There may be a fine line between 'early adopter' and 'creepy stalker' and I fit somewhere in the middle. Having followed the first launch of this service in the US last year from 'Shudder is coming!' to 'Shudder is here!', then being very impressed with the offering, I was first in line when news of the Canadian and UK launch this fall. Well, it is here. After a little bit of hush-hush data gathering and no doubt a whole lot of really hard work getting this 'screaming' service off the ground--It's Here.
Having a chance to chat with the team leads Sam Zimmerman and Colin Geddes was a real trick or treat. The trick was not just talking titles! I know they are both huge horror fans, as am I, but there were a whack of real questions I was burning like a jack-o-lantern to ask.
But before we get Qs all over our As, here is a little background from the presser:
Colin Geddes has been selecting cutting-edge films for the Toronto International Film Festival since 1998, where he's in charge of the Midnight Madness and Vanguard programs. At TIFF he has introduced new talent and hosted the premieres of films including Miike Takashi's Ichi the Killer; Eli Roth's Cabin Fever and Hostel; Alex Aja’s High Tension; and Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs.
Sam Zimmerman represents a well-respected voice in the horror community while racking up his impressive knowledge from past work as former web editor at Fangoria and most recently, managing editor at the horror site Shock Till You Drop. He’s recognized as an early champion of acclaimed contemporary horror including The Babadook and Kill List.
Lydia: So this is what you guys are doing today, talking horror movies…
Sam Zimmerman- Just hanging out, talking about horror movies, it's cool.
L - Isn't everyday talking about horror movies though?
S- Yeah pretty much!
L - My first typically Canadian question is about content. Canadian content requirements were just dropped from something like 55 percent to 35 percent, but are you exempt from that entirely for new media exceptions?
Colin Geddes - Pretty much, but that doesn't mean we are ignoring Canadian Content.
S- Yeah, not at all.
C - There is a rich tradition of disturbing and horrific films from Canada so we are actively pursuing the classics of the genre on our service. Nothing makes me happier than to share national favourites like Ritual, Ginger Snaps or Cube with people so we are making sure we can get as much of that stuff as possible and make sure we can share our blood and maple syrup drenched gore with everyone
L - Comparing Netflix, the US Netflix usually had better Canadian content than the Canadian service, which is sad but of course their interest wasn't in horror. Comparing Shudder to Netflix is kind of unfair because it's a multi-genre platform But then, you wouldn't be able to compare Shudder to Dusk or Scream or TerrorTV which is still reportedly coming soon, or even BlackFlag TV. So, how is the sustainability and how would you describe five years in the future for Shudder Canada?
C - Okay, here is the difference between what Shudder is doing and what other services are doing. Netflix is really the Walmart of streaming services, and we are a boutique. No bones about it, we are a small boutique. Some streaming services, and even horror streaming services don't really have respect for the fans. ‘You like horror? Oh, go play in that pile of zombie and found footage films and knock yourself out.’ They are simply getting content. What we are doing that sets us apart is we are curated. You can see there is a human hand, albeit a severed human hand, selecting the films. There are no algorithms and we are not simply buying bulk lots of content. We are going to the libraries and saying no, we don't want that film we want that film. A good example was in the wake of Paranormal Activity, there was such a glut of found footage POV films that were just really generic. So we separate the wheat from the chaff. We like to boast that our service is all killer and no filler. Horror fans are smart! You have to watch a lot of bad films to get to the good ones so when the average horror fan comes to the site, they can immediately see it’s like a video store with a staff pick and a recommended shelf. That's how we see ourselves holding on and sustaining into the future, because of that human touch.
S- That's sort of the base we are building from, our mission statement, and then from there we go into our exclusives, films and series we'll be premiering, and more so we are hopefully building a really cool library of things people want to watch, to re-watch, watch and recommend, and then see the new stuff we are bringing and be even more excited by that.
L- I was looking at some of the offerings like 'Shrews Nest' when you look at the horror
selection of other streaming services or networks it’s like seen it, seen it, blah blah, boring boring, but it seems what you are bringing is going to be exciting so if you see that growing then that sounds even more exciting.
C - You just made a new best friend in Sam!
S - Yeah, that film is a movie I cannot say enough good things about. It played here in 2014 and traveled around some festivals but didn't find a home in North America and it cannot make me happier that we get to be that home. I love that movie so much. I can’t wait for people to see it.
C - We are filling the gap left with the demise of the video stores. The previous owner of
Suspect Video said it was like closing the grocery store in favour of the convenience store so there is now so may films that you can't see anywhere else. People have this assumption that you can ‘get it online’. It's just not the case. We are really in danger of having a generation that is film illiterate when it comes to the history of film and so we are really like a video store and trying to stock the shelves to fill that gap.
S - Also, bridge the gap for films that never found a proper audience.
L- That sort of bridges into my next question which is a little TIFF-centric and curation-centric as it does fill many gaps. We lost Invisible Cinema video here in Ottawa a few years ago and Elgin Video is now gone, so it's hard especially for people who want to pay and support filmmakers and can't attend every festival. Is the goal in a way to bridge the gap between festivals that not everyone can attend and waiting three years or more sometimes, sometimes we never get a physical release of these films that maybe underwhelmed the festival or maybe do well but run the circuit for two years... will there be a lot of your picks coming from what you see at festivals?
