Heidi Honeycutt Dishes on Etheria, Women in Horror, and More!

In his exclusive interview, Tyler Doupe talks to the co-founder of ETHERIA FILM NIGHT, Heidi Honeycutt!

Heidi Honeycutt is one of the hardest-working women in horror. She has been a champion for a number of up-and-coming, female filmmakers over the years. And her Etheria Film Night has helped some very talented ladies find success in the feature film world. Recently, she has also been hard at work in her role as Vice President of Short Form & Episodic Content at The Horror Collective. 

Since Heidi is always busy shining the spotlight on others, I wanted to take a moment to shine the spotlight back on her. She has worked as a horror journalist, actor, writer, director, producer, and film festival programmer. But that’s barely scratching the surface. 

Ms. Honeycutt is a multi-talented renaissance woman with a storied career that is sure to continue to get even more impressive with the passing of time. I was thrilled to touch base with her to speak about her work with Etheria and The Horror Collective, industry gender politics, and so much more. Check out the full exchange below to see what she’s been up to and what’s next. 

Related Article: Etheria 2021 Film Festival Capsule Reviews [Part One]

Dread Central: I know that you organize the Etheria Film Festival and you recently penned an installment of The Bite by Shudder focused on women in the horror genre. But I also know your efforts don’t end there. What are some of the other ways you are helping promote women in horror these days?

Heidi Honeycutt: Oh my gosh. I have a project that I’m working on that I’ve been working on for years and years and years, So, every time I talk about it I feel bad because it’s not even done yet. And people are like, “oh, she was talking about that five years ago.” But my main project that is taking much of the remaining time and energy I have is a book about the history of women directing horror films. I’m still working on it. It’s a big, giant thing. But it’s something that I’m really hoping to finish before I die. 

I want to promote talented people who happen to be women. I don’t want to promote all women because not all women are good people. And not all women are talented [laughs]. With Etheria, it’s very easy to promote those filmmakers and become very enthusiastic about them because they are very good. They have clearly made something that is worthy of being seen that is probably going to get them other work. I am incredibly enthusiastic about that and I can get behind them. I will get behind anyone I think is a talented person that has a mark to leave on the world of art and culture. But I don’t want to seem as though I’m blanket promoting everybody because that’s not good. 

Dread Central: I think you have a keen eye for selecting quality talent and discovering people that need a platform. And that fact that you’re willing to selflessly pursue that is commendable. 

Heidi Honeycutt: Number one: Thank you, that’s really kind. And number two: Thank you, that’s really kind. One of the things I am really passionate about is programming. I love it a lot. I love the process of watching the films. I love when a film is really good. That’s a great feeling. I kind of feel like it has to be the same feeling a person who does an art show as a curator gets. Their opinion isn’t the end-all be-all opinion. Everyone is going to have a different perspective. But because they have decided to have an art gallery, they get to pick the art that they think is the best. When you get the right paintings and the right artists together, it’s a theme that works and it all comes together. People come in and enjoy it. And I think film programming is just like that, probably for all film programmers. Hopefully they feel that way about it. So, I do get something out of it. It’s not selfless. Although, there are times in my life when I have realized that I am working way harder at other people’s careers than my own. And that can be a downer. But at the same time, I really do get so much out of what I do with Etheria and I want to keep doing it. When one of our filmmakers, as they usually do, goes on to do something great, not necessarily because of Etheria, but because they are great—for instance, Prano Bailey-Bond just released Censor and she has another project already in the pipeline; we had the short versions of Censor, which was called Nasty in our 2016 lineup and she is going on to do awesome things. And I am totally excited about that. It makes me super happy. People deserve to be recognized when they are really good. 

Related Article: Etheria 2021 Film Festival Capsule Reviews [Part Two]

Dread Central: I often get almost as excited for other people’s success as I do for my own. There is something very special about being able to elevate someone else and demonstrate how great they are. There’s something very rewarding about that. And I get the impression that we are similar in that regard. 

Heidi Honeycutt - Heidi Honeycutt Dishes on Etheria, Women in Horror, and More!

Heidi Honeycutt: I learned a long time ago that there are days when your friend is doing something like a movie or they have been hired as the editor of a magazine, you can be upset and jealous, which is a natural feeling, even if you really like the person. When that happens, I’ve had the reaction where I feel like shit and want to kill myself. But after feeling that way and getting myself down over dumb shit like that, I have learned that even the people getting great jobs and making things happen feel that way too. If you aren’t genuinely happy for someone who deserves it then you don’t deserve to be genuinely happy. You’re just a jealous person who doesn’t contribute anything. 

Dread Central: Well said. The shorts that screened Etheria this year were some of the best examples of short-form filmmaking I’ve seen. How do you go about sourcing such great selections?  And what does the selection process look like?

Heidi Honeycutt: We have open submissions through Film Freeway. We try to keep our submission fees as low as we can. We’re probably going to open submissions again in September. We usually open in September, close in March, and show the films in June. So, we have a big window where we’re accepting films. I will look around and make a concerted effort to reach out to filmmakers and ask them to submit. 

