Horror Film Director

A Family Affair

Posted on October 26th, by Darren Lynn Bousman in blog, film, general, inspiration, news, Rambling, What They Don't Teach You in Film School. 22 comments

A Family Affair 

My life has been relegated to boxes… thousands, and thousands, and thousands of boxes.  Boxes and labels, don’t get me started on the fucking labels.


This week THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL was released to the world.  DVD/ NETFLIX/ iTUNES/ HOT TOPIC/ the list goes on and on.

For those of you just joining us, THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL is a new musical collaboration from Terrance Zdunich and myself. 

It seems surreal.  Just 10 months ago, we embarked on a journey without a safety net. We threw caution to the wind, and said ‘FUCK IT’ lets go make something we want to make, and do it completely independently.

Independently.  I guess I never understood what that word meant until recently.

Before I made The Devil’s Carnival I would’ve considered myself an INDIE FILMMAKER.  While I have had the extreme fortune to work on a fair number of successful movies, the truth is not one of them was within the major studio system.

Saying you’re an INDIE FILMAKER is kinda cool.  Brings you cred, makes you hip… You’re doing your own things, and playing by your own rules.  The reality is that it’s kind of bullshit.  Each and every film I have made which was indie, I was protected…   I had producers, and office managers, and legal teams.  I had someone above me who had as much to lose as I did, if not more.


If I failed I could point to any number of countless individuals.

“It’s the marketing team’s fault!  They don’t understand my genius.”

“It’s the producers’ fault, they didn’t fight hard enough.”

“It’s the studio head’s fault, he doesn’t like horror movies.”

While I have never been a director for hire per say, I have never had the power to sink the ship solo.  My past failures have come with a long line of cooks in the kitchen.


That being said, I have been responsible for countless fuck ups that have sank my movies.  11-11-11 was rushed and not a great script.  The Barrens was… well, fuck it, I actually really like that movie.

My point is, each and every film I have done I have had a team of people, companies, corporations who had a vested interest in seeing it succeed…

And then there is THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL.


I am not sure what in the hell we were thinking.

We are indie filmmakers… We can do this!


ICE SWIMMING.   You’ve all seen it.  It’s when a group of insane people jump into FREEZING lakes/oceans/ponds.

People who have done it equate it to shocking the system.  The water is so cold, your entire body seizes up.

I am at the point where I can step outside of the experience and view it somewhat objectively.

We jumped into a freezing cold lake with The Carnival, not fully aware what the fuck we were doing.

We, too, seized up.

HOLY SHIT, it’s cold!!!

For the purpose of this blog, I am only going to address the DISTRIBUTION of the film.

Wait… Distribution?  We didn’t have a distributor.

Remember how I talked about my countless fuck ups?  Let’s add this one to the mix.  I shot an expensive short film, with big name talent and never secured a distributor.



Well, not really, that was the entire point of this experiment.    I was tired of the run around, I was tired of the excuses, I was tired of being told NO.  I was tired of that embarrassing phone call where I was forced to call the actor and tell them their amazing performance was not worthy enough of a proper release.

Wanna hear a secret?  The Barrens was not distributed in ONE theater. Nope, not a one. (It was four walled by one of the investors who believed in the project.)

The people in charge felt it was a lost cause, and to their defense, all signs pointed that it was.   It would cost more to put it in theaters than it would ever make.  I was devastated as I truly felt and still feel The Barrens is a solid film, and one worth seeing.

When I heard Barrens wouldn’t get even ONE theater, I literally went into a self induced rage.

What do you mean it wouldn’t make any money?   What do you mean no would pay to see it?

At this point we had just completed a SELF FUNDED 60+ city tour with The Devil’s Carnival, and sold out over 80% of the stops.

Big theaters too…

This wasn’t a one time thing, or a two time occurrence.  This was a nightly routine.  We were able to sell out theaters NIGHT after NIGHT, with no publicity outside our social media reach.

Now, let’s look at what this means.

WE, The Devil’s Carnival, a group of artists with no real business sense personally booked, and sold out a 60+ city tour, relying SOLELY on FACEBOOK/TWITTER/ and friends within the genre community to get the word out, and we were OVERWHELMINGLY successful.  But an actually mainstream movie, featuring a mainstream cast WAS NOT worthy enough of an opportunity to actually put forth the old college try?


The Devil’s Carnival WAS NOT mainstream, AND it was a SHORT and people SANG in it – that’s like three strikes against it right there!!!

