Mali Elfman is one of the movers and shakers for Fun Size Horror, an online collection of short, scary films that run each Halloween. Her work on the site ScreenCrave led her to indie features and numerous other short films as an actor, producer and director. Her efforts drew her to genre filmmaking, and Fun Size Horror—now in its second year – is angling to become an annual tradition. In an exclusive interview with The Sci-Fi Movie Page, she talked about the project, where it’s leading and the appeal of horror movies in general.
Question: When did the horror bug first bite you?
Mali Elfman: Fairly early. I first remember watching Jaws as a six-year-old. I used to watch it on repeat and I would always root for the shark and hope that he would make it. My family are definitely lovers of the genre, and there was always something humorous and tongue-in-cheek in it. There was a lot of macabre dark humor in what we did with horror. The genre’s always been in my blood and every time I tried to get away from it, I kind of just circled back. [Editor’s note: Elfman’s father is composer Danny Elfman.]
When I first started making films, I didn’t specifically go after the horror genre. I just liked anything that was interesting and different and willing to take risks. The horror I like making isn’t the gory, bloody stuff so much as it’s more cerebral and introspective stuff.
Q: What is it about horror that lends itself to cerebral and introspective stuff?
ME: We’re all scared of something, and I think what horror movies do is manifest them and deal with them. Embrace them, fight them, conquer them or whatever it is we end up doing. That depends so much on the individual, and to more you delve into the human psyche – which is so messed up in general – the possibilities become limitless.
There’s also something very special about horror audiences. You go to a film festival and you watch a comedy or a drama, and everyone kind of tears it apart. There’s a sense of competition to it, a sense of “hey, I can do better than this.” When I started hanging out with horror audiences at these festivals, that changed. They enjoy films. They enjoy going to the movies, experiencing movies and having fun at the movies. There’s this camaraderie that’s automatically built when a room full of people all scream or gasp at once. I love listening to an audience gasp, and then all laugh immediately afterward. It connects you
The filmmakers are the same. They love horror movies just as much as the audiences do, and they’re incredibly supportive of other filmmakers working in the genre. They want you to make good work and they’ll help you however they can. Instead of everyone competing with each other, we support one another. I think of all the partners we’ve had on this, and it just wouldn’t have been possible without everyone supporting and standing by everyone else.
Q: How do you find filmmakers who contribute to Fun Size Horror?
ME: The three producers – Zeke and Michael May and myself – make the decisions. We see people at film festivals and other events and wonder, “why haven’t they hit yet?” Why is nobody giving these people the ability to do something with their ideas? Then it’s just a question of deciding which ideas we go with. It’s just the three of us, and we can’t extend too far, but with Facebook and the like we can get a staggering level or people interested in making movies for it. So we sit in a room, we argue over favorites, we come to a consensus. And it’s not always unanimous. Sometimes, people get a two-thirds vote of support.
At the end of the day, it’s a gut feeling. It’s something new or different or exciting and it has to be there. You can usually tell when a filmmaker walks out of a meeting and the three of us are excited about it. And they can come from anywhere. We’re opening the process to student films. We get submissions from people who have been making films for thirty years, from people who have been ADs for their whole careers and have never directed a film of their own, from people who have never directed a film before. The only caveat is that we get people who want to work with a team and get the process to work. Our directors are all insane, but in the best, most creative, most beautiful ways. We have no interest in working with assholes.
Q: How do you get the money men out of that equation?
ME: [Laughs] We’re still figuring that out on a day-to-day basis. The producers do everything we can to get the funds there. We do anything and everything we can to make it work. We’ve worked with Relativity Film School, and Clive Barker has partnered with us. All of the artwork you see in these films is Clive Barker’s, and his work makes an appearance in one we did called “Initiation.” “The Great Corbin” is from his studio too. So obviously someone like that angeling these projects can help a great deal.
What’s key is keeping the vision intact, and having the discipline to walk away from money if it means compromising on the material. The good news is that we handle distribution as well as production, and that frees us up. You learn lessons when you don’t have a lot of money. You learn how to make it happen with what you have. You can find more creative ways to do things. It doesn’t get any easier with larger films. You face the same problems – getting a movie to the finish line with limited resources – you just have more people who you have to tell what to do. I like smaller crews as far as that goes because it’s easier for everyone to stay on the same page,
Q: You’ve had some reasonably big names attached to these movies. Karen Gillan made one this year…
ME: I helped her produce a short film last year, and it was wonderful. We talked about it for Fun Size Horror, and it just wasn’t quite horror enough. I asked her to make something for us this year, and she said “I want to make an essay.” We didn’t know what she meant until we saw the script, and we were blown away. [Editor’s Note: The film is “Conventional” and is currently available for viewing on Fun Size Horror’s website.] And it’s personal. That’s what’s important. We want that personal vision in everything we do. Karen’s exciting because she really does put it all out there. She bares her soul. That’s what we want here. It’s not always as raw and intense as hers, but we’re hoping that Fun Size Horror finds the personal and shows off someone’s unique point of view… whatever that happens to be.