Behind the Fest: GenreBlast Film Festival

an interview with Nathan Ludwig, Festival Director & Co-Founder

edited by Sam Kolesnik


GenreBlast Film Festival is held annually in Winchester, Virginia at the Alamo Drafthouse. GenreBlast has been growing on the festival circuit since its inception in 2016 and is in the middle of its fourth season. Screen Fervor dives into the behind-the-scenes of what is colloquially known by its fans as “GB” with Festival Director and Co-Founder, Nathan Ludwig.

How did GenreBlast begin?

Well, GenreBlast basically grew out of my friendship with Chad Farmer. He is my associate in pretty much anything creative when it comes to filmmaking, festival running, or going to the movies. Pretty much anything. We tried to make a feature film out of film school. We both went to Full Sail in Orlando and we failed miserably. We thought we knew everything. And we basically had to go back to the drawing board. We ended up going to a bunch of film festivals and seeing what other festivals had to offer. Big Ones, small ones, medium ones. We had an idea of what we might want to do and we kind of fantasized about it. You know, “Hey, if we ran a festival, we'd do this, we'd do that.” So we kind of went about our lives after that, making a handful of short films that had much more success than the failed feature film we tried to do.

Then, after that, one day we were like, well, what do we want to do now? We've done a couple of short films and one of the ideas was, why don't we just do a film festival? We keep talking about it, why don't we just do it? What's stopping us from doing it? And there really wasn't anything stopping us from doing it.

So we set about coming up with a film festival. I inquired with the State Theater in Culpeper, Virginia. It was a really cool, remodeled venue that survived on donations and fundraising. They did comedy concerts, music shows, revivals, all that kind of stuff. But they hadn't really done any film festivals as far as I know and I approached them with the idea of doing one.

They were open to it and, uh, we were off and running after that. We thought, “Wow, we're actually doing this.” It was a little surreal, but at the end of the day we were in control of our own destiny as far as what we wanted to do for a film festival. We had experience going to festivals as filmmakers and screenwriters. And as just film-goers in general, so we felt pretty confident as to what we wanted out of an enjoyable film festival from both sides of the fence. So that's basically the long and short of it.

Pictured (left to right): Chris Thomas, Chad Farmer, Jessica Crump, Nathan Ludwig, Raygan Ketterer

Pictured (left to right): Chris Thomas, Chad Farmer, Jessica Crump, Nathan Ludwig, Raygan Ketterer

What would you say is one of the most rewarding aspects of running GenreBlast Film Festival?

The connections and the friendships that we have made with filmmakers and also really getting to show their film at an Alamo Drafthouse. That first year was at the State Theater. The last two years were at the Alamo Drafthouse. It's really making the connections with these really cool filmmakers that just — some of them just come out of nowhere. We’d never heard of them before. They submit a movie that you've never heard of before and it just blows you away. You think, “Oh my God, how come nobody's ever heard of this movie?” Or there’s the one that you've heard of that you would invite to come and play at the festival. It's really cool to meet them in person and just say, “Hey, we really like what you do. We're here to showcase your work and you know, just have fun and have a good time. And if you make some connections with other filmmakers or producers or whatever, that's fantastic.” And we couldn't be more proud of them when they do so. That whole dynamic, that whole circle of life, is very exciting to us and we love it.

You run the festival with your sister, Raygan Ketterer, and filmmaking partner, Chad Farmer. Do you each have different taste in film?

Yes, we do. I love all genres of film. I'll watch anything, but my favorite kind of things tend towards the abstract. Maybe the little bit more bizarre kind of stuff. You know, endings of films that are more open-ended and more ambiguous than your average film. Atmospheric horror, absurdist comedies and stuff like that. Those are things that I kind of tend towards appreciating more than Chad. Chad loves all genres of film, too, but he loves horror the most. He loves the blood and guts, whether it has a story or not. He's just really into horror, effects work, gore effects, and just the bloody side of life. So he really is into extreme horror, grindsploitation, and exploitation films. He's quite the connoisseur of it. The only other guy I know who is an expert on Chad's level is James Bickert, the director of Frankenstein Created Bikers and Amazon Hot Box. So his knowledge is quite substantial. It's actually quite impressive.

What about Raygan?

Raygan loves a good horror movie. She loves a good comedy. She's not necessarily well versed in filmmaking like Chad and I, but she definitely helps us out a lot with what someone who is not a filmmaker, who's attending the festival, would be interested in. That’s very valuable to us because sometimes we can kind of get too into ourselves. You're in that whole circle of filmmaking, friends and the independent filmmaking industry and you're like, this is what we like and we don't care what everybody else likes. And then Raygan kind of reality checks us and goes, “You know what, I really liked this and here's why. And this is why, you know, someone who's not really into filmmaking but loves movies — here's why they would like it too.” She definitely brings a fresh perspective as to what we should play and what we should remember to consider in our lineup.