So when I hear that The Barrens, a movie starring Stephen Moyer, arguably on one of the more popular cable TV shows was not worthy enough for ONE screen, as it was a losing financial venture, I scratched my head, then got drunk…

It was this moment, when I heard the fate of The Barrens, that we decided to once again and say FUCK IT, let’s not turn our work, our passion, our art over to someone who can trivialize it, then convince themselves they made the right decision.

We will put  together a team, and turn our living quarters into HOME BASE.

We self financed this movie, we self distributed it theatrically, we will now SELF DISTRIBUTE the DVD.

Future filmmakers – let me break it down for you how the DVD game works.

A distributor will take roughly 20% to 25% off the top to ‘release’ your movie. Then, you sell your movie to the retailer at a wholesale price, meaning a number MUCH less than they will sell it to the public for… So let’s say you get a good number from the retailer, they STILL hold that money in an account for returns, broken discs, damaged items. It could take months and months, before you ever see a cent from your sale.  Just because you are in retail however does not get you placement, or exposure… No, that costs you extra.

Then, once you have made your sale, then comes the laundry lists of fees… Oh, yes, there will be fees owed!  SAG, DGA, WGA, Mechanical license fees, accounting, legal, this list is so long it’s mind-boggling.

Four years ago, my head space was only concerned about what format I was going to shoot my movie in… 16mm, or 35mm now I am forced to spend my day on the phone with SAG brokering all sorts of nonsense.

I have gotten nowhere in the industry by playing it safe… Why start now?  We will sell DVD’S personally… We will create the art, we will package them, we will box them, take them to the post office and mail them… We will do everything!  We will keep the 25% and not down sell them at wholesale prices.  We will keep every aspect of this film within the family.  From the creative to the accounting to the overwhelming paperwork brought about by the unions.


Remember taking that ice cold dive we talked about?

Well the water is fucking freezing and I’m not sure if I can tread much longer.


I now have turned my back on the safe route to get this movie out there.  I have made the asinine proclamation that we as the artists will handle all distribution.

Laura will handle customer service, and keeping track of the orders.


Courtney will handle organization.

Kimmie and SeanE will handle manufacturing.  Spooky Dan fan outreach.

Terrance and I will number all the DVD’s and box them.


I mean, realistically how many can we really sell by ourselves, right?

We don’t have money to advertise, so it can’t be that many, right?

WRONG… wanna see what 1000’s and 1000’s of DVD’s look like?

For the last two months, we have not stopped.  Printing shipping labels, numbering DVD’s, driving to and from the manufacturing houses…  Our lives were paused.  We woke up, went through our days, and then went to bed just working on these orders.  I even conducted outside business meetings from the trenches, forcing those who needed to meet with me to pick up boxes, and starting stuffing DVD’s inside of them!  (thanks Chris Monfette)

Wanna know what hell is?  Hell is peeling thousands of mailing labels and placing them on boxes.  Hell is cutting thousands and thousands of labels by hand.

Hell is my backyard, and the never-ending, always expanding mess of boxes, and boxes, and boxes that seem to multiple faster than gremlins when they get wet…

It is not an exaggeration that 10 hours of our day is spent doing NOTHING but organization DVD shipments, and distribution.    I literally have no life.

It’s easy to become disillusioned… Want to throw your hands up in the air, and say fuck it, this ain’t worth it!   This is NOT what I signed up for…

Nor however was The Barrens, or 11 11 11, or Mother’s Day, or… I didn’t sign up to make a movie, and one I was passionate about, to be dumped, or ignored, or relegated to the bargain bin at my local grocery stores.   I would fight, WE would fight to prove 7 people could make a difference.  Could get exposure, could do, and accomplish what so many people continually tell me I CAN NOT DO!!!  Even if that meant doing EVERY aspect by hand, myself.  We were INDEPENDENT.

My last few films had been dumped…  Released on DVD, and then vanished like farts in the wind minutes later.   And I was powerless… All my bitching, and crying over its release, I couldn’t change its fate.  Yet here, with this, I was not powerless… I was only confined by my own laziness…

We could do whatever we wanted as we were our own bosses…  There was no one pulling our strings, there was no man behind the curtain.

Suddenly, I found myself embracing that cold water…  I actually found it comforting!  Fuck trying to tread water, I’m gonna do the backstroke!  If I drown, so be it, at least I am doing it on MY terms.

In the beginning of August, TZ, myself and the rest of our team starting kicking in every single door we could find.  We refused to take no as an answer.  We wanted to see if we could get our strange, weird, short film EVERYWHERE without the safety net we had all grown so accustomed to.

