Interview: Sam Zimmerman Talks Shudder, A Horror Streaming Service

Contributing Writer; Canada (@ChrisDWebster)
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Interview: Sam Zimmerman Talks Shudder, A Horror Streaming Service

It's big day for horror fans in Canada. The all-horror streaming service, Shudder, launched in the territory as well as in the UK and Ireland today. Priding itself on bringing a curated collection of "all-killer, no-filler" horror titles right to your fingertips, folks can now sign-up for the low, low cost of $4.99 and enjoy endless scares just in time for the Halloween season.

Shudder launches with a selection of 200+ titles, 85 per cent percent of which are not currently available on any of the larger Canadian subscription-based streaming platforms, Amazon, Netflix or Fandor.

To learn more about the service and the challenges of launching in new territories, we got former Fangoria editor and one of the lead curators of Shudder, Sam Zimmerman, on the line.

ScreenAnarchy: Take us back to the initial conversations about Shudder. What fueled the service's inception?

Sam Zimmerman: The start of Shudder came from AMC network. They really understand, likely from the success of The Walking Dead, that people love horror. They're really tuned in to horror and genre and the kind of devotion it inspires. So, stepping into the subscription streaming space, they recognized early on that this would be a great opportunity to explore and experiment, and that the genre really justifies having a devoted service associated with it. 

When and how did you get on board?

AMC worked diligently to find people who knew and loved the genre and I was lucky enough to be on board in very early stages as a programming consultant to just help determine the direction. By the time I was brought in as a curator full-time, was when Colin [Geddes] and Kat came on and did some stuff. It was interesting that we didn't know we were helping out with these positions independent of each other. 

Why the wait to launch Shudder in Canada? What are some of the challenges in bringing a service to new territories?

For us it came down to building a foundational library, and also strengthening our mission in the US to make sure we were confident with what we were offering, both In terms of our catalog titles, and also in the new films that we're bringing; the exclusives and premiers, like with Beyond the Walls and Sedako vs.  Kayako.

In terms of bringing a catalog to new territories, we're lucky enough where some rights overlap, but it does become a sort of re-starting endeavor when you have to figure out who has a film's rights in Canada, who has them in the UK and so on. And, of course, making sure the technology is in place so that we can ensure everything will run smoothly. 

Speaking of technology, there were some streaming hiccups when Shudder first launched. Is that something that has been smoothed out, or continues to be improved upon?

Absolutely. And while, you're right, I can't go as in-depth as I'd like into that, I can say that it's something that has really been attended to and smoothed out so that the quality is far better. We've certainly noticed a supreme drop in those kinds of complaints.

Does being a niche service shelter you from the giant Netflix's and Amazon's of the world who are aggressively acquiring titles and spending big dollars on exclusives? Or do you still feel the heat from that competition?

Of course there's going to be times when we're competing for similar films, but it helps that we have a different mission. Really, we're just going to show up and really highlight why we want it, why we love it, and not coming at it with any intimidation or feeling any kind of pressure. 

What we realized, especially with acquiring library titles, is that some of the larger services are far more focused on broader  demographics and on their own programming, they're not renewing or picking up some of these smaller, interesting catalog or even newer independent horror films. And we want to be a home for that, we want people to discover these films on Shudder, and we want people to discover these films period.   

If AMC is behind the service, does that mean television shows they produce will show up on Shudder? Because right now it's just films. 

Right now it's just films. We have dipped into episodic series with Beyond the Walls, which is a 3-episode French miniseries that we've acquired. It's a really great, evocative haunter which I'm so glad we're premiering.    

In terms of more TV shows, that's a sort of, "Watch this space" response. I don't think we have a solid yes or no just yet, but it's certainly a possibility down the line.  

We're about the same age, so you must remember video stores and the thrill of the hunt for obscure horror movies. In a world where any title is accessible, has streaming helped or hindered horror fan in terms of building a fervor and myth around certain movies?

I think it depends on the viewer. There are always going to be people who are inclined to watch something new, which is fine for some tastes, but we hope by building something that's curated where we can float those harder to find titles right along side. Like, if we're premiering Beyond the Walls and we can also set a great giallo like A Blade in the Dark along side it, we've created the best scenario where we can help people discover something new, obscure or iconic. 

Look, I get the nostalgia of the hunt. I remember being a kid and being stoked on trying to see things like Nekromantic, but I'm also glad to be giving legal access to these movies. And, yes, in some cases that may de-mystify the movies, but it also might contextualize them. So maybe a movie like Cannibal Holocaust becomes less dangerous because you have convenient access to it, but I also think viewers will be able to consider the film, its relevance and history, outside of it only being an obscure film that's designed to shock.

There's something about Canadians' obsession with making sure we're represented that's tiresome at times, but I have to ask if there was there any consideration in terms of building a library of Canadian titles before making the service available here?

We definitely want to make sure the films of your national cinema are represented on the service and I think it's a valid point. 

So, what would that look like? A "It Came from up North!" category, or something like that?

Totally. Happy to say we already have some titles from the Astron-6 crew with The Editor, Father's Day and Manborg among other cool Canadian titles.

The awesome news is that our mandate of just go looking for the best horror titles often leads to Canadian films.  People can definitely expect more Canadian content to be added to the service following the launch on October 20. 

Very cool. Thanks, Sam!

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