A Scary Reality:

Female Filmmakers Face Gender Gatekeeping Problem in Horror Genre

C.B. Liffer had no idea when she submitted her short film to Los Angeles' first annual Crime & Horror Film Festival that she would be the only female director in the horror category out of 12 accepted submissions. Early in her career, Liffer said she was advised to forget her directing goals and stick to screenwriting if she wanted to be successful in the male-dominated genre. After writing and selling her first feature script, she put down the pen to pick up the camera.

"In the past women have thought since there's already not a lot of females in horror, maybe I shouldn't try either," she said.

Kriston Fortune wins best horror screenplay at LACHFF 2018 and discusses the future for women in horror.

According to IMDb, the top 20 grossing horror movies of 2018 featured exclusively male directors, with one exception: Juliana Rojas, director of, "Good Manners." But it wasn't quite her moment to shine as she co-directed it with a man, Marco Dutra. Besides solely genuine interest in the genre, females are striving to break into horror because it sells. After expanding the top-grossing data to all genres, IMDb shows that horror films held their own at the box office with, "A Quiet Place" placing as the number 12 top-grossing movie of 2018 overall and "Halloween (2018)," coming in as number 16.

Liffer's solo female acceptance at the LA Crime & Horror Film Festival is just one example of the absence of female directors in the horror category. Film festivals are notably the traditional avenue for hopeful filmmakers to get their work seen and distributed on a larger scale. Those who can't advance past that step have trouble getting any farther. Liffer is familiar with the festival submissions process and said the same was true for the LA Crime & Horror Film Festival and others she's worked in.

"It's usually through FilmFreeway or Withoutabox, you have to submit through there. There's a specific amount of judges that they are sent to in order to decide who's selected," said Liffer.

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The industry's historically male background has left these men to be the gatekeepers when judging who gets to come in and join the club, providing challenges for minorities to get the same opportunities as others.

"The first thing we have to do is realize that this is less an issue of diversity and discrimination as it is about nepotism. The people particularly in the horror genre who keep making these films are essentially the same people who have been making them for the last 20 years," said University of Southern California professor and diversity committee lecturer Miki Turner.

Other than film festivals, horror-specific production companies are another route for directors to partner with when hoping to get a spooky film produced. Blumhouse Productions is one of LA's most notable horror production companies and has faced a number of both successes and controversies this year. Known for their low-budget, high-concept films, Blumhouse hired Jordan Peele to direct the social-thriller, "Get Out," taking home a 2018 Oscar for best screenplay. The production house also saw box-office success with their release of the latest installment of the, "Halloween," franchise, the same one that earned that top 20 spot on IMDb. But it was during an interview ahead of the Halloween movie premiere that owner and founder Jason Blum made some backlash-inducing comments about why his company has never produced a theatrically-released horror film with a woman director. "There are not a lot of female directors period, and even less who are inclined to do horror," Blum said.

Meet a woman director in horror

C.B. Liffer's short film, GPS, was the single accepted submission by a female director among 11 others directed by men at the 2018 LA Crime & Horror Film Festival.

Rollover to hear from C.B.

After several female directors who do in fact want to direct horror films came out of the woodworks to let Blum hear about his mistake, he posted an apology on Twitter claiming he had, "not done a good enough job working with female directors and it is not because they don't exist." He went on to clarify at the, "Halloween," red carpet premiere that, "there are a lot of women out there I'm going to meet as a result of today."

Following the October controversy, Blumhouse announced in mid-November that the company will produce eight feature films for a series deal with Amazon aimed at including what Blum called, "underrepresented filmmakers." Blumhouse was unable to disclose any more detail as to what that entails. However, coming just a few weeks after his red carpet clarification, horror fans are suspecting it might have something to do with including women.

There's no word on when the eight new thematically-linked films are set to release, but Turner still thinks it takes time for a company to deliver on what they've promised.

"They could start tomorrow and they could ask a diverse filmmaker to do a project, and maybe it's successful or even mildly successful, but then it could be another five, ten years before someone else gets that opportunity," she said.

Horror Production Companies in LA

Collectively, the top five horror film production companies in Los Angeles have produced zero horror films directed by women in a 10-21 year range.

Click through the map for a breakdown of each company.

In the meantime, industry veterans and hopeful newcomers alike are looking up to the few successful women that are already paving the way for the future. John Sitter, an American Film Institute graduate and founder of his own post-production company pointed out a couple of standouts.

"We've got two of the best action filmmakers out right now and they're both women: Patty Jenkins with, 'Wonder Woman,' and Kathryn Bigelow with, 'The Hurt Locker,'" he said. "All these women, and they're not just powerful women, they're feminine, intelligent, smart women, proving that they can captain the ship no problem."

Liffer, who plans to continue directing horror films and submit another short to next year's LA Crime & Horror festival in May, is excited for what's to come.

"I do have hope for the future because especially in this political climate people are recognizing that there's change and they're pushing for it and a lot of females are stepping up and realizing oh it's not just me, so let me come and join too," Liffer said. "I want to pave the way so all these other females can come in and do the same thing because we deserve to be heard."