You hear no, it can’t be done, so many times as a filmmaker, you begin to believe it.  Why would you question it, these people must know what they are talking about, right?

Suddenly, this adventure, this quest to prove our worthiness yields results… There is a euphoric feeling as you realize nightly YOU are accomplishing something.  Something that just the day before seemed like an impossibility.

Within a month’s time we had secured deals with HOT TOPIC, NETFLIX, iTUNES, HULU, XBOX, AMAZON, and many many more.

Not only did we land these avenues, we landed them with PRIME placement.

My life became solely about this DVD, this release, this statement:  that my fate was not determined by the stigma of ‘no studio attachment’.

This collective of artists, and family members would be my studio, the fans would act as my publicity team.

My wife would act as the fulfillment house, the overlord, the woman with the iron fist!

Her mother, my mother in law, would be in the trenches making sure our voice would not go unheard.

Every person in my life would have some responsibility that would aid in changing the odds in our favor.    It became all-consuming.  Literally every waking hour for months would be solely devoted to assuring that this project would not vanish like so many projects before it had.

Well my dear readers, the DVD has been out less than a week, but I can tell you we have won.  We have succeeded… We have exposure.  And we did it without having to sell our souls, or part with a percentage of our hard work, and art.   We believed in what we were doing, and we were victorious!

Moments after the DVD’s hit the post office, FAN’S responded!

We formed our own studio.  And found that we could rely on like-minded artists who, like us, weren’t scared to fail, but were scared of NOT trying, or just accepting.


I pray that in time I will once again be in the position of doing films where there is a safety net.  Where the studio is the studio, and I am just a director…

As much as I complain about the decisions to ‘dump’ my films.  I get it… It’s a business, and all businesses need to make smart financial decisions to their shareholders.   But I as an artist and creator should not be beholden to a formula that I see is changing.

Even with the sleepless nights, and blinding migraines, the severe depression,  I am still a director.


I am a director of fulfilling orders, thousands and thousands of orders from all around the world.

I am a director of shipping labels and customs forms.  I am a courier to the post office!


I am a director of brokering deals with retailers like HOT TOPIC.


I am a director… and for the first time in my career I can honestly say, of INDIE FILMS, cause it doesn’t get any more indie than this!

Thank you to all those who helped make The Devil’s Carnival a reality, who spent the last two months boxing DVD’s and printing labels.  Thank you to my wife and her mother who spent more hours than I care to calculate Hailing Satan with us.
Thanks to Courtney, Kimmie, Ben and Spooky, who jumped in the water with us and embraced its icy greeting.


Thanks to Thomas and Steve and all of Film Funding Alliance who trusted us to do something outside of the box, and who put their money where their mouth is!  Film Funding Alliance stepped up to the plate when no one else would!

Thank you to Joe and Tim at Virgil Films, who renewed our faith in digital distribution and stayed true to your promises. That in and of itself is a rarity.

A special thank you to SeanE the films producer, who was the first guy who came in and actually started making shit happen.  We play in an industry where talk is cheap, and everyone loves to talk.  This guy followed up his talk with real action.

But most importantly, thank you to the fans, who have once again amazed us with their passion, dedication, and love for what we do!  You have proven yet again that filmmakers and artists do not need the fancy bells and whistles to reach you!  You have taken a short film, an experiment, and made it stand for something…

The Devil’s Carnival will continue.  Our number of Sinners will grow, the episodes will multiply.

I have learned more in the last few months than I have in the last few years…  The landscape for independent filmmakers is changing. While I am blessed to have had movies distributed by Lionsgate, and Anchor Bay, a lot of times my work will falls through the cracks.  It is my responsibility as an artist to not let that happen; to exposure the work no matter the cost!

We as artists and filmmakers are done playing by their rules… it’s time to make a few of our own.




22 thoughts on “A Family Affair

  1. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done! Your hard-work does not go unappreciated. You guys have truly created an artistic masterpiece, and I look forward to future episodes. HAIL!

  2. I’m looking forward to seeing this one.

    I just want you to know, we were able to see The Barrens in Cherry Hill, NJ on the big screen and we LOVED IT! Thanks for all the hard work!

  3. I just finished watching the Devil’s Carnival again last night! I love it so much. I love what you are doing, that it’s self-powered and so powerful. Well done. You guys are an inspiration to artists and sinners everywhere.

