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Q&A: Curators Colin Geddes and Sam Zimmerman talk Shudder

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It’s an interesting time for VOD film and TV platforms. On the day of this interview with TIFF Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes and FANGORIA alumni Sam Zimmerman about the launch of their latest joint venture, Shudder Canada, another Canadian media streaming site named Shomi, announced its closure. Yet Shudder Canada was the organic next step for the AMC-owned streaming service, launching on the heels of the US-centric Shudder’s successful first year. With their impressive library growing by the day, FANGORIA sat down with Geddes and Zimmerman to talk about Shudder, combating piracy, and, of course, the films they know, love, and are ready to share with the rest of the world…

FANGORIA: Why did you feel now was the time to launch Shudder in Canada?

COLIN GEDDES: Because they hired a Canadian to help curate it, and I got tired of my friends abusing me on Facebook, asking, “Why isn’t it in Canada?” In Canada, as you know, over the last couple years, we can look and see all the stuff they can stream in the U.S. and we are still this backwater. My biggest frustration, and it’s just a general film thing, is going onto the sites that we have in Canada and you suddenly hit this cap of films that can’t go past 1990 half the time. There is no old back catalogue. It’s like, “NO! I don’t want to watch something new and generic, I want to watch a classic!” Now, we have had the closure of video stores so where can you find this stuff? We are actually in danger of becoming film illiterate when it comes to the history of cinema. So it was an ideal time to come in and pick this stuff up.

Also, most service providers look down upon horror. They never treat or take horror fans and consumers seriously. They think, “Oh? You like horror? Well here’s a pile of zombie crap and slasher garbage, go knock yourself out!” They buy content. What we do at Shudder is curating. So we are looking at library lists, going, “Yes, yes, yes, no, no, yes, yes, yes,” or actively going out to get those classics, obscurities and must-sees. Right now, we are proud to say with the collection that we have, around 85 % of the stuff we have on the Canadian site is not available on any other streaming Canadian site.

SAM ZIMMERMAN: Almost since Shudder US launch, the question has been “When is it coming to Canada?” and we thought, “Well I guess we can’t ignore this anymore.” I mean, it was always in the cards. We launched and knew that this was something special, and there was no reason people would not like it elsewhere. It’s meaningful to me that our members watch stuff. The streaming experience tends to be defined by just people browsing, which is frustrating because there might be recommendations but I feel that there is no pathway. What we are trying to do, especially with the collections and the genres, is to help you grab your mood and find something to watch so you are not just sitting there for two hours, watching your list.

GEDDES: A lot of people complain about browser fatigue, which is the same thing as when you went to video store with a date and it took forever to find that one thing you could both agree on. So what we want to do is we want to make sure that the audience and the viewer gets to the film that they want to watch faster and quicker. We have taken all the films and we have put them into subcategories; Really fun, rousing subcategories. For example, if you say, “I am in the mood for a haunted house,” you have Haunted Habitations. “I want some zombies,” okay, Zombie Jamboree. Feeling like you want something a little witchy and cursey? Hex’s and Ohs!

ZIMMERMAN: We also tried to separate out the paranormal experiences, too, because if you are not in a haunted house, there are “Spectral Encounters.” You can run into a ghost anywhere!

GEDDES: Full credit to my wife Katarina, as she is the one who mastered a lot of those names, and had a lot of fun doing it. So, along with that collection, we will continue to shift, grow and change because we have this sort of “spreadsheet game”. So we think, “Okay, we need to have five films in one of those collections to make it go active.” So, there is one we are working on currently called “Psychic Rage…”

ZIMMERMAN: Oh my God, I’m dying to put together a Psychic Rage collection! I love telekinesis movies. I love psychic prowess and telekinetic horror more than anything, and I want us to have enough films to create that collection.

GEDDES: That’s the fun thing about doing this kind of curation! We will get into debates and arguments about silly things. For example: FRANKENSTEIN. So where does FRANKENSTEIN go because he is not a mutant, he is not a zombie, but he kind of is a zombie ….

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FANG: So is there crossover? How will you manage that categorically?

ZIMMERMAN: I have been thinking a lot about this lately.

GEDDES: Well you know what’s the crazy thing?? This is our job!

ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, you are actually sitting here, watching our texts come to life!  I think what we need to solve the Frankenstein issue is we need the subcategory of “The Undead.” There is this medium between re-animated, zombie, voodoo zombie, resurrected, etc.

