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At the Forefront of Horror: An Interview with Julia Wrigley

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By Cleaver Patterson. 

Film4 – the British digital television channel, owned by Channel 4 Television Corporation – was launched in 1998. Since then it has become renowned as a champion of cutting edge film from both home and abroad. As a result, the channel became sponsors in 2006 of the FrightFest film festival, the annual British horror event which showcases the best the genre has to offer from around the world. With the festival now in its fourteenth year, Julia Wrigley, Head of Film4, took time out to tell Cleaver Patterson just how important the channel’s relationship is, not just with FrightFest, but also with horror in general.

Cleaver Patterson:  What is your role with Film4 and how did you become involved with the company?

Julia Wrigley:  I am Head of Film4 Channel, and joined Channel 4 as part of the original launch team for the channel.

What do you personally look for in a film or filmmaker?

I look for what everyone else probably looks for – something compelling and engaging that grabs my attention and hooks me in. However, it’s always good when those basics are delivered in a fresh voice or with a distinctive style – something that makes you see a story or a genre in a new way. A few surprises are always welcome and we always get those at FrightFest.

When and how did FILM4 get involved with the FrightFest film festival? How mutually beneficial is this involvement?

This is our 8th year of sponsorship – we had been aware of FrightFest for a long time and the Festival felt like a great fit in terms of our audience. We are very happy with the partnership and feel it works very well for both sides.

Does FILM4 have any say in the programming of the event?

The FrightFest team keep us closely involved with the films they are considering for the Festival, and the ones they ultimately choose, but we don’t impose any choices on them. They know what they are doing!

What physical role does Film4 play during the actual festival?

We support the Festival on the channel, and on Film4.com and through our Twitter feed, and have a strong presence at the Festival itself through idents, logos and promos. But once again, Alan, Ian, Paul and Greg [the Festival organisers] are the stars of the show!

photo 1Do you personally get to see any of the films before the event?

There are some films I have seen already, either at other festivals, or from screeners and screenings, but the strength of FrightFest is that there are so many new discoveries to make and premieres to catch.

How does Film4 decide on the films they show on the channel?

We buy a large majority of our films, particularly studio titles, in conjunction with Channel 4, but also have a significant number of unique acquisitions – these are more in the independent and world cinema range. British films play a very important part of the mix, particularly as we are fortunate enough to be able to showcase the films made by Film4 Productions.

How big a part does horror play in Film4‘s schedules, and what ratio of the films shown during FrightFest does Film4 pick up to show throughout the year? How do you go about selecting them?

Horror has a key role in the Film4 schedule, going right back to our pay-TV days when it was also a regular part of our programming, and included our Extreme channel, and the Extreme strand itself, with regular intros from Mark Kermode. We currently have a weekly strand called Saturday Night Shocks, every Saturday night around 11pm. There is obviously the FrightFest season every August, which has now been running for 8 years, and last year we programmed a season around Halloween in conjunction with the BFI and their Dark Arts season.

The ratio will vary from year to year depending on what titles are available, but, for example, this year we are showing R100 only a couple of days after its FrightFest screening.  Other recent FrightFest films in the overall Film4 schedule include The Innkeepers, The Arrival of Wang, Berberian Sound Studio, In Fear, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Kill List, and Troll Hunter. We choose them because we think they are terrific films, and that our audience will enjoy them.

During the run up to FrightFest each year, Film4 normally runs a horror season during August. How popular is this with Film4‘s general viewing public?

The season is incredibly popular with our viewers – they look forward to it each year, and the ratings for the individual films are very strong. In addition to the ratings, engagement with the season is always high. Horror fans seem to be the most vocal fans of all, and there’s a lot of intense discussion on social media about which films we’re showing – both in advance and while they’re actually screening.

Who are Film4‘s core demographic, and does this correspond with the audience that attends FrightFest each year?