  4. By reaching out and letting us be a part of your artistic journey, you have accomplished something grand. Something most directors never get to see. You should be so incredibly proud of yourself not only for your hard work, but for taking the time to write updates for us… because we LOVE knowing what’s going on. Realizing that you guys were all packing our DVDs and sticking horrible labels (I feel your pain) on them then personally driving them to the post office… that makes it more precious, more personal than any other movie most of us own. it ensures that we’ll be back for more. You’ve created an army willing to back your creative endeavors, and that is amazing.

  5. I said this on the TDC FB page but I wanted to repeat it here too:

    I think when we freak out about whether the DVDs will turn up or not we forget that you’re having the same freak out XD You guys should be amazingly proud of yourself because I know that I, and I’m sure all the others here, are hugely proud of you guys and what you’ve done <3

    You've not only produced a stunning movie (short though it may be, as you keep reminding us XD), but the packaging looks better than most mainstream movies I've bought, is packed with FAR more extras then I've been able to get and actually held up in the mail better than most DVDs I've bought online (now, I'm not saying it arrived perfect… =P). Not to mention the road tours, and the fact that people want to love and support you guys and have created a community from it.

    Repo! was a taster of what you guys could do, The Devils Carnival is proof that it wasn't a fluke.

    This is a way forward, and it keeps the creators and the fans in touch – instead of catering to an unknown entity, you know who we are and what we're enjoying and what we're not so keen on. That makes it a better experience for us all as we go on.

    Keep up the amazing work, because as long as you're creating we're going to be watching and loving the personal touch =)

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you–a million times thank you! The Devil’s Carnival is amazing. I have to agree with Salyx–be proud of yourself for not just the hard work, but giving us fans a window into the whole messy, frustrating, stressful, wonderful process. I love this project: I love to watch it, sing along with it, dress in costume for it and talk about it to anyone I can get to stand still long enough. I’m perpetually amazed and impressed by the work and dedication you’ve given to The Devil’s Carnival. Thank you for creating yet another wonderful film. I can’t wait for more episodes! Hail!

  7. I want to thank you so much for this project. I am in love with it. I’ve put TDC on loop on my dvd player for both the movie and all the commentaries. I’m a student in the fine arts and I think I’m learning more from listening to the commentaries than from my textbook. Thank you so much for being an inspiration.

  8. You’ve created something special with The Devil’s Carnival. Not only a film that is unconventional in every aspect, but a film that unites, & inspires people. Yours is a journey that I am thankful to witness, & as a fan, one that I am proud to be a part of. Thank you for being a rebel.

  9. The Devil’s Carnival is a project that thrives and lives off of abundant amounts of passion, from both it’s creators and it’s fans. I personally think that that’s a beautiful thing. I’m sure that I can speak for every fan when I say thank you, and all others involved, for the dedication. Seriously, that’s some tedious shit. But it’ll always be worth it in the end.
    Independence crafts a certain appreciation that major films will never see. There’s no real substance, in that sense, with major films. The Devil’s Carnival has that substance. That “labor of love” feeling. Not only is it a fantastic film with an abundantly unique story, but it’s also genuine.

    You have something that most film makers don’t have. A fanbase that you completely connect with. A fanbase that respects you when the “professionals” may not. A fanbase that will always be there for you. You get the point.

  10. Thank you so much Darren for Repo! and TDC, you are amazing I honestly do not know what I would be doing with out these amazing movies in my life and their soundtracks constantly in my ears.

    I have been annoying my friends so very much with my fanboy…ing(?) of TDC.

    Also it was quite a shock to see my evil jester face on this post, I am rather glad I clicked the link and read this.

    I appreciate all of the work you and the entire cast/crew have put into this, it shows, I can very easily say that The Devil’s Carnival is the best movie I have seen this year, and has become one of my top favorite movies of all time.

    I promise when the second comes through Texas on the road show I will try my damnedest to make to the show.(I sadly was not able to afford such a trip to see the roadshow for the first)

    Thank you again for TDC and for allowing the fans to see all of the work put into the movie… scratch that, the experience.

    Tray \m/ HAIL \m/

  11. I’ve been a fan for a long time. I brought my sons, friends and some family along for the ride. Since Repo was first released on DVD and I saw it for the first time. I’m still a fan. Repo touched something in me and then my sons. We’ve followed both yours and Terrance’s careers ever since. As someone who has been the “outcast” and the “black sheep” of my family for years I applaud your individualism and especially tenacity. If more artists followed their hearts and their dreams there would be a lot more films worth seeing! Thanks to you and to Terrance, not to mention SpookyDan Walker and all the others for working so hard to bring the brilliance that is The Devil’s Carnival to us the fans. On a personal note I appreciate all you do and hope you never stop. EVER! Good luck guys. Please don’t worry about haters or complainers. What you do is most certainly appreciated!

