A lot has happened in the world since Screamfest Horror Film Festival first started back in 2001, but even after two unpredictable decades, no one could have anticipated how different things would be for the festival in its 20th year. Switching from Hollywood's TCL Chinese 6 Theaters to the drive-in format at Regency Theatres in Van Nuys due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Screamfest is once again serving as a launchpad for new filmmakers while showcasing the horror genre's hallowed past with their eclectic 2020 lineup of features and short films.

Taking place October 6th–15th, Screamfest's 20th year kicks off with an outdoor screening of Books of Blood, and for further insights into this year's lineup, we spoke with Festival Director Rachel Belofsky to discuss what it's like putting together a drive-in film festival in the era of COVID-19, the importance of highlighting foreign films, and what she's most proud of when she looks back at two decades of Screamfest.

You can check out our interview with Belofsky below, and to learn more about Screamfest, visit:

This is pretty much a year-long process for you anyway, just to get everything ready for Screamfest, and, of course, this is going to be the 20th year for you. Was there a point where you thought you maybe wouldn't be able to do it? Did COVID just make things that much more troublesome to try and plan this?

Rachel Belofsky: I mean, it did because we were trying to find different venues and L.A. county has a lot of rules because we're around the highest tier right now. So there were all the rules that you could do and then going to proper drive-ins, they were astronomical, they're just basically price gouging and crazy, and the majority of them, the projection is not that great for horror films.

So we just got very lucky that Regal, we were looking at different venues and trying to pull permits, and there was a lot of different hoops we were jumping through and red tape or what have you. Then the Regency Theater in Van Nuys, they were smart because they were closed, all the theaters are closed, so they took one of their screens, their big, normal, giant movie screens, mounted on the outside wall, they wheel out their DCP projector and they project.

It's nice. We went and saw Iron Giant, so went just to see how they ran it and how it looked, and it was like, "Yeah, this is great." Because I saw The Relic in drive-ins, in two different drive-ins, and I also saw The Rental and I couldn't see them. I don't know how it got there with the drive-ins, but the projection was so bad. It was so dark. So, so dark. You couldn't see anything. On the actual screen, the whole picture was compromised.

So we didn't want to do that because your movie, this is your baby up on the screen and we really wanted to have the best projection and we didn't want to cancel and we definitely didn't want to go virtual and we knew, "Okay, but there won't be parties and it won't be as big, but isn't it more important to take care of the filmmaker?" It doesn't have to be glitzy and glam. You know what I mean?

Right, yeah. It's unique in its own way for the 20th year. It wasn't the big party that you anticipated, but you're still going to be able to show movies and that's what it's all about at the end of the day. So I'm really glad you were able to do that. And then Books of Blood, that's going to be opening night at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu. That sounds pretty awesome.

Rachel Belofsky: It'll be fun and we thought it was kind of spooky, especially being at night in a nice secluded area. And we really wanted to come back into the City of L.A. We thought it was important to kind of make it more central for people. I think one of the coolest things is obviously our industry and theaters have taken such a hard hit, so it's really cool to be at an actual proper theater and know that you're supporting an indie chain, not small, but an indie chain.

It kind of goes hand-in-hand with the whole Screamfest mission, too. With as many independent films as you highlight, it's good to promote the actual theaters as well and safely give them some income in a year that has been just horrible on that side of things. And also Books of Blood, we're talking about a Clive Barker horror anthology. How did you get that one? Because I know that's going to be coming out on Hulu. Did the stars align on that one?

Rachel Belofsky: Yeah. They kind of aligned. We reached out to them and the release date was perfect. They come out I think the next day or something. So it just worked out. It worked out perfectly.

Especially that one, because it's going to Hulu, not many people will get a chance to see it on a big screen. So it's another reason to go out there and see it on a place that you probably wouldn't be able to see it otherwise. So that's really cool.

Rachel Belofsky: Yeah. Then we just added some more, because we're working feverishly behind the scenes, and we just added four more classic films. We just added Halloween and Halloween 2, and then we're going to do Halloween 4 and 5. So that's good. I think we're adding one or two more and then we'll be done, but it was a little touch and go.

And this year, too, what I love about Screamfest is every year you have these great U.S. movies, but then you also have a really good emphasis on international films and this year is no exception. You've got An Ideal Host, Caveat, Sweet River, and Thirst. Did you see a lot of foreign films coming your way, even with everything going on?

Rachel Belofsky: Yeah. We definitely saw a fair amount of international films coming. We definitely noticed a dip, though, when a lot of movies didn't go in production that should've gone in production this year. So we were lucky to be able to find ones that had just barely made it.

Did you not see as many movies submitted just for the fact that there was production halted with COVID and everything?

Rachel Belofsky: Feature films. I think feature films, yeah, definitely. Although it's been interesting, though, to see a lot of people making short films from their homes and kind of trying to still do stuff in quarantine. People were at home with their cameras so we definitely had quite a few of quarantine short films, and we accepted a couple of them.

Awesome. And are you planning on doing any cast and crew Q&As at the drive-in screenings?

Rachel Belofsky: I don't know about Q&As per se. Part of the problem is that we were still packed with scheduling and with not being able to be in an indoor movie cinema, all of the short films would typically have screened on the weekend. So we lost all our daytime programming, which is at least 12 hours of programming. So we're doing the new feature films with blocks of horror shorts. Even some of our retrospectives like Halloween and Halloween 2, they'll have a block of shorts in between. So we have like 75 some odd short films.

So when we started programming, we were like, "Uh-oh." When it came down to the schedules, we're like, "We have that many?" So I'm glad that we're still, even for all these short filmmakers as well, getting primetime screenings.

That is really cool and it kind of goes back to the drive-in days, too, but instead of showing these trailers, you're showing short films before the movie starts, which I think is a good way to warm up the crowd and get them in the mood a little bit. Get the dancing popcorn and candy up on the screen for a little bit.

Rachel Belofsky: Exactly. Yeah, we actually have one called The Popping that was actually submitted, and it's animated and it's got the 1950s dancing popcorn kind of thing. So it's going to be really perfect, it's going to be cute.

What stands out to you the most when you look back at two decades of Screamfest?

Rachel Belofsky: One of the things I'm the most proud of is when we were able to put together an advisory board and Wes Craven came on in the second year, and was really supportive, and Stan Winston, too. For an unknown, very young festival, there wasn't a lot of other horror festivals at the time, so I thought those two in particular were very nurturing and very good mentors and willing to help out. That's one of the things we're most proud of.


For more information on Screamfest, visit:

  • Derek Anderson
    About the Author - Derek Anderson

    Raised on a steady diet of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Derek has been fascinated with fear since he first saw ForeverWare being used on an episode of Eerie, Indiana.

    When he’s not writing about horror as the Senior News Reporter for Daily Dead, Derek can be found daydreaming about the Santa Carla Boardwalk from The Lost Boys or reading Stephen King and Brian Keene novels.