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Indie Horror’s Secret Seven: Denise Gossett


The Most Influential Horror Leaders You’ve Never Heard Of

In a crowded industry that sometimes rewards the loudest over the best, these seven leaders behind some of the most influential work of the decade have been quietly determining the direction of independent horror.

TO UNDERSTAND HOW INDIE HORROR’S MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE COULD remain largely a secret, you first have to understand the nature of indie horror today.

Our current era and all its frenetic noise and new-legends-born-daily has its origins in the indie filmmaking explosion of the late 2000s (specifically November, 2008 – the month the Canon 5D Mark II was released and the fuse was lit).

At that moment, two ingredients combined to become the accelerant that would blow a fan-sized hole in the wall that Hollywood studios had built around filmmaking. First, DSLR cinema-look cameras became inexpensive enough for enterprising indie filmmakers to buy, learn to use and shoot on. And second, internet video hosting on YouTube and later Vimeo democratized sharing indie films with a worldwide audience – especially shorts.

Suddenly, a generation of aspiring filmmakers who’d grown up on VCR horror had access to make and show their own homegrown scary movies. And make them they did: In the resulting new frontier, a massive community/industry grew at a speed we’ve never seen before. Aspiring filmmakers become actual filmmakers. Weekend filmmaking contests cropped up around the world, generating tens of thousands of films. To screen all the new content, the number of film festivals doubled, doubled and doubled again. Horror outlets were started by the dozen to cover them. And social media shared and re-shared it all.

In that crowded Wild West, getting the attention of an audience became a game of “who-has-the-best-gimmick?” Hell: an entire sub-genre of horror was created, where an aging horror star is brought in for a half-day shoot, then lands on the poster as bait to horror lovers, who’d maybe see her or him in the opening scene, or hear them as voiceover.

Finding an angle in the noise was everything – too often even more important than finding a great story, or pushing the genre.

But if you listen closely to that roar, you can single out a handful of voices who have been steering indie horror, and lifting up their colleagues, in ways that are making a lasting difference in the content we see, and in the culture of horror overall.

We at Cinema Runner set out to identify the unsung leaders who have the most influence on the true indie horror community – non-studio, usually non-distributed horror made with sweat equity and brought directly to the fans. To complement our own research, we polled two dozen horror filmmakers, fans, festivals and critics to ask: who do you look up to for the direction of indie horror? (Some, to protect relationships, chose to remain anonymous.)

What will follow each day this week is an examination of what we found in the major indie horror categories: conventions, film festivals, short films, feature films and horror media…



Shriekfest – Denise Gossett

“One of the best festival directors of all time.”

– Festival review

When we asked horror folks about the most influential fest/fest director combination, one name from the enormous list of horror fests (excluding the studio-serving three or four – Fantastic, Toronto After Dark, the like) came up again and again as the best example of the job on the circuit: Denise Gossett, founder and fest director at Shriekfest Horror Film Festival in Los Angeles. Filmmakers want in, and festival directors, critics and fans watch the program to see what will matter in the coming year.

Gossett founded the fest in 2001 and has grown it as its director, deepening its coveted networking offerings in L.A., helped by Gossett’s own connections as a working and well-networked actor. And she’s done it all swimming upstream in an industry dominated by men in most roles – fest directors, producers, film directors and more.

The festival has surged in 2010s, becoming a launchpad for indie filmmakers and a coveted selection notice every year. Shriekfest alums are some of the most successful – and most loyal – of any film fest’s. That loyalty comes from a combination of the quality of the Shriekfest program and Gossett’s approachability and business sense. She still leads all programming and fest communication, including making personal phone calls to selected filmmakers.

Above all, the Shriekfest slate gets seen – and distributed – every year.

“Shriekfest was the first festival Killer Party played and it put us on the map and opened so many doors for us,” said Shriefest alum and Killer Party director Alex Drummond. “I call Denise ‘The Godmother’ of Killer Party because she has championed us every step of the way – up and through distribution.”

To put a fine point on it, Drummond said this about the level of connection Gossett creates: “Saying ’Denise Gossett referred me’ is the password to opening doors in the horror community.”

Also receiving votes: Nightmares Film Festival (Columbus, OH), NYC Horror, Screamfest (Los Angeles), Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival (Columbia, SC)

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