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Interview: Greg Day on taking FrightFest online for the first time

Written by Lizette

Reading time: 6 mins

This week sees FrightFest go online for the first time in its history, taking one of the UK’s biggest horror cinema events into the digital ether in the middle of a global pandemic.

It’s a major undertaking, from programming titles to working out how to stream them to a dedicated audience of genre fans. We sit down with Greg Day, one of the festival’s directors – alongside Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy and Ian Rattray – to talk transforming FrightFest during scary times.

At what point did you decide to go for a digital event?

Although we’d talked about it, we waited until after Cannes before making up our minds, so it was the beginning of June when we decided. It was sad, as we knew it meant we had to give up on the August event being physical, but liberating at the same time as it gave us a new challenge.

Was that something that all four of you agreed upon?

Yes, we all agreed on it, with varying degrees of enthusiasm!

Even during the coronavirus lockdown, distributors are often more reluctant to give festival debuts to online festivals – was that a challenge you found within the horror genre too?

Yes, it did present a challenge and there were titles we couldn’t get, but we worked around it as we’d had a tremendous amount of great films submitted to us via Film Freeway, some from quite established directors. Coupled with Alan and Paul’s perseverance we were able to put together a diverse and vibrant programme. It was also an opportunity to bring fresh new talent to the fore, which, as you know, it one of FrightFest’s mantras.

Did that feed into the plan to have an extended, in-person event for Halloween?

Actually, the idea of having an extended event in October came first, as a way of replacing the 5-Day August event. We’d always presented a one-day showcase over Halloween, so it made sense to expand that. The dates are 22nd to 25th October, so the week before Halloween. We’re also discussing an additional online event too – and this may pave the way for the future, where we have events for those who can and want to attend in person but also for those, particularly in the regions, who can’t attend. We may very well see this happen with festivals globally.

You’ve sorted an online platform to host the festival in a very short timeframe, which is no mean feat. How did you choose Eventive?

Co-director Ian Rattray has to take all the credit for putting the event in place. I know he did consider a few other platform services but Eventive were able to allow us to live stream the films, an important factor as we wanted to replicate that destination vibe of only getting one chance to watch the films – as would be the case if you came to FrightFest. With the help of festival manager Clare Dean and our ticketing guru Helen Nicholson, Ian has managed to put together, what we hope will be a very satisfying online experience.

Going online opens up the festival to whole new audiences who wouldn’t normally be able to get to the festival – how are you finding the response so far?

Great. People who have never been to a FrightFest event before are buying passes, which makes the whole experience more worthwhile. And the FrightFest “family” are being very welcoming, making sure they have all their questions answered. And we want to make it as interactive as possible. We’ve programmed some social events, like the Evolution of Horror hosted pub quiz, the Den of Geek live Q & A event looking at how creatives within the genre are dealing with the pandemic and an Arrow Video Podcast, which are always great fun. Looking ahead, we can only get better at this aspect of the online experience.

Do you think that unique in-built audience and specific genre focus makes FrightFest more naturally suited to an online festival than, say, Cannes?

Definitely. I’ve always said that the films are not the most important thing; that sharing the experience of watching the films is what binds us all together. Talking, debating, sharing, embracing ideas, arguing passionately…that’s the vibe of FrightFest. And the hard-core fans will find ways of keeping that going online, through chat rooms and social media.

The difficulty of digital is that you’re competing with everything else online, whether that’s TikTok or Twitter. Was that part of the thinking behind hosting live one-time streams of each film?

As I’ve already mentioned, it felt important to recreate the experience of a physical event as much as possible – hence splitting the programme into two screens and making it impossible to see all the films, as well as only being able to view them once. The agony of choosing what to see and discussing it with other FrightFesters, getting recommendations, having the filmmakers picking up on this and pushing their films to make you choose them. That’s all part of the FrightFest experience!

Did you ever consider having just a weekend window of on-demand streaming?

We have that with our two short film showcases. They can be watched anytime during the weekend. We felt that gives our burgeoning filmmakers a level playing field.

Did you find yourself approaching the programming differently, in terms of what times to put things on?

Not really. By creating the Arrow Video and Horror Channel screens, Ian was able to follow a similar format by dividing up the films and the events, so they are evenly distributed, in terms of premiere status and sub-genre. As Horror Channel is sponsoring the two 1st Blood strand films, they obviously went into the Horror Channel screen. Ian is pretty good at the science of programming.

What are you most looking forward about hosting a digital festival?

For me, personally, it’s the opportunity to stay sober. I would like to say it’s not having to arrange around 50 media walls over five days but actually, for all the stress it creates, I love doing that with my pal and publicist Paul Smith and all the lovely crews that camp with us for the duration, so roll on October!

And finally, what’s the best horror film you watched during lockdown?

Not actually a film, and probably not strictly classified as genre, but I was absolutely blown away by all three seasons of DARK.

FrightFest 2020 runs from 27th to 31st August. For tickets, visit frightfest.co.uk.

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