ScreenCraft Recap: The Secrets of Horror Screenwriting

By December 20, 2013 No Comments

ScreenCraft gathered a panel of filmmakers to discuss writing in the horror genre.

The distinguished panelists were:

Here is a summary of the event, along with embedded video clips for easy viewing:

“The Secrets of Horror Screenwriting”: The panel suggests showing your script to everyone. You never know who will help your career in the future. Feedback is also important.  

“Subverting Expectations”: Mickey says that subverting expectations is more important than ever. Adam says that rules, such as “vampires must be asleep by dawn,” are meant to be broken. The Japanese have been particularly good at this.

“Character and Metaphor”: Misha tells everyone to transcend the genre by focusing on character. She also suggests looking for deeper meaning through metaphor.  

“Concept is King”: Drew says that horror is the coolest genre because you can talk about the concept with people, as opposed to focusing on movie stars.

“The Fear Paradigm”: Drew explains how the “fear paradigm” in our culture changes over time. He uses examples like how the Red Scare of the ‘50s led to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and how 9/11 and Guantanamo Bay led to torture porn. He says the Newtown massacre may cause the next paradigm shift.

“The Most Universal Genre”: Adam says that horror is the most universal because it is about death.

“Genre Crossover”: Mickey says that horror is crossing over into Oscar-winning films such as No Country for Old Men.

“Budgeting 101”: The panel discusses the low cost and high profitability of films such as Paranormal Activity. They warn the audience that since the cost is so low, the market is saturated, so it’s harder than ever to get people to see your movie.

“Crafting Jump Scares”: The panel says that jump scares are built into the horror genre. Some executives have an exact number of jump scares that they think each horror script needs. Adam reminds people that jump scares change the neurochemicals in the audience’s brain, which allows filmmakers to do something unique with what comes next.

“Horror Is More Than Just a Genre”: Adam discusses how the tropes of horror have been reapplied to other genres. He uses examples such as vampires in romantic fiction.

“Financing and Foreign Presales”: The panel says that horror translates well into other languages, as opposed to comedy, which translates poorly. Adam says that the market moves in cycles.

“The Creative Process from Script to Screen”: The panel says that writers have to be flexible with studio notes, but those notes have to be translated to find the actual problem with your script because creative executives often don’t know what they want. The panel recommends beginning with what scares you, then testing your ideas on other people. They also recommend being aware of genre structure while still maintaining empathy with the characters.

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