GenreBlast has a very eclectic lineup. You’ve played exploitation, grindhouse, psychological horror, art house horror, documentary, animation, and so much more. Is there any genre or any type of film which isn't of interest to the GenreBlast programmers?

Filmmakers Saba (left) and Eliaz Rodriguez (right) chat between screenings at GenreBlast 2018.

Filmmakers Saba (left) and Eliaz Rodriguez (right) chat between screenings at GenreBlast 2018.

There isn't a particular genre that is not of interest to GenreBlast. We have found that we do get pigeonholed. There are people out there who already assume that we only play horror films or crazy midnight movies and stuff like that. Therefore we've been typecast as a film festival because we do play those things and they get a lot of notoriety. But we will play anything that interests us like a really cool, crazy mix tape. You know, we have played some dramas before. We do play a lot of short films that are even more all over the place than our feature films just because there are more short films submitted to us over the course of any season. And there's a larger variety of genres and sub genres of short films than there are feature films. Also, marketability of feature films plays into what your genre of film is, too. You can pretty much get away with a lot with a short film that you can't really get away with a feature film unless you're not planning to sell it or distribute it.

We find that short films can be anything. It can be a drama, comedy, horror, and musical all at the same time and still be compelling. We love anything. It's just that based on one year to another, it's not always going to be consistent. It's going to be wildly different. I mean, if you look at what we played our first three years, it's not consistent and you'll be like, oh, why did you have like six horror films this year and then the next year, you have six crazy grindhouse movies and then the year after that, it's more psychological thrillers and actions thrillers? That's because that's what we've received and that's what we're drawn to for that season. There's trends that kind of pop up every year in staggered waves. So yeah, I don't really like the fact that we've been pegged as horror or grindsploitation only, but I mean, that's what it is. But we know who we are and we play what we want to play. If that means we play thirteen horror films and one comedy, then that's, you know, those are the best films that can fit into our festival that year. So we just do what we do.

GenreBlast is in its fourth year this year, which is still pretty young for a film festival and yet it's been landing several feature world premieres. What do you think it is about GenreBlast that's drawing in those premieres and are premieres important to your event?

First off, premieres are important to our event, but it's not the end-all-be-all for us. If we fail to secure a world premiere for a film or maybe we don't have a world premiere for the year, it's fine with us. We are still excited about every single movie we play, whether it's played at seventy festivals, or one festival. If we're excited about the film, we're excited about playing it at GenreBlast. We do try to secure world premieres. We talk to people all the time:

"When's your movie coming out? What are you looking at? Who else are you looking at submitting to?"

We always have communication open with those filmmakers. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn't. We don't hold grudges against anyone. Some festivals don't want to play with us but maybe they will next year if they're still on the festival circuit. We like that too. We don't have a problem with that. We are not petty. We don't shit list of films that didn’t get submitted to us this year. There's a lot of that going on and a lot of other festivals have that pettiness. We just don't have time for that.

We know who we are. We know what we like to play and we have our supporters. We bring in new supporters and new fans of GenreBlast every year. Our model is basically, if you show up to GenreBlast, you're a convert for life because you know what it’s all about finally. You can hear about it all you want, but until you show up to GenreBlast and are part of that family of filmmakers and film goers, it's not real. We are confident in our ability to entertain and to make lasting friendships for people to show up to the fest. So that's what's really important to us.

What's one important tip for filmmakers who are interested in screening their work at GenreBlast Film Festival this year?

Filmmakers and screenwriters at the GenreBlast 2018 after party

Filmmakers and screenwriters at the GenreBlast 2018 after party

That's a good question. I think one of the most important tips is when you're submitting through a platform like FilmFreeway, is to try not to come across as too good for the room. I think that's really important. If you are submitting to our festival, that means you're interested in playing in our festival. So if you're not selected for our film festival, don't act like you're too good for our festival because you submitted to our festival. So that means that you're not too good for our fest. Don't ever assume that you're too high-brow or we're too low-brow for you because we can play anything. And we could ask you to screen later on, even if you weren't selected or didn't make the initial cut of selections.

If somebody else backs out of the festival, or we have a bad experience with with a film, we might call you or email you and say, “Hey, you know, you were on the bubble. Would you like to play at our festival? We have a spot that opened up.” If you are mean or nasty, or were condescending to us, or we find out you're doing it on Facebook, we're not going to invite you to play at the festival. Little things like that, like just remaining professional, even in the face of not being selected. You know, it's happened to us before as filmmakers. We've not gotten into festivals that we were hoping to get into or expecting to get into. We either send a polite note, say thanks for your consideration or we just don't reply at all. We just move on with our lives because that's what you really should do.