  12. Thank you. That is all I can say. Thank you, to you and your family and your crew and cast, all who helped make The Devil’s Carnival a reality, who put so much hard work into creating, filming, and distributing it. The movie is amazing and all the hard work you have done is appreciated by me and countless others out there. Just…thank you.

  13. You have seen what can be done by a truly passionate artist. You have done it. You can do it again with better results, because the fan base is growing with each single fan telling a friend or playing a song from the film.
    You and your crew have achieved amazing results, and your fans are respecting that. Thank you for jumping in the frigid water, I admire your strength and the way your friends and family have rallied around your project. Congratulations on showing those safety nets that taking the risk and going further than an estimate on ROI, they were wrong. Hail DLB, TZ and your crazy carnie crew.

  14. Great write up Darren, I’ll share this on my facebook. Yes the indie water is ice cold and at this point in my career I don’t know any other !!! Congrats to you and your team

  15. This is the kind of article that makes me feel like I’m not alone, or crazy, or everything else I hear when I do my thing.

    I am nobody. I live in Lebanon, which for movies, is really no place as much as I am nobody. I’ve been into movie making after years in sound and hand drawn animation. I’ve never been released.

    I wrote a film. Shot it 6 times, never succeeded. Rewrites every time. And every time it fails it fails because of some arbitrary thing that has to do with an industry I truly believe does not work anymore.

    I lost everything I had to make this thing out of my own pocket. I have been working two years now, to make my money back, I have a decent, and hard job, and am so close to making Bye Bye CHARLIE again.

    I know deep down inside that all I need to make it the way I want, is my troupe, and my props. The rest is doable. If we are truly independent, we have more time than the biggest studios. It is doable, because it is impossible for a viewer to know what is outside the exposed frame. That’s it. That’s the realization one has to make to completely free oneself.

    The other is a release from the ‘bottom line’. I realized if I make my money somewhere else, I don’t need money. I don’t want to sell my film once I make it. I just want it seen. Seriously. I grow my own food now. Tastes better than anything I’ve bought. I can live comfortably without depending on my film to make money. I just wanna shoot it. I know how to. I want to pay for it, so I can do what I want, and not pay extra. I don’t care if it’s bootlegged even.

    It’s just so fucking lonely. Until I read stuff like this.

    God. Friggin. Bless. You.

    Or Satan. Whichever suits your palate more 🙂


  16. Darren, I am an investor with Film Funding Alliance. We met in Toronto and South Hadley. I have been thrilled to see the progress and reception with Carnival and stunned to see what they did to all of us with The Barren’s. After all the excitement about the movie in production it is hard to believe they chose not to distribute The Barrens.

    Since we met I have tried to follow more of your work and I have found it interesting. You have a fantastic handle on knowing where you want to go and how to get there. But what I found most interesting is you are not afraid of honest self evaluation. I managed to finally catch 11-11-11 and agree with your analysis of the script even though the quality of the film itself was quite good. I managed to catch Mother’s Day and it may actually be DeMornay’s best performance to date. I have always enjoyed her films but she has always seemed a bit plastic. You brought out her best as a Psycho Mom, she was smooth fluid and convincing.

    It has been a pleasure working with you (even from a distance) and hope to continue in the future.

  17. Indie filmmaker stories like these give me the additional endurance to keep pushing. In this new era it’s not impossible to shot amazing content and find an audience for your film. DIY distribution is still in it’s infancy. Not recommended for everybody. Obviously Darren already had an amazing following and fan-base but it’s a goal that can be accomplished.

  18. I was at the red carpet at the Royal Theater for this and still recall “Most people are going to watch this, and they’re going to be like, ‘This is absolutely terrible. This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.'”

    You sir provide new inspiration. Thank you for keep it Indie.

  19. Such a powerful post. I think its great that even as a big name in the horror industry as Director Darren Lynn Bousman director of Saw movies, and other huge horror films that you care about your art. I know some directors that if a film falls through the cracks, they just let it go and focus on the next one, which in some way, you have to do, but you should still really care about each and every piece of art that you create! Every time I read something from you I get inspired. As a film maker and an artist. you are an inspiration. I was very happy to get my Ringmaster Copy of Devils Carnival, Thank you for everything!!!!

    As a director you are an inspiration to me.


    Thank you!!!

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