Emily is Director of Global Acquisitions and Co-Productions at AMC Networks’ Shudder. Prior to this Emily worked with Taika Waititi’s Piki Films; acting as international packaging and sales rep for their independent features slate and worked as Acquisitions Executive at Protagonist Pictures where her slate included HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, BEAST and LADY MACBETH.

Why Inside Pictures (IP)? 

It’s all about the people. The class of 2020, even though we haven’t all yet met in person, is already really close. The very nature of the course encourages you to become a unit – and why I wanted to do IP.

HOST has been a lockdown film phenomenon. Tell us what happened there.

Shudder is very filmmaker driven. We were already tracking Rob Savage and Jed Shepard (co-creators of HOST, 2020). When we saw Rob’s lockdown prank over Zoom, we wondered if it could be developed into a longer format. After Rob and Jed pitched their idea to our team in LA, it very quickly went from: this is a good idea — to this is a great idea — to we have to do this.

Producer, Douglas Cox, handled logistics that ensured the production would work during lockdown – this included isolating teams together, to be able to shoot it safely for all involved. Even Rob’s direction was via WhatsApp and watching a live feed coming through on his TV at home. The innovation was next level. Each character was self-filming, in many cases, off their iPhones or laptops. The whole production was unlike anything before.

The whole USP of the film was to be able to shoot and release it in lockdown. It’s now done a UK theatrical run post SVOD premier. This quarter we will releasing the DVD, Blu-ray and the collector’s edition.

We’ve been applying for awards and everybody’s a little bit confused as to why HOST is so different. We’re like: “The world is different”.

Generally speaking, how does a new project get onto Shudder’s platform/slate?  

My department focuses on licencing films. Those relationships are directly with: producers, sales agents; distributors in each territory, like Signature, for example, in the UK. We are either buying all rights on a title to be the sole distributor in a territory, or we’re buying SVOD rights (Pay 1) to a title from a distributor.

When it comes to buying all rights, we’ll do it off promo and/or the finished film. These tend to be by filmmakers that we know, trust, and we are excited to work with.

When it comes to co-production, we are a more creatively hands on partner from an earlier stage in the film’s development. A producer brings it to us, to finance. There’ll probably be a director’s attached, but it’s usually prior to cast. Shudder cash flows the production in return for all the global rights, and the filmmakers retain their intellectual property. From an independent filmmaker’s point of view, it’s great because budgets of up to about $2 million get cash flowed on one deal. They don’t have to go through multiple parties and the filmmakers get to put most of their dollars on the screen.

There is also the ‘Shudder Original’ side, that is predominantly focused on TV – but stepping more into the film as well. CREEP SHOW is a Shudder Original, developed in house with Rob Zombie’s company Stage 3. We also have a couple of documentary features that have been really successful. One is HORROR NOIRE (2019), and we will be premiering another one called QUEER FOR FEAR, which is all about the LGBTQIA community’s participation in horror.

As a specialist platform, we have the opportunity to be very entrepreneurial about how we release titles. The SVOD distribution window is our main focus, and one we are passionate about building and growing –  Shudder.com is going from strength to strength every day. However, we are also about making sure films get the very best bespoke distribution strategy, rather than a one size fits all. Therefore, we’re distributing titles through other means than just SVOD – theatrical, DVD, Blu-ray and transactional VOD. This way the films, and the filmmakers, we’re working with are exposed across all media.

What’s been the impact of COVID in terms of demand? Have you seen a dramatic upsurge in subscribers?

As a brand, we became more discoverable during COVID lockdown as people looked beyond the larger platforms. We released the promo code ‘SHUTIN’ when lockdown first happened. It gave people 30 days of Shudder for free. We doubled our subscriptions, in a matter of months. It was a really intense period of time.

How do you see COVID affect your role, medium/long term?

The co-production, fully financing feature films or production financing had been developing for some time, but the business got behind it very quickly once we went into lockdown. HOST was the first thing that we put through that structure.

It is about making sure that Shudder is getting projects into production for 2022. 2021 we’re not as worried about, it’s 2022 that’s going to have an impact on programming because of the slowing down of production – and in many cases stopping.

A phrase that has emerged is “COVID friendly” productions. We have to be sure that films we are getting involved are being made by people that are going to assure the safety of everyone, but also the very nature of the stories and/or scale are not negatively impacted by COVID in terms of the shoot going ahead.

Normally Shudder programmes two new premieres every month. Increasing to one premiere every week from September through to November. On average, that’s about 25 to 30 titles per year. We’ve now ramped that up to annually acquiring between 50 to 55.

What’s an innovative change you’ve seen in the film industry in response to COVID?

The interactive film and gaming and new digital media has been really impressive, but I don’t think that’s in reaction to COVID. I think COVID has sped things up, or it’s sped people’s acceptance of them up.

What do you think of the UK government response to COVID in relationship to the film industry?

From a governmental standpoint, I think the BFI reacted well to it, but I think it’s very hard for me to comment on stuff like that because it’s a very tricky position for everyone.

I thought it was really impressive that development grants were still sent out, and the process sped up, just to keep people developing under lockdown.

On a lighter note than what’s been your lockdown film, TV discovery?

I MAY DESTROY YOU and SCHITTS CREEK. Totally different and both and so smart.

Finally, you describe yourself as a horror convert. What’s a good route into the genre for those who’ve see very few horror films?

They say that a really good horror film is about human stories. So, it isn’t always about jump-scares or blood and gore. Foreign language/world cinema is a good entry points to the horror genre. Films like LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Sweden), A GIRL WHO WALKS HOME ALONE (Iran), RAW (France) or TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (Mexico). They are stunningly beautiful pieces of horror cinema, that are very soft, in terms of the scare factor. We’ve got one from Guatemala that’s been doing really well called LA LLORONA. The director, Jayto Bustamante, wouldn’t have considered himself a horror director, but his horror vocabulary is incredibly eloquent in this haunting film that utilises an old Latin American myth to explore the horrors of the genocide of the Mayan people by the Guatemalan army. It’s the Guatemalan submissions to the Oscars race so fingers crossed 2021 sees it getting a nomination.