Interviewing his idols: Duluth filmmaker's horror anthology guide hits the shelves
Keith Hopkins chats with those behind "Black Mirror," "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" and more for "The Horror Anthology Handbook."
Independent filmmaker Keith Hopkins is an author now, too.
On Tuesday, the Duluthian behind “Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House ,” released “The Horror Anthology Handbook ,” a guide to making feature films out of shorts. It’s packed with interviews from filmmakers behind “v/h/s,” “Are You Afraid of the Dark?,” “The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror,” “Black Mirror” and more.
“A lot of these people are kind of my idols,” Hopkins said.
“The Horror Anthology Handbook” is a book he wished he’d had when working on “Gravedigger ,” which premiered in March.
Hopkins took some time to answer questions about his work, interviewing his idols and what’s next.
Q: Tell me about your introduction to the horror anthology.
A: My introduction to the horror anthology format, like many kids in the ’90s, was on TV.
“The Simpsons” Treehouse of Horror and “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” captured my imagination. I loved the idea that you never knew exactly what to expect in each episode.
Interviewing a director who helmed 15-plus episodes of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” was a dream come true for me. I asked him if he was ever aware that the show might serve as an entry-point for a new generation of horror fans, and he said everyone on the show was very conscious of that possibility.
“Simpsons” producer Al Jean said something to that effect in our interview about the “Treehouse” specials: I think it’s great that these guys were aware of how the content they were making would serve as a sort of Horror 101 for young viewers like myself.
Q: You mention in your book what’s attractive as a filmmaker, but what’s attractive to you about the anthology as a viewer?
A: I’ve always loved short stories. The “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” books were favorites of mine growing up. Horror anthologies are the onscreen version of that.
There’s something fun about dropping in on a set of characters for a short period of time, experiencing their adventure, and then moving on to a new set of characters. Perhaps my teachers were right when they said I had a short attention span!
Q: What are your top three horror anthologies?
A: “Asylum,” “Trick ‘r Treat” and “Black Mirror.”
OK, “Black Mirror” isn’t horror, exactly. But I had a chance to interview an editor who worked on the series, and I love the way he broke down his process for assembling the episode “Black Museum.” This episode highlights why anthology storytelling can be so powerful.
The combination of shorts into a feature-length release, when done well, can give the viewer the sense that all the stories are building towards a singular revelation. Anthologies that achieve that are usually amongst my favorites.
Q: Had you written a book before? Any surprising parts of the process?
A: Several years ago, I wrote 100 nonfiction pages about superhero TV shows. That project will never see the light of day. I enjoyed writing it, but I had to accept at a certain point that it wasn’t going to add anything new to a marketplace that was already oversaturated with superhero content.
In between abandoning that project and starting “The Horror Anthology Handbook,” I heard another writer say, “Your first book is just practice.” He was right.
At first, it was painful to let my superhero project die a lonely death, but it was the right decision. “The Horror Anthology Handbook” is the first nonfiction analysis of anthology filmmaking, and features interviews with lots of experts on the topic. As my first published book, I’m very proud of it. My next will be better, but this isn’t a bad start.
Q: Any tips about authoring and self-publishing?
A: Perhaps my opinions on this will change over time, but I think we’ve reached a point where there’s little distinction between self-distribution and traditional distribution when it comes to books and movies.
Of course, when people watch “Gravedigger Dave,” it’s perfectly obvious that this is not a Hollywood movie. But in a world where I can get my movie on (Amazon) Prime and my book onto Kindle without involving a distributor, I’m more than happy to remain independent. “Self-published” used to be an insult in the world of book-selling, but as long as my little projects are able to be on the same platforms that people read “The Shining” and watch “The Avengers,” self-publishing is just fine by me.
If you’ve poured your heart into a writing or film project and are wondering why the gatekeepers haven’t rolled out the red carpet for you, I say just distribute your work on your own terms. It has never been more achievable than it is today.
Q: Were there any filmmakers you were nervous about interviewing?
A: I was nervous about interviewing all of them, actually. I did some interviews over the phone and some over email. My biggest concern was that someone would say “yes” to the interview but then it would just never happen. That became a fairly common occurrence. My biggest victory was when Al Jean, the longtime “Simpsons” producer, sent back his answers. I was worried after I sent the questions that I’d never hear back from him, but he came through!
I don’t blame the folks who never got back to me, as I was an unknown quantity to them. Now with one book in circulation, this kind of thing will perhaps become a bit easier.
I’d like to interview George Lucas for my next nonfiction outing. That’s one interview I’ll be very nervous about!
Q: As a filmmaker, did writing this book introduce you to any concepts or advice that you’ll use in the future?
A: My biggest takeaway from interviewing the filmmakers in the book is to be OK with revising my work over and over and over again. There’s no need to remain relentlessly true to my original vision for a project. It’s OK to let it evolve into something unexpected.
From what I can tell, the best in the movie-making business are constantly reiterating their vision until they come upon something that works, and I’d like to emulate that as best I can.
Q: “XX” was the first horror anthology directed by all women. I was jazzed to see input from Sofia Carrillo of “XX” in “The Horror Anthology Handbook.” How can this industry make space for more women, nonbinary or nongender conforming filmmakers?
A: “XX” is such a great movie, and Sofia’s interview is one of my favorites in the book. I definitely think there needs to be more inclusion of women, nonbinary and nongender conforming filmmakers. I wish I knew how to make that happen in the industry, but being indie in northern Minnesota, I feel very much outside of the Hollywood system.
Something I’m doing is taking open short film submissions for Gravedigger Dave’s Anthology Festival in hopes of including a wide range of racial, cultural, geographic and gender diversity. The anthology format is great for that.
If people are looking for more horror anthologies directed by women, I recommend the web series, “Women in Horror Month Massive Blood Drive.” Maude Michaud is a great indie filmmaker who works in this series, and she is featured in the book, as well.
Q: You mention the importance of the sequence in an anthology. How did you land on the order of shorts in “Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House”?
A: That was such a difficult part of the editing process, and it took a few iterations before I landed on the order that people see in the final cut.
I had watched a ton of anthologies, and had developed certain opinions about what worked and what didn’t. In the end, I relied on my instincts rather than any kind of formula, but those instincts were very much informed by the filmmakers I interviewed for the book.
I learned that all anthology filmmakers struggle with the ordering of their short films. I like to think that I found a good flow for “Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House,” but I am also able to view the film objectively now that I have some distance from it. Perhaps, there was a better way to structure the stories in the film, but I think it’s better to move on to the next project than to look backwards.
Q: You can dine with three people, alive or dead (and COVID-19 safely), who are they and why?
A: Richard Donner, Christopher Nolan and Patty Jenkins, who respectively directed my favorite Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman movies. I’d like nothing more than to listen to them talk about superheroes and filmmaking. I probably wouldn’t say a thing.
Submit your work
Hopkins is now accepting submissions for a “Gravedigger” sequel, which will feature segments directed by him and filmmakers from all around the world. For more information about Hopkins and his work, visit: hexagonmotionpictures.weebly.com , facebook.com/HexagonMotionPictures .