It’s only been running since 2015, but this year it has received over 450 entries worldwide. It has tempted swarms of amateur, student and professional filmmakers from all over the globe to crawl out of the woodwork in a bid to terrify us, and is curated by some of the scariest minds in horror cinema. The 15 Second Horror Film Challenge is a wonderfully fascinating example of what the darkest, most twisted and creative storytellers can achieve in only, well, 15 seconds.
Thanks to the wonders of the digital age, and his own determination, executive producer Andrew Robinson of WorkObey Films was able to make his dreams of creating a not-for-profit international film festival a reality last year, when he founded the 15 Second Horror Film Challenge and set it in motion across the globe. Receiving an unprecedented 200 submissions in its first season, Andrew kept up the festival’s momentum on social media and this year it literally doubled in entries.
The competition is judged by a number of celebrity horror icons, including Lloyd Kaufman (Troma), Nicholas Vince (Chatterer in Hellraiser), Amy Steel (Friday the 13th Part II), Lisa Wilcox (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4), Tristan Risk (American Mary), Mark Torgl (The Toxic Avenger), David F. Sandberg (Lights Out), The Grady Twins (The Shining), Chelsey Valentine (American Horror Story), renowned horror critic Richard Crouse and many more. Each judge’s Top 5 film picks and bonus award-winners are aired on the 15 Second Horror Film’s Youtube channel and Facebook page for all to see, whilst those lucky filmmakers whose entries make it into the Top 20 list will also have their films featured on the popular TromaMovies Youtube channel and showcased at Crypticon Seattle in 2017. The festival is open to anyone who dares to enter, and is a fantastic way for filmmakers of all skill levels to gain exposure online and connect with other creative minds.
I interviewed Andrew to find out more.
What inspired you to start the 15 Second Horror Film Challenge?
For the longest time, I’ve always seen myself as just another budding filmmaker trying to make his big break in the film industry. Throughout 2014, I spent over one-thousand dollars on film festival submissions. Although I managed to get accepted in a few festivals, and they were votes of confidence, I knew I came up short because I was nowhere closer to ‘making it’, no one online ‘discovered’ me, and now I was just in more debt. This led me to shadow someone else’s success to find my own path.
For starts, I was really banking on doing an entry for the next ABC’s of Death contest and felt like I really lost out on opportunities after missing both contests. My next step was to look into the festivals David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) submitted to. Not only did/DO I admire his work, but his success has been a shining light for most horror independent filmmakers today. “Lights Out” was one of the true trailblazers that continues to trend and be reproduced in memes across social media platforms; all before any news that “Lights Out” was going to be adapted to the big screen.
I realized “Lights Out” was produced for the Who’s There Film Challenge (2013). So that’s it! I have to compete in this challenge, but soon after I realized the challenge was a one-off contest, which was a bummer. I then noticed he had also found success through Raindance Los Angeles’s 14 Second Horror Film Competition. Fourteen-seconds?! I can do that!
I inboxed Raindance L.A.’s Facebook on August 17th 2015, asking if there will be another 14 Second Horror Film Competition. They responded that, “The challenge is organized by their London hub, but they had requested to re-do it, so fingers crossed!” I told them I hope it falls through and that I’ll be keeping an eye out. I was so pumped and was really hoping it would be renewed that Halloween season. But as the days went by, it dawned on me, “Hey… why don’t “I” just make my own festival? I’m always waiting for the opportunity. Why wait and wonder if someone else will give me the opportunity when I could create the opportunity?!
Why did you specifically choose for the films to be 15 seconds long?
On a philosophical level, I always gravitated towards Andy Warhol because of all the hats, or wigs, he wore throughout his life: Andy the artist, Andy the founder of The Velvet Underground, Andy the founder of Interview magazine. They weren’t products of merchandising, rather, they were an extension to his craft. He once said, “In the future, everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame.” I believe in that. He didn’t know that people would not have enough attention spans for fifteen minutes, but they do for fifteen seconds! What further affirmed catching onto the 15 second format was Instagram at the time. I thought Instagram was going to be the main platform for the festival and video uploads only had a fifteen second limit for videos.
How did you go about getting hold of the celebrity judges for the competition?
I pounded the pavement through social media, whether it was scrolling through artists’ domains, contacting assistants, searching them up across social media platforms. There were no phone calls or people I had met prior. In the future, I’ll register an IMDB Pro account and contact artists’ agent representation as well.
Lloyd Kaufman was the first person and he gracefully came on board. It was surreal, because I was in preliminary stages: didn’t have followers on the official Facebook page, didn’t have other judges to be an incentive for any other judges to join, didn’t have any reach analytics, and didn’t even have an entry yet! He genuinely believed in the venture and on top of that initiated to showcase the Top 10 onto the official Troma Movies YouTube channel of over 160,000+ subscribers. There are generations of independent filmmakers forever in his debt, and I am one of many. Having Lloyd on board not only gave 15 Second Horror Film Challenge legitimacy, but also gave me a second wind on approaching EVERYONE I could think of.
What have been your highlights of the two festival seasons so far? What did you enjoy the most?
As a horror fan, EVERYTHING. It’s all surreal. I can’t help but be starstruck by any celebrity that joins or returns to participate. Also, the filmmakers abound mesmerize me. Before this, I would — and still do — watch every independent horror film I can find online. I love the culture as a spectator and embrace horror’s digital age of filmmakers; films that could never have existed in any other climate. I’m very sentimental and all of this is something I know I’ll look back on and I hope others will too.
One highlight in particular I hold close to my heart is when I created the “Best Student Films” category. When the Top 3 picks were announced on Instagram, I caught the top winning team of students tag each other as they lit up in caps lock cheers and OMGs. I could only imagine how excited they were to go to school next day and tell their teacher, who actually made the 15 Second Horror Film Challenge a school project for their Grade 11 class. I’m still really happy for them!
What are your hopes for the future of the 15 Second Horror Film Challenge?
I hope 15 Second Horror Film Challenge continues to grow and find more people. With that, I hope I continue to create new ways to make something that on a base level is exclusive to be as inclusive as possible. The reaction series is a new branch which I’m excited about. Before, in order to get involved, you could only be a filmmaker or a judge, but now through the reaction series, you can join in by recording your first-time viewing of as many entries as you wish to while promoting your social media business in the process. We all benefit from the more successful everyone is. It creates equity through cross collaborations and you just hope more people adopt the idea of cross-marketing. Asides from its social media engagements, it’s at principle a fulfilling way to operate in the arts. There’s so many people out here putting together films, services etc that I hope we all can help each other get their names out.
Do you have any advice for independent horror filmmakers looking to break into the industry?
If you have a curiosity in the arts, explore it. There’s a whole universe of potential, so many versions of yourself that you could discover… and one of them could be more successful at being fulfilled. This may mean it’s a hobby or it may change your overall outlook on what projects you decide to produce. Most filmmakers start from vain, tunnel-visions where they make movies for themselves. The more you explore, the more you’ll adopt in creating work with an audience in mind and your films will reach more people.
The results of Season 2 are currently being announced online, and you can find out the festival’s Top 3, Top 5 and Top 20 picks as they are revealed throughout November and December. In the meantime, get your own submission ideas ready for an exciting Season 3!