I moved to Los Angeles was the Shriekfest Film Festival. Being unfamiliar with a lot of the more genre-focused festivals, I found Shriekfest and festival founder Denise Gossett’s passion for supporting independent filmmaking refreshing amidst a city filled with people who generally are motivated by their own selfishness.
Shriekfest (which is also properly known as The Los Angeles International /Sci-Fi Film Festival & Screenplay Competition) celebrated its tenth anniversary last October and now with the festival gearing up for an 11th successful year of celebrating indie genre fare, in celebration of Indie Horror Month, Dread Central caught up with founder Gossett to chat about how Shriekfest got its start, the world of independent horror, and what keeps her motivated to come back every year.
Gossett, who’s also a celebrated indie horror actress, said her inspiration for Shriekfest came while working on the set of her first horror feature, Chain of Souls. “I remember I was talking to a producer on Chain of Souls and told him that he should really look into getting the movie into the festival circuit. But things were a little different back in 2001- most festivals didn’t really run horror films and there weren’t any genre festivals really happening at that time so there weren’t any places for him to submit to.”
“So I kept thinking about it and was talking it over with my sister-in-law one night and she agreed it was a great idea and she wanted to help. That’s when we came up with the idea for the Shriekfest Film Festival. We obviously had no idea what we were doing because we came up with the idea in August and gave ourselves only two months to get everything together for the first festival which was beyond insane. But we were convinced having the fest during October when people are celebrating Halloween was the right idea and obviously we were right,” Gossett added.
And even though Gossett said the first year’s short window of time to put together the festival successfully, it doesn’t compare to the amount of work she deals with in putting together Shriekfest now, some ten years later.
“I still remember that even with such a small window of time, we managed to pull off the first Shriekfest pretty successfully,” said Gossett. “Even with short notice, we still got 45 submissions which I thought was fun and easy. I didn’t realize that the more years we’d do this, the more submissions we’d be getting and now, we get hundreds each year. It’s turning into a full-time job which is exhausting but absolutely amazing.”
The first Shriekfest was definitely a trial by fire, according to Gossett. “We lost a little money the first year but knew we needed more time in order to make it a successful festival. There are a few things we did initially, like rent an expensive café for our first Shriekfest party, that ended up not working out or we ended up realizing that the café was costing us money we didn’t need to spend, so each year, the fest gets a little better and more effective and I think it demonstrates that Shriekfest definitely knows what we are doing at this stage of the game.”
And even though Gossett is left exhausted but thrilled at the end of each festival, she said that there are some downsides to her job as festival director (a title she now proudly shares with husband Todd Beeson after her sister-in-law relocated to the Midwest a few years back).
“The hardest part of Shriekfest is handling the projects that don’t make it into the festival as finalists,” explained Gossett. “It’s really become hard to make the cut because we only have just a few days to screen everything so when there are hundreds of submissions and only so many time slots, you see a lot of talented projects not make the final cut and that can be hard. That’s why we’re toying with the idea of adding another day this year just to give more filmmakers more opportunities.”
“But because of our past limitations is why I always try to stay involved with those submitting their work, whether or not they make it into the festival. Just because they aren’t in Shriekfest, that doesn’t mean they don’t have talent and it’s not unusual, especially for the script submissions, for me to get writers in contact with agents, just to help them get some direction if they need it,” Gossett added.
Even though putting together a film festival that gets submissions every year from filmmakers all over the globe and has turned into a full-time gig for Gossett, she still remains focused on putting on a successful Shriekfest this upcoming October and for many Octobers to follow.
Gossett said, “A lot of what motivates me comes by my continued amazement at the amount of talented storytellers working out there these days. Sometimes a filmmaker may be struggling and have no idea just how great their film or work in general is, and they just need someone to believe in it and I love that I get to do that for independent filmmakers.”
“When I first started off with Shriekfest, I really thought I’d be doing this for only a few years and that would be it. I never imagined we would have just celebrated our tenth year and already be gearing up for the eleventh year of celebrating the independent horror spirit. I feel like those who have been touched by being a part of the Shriekfest family over the years have really shown their appreciation for the festival and that’s a big part of why I still continue to do this. If I quit now, I’d be letting a lot of people down. I don’t hold the festival to help my acting career or anything like that, I do it because I love horror and I love what it does for independent movies,” Gossett added.
The Shriekfest Film Festival is currently looking for submissions for its 11th annual film festival and screenwriting competition. For information on how to submit your work, click here.
For LA-area indie horror filmmakers or creatives, Shriekfest also holds a networking meeting every month for like-minded people working in the industry to get together and network or just share horror stories. This month’s meeting is being held on March 29th at 7 pm at The Casting Office Bar & Grill (3575 Cahuenga West, Universal City, CA).
Got news? Click here to submit it!
Stick around for over 10 years in the Dread Central forums!