Follow Crystal Connor into a Cabin in the Woods

"I can't believe I fucking pulled this off!"

I recently had a wonderful sit down with the incomparable Crystal Connor of Cabin in the Woods Film Festival based out in Washington state. If her name sounds familiar it’s because she is an award winning writer who holds the coveted Stoker Award. Or perhaps you know of her children’s book My First Nightmare.

Crystal Connor’s children’s book: My First Nightmare

Crystal has a deep love for the horror genre so it makes perfect sense that she set her sights on launching Cabin in the Woods Film Festival which in its first year can boast as being a fabulous success.

Cabin In the Woods Film Festival 2023

Nessk: Hello Crystal Connor, Wordsmith Extraordinaire! Thank you for sitting down with me today to talk about surviving Year One of the Cabin in the Woods Film Festival!

Crystal Connor: Oh my god, thanks so much for having me. I always fan girl when I’m around you!

Nessk: Before we get into it let me just say, that The Spectrum Trilogy is one of my most favorite book series that I have ever read. It completely engulfed me. The last time I felt that kind of way was when I was a kid reading The Dark Angel trilogy. You wove something incredible there & I’m just so happy to have experienced it.

Crystal Connor: Oh my God, thank you so much for saying that. I’m super anxious to wrap up all my post festival stuff so I can get back to working on the next book in the series- Its a spin off and it starts with Brandi’s daughter going to The Realm of Nine to avenge her mother.

Nessk: My bookshelf is ready. As a celebrated & award winning writer, it’s interesting that you expanded into creating Cabin in the Woods Film Festival. Can you tell us about what inspired you to take that leap?

Crystal Connor: Yeah, well it started with the idea of how fun it would be to rent a cabin in the woods and watch horror movies with my friends and that kinda just sat in the back of my head for about a year.

As those who follow me know I horror movies for and Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor. And I also have a segment called On Location, where I cover film festivals.

Now I LOVE big, chaotic film fest, I love all the films, the people and getting the chance to interview directors and talent. But sometimes I can’t interview who I want because I am competing with larger, more known content creators or if I run into a person I wanted to interview in a bar that suppose to only hold 300ppl but now has almost 700 because of the festival the audio is so bad that I can’t use it.

The last time that happened is when the idea of just hanging out with friends bloomed into turning in to a festival.

One of the things that was important to me was to have a smaller, high scale festival that would promote organic connections that didn’t feel rushed. Another thing I wanted to do was make all tiers of ticketing all-inclusive. Its expensive attending festivals, and as a correspondent there were times I didn’t get merch because I had to pay for parking. I wanted to remove those distractions for my patrons so I made everything all-inclusive once you get to the venue. Being in Seattle you still have to pay for parking but at least you know your ticket includes concessions or even a catered brunch and dinner depending on which ticket you purchase.

I put together my first fest in just 8 months, when in reality I should have taken a year to 18months, I made a LOT of mistakes but on flip side I got more right. It was better than I could have imagined and I am super excited about next year!

My favorite thing from all of this, except everything is getting the feedback from the filmmakers and attendees. One filmmaker said that they could see A Cabin In The Woods Film Festival being a pit stop to Oscar like Toronto is to Sundance. Like WHAT?! Cloud 9, lol

Nessk: That’s incredible! I love how you were able to take your idea of a cozy & intimate festival atmosphere & make it real. It speaks to your indomitable will. You also have years of experience working as a judge for various film festivals as well, do you feel that helped prepare you for Cabin in the Woods Film Festival?

Crystal Connor: *Secretly looks up the word indomitable when you’re not looking* Or maybe its just my event planning skills, lol

Ok, so since I’m one of the newest kid’s in the horror festival block and a lot of film directors and talent know me, or just know of me, from Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor because I either judged, reviewed or interviewed them about their film … or all three the biggest thing I wanted was that no one could say that the only reason a certain film made it into A Cabin In The Woods Film Festival and/or won is because someone involved in the film knows me.

Film Festivals are hella competitive so to not to be accused of anything unethical I put together a selection committee and didn’t watch any of the films submitted. Amber Hoff is my committee chair, she is the iron fist behind the Crystal Connor, A Trusted Name In Terror brand and she’s been with me for almost 20 years. I told her what I wanted and expected from the members of the committee, I set non-negotiable parameters in which they had to judge and then trusted their judgement.

People don’t realize how hard judging a film is, not everyone who started with me stayed to the end.

