50/50 Horror Fest debuts with scares

Young filmmakers exhibited their short horror films at Zemeckis Center Sunday.

The 50/50 Horror Fest was founded by Luke Steinfeld and Michael Sunkin. The colleagues met during their undergraduate studies at USC. (Sophia Stewart / Daily Trojan)

Surrounded by the screen in the immersive IMAX theater in the Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts at USC, audiences were enthralled Sunday evening with an exciting selection of short films. The 50/50 Horror Fest, founded by alums Luke Steinfeld and Michael Sunkin, prepared a thrilling lineup of eight films that wowed the audience, just in time for Halloween.

50/50 took film submissions from across the globe. The festival received 215 submissions resulting in a 3.72% acceptance rate.

Steinfeld and Sunkin founded 50/50 after the two met as undergraduate students, with the goal of connecting top filmmakers from across the globe. The festival presented filmmakers not only with the opportunity to showcase their work to a live audience of film enthusiasts, community filmmakers and industry professionals, but it also hosted an event for fellow filmmakers to connect with each other. This was the debut of the 50/50 Horror Fest, but many were fans of Steinfeld and Sunkin’s collaboration already from the 50/50 Sketch Fest on May 7.

“The point of 50/50, if anything, is to say networking isn’t evil, and for a long time, we use[d] the word conversation instead of networking,” Steinfeld said.

The festival’s organizers transformed the entrance to the theater into a spooky corridor with cobwebs, candles and pumpkins. With the theater’s thematic decor, guests and filmmakers alike were prepared for the hand-selected films that instilled suspense and fear.

The lineup of films were screened in the following order: “Drawn Into Darkness” by Ryan McCue, “Floor 43” by Sophya Kebets, “Marked” by Matthew Avery Berg, “OOZE” by Matthew Rollins, “Pantianak” by Kayla Aalia, “DETEKTIVE THUMB AND THE INFINITY HOUSE” by Preston King, “Bent Spoons” by Josh Brodis, Arnold Aldridge and Lou Castro, and “The Drawing” by Jay Salahi.

Steinfeld spoke on the idea behind creating the festival to give young filmmakers the chance to hone their creative talent.

“The idea sprouted from a ton of my buddies, who make really good stuff like sketches, and we put it on YouTube after hours and hours of prep and post,” Steinfeld said. “And it just gets lost, right? These kids are so special. There’s so much talent here. I wanted to put something together that allows friends the opportunity to show our short films.”

The goal of 50/50, Steinfeld said, was to reduce the obstacles filmmakers have to overcome.

“It’s really about breaking down all these negative stereotypes about the industry and showing it’s not that scary,” Steinfeld said. “You can do this, and we’re all here to support each other and work and collaborate and have fun.”

The festival had 215 submissions from 35 countries, Steinfeld said. The 50/50 Horror Fest accepted less than 4% of the films submitted.

Filmmaker Wyatt Sarkisian had a short in the previous 50/50 festival and attended as a guest for the Horror Fest.

“The cool thing about 50/50 is that there’s the filmmakers, [and] then there are the people in the industry who are able to, if they are working in management, they can pick up clients,” Sarkisian said. “It’s a mutually beneficial event. It’s more than a film festival.”

Aalia, a graduate of the New York Film Academy and filmmaker of “Pantianak,” took inspiration from her own life experiences and her Malaysian background while creating her short film. The short follows a young woman as she summons a demon to take revenge on her abusive boyfriend.

“It was the blending between my own experiences with sexual assault, and [thinking], ‘What could I do that would be a little different?’” she said. “Thankfully, for me, I was allowed to use something from my culture growing up.”

Many of the shorts utilized elements of suspense and fear to contribute to the fright factor.

Delving into the horror element of her short, Aalia worked to “find a balance” between paying homage to her roots and “appealing to a western audience.”

At the end of the screening, 50/50 presented the Audience Award to one filmmaker who won the most votes from the crowd. The winner was Matthew Avery Berg with his short film “Marked.”

Berg said his inspiration behind the film came from a conversation he had while getting a sleeve tattoo and also from a documentary on the gang member Popeye.

After showcasing the thrilling, suspenseful and frightening shorts, the 50/50 Horror Fest ended with an atmosphere that fostered community and collaboration.

The 50/50 Horror Fest had success in fulfilling its mission, and gave an opportunity for creativity, and the film community to thrive.

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