There is a strong overlap with the audience for FrightFestFilm4’s core audience are passionate fans of cinema and enjoy discovering new films and filmmakers, and we also have a strong proportion of younger viewers.

photo 2FrightFest is seen increasingly as a showcase for emerging talent as well as more established names within the film industry. How interested is Film4 in this, and what opportunities do you have to work with and encourage fresh voices?

Film4 Channel doesn’t pre-buy or commission, and focuses on purchasing completed feature films, but we always strive to showcase new talent, in line with Channel 4’s core values. For us, this means showing films from around the world (36 countries in 2013 excluding the UK and US), films from first-time directors and films that would not otherwise be seen in the UK.

Part of the role of Channel 4’s feature filmmaking division, Film4 Productions, is to find new voices, and they support a number of filmmakers each year to make their first features, along with helping creative talent to crossover into filmmaking through their shorts scheme.

What do the directors and makers of the films gain from having their work shown at FrightFest and hence having association with Film4?

Having a film shown at FrightFest means that filmmakers are reaching a core audience that understands the genre, that’s enthusiastic and engaged and can really start a buzz within the horror community. The Film4 association helps to transmit that excitement to a wider, non-genre audience, either through promos and social media at the time of the Festival, or through future acquisition and broadcast of the films themselves.

Who is up and coming in the world of horror cinema that you think people should watch out for?

At Cannes this year, we saw a film called It Follows by David Robert Mitchell. Based on that, he’s definitely going to be a director to watch. And we’re fans of Mike Flanagan and Ti West, whose films Absentia and The Innkeepers are both featured in our FrightFest season this year. Both have since returned with strong follow-ups – Flanagan’s Oculus and West’s The Sacrament. And Fabrice Du Welz is great – we’re showing his first two films Calvaire and Vinyan in our season, and his new film Alleluia, showing at this year’s festival, is unmissable.

Film4 produce their own films, some of which have been horror. Has your involvement with FrightFest over the years had any influence on this?

We work closely with Film4 Productions, particularly to find the best ways to bring their films to the widest possible audience on television – however, their decisions on what to develop and green-light remain very much their own. Over the years, though, there have been quite a few Film4 Productions in the FrightFest line-up.

What do you personally feel you get from FrightFest?

A chance to watch the best horror and fantasy from around the world, with a passionate and committed audience, curated by the most knowledgeable people around.

What do you personally like about the horror genre, and do you have a favourite horror film?

The genre seems to attract distinctive voices and stylish filmmakers, so it’s always a place to go for a fresh charge of filmmaking inspiration. I don’t really have favourites or make lists, but I’ll never forget Pete Walker’s The Comeback – not exactly a favourite but certainly a film that’s always haunted me!

The Leicester Square Festival isn’t the only FrightFest event during the year. What involvement, if any, does Film4 have with the other events?

Our sponsorship runs across all of the FrightFest events, and we are really delighted at the way these additional events have grown and expanded outside of London.

What would you pick as the highlight of this year’s festival?

There are too many great films to single any particular one out!

photoFrightFest had been happily ensconced at The Empire, Leicester Square for several years. Why the change in venue this year to The Vue, Leicester Square?

You’ll have to ask the four horseman of the horror apocalypse to answer that question in more detail, but the festival has always evolved, always set itself new challenges and the move has enabled them to programme even more films. The verdict from the audiences after the opening night is a massive thumbs-up.

How do you you see Film4 and FrightFest‘s relationship continuing and evolving in the future?

We have enjoyed every minute of the last 8 years and will continue to talk to FrightFest about ongoing ways that we can work together.

Cleaver Patterson is a film critic and writer based in London.  A fan of Vincent Price’s cult horror classic Theatre of Blood, he wrote the booklet which accompanied Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of the film in early 2014.

Film4 FrightFest 2014 ran from the 21st until the 25th of August this year at the Vue cinema in London’s Leicester Square.  Further details can be found on their website.

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