Fest Traveler: Frightfest 2012

“To be honest, we were clueless,” says Alan Jones, a writer and one of four co-directors of the Film4 FrightFest. “I tried to get publicity for it back then. It was hopeless.”

But FrightFest, which draws more than 26,000 horror fans each year and is now readying its 13th unspooling, had such humble beginnings. The fest kicked off in 2000 when Jones teamed up with friend Paul McEvoy, now a programming coordinator for the Horror Channel, and Ian Rattray, a filmmaker and distributor.

The trio decided to avoid bureaucracy and do things themselves as joint co-directors, but as the fest expanded rapidly from the original 300-seat event for “hardcore fans” to the 1,400-seat, three-screen affair it is now, they found effective marketing to be difficult.

“They had the passion, but it felt like they were treating it like a hobby,” says Greg Day, who officially joined the fest in 2006 as PR man and fourth co-director.

Even today, FrightFest feels like a passion project. “We don’t make much money,” Day admits. That’s particularly strange considering that FrightFest has become a litmus test for distributors.

“I saw (helmer Jennifer Lynch’s) ‘Chained’ very early on this year and I went to (distributor) Anchor Bay and told them: ‘You’ve got a fantastic movie here — do you realize that?’ ” Jones says. “They hadn’t even seen it. But they know what to do now.”

With the event’s cachet in mind, Day notes that FrightFest will continue to grow. He has entertained thoughts of expanding from the current venue, the Empire Cinema, to an arena to accommodate more fans. But with FrightFest, only one real bottom line exists: Leaving dedicated horror fans terrified and smiling.

“I’ll always remember Guillermo del Toro telling me ‘I would trust my life with a horror fan. I wouldn’t trust it with anybody else,’ ” Jones says, laughing. “It’s a great community of people I know and love. That won’t change.”

Related Links:
Nicotero moves from makeup into the helm

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more