Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The horror, the horror...

I was recently interviewed about horror movies by a film student:

Please describe who you are and what connection you have to the film world.

I am David J. Greenberg, adjunct screenwriting instructor, Drexel University & University of the Arts. Screenwriter of over 45 screenplays -- 3 produced features (including one as director and writer), 2 produced documentaries, numerous shorts. 

Why would you use film as a medium to tell stories?

I have been attracted to movies since I was a small child, always fascinated by them. When we go to sleep at night, we don't have books or music or sculpture or dance in our heads, we have little movies, dreams that help us process and make sense of the world so I feel like there is this almost innate connection to movies. I don't play any instruments and I love music so making films is as close to making music as I get. 

How do you think films have evolved?

Well, that's a film history question --- sound, color, special effects, the breakdown of the production code etc.  In the beginning, all films were short and now, of course running times have expanded dramatically but, bottom line, films are still about creating meaning with moving pictures.

What advantages and disadvantages do you think films have in telling a story?

Some people don't like to read. Films are visceral, like music, they can elicit a physical response, stir an audience. Film combines elements of literature, painting, photography, theater and music to create a wholly distinct art form. Also, in a book, you are reading words that are supposed to inspire images in your head. The words are symbols to describe what people are seeing, hearing and doing. In film, you create the images for the viewer and they interpret them rather than when a reader sees words on a page, processes them and forms an image. One step in the process has been removed.  

Why would you make a horror film?

On a practical level horror films are frequently inexpensive to produce and often show a significant return on investment. From a screenwriting perspective, horror movies are different from most other movies in a story structure sense, the protagonist doesn't necessarily have to grow or change, they just have to survive -- sometimes by confronting a fear or personal deficit; basically the screenwriter has to establish a situation where scary things might happen and then write those scary things, usually 7-12 pages apart. There is an informal challenge in the horror community to see who can make the scariest film, come up with the best idea etc. 

Why would you watch a horror film and how does it make you feel?

I like horror films on a number of levels. I like a visceral jolt. In my day to day life, I am rarely scared for my life so watching horror films is a way to experience sensations that I do not expect to experience every day.  I like to examine the characters in horror films and see how they find themselves in the horrific situations they find themselves in.

What goes into making a horror film?

Technological production know-how, good story. 

What aspects of making horror films do you like or dislike?

I don't like gore, don't find it scary. I like tension and suspense. 

 Why do you think as a filmmaker people would want to watch something that scares them?

See above but to reiterate, most people do not go through life experiencing fear for their lives and watching these films can give audiences a chance to experience these feelings in a safe environment -- it's sort of like riding a roller coaster. 

What do you think of scary stories and how they shape our lives?

Horror films for all of their gore and sometimes decadence, are often very moralistic --- don't sleep around, don't do drugs, don't mess with the dead etc., extreme cautionary tales. On the flip side, I sometimes worry that horror films and action films can desensitize audiences to violence, making it too easy to forget that that the characters we see dying are people with hopes and dreams, parents, siblings and friends.

Has a horror film effected you in your personal or professional life, and how?

I think the recent Australian horror film "The Babadook" was about parenthood and, specifically, parenting an atypical or special needs child, which I deeply related to. 

What makes a good horror film?

Like any film, a good story that people can relate to. As someone who writes screenplays, including a high number of horror screenplays, I always look for opportunities to push my agenda, slip in social commentary and have frequently done so. A fresh spin on genre conventions is usually welcome.

How did the horror film industry evolve and why do you think it was created?

Horror films have been around almost since the very beginning of film. People have always liked spooky, creepy stories so it seemed a natural for the movies. Most recently, the advent of more accessible technology has made it more and more possible for more and more people to make their own films. I also think that, perhaps more than any other genre of film, there is a large, enthusiastic sub-culture of horror movie fans who actively support little independent films and are often more forgiving of technical and narrative shortcomings, also they seem more receptive to shorter features, 75-80 minutes long. 

Anything additional you would like to say?

Horror films are not for everyone but I like them as both an entertainment form and as a viable production option for first time filmmakers.