Don’t make it a point to try to get back at a festival by spreading it around on social media or sending a nasty email to the festival directors. Even if they don't respond, they know that you emailed them and you're on their shit list. Festival directors talk to each other a lot. All the time. They will make sure that your name is spread around. So remain a professional filmmaker, even if you don't get selected for certain festivals, because you'll be more highly regarded than someone who gets into a bunch of festivals who talks shit about everyone all the time. That's for sure. That's my tip for filmmakers.

Your trophies are called the “Blasties” and they are in the shape of a rocket ship. What is the significance of the award and are awards important at GenreBlast?

GenreBlast trophies lined up in preparation for the 2018 awards ceremony

GenreBlast trophies lined up in preparation for the 2018 awards ceremony

The rocket ship is what I had envisioned as a really cool symbol of genre filmmaking, especially sci-fi/fantasy. It's supposed to be symbolic of like, you know, the classic silver rocket ship spaceship from 50s sci-fi. You see that cool kind of retro atomic age rocket or spaceship and it's evocative of the memories of retro sci-fi, you know, the days gone by. That was just my main thought behind it.

I mentioned it to my sister (Raygan Ketterer) that it would be really cool if we could do the rocket ships and she made all the trophies by herself this year, which is pretty exciting. She's got some really cool ideas to upgrade them and make them even cooler this coming year. So we're very excited about that. As far as trophies being important to GenreBlast, I just think they're part of the whole film festival deal. I think it's a traditional facet of a film festival. It's expected. It's nice to award. There are people who say that, you know, you shouldn't be excited about an award or whatever. That you shouldn't, you know, treat it as important. I mean, it is important, to be honest with you.

People that receive awards, they get excited about it. They're happy about it. It feels nice to get an award from somebody. It's validation. It's recognition. I don't think anyone has any illusions about that. But also at the same time, if you're at a film festival but you don't get nominated or you don't win an award, that's not a negative on you. A lot of people seem to think, oh, I didn't get an award. And then they forget that they played at an Alamo Drafthouse at our festival. They played in front of a full crowd at an Alamo Drafthouse, the best theater chain going. And there’s a crowd that loved it. You can say that you had that screening and you had that showing and nobody can take that away from you. That's a damn good achievement. And we provided that for you. Not to toot our own horn, but we did. We provided that for you.

We played your film at a fantastic theater chain and you had a great experience. And if you didn't show up, people still saw your film at an awesome theater. The award is just the icing on the cake. I feel some people forget that if they don't get nominated or if they don't win an award.

So I just want filmmakers to remember that the screening is the most important thing and it's awesome and it's cool to get an award, but it's not everything. But it also is something at the same time.

In addition to screening several days of independent films, GenreBlast also has a screenwriting competition. Why was it important for you to include a screenwriting competition?

It's important to me because first and foremost, if someone put a gun to my head, said, “What are you? What is your creative outlet?” I'm a writer. I've always been a writer. I have directed shorts films. I'm not very happy with myself as a director. I don't consider myself to be a director first and foremost. I consider myself to be a writer. That's why I wanted to start a screenwriting competition along with the film festival. It's part of what I do every day and I really wanted to give some recognition to screenwriters who may not have a feature film, or who may not have time to make a short film, or who might not have money to make a short film. It doesn't cost anything to write. I wanted to highlight that and remind people that there are writers out there. I feel, and I've posted this on social media channels and so forth — I feel like writers don't get a fair shake when it comes to independent filmmaking.

Filmmakers and producers get the gear. They get the RED camera. They get their jib. They get their crane, they get their drone and uh, they've spent all the money for the gear, and then they’ve got the director and then they think they're good to go because the director wrote the script, too, or the producer wrote the script. And it's not very good. Sometimes you can get writers for free. They just want to work with somebody. There are a lot of writers on the independent level who are on the outside looking in. Just wondering and wanting a director to work with them to collaborate on a filmmaking project.

I think a lot of writers fall by the wayside here. This is just our little way of trying to highlight skilled and talented screenwriters through our film festival. And I'm not going to lie — especially on the screenwriting side, we're not that big of a festival. We don't really have much to offer in way of exposure. We're working on that every year. We're always trying to add a new facet to the screenwriting aspect of the festival. And we've got another surprise up our sleeves for this year. We're hoping in another three years we can have more credibility and really try and get some of these screenplays -- help to get them made. So we're working on it and so far, so good. We treat the contest seriously and with respect. We make sure that we try to sing the praises of the winning screenwriters as much as we can on social media and try to introduce them to other writers, producers, and filmmakers at the fest. So we do what we can.

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Samantha Kolesnik