As Halloween approaches it is the perfect time of year to settle in and watch some horror films. It’s also the perfect time to try making a horror film all of your own! Take inspiration from some spooky films you have watched and get planning for some terrifying horror movie making this October…
So, how do you make a really scary film? How do you create a horror film that audiences will want to watch again and again? Read on for some horror movie making tips to help you frighten the life out of everyone at home!
1. Build Suspense
Horror movie making should create a sense of fear and scare the audience silly. The acclaimed horror director Alfred Hitchcock once said “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
There has been a trend in recent years for scary films to be filled with jump scares, but the real secret great horror movie making is to spend time building tension and suspense first.
Suspense is built when the audience knows or suspects more than the characters.
Imagine this: We’re watching a scary film set in a spooky house. We see the villain set a deadly trap, then we see the main characters running through dark corridors, desperately trying to find their way out of the house.
They think they’re running towards freedom but we know they are actually running towards the trap. We watch this scene on the edge of our seats as the characters get closer to the trap… but once they reach the trap and the villain jumps out at them the scary part is over and we are back to sitting comfortably.
Tips for Building Suspense in Your Horror Movie Making:
– Limit your use of jump scares – they become less effective the more they are used.
– Make things difficult for your characters, give them something to struggle with during the scene. For example have them try to unlock a door with a bunch of keys, each one they try doesn’t fit, then they drop the whole bunch onto the floor and have to start again…
2. Create well-developed characters
As film makers we want the audience to be rooting for the characters in our films, and to care what happens to them. The characters in horror and scary films experience terrifying events but if we don’t spend time making them believable and three-dimensional then the audience simply won’t care what happens to them.
Tips for developing characters:
– Well-developed characters should have good points and bad points, they shouldn’t be too perfect, they should be interesting.
– There should be a reason for everything they do in the film. Do we understand why they act that way? Or is it just to further the plot? If so, change it. Give them a reason to behave like that, that’s true to who they are as a character.
– Write a profile for each character for your horror movie making. List their personality traits, likes, dislikes and important events in their life. This will give you a real sense of who they are as people.
3. Don’t show the monster!
All horror movies have a monster of some kind; an evil-being who pursues the main characters, intent on causing them harm. It could be a literal monster like a werewolf, a creature like a shark, a supernatural being or a human wearing a mask and holding a weapon.
We can put lots of time into designing the costume and make-up of the monster to make it really scary but the longer we keep the image of the whole monster off screen, the longer the audience will be frightened of it.
When the audience only sees a glimpse of the monster they will fill in the gaps from their own imaginations and visualise what the monster looks like – the thought of the monster will always be more scary than actually seeing one on the screen. In your own horror movie making, try to find ways to suggest the threat to the audience, without showing them the monster itself.
Tips for Monster Making in Horror Movie Making:
– Whenever the monster is in shot have it obscured by other things, for example a shot of the monster peering from behind a tree could be obscured by branches and leaves.
– Use close ups or extreme close ups of the monster to only show part of it.
– Use shadows to show the monster’s outline without revealing the whole
– Use reaction shots from other characters to give us a sense of how terrifying the monster is
4. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!
Poor dialogue is something that regularly lets down scary films yet it is one of the easiest and least expensive things on a film set to improve!
What a character says can give the audience so much information about who they are. It’s really important to spend time creating interesting and original dialogue for each of your characters. It’s easy to focus on all the scares in horror movie making, but don’t forget to make your characters and your dialogue believable, it will help us to care more when watching.
Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue:
– Listen to people around you having conversations; What words do they use? Would you have chosen different ones to say the same thing?
– When you have written a draft of dialogue read it aloud yourself or ask some friends to help. Does it sound natural? Do any of the words or sentences sound awkward?
– Think about the characters who are speaking – does it sound like something they would say? Go back to your character profiles to find out.
– Remember, this is about horror movie making: you’re putting your characters into extreme situations where they may be short of time or in very serious danger. Consider their everyday dialogue, how might it change for the situation they are in?
5. Love your Antagonist
An antagonist is the character in a film whose motivation is to work against the main character and create conflict. A great example of an antagonist is Voldemort in the Harry Potter films. In a horror movie making the antagonist is the monster.
Maybe asking you to love the monster is going too far, but you do need to spend some time thinking about them. In a story, all characters believe they are the hero, none of them think they are the villain. Characters don’t do evil things just for the sake of it – they do these things for a reason. Why is your monster doing evil things? What do they want? What is their motivation?
Tips for Creating a Loveable Antagonist:
– Watch other horror films and see if you can figure out what the monster’s motivation is.
– Write a backstory for your monster, it doesn’t have to be long, it could just be notes. Think about what their life was like before your horror movie making starts, what important things have happened to them to make them they way they are? What do they want?
6. Creepy Sound Design
The way a horror movie sounds is an important part of how scary it is. In horror movie making, sound design sets the tone and the atmosphere and it might have to work a bit harder than in other genres.
Imagine watching a scene where a character is hiding from a monster. Now imagine that scene with some upbeat, happy music playing over it – would this be scary?
Imagine that scene again but with the sound effect of a heart beating really quickly over it. Much scarier. When you are planning a scene think about what sound effects you could add to make it more creepy. These sounds can be very subtle and played quietly just to make the audience feel uneasy.
Tips for Using Sound in Horror Movie Making:
– Consider creating a subtle sound design specifically for your monster to play every time they are on screen. Use this as a theme – it works especially well if you aren’t showing your monster.
– To create a creepy sound design for your film you could make the sound effects yourself (in the film industry this job is called a foley artist).
– You can also download free sound effects from site like www.freesfx.co.uk (just make sure that you acknowledge the site in your film’s credit sequence).
Happy Horror Movie Making!
By Sheena Holliday. Sheena is a Creative Consultant and a senior workshop instructor with Sparks, having led film projects and workshops with Sparks in London since 2010. She’s also an independent film maker, she loves horror movie making in particular and specialises in horror as a writer/director.
Her short horror and scary films have been shown all over the world. This Halloween, she’ll be watching, well, Halloween, along with all her other favourite horror movies.