Let’s talk about horror shorts! An incredible way to get a great jump scare in and tell a short story in the span of just a few minutes. Looks like it would be easy but it’s an incredibly complex art within the horror genre. It’s also how a lot of the big-time horror directors and creators got their start.
I recently got a chance to chat with Todd Spence and Zak White creators of Midnight Video who have created 4 incredible horror shorts.
First let’s dissect the shorts!
Where is it
Run time: 3:30
A woman is on facetime with her friend when she spots something behind her on the wall.
An incredibly effective short that builds and builds until a jump scare at the end that leaves you shaking.
Your Date is Here
Run time: 6:14
A mom is playing an old-fashioned board game with her daughter. It’s a board game where you go around the board and pick your date for the evening. When the phone rings in the game, a young man will call and ask you questions. But someone is on the other end of this phone and they’re not a nice young man looking for a date….
So much fun! I remember playing board games like this. And I get a real Goosebumps/Fear Street vibe from this one.
Run time: 3:42
A guy is digging through an old box of stuff and finds a drawing that he tapes to the wall.
Trust me on this one…it is so bizarre but completely caught me off guard. I LOVE THIS ONE! This is what a horror short should be.
The Candelight Witch
Run time: 6:12
A teenager is looking after her two younger siblings. They’re telling the myth of the candlelight witch. When you light three candles in a triangle, the witch will come and steal a child. But what if it’s true? And they’ve just tempted fate?
So old school in the best way. It’s like a tale you would tell around the campfire. And a great ending that had my imagination running with possibilities.
And now let’s meet the team!
How long have you been making shorts together? How did it all come about?
TODD: Zak and I have been working together for nearly 10 years, mainly comedy sketches. But then a couple of years ago we decided to switch things up and do some horror short films since we never really dove into that genre much before. We've always been fans, but never fully pursued it and the horror community has been nothing but amazing. If you've never visited Monsterpalooza in Pasadena, it's an amazing horror convention and shows how amazing and friendly horror fans really are.
ZAK: Yeah, as much as a cliche it is, it really is true that you just have to make it yourself. No one is gonna pick you up and guide you through. We sat there one night talking about how great it would be to make a horror movie, so the only way for that to be a reality is to actually go and make one. The hope being that if you put real passion into something, an audience will respond to that, and so far, they have.
Where do these ideas come from? Your shorts are incredibly unique with their subject matter and I'd love to know how you created these monsters like Mikus or the Candlelight Witch?
TODD: We usually just get together or text back and forth and brainstorm until something we both feel is right hits. We've both seen a lot of horror films in the past and are just movie buffs in general, so we always try to do something completely original or something that feels like a distant cousin to something people love. Like MIKUS felt like a completely original idea, original looking villain and so on, whereas THE CANDLELIGHT WITCH feels like it could've been an episode of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK.
ZAK: We try to live by the motto “what would we like to watch?” and we go into every new idea asking ourselves that. Would we enjoy watching a short about an imaginary friend, or a witch who steals children by candlelight. If the answer is yes, we got ourselves an idea.
Which short is your favorite? I know, it's like choosing your favorite child, but I have to ask!
TODD: Personally, I think I like MIKUS the best. It's easily the cheapest short we've done, but there's something about how simple it is. Also I love how it introduces something so menacing looking really early on, then you just watch the audience wait it out, knowing something will happen any minute.
ZAK: Wow, a difference of opinion. I’m a YOUR DATE IS HERE boy myself. I just love the build up and atmosphere. The cinematography is haunting, acting is natural, and the scare gets people every time. It just checks all the boxes for me. The first time we saw it on the big screen, the entire audience ate it up. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
The scores, makeup effects and editing are really great too, do you have a team working behind you as well or do you do every aspect?
TODD: We know a few composers, David Green and Sam Boxleitner that have lent their talents and SFX makeup artist Kate Klein has helped us on them all, as well as our DP Dave Jacobsen and Editor Nick Gartner. It's mainly people we are friends with, really good creative people that love the same type of stuff we do.
ZAK: For the most part we like to work with our friends, because we have a short hand already and similar sensibilities. Also, they’ll work for cheap because they’re all suckers.
In "Where is it" at the very end there's some horrifying crunching/eating sounds that I just loved! How did you create that specific effect?
TODD: Oh, we totally had to mutilate a corpse to achieve that. That's what happens when you have zero budget.
ZAK: You work with what you have and we have corpses. Loads of them. Too many in fact. It’s becoming a storage issue.
What is your first memory of horror?
TODD: Zak is probably tired of this answer but I always say Michael Jackson's THE MAKING OF THRILLER. That music video was, and still is amazing and the Making Of how they pulled it off was just amazing to me as a kid. It really made me become a fan of horror but also showed me how much fun it is to make horror. I'm a big John Landis fan, so his horror and comedy films have influenced me immensely.
ZAK: I’ve recently become a father so the sleep deprivation has destroyed my memory, but if I can see through the fuzz, I seem to remember when I was 5 or so, I lived in this very tiny house. Right before bed every night, I would watch TV with my parents. Knot’s Landing or Picket Fences or whatever the hell they were watching would end and they would leave to finish dishes and it was my job to walk to the TV and turn it off. The only thing was, Freddy’s Nightmares was on right after. I was 5, I had never seen A Nightmare on Elm Street, but when Freddy popped up at the end of the opening titles, I knew to fear him. I almost always got to the TV before Freddy showed his face, but every once in a while, my hand would freeze and he’d appear, waving that razor glove at me. I didn’t sleep well those nights.
What are your top 5 horror movies that you think don't get enough love?
TODD: American Werewolf in London, Tremors, The Invisible Man, Halloween, Hell Night.
ZAK: The Faculty, Tucker and Dale Vs Evil, Slither, Sleepy Hollow, Drag Me To Hell.
Can you recommend any shorts out there that you wish more people would watch?
ZAK: Yes, they are great. We end up sharing a DP quite a bit.
What's next? Are you currently working on another short or perhaps a full length?
TODD: We just recently got a manager and looking at a few agents so we're doing a lot of writing right now, especially since we have four finished short films already. We've just finished our third feature script and are no working on a television pilot.
ZAK: It’s another cliche but luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity so when opportunity finally decides to knock, we’ll be ready.
What would you love for the future with your shorts?
TODD: To see at least one of them blossom into a feature film, which we're currently pursuing as well. We'll keep it a secret which one might get made first.
ZAK: The biggest goal, besides of course making a living doing this, is to find an audience. I would love for our shorts to continue to find an audience and grow and grow past our own expectations. We’ve started receiving fan art of MIKUS and it does my soul good to see that creepy bastard connect with people.