Shudder Goes Into the Woods to Present a Master Class in Horror

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The retreat also got Erkman thinking about other avenues that horror storytelling can take. While he was focused on creating feature-length films, he began to see that wasn’t the only road open to him. He began to ask himself what could be done with episodic content—perhaps for a streaming audience—that hasn’t been done before, and what such a project would look like. An online project isn’t limited to any set runtime, which he finds compelling. That gives the director more freedom in structuring the story.

Working Among Ghosts

Besides daytime workshops with horror veterans, Shudder Labs included receptions, dinners, and plenty of time to walk the grounds. Creating a community was a big part of the week, so the organizers left time for people to hike or take a boat out on the lake. While the organizers didn’t plan any frights for the troop, attendees sometimes tried to frighten themselves. The hotel had a hedge maze (How perfect is that?), and one day at around 1:30 a.m., several guests were hanging around it trying to scare each other. Sometimes the hotel itself gave them the creeps.

“They have this two-dimensional cardboard cutout of an older gentleman that was in a corner in one of the halls,” Erkman remembers. “I think that thing actually scared me more than once, as ashamed as I am to admit that. The place I think is 130, 140 years old, so there’s a lot of history there. There are a lot of ghosts in those halls.”

Shudder Labs’ presence was noted by the other hotel guests, but only in a positive way. Word got around, and some of the attendees heard guests saying things like, “Did you know there are folks here doing something with horror movies?” People seemed to get a kick out of it, Zimmerman says.

While the workshops provided helpful lessons from filmmakers with experience, Erkman found the community he created with other attendees just as beneficial. A filmmaker does his or her work in a bubble, he says, so getting to talk to others working in the same areas, being able to talk about his work and have people be excited about it and be encouraging, was what he most wanted to experience. “I really just wanted to get feedback, and I got that in spades,” he says.

In the months since Shudder Labs ended, Erkman has been in contact with all the other filmmakers from the retreat. He happens to work 5 minutes from Josh and Sierra Russell of Russell FX, who led a workshop on special effects, and sees them at the local grocery. He’s been to screenings with other Shudder Labs alums.

“I think Shudder’s goal of creating a community, at least from my experience, has been totally successful because now I have people that I can bounce ideas off of, and also [are] in the same area that I’m at in terms of their career, or at least their progress and the films that they’re trying to make,” Erkman says. “I think it’s one thing to talk to somebody that’s experienced, and there’s a lot to glean from that, but it’s another thing to talk to somebody that’s also trudging the same road that you are. I find that really motivating. It helps me keep moving forward and making progress on my project.”

That wasn’t the only thing Erkman got out of his time with Shudder Labs: His short work In the Night will stream on Shudder soon, giving him valuable exposure in the horror community.

With the first successful Shudder Labs behind him, Zimmerman is already thinking about hosting another event next year. He’s planning a few refinements to the submission process and would like a better area for movie screenings. There was no production element this year, and that’s something he plans to change next time, to get attendees thinking about what it’s like to be on set. One thing that won’t change is the location: The staff at Mohonk was wonderful to work with, he says, and the location created the perfect eerie feeling.

In this serene and secluded setting, something evil was born. Perhaps many things. And they just might be streaming on Shudder in the not-too-distant future.

[This article appears in the October 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Shudder Labs Presents a Master Class in Horror."]

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