Shriekfest returns to Hollywood this weekend

Raleigh Studios hosts the 8th annual horror film festival that started it all. And Denise Gossett wants to scare you!

Denise Gossett is the mastermind behind Shriekfest. Nine years ago she starred in a horror film called Chain of Souls. When she asked the producers and director what their plans were for releasing the film, she was shocked to hear it was going straight to video. She suggested submitting it to film festivals.

To her surprise, the filmmakers told her there were no film festivals dedicated to the horror genre.

I thought, ‘How can that be?’ There are so many horror fans. I did some research and found what they said was true for the US. There were a few in other countries but really nothing notable or well known. So I came up with the idea for this festival.

I was on the phone with my sister-in-law one day and I told her, ‘I got this crazy idea. Tell me how crazy you think it is.’ And she said, ‘No, it’s not crazy. It’s a great idea. You have to do it. Let’s do it!’

We had all of this naivete but also we had passion and energy to pour into it. Really, we had no idea what we were doing, but we did it anyway. We were essentially faking it– not faking the passion but faking the actual way to start and present a film festival.

We put up a website and started getting submissions. We couldn’t believe how good some of the films were. People were pouring their hearts and souls into these films and they weren’t getting recognition for them because it’s thought of as a narrow genre but the audience is huge.

There were only 40 films submitted, but the first festival came together in two months. I came up with the idea in late summer and we really wanted to have the festival in October. We thought putting a film festival together in two months was normal.

Gossett had moved from Orlando to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. She works full time as an actor and has appeared in numerous TV shows and films. But her love for horror films inspired her to start the first film festival in the US dedicated to the genre. She and Todd Beeson, her husband, are the festival directors. Kimberly Beeson, Gossett’s sister-in-law, was by her side for the festival’s first three years but left to raise her family.

Each year, Shriekfest has grown; more films are submitted, from more countries, and audience attendance keeps increasing too as word has spread. The third year they incorporated science fiction and fantasy categories into the festival. This year, they are adding a second theater to accommodate the crowds.

Virtually every feature screened at Shriekfest has gotten distribution. And the market for horror short films is growing rapidly. During the festival, buyers come looking for shorts. Gossett fields calls from video distributors asking her for recommendations for compilation DVDs. But she is unwilling to refer anyone to them unless she knows the companies intend to pay the filmmakers.

“Quite honestly, I do not want to refer a filmmaker to anyone who is not offering money. They deserve something; it’s only fair. We try to look out for everybody,” she says.

One aspect of Shriekfest is a screenwriting competition. Gossett states that if she likes a script that doesn’t make the final list, she still will refer it to parties in search of material.

“Companies come to us year round looking for screenplays, movies and shorts. It’s a full time job– and I’m already a full time actor. I work constantly. It’s becoming very difficult to do both. But we have been having a blast doing it.”

Shriekfest 2008, the Los Angeles Horror/Sci-Fi Film Festival; Friday to Sunday, October 3-5; Raleigh Studios, 5300 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles 90038

Shriekfest also holds regular networking meet-ups at Hollywood Billiards. Details are on their website.