Raise your hand if your blood pressure spikes when Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, or Deadline throws out a headline like “HORROR IS BACK!” It happens as regularly as Michael Myers comes back for another night of stabbing… specifically when a horror film does record-busting business at the box office. But we know the truth — horror never went anywhere.
Horror is the only genre of film to be continuously successful since the invention of cinema (outside of standard dramas). While genre trends wax and wane, horror simply adapts and transforms itself.
This is why I say, YOU should be making a horror film.
Furthermore, you should be making a horror film NOW. The WGA and SAG/AFTRA strikes taught us something important — even if the big companies deny it, there’s an implosion happening within the behemoth streaming platforms.
Plainly put — the future of streaming is the same one already proven to work by the horror business: smaller niche markets and AVOD.
What’s my evidence for saying this when everyone else is doing the opposite? I’m not a media analyst, obviously. I’m a mid-level horror writer out in the trenches trying to sell work, get writing assignments, staff on shows, and make a living. As I take meetings and try to get stuff made, it’s becoming clear — for streaming to survive, it’s going to need to rely more on ad-supported models. This means less money up front for development and production budgets. This means streamers leaning into acquisitions curated to match their brand. (This is how A24 built their rep, by the way.)
As spooky season comes to a close, I look back at my monthly viewing of horror films, and I’m all over Shudder, SCREAMBOX, FreeVee, PlutoTV, and Tubi.
While Shudder’s needs, budget, and mandate can vary year to year, it’s been successfully programming for horror fans for years through a combination of short term licenses of older films, acquisitions, and a few self-produced productions.
FreeVee, PlutoTV, and Tubi are not producing original material, but they have proven that people are willing to sit through a couple of ads to watch something they love. While I’m not thrilled with the idea of commercials on Netflix (especially on top of subscription fees), I’m okay with Tubi giving me a couple internet ads before I get to watch a beloved ‘80s horror film.
AVOD, like it or not, is the future of streaming. The industry talks about it like it is a new idea, but that is idiot-speak. This idea is not new. This is how TV existed for over half a century. While existing studios will always be able to fund their tent-pole shows and movies, there are going to be more mid-sized streamers looking for mid-sized projects because they have less money up front.
This is where horror is ahead of the game– we’re already doing this. The time to be making your own films, shorts, or even pilots, is now. Forgetting everything else I’ve said, keep in mind two of the most profitable horror projects of last year, Smile and Terrifier 2, had humble beginnings. Smile was based on a short film, while Art the Clown started out in an anthology.
I am not saying Hollywood box office numbers have to be your goal– staying indie is legit and viable. I am also not saying ANY of this is simple and easy to do. But the pipeline for horror is there at all levels, and this shift in the industry will prove it is viable. Despite the challenges, as a horror-creator right here, right now, you’re in a better position than ever to break in by making your own thing.
Of course, making that thing is never easy. Lucky for you, we live in a time where information is no longer at a premium. There are countless low-cost film programs, online resources, and books out there that can give you the info you need.
As a horror-writer, I am happy to share what’s in my brain. I frequently like to tweet screenwriting tips that are specific to writing horror. These are collected at my Substack, which you can follow for free at sethmsherwood.substack.com.
If you are interested in writing horror scripts, you can also get my Scary Movie Writer’s Guide, which is an actionable workbook full of forms, charts, quizzes, and worksheets designed to take you through farming ideas of out your brain and crafting them into concepts and plot beats with the goal of building a full outline that is ready to go to script.
The book covers horror subgenres, popular themes used in horror, different stylistic approaches, and even delves into the different types of monsters, creatures, or people that do very bad things.
Writing is hard, writing to specific genre cues is even harder. My hope is that this book lets horror fans coalesce their ideas into a kick-ass script, which puts them one step closer to getting past the gate-keepers and getting a project off the ground. You can get more information about the Scary Movie Writer’s Guide here: scarywriter.com.
If you’re a director and not a writer — find a writer! If you’re an actor who wants to be in a horror film, there are absolutely people out there looking for talent. If there’s one other key reason why horror endures when the larger film industry goes through shifts, it is because horror has an amazing sense of community that goes beyond simple fandom.
We should all be making scary things, but we can’t always do that on our own… Thankfully, as horror fans, none of us are alone.
Seth M. Sherwood is a former Pacific NW art-kid who made punk zines out of horror magazines at Kinkos in the 90s. Currently, he is an Emmy-nominated screenwriter, director, designer, and producer. His screenwriting credits include Leatherface, Hell Fest, and Light as a Feather.
He’s also written for the forthcoming Wytches for Amazon, and the 2021 video game, The Devil In Me, from Supermassive.