According to producer Trevor Macy, horror is all about refining the core concept.
Trevor Macy has produced many horror megahits, from Oculus to Ouija: The Origin of Evil and, most recently, The Bye Bye Man. Under the auspices of his production company, Intrepid Pictures, Macy has cracked the secret sauce of the horror film.
Below, the veteran producer shares his insights with No Film School into what makes a horror film particularly compelling.
Macy is currently producing the highly-anticipated adaptation of Stephen King's novel Gerald's Game. A self-proclaimed King fan, Macy said, "We'd like the movie to make you want to chew through the back of your chair as much as the book does. I'm excited to show people the movie, especially fans of the book."
1. Let the audience fill in the blanks—
"Purveying fear is a specific skill set. Camera movement, lighting, production design, and especially sound design and music must feed the creative aspirations of any scary movie. Not to say it’s monolithic—The Others isn’t going to be quite the same as The Thing, for example. One thing I like to keep in mind when making a scary movie is to let the audience fill in as many blanks as you can—silence can be incredibly effective as a device, and there’s nothing any movie can show you around a corner that’s scarier than what you can imagine."
2. —And put yourself in their shoes
"I always think about putting myself in the audience. What would scare me? What would stay with me and give me chills after I leave the theater? The best scary movie producers I know have the ability to consistently put themselves in place of the audience."
"Nothing any movie can show you around a corner is scarier than what you can imagine."
3. Have a strong core concept
"A penetrating concept, relatable characters, and writing that can translate into tension and suspense on the screen is what makes a good horror screenplay. What I like most about [my most recent, The Bye Bye Man] is how it delivered on the 'bespoke terror' idea—an entity that can peer into your soul and exploit your worst fears. I like how that played out on the page."
4. Write, shoot, repeat
"For auteurs, the obvious but essential advice is that there's no substitute for writing and shooting. Write, shoot, repeat. For aspiring producers of horror, it's good to develop the muscles of recognizing strong writers and directors with whom you're willing to be in a trench."
5. Take your time to get it right
"The Bye Bye Man took about eight years to get made, and there were plenty of challenges along the way. Development took a winding path, and getting the script to where we wanted to shoot it took a while, because Stacy Title, Jonathan Penner, and I all wanted the script to live up to the chilling concept. Really, it's about finding financiers/distributors willing to create (and finance) the right circumstances for the movie to reach a wide audience."