Writer/Director Amy Taylor recently wrapped the film festival run for HUNTER’S WEEKEND. A seasoned filmmaker who has directed episodic content for PBS/Hulu, HUNTER’S WEEKEND is Taylor’s first feature film. It premiered at Reels of the Dead (at the Days of the Dead Horror Convention in Chicago) and received rave responses at Northeast Film Festival Horror Fest, Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival (the film’s LA premiere), MystiCon Independent Film Festival (part of the MystiCon Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror Convention), Loudoun International Film Extravaganza and the Women Texas Film Festival.
In Hunter’s Weekend, park rangers, Lyle and Victor, want their elite, invitation-only hunter’s weekend event to go well, but when hunters start turning up dead, they must race to find the killer before they become the next victims. This mockumentary horror/comedy is now streaming. I spoke with Amy about her festival experience and writing/directing her first feature. She’s got some great insight to share!
Film Festival submissions can swallow a filmmaker’s money quickly. What was your approach to festival submissions?
A few key assumptions guided the submissions process. First, because we were a small film without any big names in the cast, getting into a top-tier festival was a long shot. Second, we knew genre festivals were the way to go. I think those assumptions were generally right. Without some parameters, you can find yourself on filmfreeway at midnight going, ‘oh, that festival looks fun…apply!’ Then before you know it, you’ve spent hundreds of dollars.
We submitted to a few big genre festivals, but our target was mid to small-sized genre festivals. Within that, we narrowed the list to festivals where cast or crew lived. This helps with audience turnout and rewards cast/crew as they see their hard work on a big screen.
It was important for me to attend as the writer/director. It’s great for your film to show somewhere, but if someone is not there to represent the film and make connections, you don’t get the full bang for your buck. So, I avoided festivals where I’d have to fly across an ocean because we didn’t have the budget.
Which was your favorite film festival?
The Reels of the Dead Festival at the Days of the Dead horror convention in Chicago was fantastic. It was our world premiere; I think it helped that the festival was attached to a fan convention. Everyone was excited to spend the whole weekend immersed in horror. We had a fantastic audience that was really into the film. Plus, I spoke on a panel about women in horror, which was a great opportunity to promote our screening and to connect with horror filmmakers and fans.
When filmmakers are putting together a budget for their film and raising funds, how important is it to consider film festivals?
It’s so important! And it’s also the last thing you want to think about. It’s hard enough raising funds to simply complete the film, but festival costs are significant. Unless you prepare, you’ll be in a bind. I doubted if festivals mattered and considered going straight to a digital release. But, I took to heart something Seed & Spark founder, Emily Best, says about building a sustainable career and how festivals let you meet your audience face-to-face and make industry connections. Build your email list! Your festival audience will want to see your next project and support you throughout your career. Sure, not all of our festivals were as successful in terms of audience-building as I would have hoped, but the ones that were (and let me also specifically recommend the Women Texas Film Festival in addition to Reels of the Dead), provided a fantastic opportunity to get the word out about the film.
You wrote and directed Hunter’s Weekend. Were there ever times when the writer and director sides of you didn’t agree? How did you balance these roles?
I wore both hats from the very beginning, even writing the script. I knew what assets I could access: my parents’ house in the woods, my father’s truck, actors who would work in Virginia for a week. I wrote to those strengths. Basically, I was doing casting and location scouting as I wrote the script. Whenever a sequence was getting too complicated or expensive, I would dial it back, so I was producing while I wrote. I discovered restrictions can force you to be really creative. Early on, there were more elaborate kill scenes, more horror, less comedy, but I knew we couldn’t pull those scenes off, so I minimized the gore and focused on the comedy. I think this was the right call. Audiences really respond to the comedy.
This is your first feature. What advice would you offer to another filmmaker approaching their directorial feature film debut?
I didn’t do this, but I think having a “name” actor in your film is probably more important in terms of festivals and distribution than I ever imagined. I wouldn’t compromise the acting by casting a name if they’re wrong for the part. It’s one of my goals for my next film is to cast at least one name.
What’s next for you?
My script, “The Big A, was recently optioned. I can’t say any names yet, but there are directors on board and I’m optimistic. I will be allowed to shadow the directors on set, so I am excited about this opportunity.
I am writing my second feature – a zom-rom-com. The next step is financing!
And, of course, I have several more scripts in various stages of development.