We watch every single film that comes in. My team consists of my partner and co-founder. Stacy Pippi Hammon. She is the festival director. When we do a live event, that means she is usually in charge of the live event, whereas I focus more on the programming and the filmmakers. But we both deal with judging and with our judges. And we are both heavily involved all year long. 

We have two different rounds of judges. We have judges that have been working with us a really long time and we know their tastes and they know us really well. So, we know we can send them some preliminary films. We had several films that were very similar this year. And they are all great but we can’t show them all. So, we will have people we send the sci-fi films to and others that we send horror-comedy or the really scary stuff to, depending on what they like. They help us decide the films that go to the next round. The next round is the finalists. There are usually way too many finalists. We will have like 150 finalists. And we have 8-10 slots. Then we have judges that come in and watch all of the finalists’ films. They help us narrow down our final lineup and vote on their favorites and vote for the jury award. 

It’s good to have judges because if you pick everything yourself, you’re going to have bad taste at some point. But there are always one or two films that are my personal favorites. And I will fight for those films to be included. 

We haven’t had a live event for the past two years. Hopefully this next year, we will have a live event. But we have been lucky enough to be on Shudder. 

Dread Central: Congrats on the partnership with Shudder. Was that major validation for the years or effort you put into the Etheria brand? I mean, that’s pretty major. 

Heidi Honeycutt: Honestly, it’s a funny story. COVID hit in like March of 2020. And we don’t even know if theaters will be open in June. We’re wondering if we are going to have to cancel the entire festival and refund submission fees. So, I was thinking that maybe we could just air them on Shudder. I didn’t know if they would even be interested. However, I’ve been in this industry a long time. And people will tell you that it’s a lot about who you know. It’s not just about that. You also have to be talented. But being in the industry a long time means that you know more people. Because I know Sam Zimmerman and he got back to me and wanted to talk about it. 

I have to give a lot of the credit to Sam for being really open-minded and being enthusiastic and recognizing that there is a way you can have a festival on Shudder and realizing that it’s important to have diversity. Diversity is important but I always feel weird saying it. One of the things we get accused of a lot is sexism because we don’t allow men to submit. To a certain extent, I guess it’s true. If you say a certain gender or person can’t take part in something, I guess that could be seen as sexist.  

Dread Central: But how long have women been held back or not been allowed to participate in something? Your festival is not sexist. It’s repairing past wrongs. In a perfect world, everyone would be on a level playing field.  

Heidi Honeycutt: I completely agree and that’s why we do it. But I understand that people may not agree with it. That’s ok. Not everyone has to feel the same way.

I get a lot of meetings with management companies where they tell me that they don’t know any female directors but they want to. And that’s actually how the festival started. I kept hearing that over and over again. So, I set out to find some and find their films. 

There is a lot of desire to engage in diverse casting and hiring in the entertainment industry-a genuine desire. People are usually friends with people like themselves. So, if you’re a straight, white guy in your sixties, your friends are probably straight, white guys in their sixties. That doesn’t make them bad people. But most of us are friends with people that are similar to ourselves. If I were to put together a film, it would mostly be women. I mostly know women around my age that work in the film industry and like genre film. 

I think it’s important to provide people that are genuinely looking for diversity with the opportunity to find that so they can work with people and do amazing things. 

Dread Central: My understanding is that you work with short films at The Horror Collective and of course helped bring Etheria to life. What is it about short filmmaking that drives what I am guessing is a deep-seated passion for it?

Heidi Honeycutt: It comes from about fifteen years ago when I started writing about horror. One of my first writing gigs was for Bloody Disgusting. I wrote for a bunch of magazines and stuff after that. I wrote for Fangoria for a while when Chris Alexander was the editor. A lot of film festivals have short blocks. A lot of independent filmmakers are trying to make features but a lot of them are making shorts. I found myself in a world where I got to know people who were making shorts. I could go meet them, see their short on the screen and talk with them about it later. Now, you can do that with features but you can show a hell of a lot more shorts, due to time. I discovered that most aspiring filmmakers start with shorts. Features can be really expensive. They don’t have to be. But if you have any kind of narrative that’s bigger than two people in a room, it can be very difficult to do without a big budget. Shorts are a really good way to showcase your talent and give somebody an idea of what a feature would be like. It’s a step on the way to ultimately making features because it’s very hard to make money in short films. People try to get past that point as quickly as they can. But they often find that they have to make some shorts to showcase what they can do. 

Like I said, it’s very hard to make money with a short. With a feature film, even if it doesn’t get a lot of attention and even if it’s not great, you can sell it to a distributor. And you’ll get something. But with shorts, there hasn’t been a way to distribute them in a way that makes money. You can put them on Amazon and charge to watch it. But it’s not the same as with a feature film. I always thought that was kind of stupid. I have put together two projects for The Horror Collective. One of them was an Etheria project where I went back to our previous festival selections and put together a series of films. It’s not every single film we’ve ever shown. And some of the films, we didn’t actually show but they were finalists. So, I put together six seasons of an Etheria series that’s going to air on Shudder as well. And I also created a short series of horror and strange stuff called Beyond the Dark. That’s not out yet but it’s the same kind of idea.

Dread Central: Well, thank you so much Heidi! It’s been a pleasure to speak with you. 

Heidi Honeycutt: Thank you. It’s been fun!

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

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