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Elisabeth Bartlett is blogging the festival scene from Cannes to Los Angeles.
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Shriekfest, Part 2

After the interesting conversation with Micah Levin of "Opus" Cubby and I wandered on through the Shriekfest opening night party and didn't even make it upstairs before running into a former coworker of hers. Turns out Mr. Morgan Peter Brown produced and acted in the closing night film. In "Absentia" a woman struggles with being haunted by the memories of her missing husband. There's a law, "death in absentia," that says when someone goes missing they can only be declared dead after 7 years.  Absentia is a latin word for "without"; in this case it means "without a body."

Yes, this movie is sad. "Absentia" is not gory, but rather emotionally heavy- character driven. Brown says their theory at Fallback Plan Productions is that you really have to care about the character in order to be scared for them.

Fallback Plan raised their first $20,000 on Kickstarter and the rest on private investment. Brown's expectations for distribution have already been blown out of the water. "Absentia" has received domestic and international distribution via DVD and video on demand, and they just found out they'll be on Showtime next summer, as well as Netflix streaming at the same time. "Theatrical release doesn't look like it's going to happen," said Brown.

An actor most of the time, Brown decided to produce after being in LA six years and having frustrations with the limitations the city as an institution. "There are all these walls and gatekeepers, almost like the opposite of a meritocracy." He began to hear stories of people who had made it happen for themselves. Having worked as a waiter, he knew plenty of people who "weren't doing what they were most talented at," so "As a producer I knew I could fill those roles easily," said Brown. That's when he decided to go for it and hasn't looked back. "Because of all the roadblocks, this town is a huge fan of the self starter."

I asked Brown to comment on horror as a genre. "There are an insatiable large amount of fans and what they are fed on most of the time is almost exploitable in that way... and there's the irony and symbolism of dealing with harder issues [via horror]...It's a sweeter pill to swallow by pushing it through that horror/scifi filter." Brown talked about the racism symbolism in "Dawn of the Dead", for example.  "At the same time, I love a good scare," he said. 

Two interesting conversations and one drink in, at this point in the night I am starting to understand this genre better. It seems people do it for two reasons: definitely for the fun: who doesn't love a good scare? There's also something deeper at play.

"Horror films are definitely a great way to live through something horrible, without having to experience it," says Tammi Sutton, who's been working in horror for 20 years as a director/producer and writer. "Its very therapeutic for a lot of people... because people are curious. Everyone has the same question on their minds: When am I going to die?"  Shriekfest is the US Premiere of her British crime thriller "Isle of Dogs, playing tonight.

I wanted one more perspective on horror before the night was over. Indie filmmaker Kenneth Hall sat on a plush couch in the corner of the room, smoking a cigar, amicably socializing.

I asked Hall about the misconception that horror is all gore. Hall thinks too many horror filmmakers today base their films in reality. "Unfortunately when that happens there are a ton of knockoffs," he said. When in the 80s a lot of horror films had a sense of humor to them, now what happens is "the filmmaker is underestimating the audience." Hall hopes we are moving away from that. The best horror films are stuff where "there's levity and it's more of a fun ride," he said. 

Even though horror sometimes seems like it's dying, it only takes one indie film to re-spawn it, commented Hall. "Every single year I hear horror is dead. It never dies. It just needs to be re-invented every now and then."


"Absentia" plays Sunday at 8pm.


"Isle of Dogs" is playing tonight at 7:30.

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Bartlett Elisabeth
Blogging about the festival scene from Los Angeles

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