The committee selects the films but what’s different than some of the other awesome festivals that people are use to attending is that the VIP Cabin Guest are the one who actually judge the films. Again people don’t realize how difficult it is to judge a film and the first night of judging got off to a rough start and I thought my bright idea wasn’t so bright but we got through it and that rough patch gave me the tools I needed to ensure that doesn’t happen again.

Nessk: And now that year one is wrapped, what are your plans for next year? Will the venue be the same?

Crystal Connor: The theater will be the same but I’m not sure if I’ll be booking the same cabin. One of the VIP Cabin guest suggested that there should only be 8 – 10 guest instead of 12.

I am taking that advice, it will ne easier to manage with fewer people, and since I don’t need such a big cabin more awesome options have now become available! It’s the SIFF Film Center, I am in LOVE with that venue because the theater itself hold just 98 people BUT the entire building is available to rent, so we converted upstairs into the lunge for the the high ticket guest where brunch and dinner was served and the long lobby downstairs was used for the midnight snack that took place before the Award Ceremony, EVERYONE enjoyed that.

My plans for next year is to extend the both the virtual and theater part of the festival into two days. We had a lot of filmmakers trust us with their films being a 1st year festival so the day was really long. The virtual festival Cabin On The Web Scream Festival was recorded so that the filmmakers can watch people react to their films and my poor ambassadors looked like the last group of Stephen Kings The Long Walk, lol I don’t wanna do that to them again even tho they all said there willing, lol

Nessk: omg I love snacks. Getting fed at the venue always feels extra fancy bc it’s hell leaving to find food & getting back in time. – Which is another awesome boon for patrons. That sounds fantastic! How do you feel about the submissions for year one?

Crystal Connor: The submissions for my 1st year where out of this world! The films really tested the resolve of the selection committee.

All of the films selected ranked super close together, we didn’t have a breakaway film the scores between the films selected where between 0.05 and 0.07

Leading up to my festival I lurked in filmmakers spaces because I wanted to make this festival as awesome for them as for the people attending. One of the things I saw over and over again was how filmmakers HATED hearing “the competition was really tough” but the thing is, its true.

My selection committee watched every single minute of every single film … sometimes more than once. It wasn’t lost on them how important their jobs were as judges and it caused a LOT of stress.

Submissions are now open and already the films submitted are top tier.

One of the things I will be doing different with the submissions is that I am going to watch them, however the films selected with be up the committee just like last year.

This year I only had two weeks to separate all the films into their perspective categories and put together the programs for both festivals. I am not doing that again, so I’ll be watching to see which category each film goes in and which film will be in each festival.

Nessk: The selection was absolutely stellar. I particularly enjoyed Three Houses Down by Washington’s own Frankenhuffer team.

Crystal Connor: That movie was insane in all the best possible ways!

Nessk: What was your first thought after the festival wrapped its 2023 year?

Crystal Connor: “I can’t believe I fucking pulled this off!” I was so tired and made a lot of 1st year mistakes. There was a lot of things I had to learn on Youtube because some people who said they would help me didn’t come through.

Nessk: Seriously! You’re a godsdamned force of nature! 8 months! Just mind blowing.

Crystal Connor: Its crazy huh?! And then Gwen Callahan who runs HP Lovecraft Film Festival in TWO states AND the Portland Horror Film festival … a huge friend and now mentor showed up at my festival and breathed calmness into my day. She was like, I know things went wrong but no one needs to know. I will never be able to describe how it felt seeing her walk through those doors to support me in person.

Nessk: I always only hear the very best things about her.

Crystal Connor: She’s just like you …. amazing!

Nessk: And her festivals are legendary, how fortunate and wonderful for you that she is your mentor and friend! It makes perfect sense that Cabin in the Woods Film Festival has been so well recieved, with your dynamic capabilities & an immense support system of comradery. It’s a beautiful thing & your success is well earned. I honestly cannot wait for next year.

Crystal Connor: Thank you so very much, I can’t wait til next year either … which is why I’m already working on it!

Nessk: It’s about time for us to wrap up, but is there anything in particular that you would like to share with the readers about Cabin in the Woods Film Festival?

Crystal Connor: This was a really good interview, the only thing I would say to the readers is thank you so much for your time and for hanging out with us today.

Nessk: Thank YOU for taking time to speak with us & sharing your experience as a festival director. I have no doubt that your Cabin in the Woods Film Festival is destined for great things.

Indie Filmmakers get ready because Cabin In The Woods Film Festival will return next year.

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