As cool as the collections are, I think they also provide in-roads for people to get into stuff. We want Shudder to be very welcoming. There is nothing I hate more than when I say, “Oh, I haven’t seen that!” and they say, “Oh man, really? You haven’t seen that? Really?” Why make me feel like that? Why not just say, “Let me lend that to you!”

We want people to not feel overwhelmed getting into a subgenre. So for example, I think we will soon have a Giallo collection up. So if you have ever wanted to get into Giallo, well, here! We have laid some out for you to get into. In the US, we have just put out a full Mario Bava collection. So if there is anyone who has wanted to get into Bava, here is a good in-road.

GEDDES: We are also working to educate and help even the novice. So if you look at the site currently, there are not a lot of blood splatters and gore because, as I am sure you know, when you meet someone and they say, “Oh, I don’t like horror films,” and you talk to them further, what they mean is they actually don’t like the extreme. As soon as they think horror, they think extreme, slasher, torture and home invasion. Then you backtrack and go, “Well you can appreciate a good ghost story or fairy tale right?”

FANG: I think there is a really strong misrepresentation that horror cannot be intelligent or classy.

ZIMMERMAN: Absolutely. It can be all things and I truly believe that, inside, everyone likes a good horror movie. It’s such a genre of breadth, that why can’t we have that full breadth?? Like, come hang out!

GEDDES: In a lot of ways, horror films are the highest level of cinema because it uses every device and trick in the bag to get a reaction and to set a mood. The other day, one of the directors of Midnight Madness- I think it was either Simon Barrett or Adam Wingard- said that the great thing about horror films is that the reaction is immediate. In drama, with an audience, you can’t sense that. In comedy and horror, you can tell when something is working, and filmmakers use every device that they have to make that happen.

FANG: You were talking about educating people as well as the death of the video store and I think right now one of the major problems we have is in trying to stop people from pirating films and getting them to use legitimate platforms like VOD. Horror fans are unique in the rabid loyalty they have to their genre and filmmakers. I believe they genuinely want to support the films and filmmakers so they can continue to produce horror content, but I don’t think it is always clear how they get paid from things like streaming sites. Would you be able to break down the pay structure for their subscription to Shudder?

ZIMMERMAN: In a technical term, we are a different type of VOD than say iTunes because that’s transactional; what we have is subscription based. So we are licensing films. We are working with distributors, but in many cases when they are smaller films, we do get to work directly with the filmmakers which is really nice. With short films, which is a huge priority for me, I am often working directly with the filmmakers which is just me emailing the directors as that tends to be who holds the rights for it.

GEDDES: In the way that the economics and the industry works is that with older films and catalogue films will basically have someone who is representing their rights in the library. So we contact them. We are just licensing for X amount of time and then the profits are shared with the filmmakers. The thing is a lot of fans don’t understand how all of that works. So someone will say, “Well, why isn’t this film on the site?” The thing is, finding and tracking down rights is extremely difficult. For a lot of old films, their last gasp was on VHS. Nobody predicted all these other avenues coming, so we have to crack open those rights again and see who has them; it’s tricky. The library we do have will be different from the US because of those rights, but as a result, that means there are a bunch of films we have in Canada that they don’t have in the US.

FANG: Does that also apply to different cuts?

ZIMMERMAN: It can. I think what we are seeing, as fans of the genre, is so many companies that are restoring films. Many times we are getting full cuts of these films.

FANG: As we are in Canada, there is certain rules about how much Canadian content channels must have. Does that apply to a streaming site like Shudder?

GEDDES: No, because we are not bound by CRTC rights. That said, we do want to have as many Canadian horror films as we can. We want to get RITUALS. We want to get GINGER SNAPS. We want to have CUBE.

FANG: Speaking on Canadian films, if a Canadian horror filmmaker wanted to be proactive, how would they get their film on Shudder?

ZIMMERMAN: Just reach out to us! We are at most festivals, especially genre and horror festivals. Especially with shorts; I am going to a lot of these festivals to see the shorts and reaching out to these filmmakers, so yes, please reach out to us!

You can now subscribe to Shudder Canada and Shudder US HERE.

About the author
Amy Seidman
Amy Seidman is a Toronto based writer for Fangoria Magazine, Delirium Magazine, Shock Till You Drop and Thrillist. She has a tattoo tribute to Castor Troy from Face/Off and is currently working on her Bates Motel fan fiction "Masterbates Motel." She is proud of her life decisions. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram..
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