S- Totally, and whether a film that we just loved and release ourselves, or a film that gets a release but we take it onto our service, absolutely. I was very fortunate growing up in New York and being able to see a lot of stuff and have it at my fingertips, but I know so many people don't with limited release and all that stuff. A huge priority for me is bringing these movies in a legal convenience. It’s a weird move it’s a cool movie, new movie, old movie, it just secures it's availability.
C- If I can make it possible for a kid in Thunder Bay to watch Takashi Miike's Audition, I've done my job here.
S- I don't know where Thunder Bay is but it sounds really cool.
L - It's really so not cool.
C - I hear you on the Ottawa scene. Thankfully you have the Mayfair because where else do you get to see these films if you have no video stores/ This stuff isn't on regular access or the other Canadian services. and then you know that for the longest time Canada has been kind of a backwater when it came to streaming services. You'd see all these things available in the states and you go to it and it says not available in Canada and that was so frustrating.
L- Yeah, Amazon Instant is my nemesis for the longest time because everyone gets to watch a lot of cool stuff there. The difference between the two lists on Netflix, Canada and US, and things people can get on Hulu, or digital copies of films you bought in the US you can’t watch what you bought when you get it home, so I'm always paying close attention to that. There is a site called Fan.tv that lets you see where any movie is streaming and it is American based but it gives me an idea of, say, type in "In a Glass Cage' which was on Shudder US, but looking for it on iTunes or Xbox in Canada Crunchyroll or Funimation you find nothing. Will there be anime on Shudder?
C- If it is horror or fantastic yeah. The line kind of blurs. For an idea, 85 per cent of the content we are starting with is not available on any other streaming service in Canada. So we are going to have those films that you can't see anywhere else.
S - We are certainly lucky to be working with a focus, because working within the genre allows us to really button down specific things and make sure we have a really beautifully crafted library so that any territory doesn't not feel under-served or left out.
C- The challenge with doing the service in three countries and two different territories is the rights, however, there is a lot of stuff that we have on the Canadian service that is not available on the American service just because of how the rights play out. The average consumer can be frustrated by that border being there and cutting the rights individually.
L- As disappointing as it can be, I find that's appeased by the amount of titles to say the UK, Canada, and US all have different things - but they all have 1200 movies. How is the headcount? I know that it’s a new service here now, but by comparison to the US and UK launch, how do the amount of titles compare?
S- The UK and Canada will be very similar to the US launch last year which was between 250 and 300 and steadily grew from there. We found that was a good beginning. Then surveying. Very quickly in the US we doubled then continued to grow weekly. It will launch [with numbers] around there but within no time at all, grow very quickly.
L - Kind of backtracking to the rental store idea, will titles be phased out due to lack of
popularity or rights restrictions, or will it in effect be a rental store where you can go back three or four years from now and watch one of the first titles you watched on Shudder?
S- It is sort of a mix. Rights play a big role in what is refreshed and what stays. The majority of titles have longer lifelines on Shudder. The ones around for only a short time will be more rare cases. You will more than likely be able to watch something for a couple of years on.
L- It is a diverse genre. Do festivals inform your tastes? I'm sure you both have little honeypots you dip into or directors that contact you, but what about fan and viewer input? How will that have a hand on curating these lists?
S- We want Shudder to feel inclusive. I want it to be a place for everyone from someone who is just sort of dabbling in horror to someone who is very devoted. Really, we are all devoted fans, so, someone will say ‘have you thought of getting this or do you want this’ and we one hundred per cent welcome that because we want to know what people are watching and what they want to watch. Curated goes both ways. It's our tastes, but also what people love and what they want to watch and what we thing they'll like. The feedback and a relationship with our members is important to us.
L - As far as indie Canadian filmmakers; will they have a better chance of ending up on Shudder Canada and will there be something like Shudder Labs available for Canadian filmmakers?
C - The first Shudder Labs was just for American filmmakers but we are hoping to branch out. We are definitely going to be looking out for and dispersing Canadian films on all territories, and are always looking for good quality cinema and really know no bounds on territory so--obviously I'm a little biased and want to support Canadian filmmakers--so yes. We are also doing shorts too, so we will have a home for those.
L- That was my next question. With streaming and VOD, Vimeo really has been one of the better choices in Canada oddly, and there are a lot of shorts on there but the price is prohibitive.
C- That’s an odd one, and I'm not even sure the causal viewer even goes there. Most times we kind of see a short by accident. With the shorts we've been putting on the us service we've been getting really good feedback, so we are looking to have more fun with that and doing a cool curated collection.
L- That's wonderful news really, so the Canadian experience on Shudder! Anything you really want to drive home?
S- I really want this to a welcoming place we do believe in the width and breadth of horror and everyone no matter what is a fan of scary stories and I want them to find them all on Shudder.
L- I know I'll love it since I've been creeping Shudder since inception.
S- well if you like In a Glass Cage, you'll find what you love--we speak the same language.
L- Cool. I may not be a casual fan but I'm no pro like you guys, so if we speak the same language that makes me happy.
S- Ah, we are all just movie fans.
C- We have broad tastes. We have Antichrist which is horror, but challenging, then you got American Psycho, American Werewolf in London, Bad Biology, Basket Case, so a lot of different kinds. We have something for the novice to ease into he genre and not immerse people into gore right away.
L- Yeah, I like that there are a lot of titles that showed up on my podcast, Dead Air, and another favourite podcast BindTortureKast, and a lot of them are really hard to find picks, or really niche picks coupled with some mainstream horror that everyone can have some fun with.