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Film Festivals In The Age Of Covid-19

Attending Shockfest Film Festival 2020

28th December 2020
Curt Wiser gives his opinion on movies during the covid era

2020 has disrupted many industries in ways we never could have anticipated, film festivals especially. In March, the cancellation of South By Southwest sent shockwaves throughout the entertainment industry and was a sign of things to come. Other festivals taking place later in the year had the opportunity to adapt, carry on despite the global pandemic.

Shockfest 2020 was one of those festivals that made it happen. Since a script I wrote, Anxiety, was nominated for Best Screenplay, I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to write about my experience attending an all virtual film festival. This will be your inside look, as a ticket holder and nominee.

Making this award event entirely virtual was not originally the plan. Up until November 2020, when Los Angeles county re-instated their stay at home order, the festival planned to host a hybrid event and sold a few dozen tickets for people to attend the event live at The Magic Castle in Hollywood.

I was one of these live event ticket holders.  Everything I saw told me this festival was going to take the right precautions to keep everyone safe. Let’s be honest, like most of you I was looking for a reason to get out of the house and this nomination was an honor I wanted to celebrate in person. If I needed even more reason Victoria DeMare (Killjoy – Franchise), was going to attend the event with me! I am thrilled that she is attached to play our lead in Anxiety. Shockfest already held four other live events that year leading up to the festival in places like Salem and Las Vegas. These all went off with no problem, so the main event should be great.  But Covid had other plans.

The pandemic surged in Los Angeles so restrictions really left them no choice but to take everything online. The organizers had a virtual “Town Hall” to discuss the situation and ask the fans how we would like them to proceed. That fact should not be glossed over, Shockfest put the attendees and nominees first, they wanted our opinion and set up a forum to do that.

Our moderators for this town hall where the festival organizers portraying Horror inspired characters they created. For example our host is Jeffrey Macabre, a man with a bald head who is covered in black and white face paint. This fun atmosphere and even a pesky sock puppet representing the Covid virus added some much needed levity. But what will happen with the festival?  Should they postpone until a big live event would be possible?  Or should it all go virtual?

Thankfully, most of us were in favor of moving ahead with the scheduled date and attending virtually. I got a refund for my live ticket and quickly bought my virtual slot.  The day of the event finally arrived. First, panelists and nominees were encouraged to sign into the zoom meeting within a certain hour to test their connection.

This let the organizers walk people through any technical hurdles and show them where the un-mute button is before the actual event. This was a professional move and helped the event run smoothly later that evening.  Think of this as a sound check before the doors open and a band plays.

Multiple panels with genre filmmakers and actors took place virtually in the hours before the award ceremony. Many people in these Q and A’s were actors or filmmakers from the movies screened as part of the festival that year.

Rock star turned Filmmaker, Rob Zombie received the shocker award. This is a career achievement award they have given to legends like Eli Roth and Clive Barker in years prior. In Rob Zombie’s acceptance speech he said “I’m very honored to get an award that is from 2020, cuz it’s been such a great year.” That last part was delivered with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

Another highlight included the final panel of the afternoon called “Women of Horror.” It featured Film Director Chelsea Stardust (Satanic Panic, All That We Destroy), Adrienne King, Sheri Davis and Tiffany Shepis-Tretta. They had a lot to say about the current state of filmmaking and gave predictions about the future of the industry.

While these panels were taking place, the festival movie screeners where also made available. From that point on, virtual ticket holders were able to watch the movies online at their leisure. These movies stayed available to watch for at least a few days! This was so much better than the “set screening time” many other virtual film festivals were holding in 2020. If it’s virtual, why not make these movies available to watch at our convenience?  This is a similar format to some of the movies exhibited online as part of the American Film Market (AFM). Think Netflix, but for a film festival.

Some of these movies featured at Shockfest 2020 included, Broil, Attack Of The Unknown, and Bad Candy. I plan to write reviews on some of these, so stay tuned.

The time had come for the award ceremony. Because there was a chance I would be on camera to deliver an acceptance speech, I had to trade my pajamas for formal attire. To help take the pressure off, taped below my laptop was a cheat sheet I wrote out so I didn’t forget who to thank during my speech.

One of the characters known as Oracle announced the nominees for Best Screenplay. We all waited in anticipation as this mysterious man behind a chrome mask and thick fur coat said our names. Since Shockfest has been running strong for over twelve years, it’s safe to say Oracle has been wearing face masks long before it was mandated by state governments. And the winner is….

Oracle holds up the award close to the camera feed.  The award is a well crafted sculpture of a series of gears with blood on them. (It would look perfect on my shelf… just saying). I lean in close to read the front plate of the award. Mikeal Burgin has his name etched in history as the winner for his script Lockridge.

I quickly applaud the winner. Always best to be a good sport. Also, it is an honor just to be nominated, as they say. My final takeaways are that it was a great night and the festival did an amazing job given the circumstances. These are not the red carpet walks and photo ops we dream about, but it was a great experience and felt like the responsible thing to do. Who knows how many film festivals will have to be held this way in 2021.  The main thing is that these events continue in some fashion. Art perseveres, and life carries on.

For more information on Shockfest, you can visit their official website here.

– Curt Wiser is a multi-award nominated writer and filmmaker of the suspense feature Cam-Girl. He is happy to seek out new experiences in the realm of entertainment and share them with the world.

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