These NAIT grads have blown up the horror community with their Edmonton-made, low-budget film

by | Jan 20, 2023 | Arts & Life

A group of NAIT grads are receiving worldwide recognition for their debut horror film, Skinamarink. Despite its $15,000 budget, Skinamarink has surpassed $800,000 at the box office since its theatrical release in over 600 theatres on Jan. 13, 2023. The film, which has gone viral, was shot entirely in director Kyle Edward Ball’s childhood home in Edmonton.

“We weren’t expecting this to [blow up],” said Edmon Rotea, Executive Producer of Skinamarink. “It was an opportunity for [Ball] to prove to his friends and family that he could write it, we were just going to maybe rent a classroom or a community hall and show it to friends and family and people who crowdfunded the project and then call it a day. It was more of a film that [Ball] wanted to make because he has a passion for filmmaking, a love for cinema and it was a lifelong goal.” 

Ball and Jamie McCrae, the film’s cinematographer, graduated from NAIT’s Digital Media and IT program in 2014 with an emphasis in Digital Cinema. Rotea graduated from the Computer Networking Administrator program in 2002.

Rotea’s role in Skinamarink began—in perfect Edmonton fashion—when Ball came to him with the idea at a downtown Boston Pizza in 2020.

“I helped [Ball] with the crowdfunding campaign,” said Rotea. “We turned to crowdfunding because we applied to arts councils, but we got turned down. Arts councils aren’t known to be too fond of feature film horror movies,” Rotea explained. Using crowdfunding efforts and personal funds, Rotea helped Ball fly to Montreal for the Fantasia International Film Festival, where Skinamarink first premiered on July 25, 2022.

“We already had a distributor on board way before we got into Fantasia, but [Fantasia] gave the distributor more leverage to sell the film to AMC Networks … we’re thrilled that we got picked up by a major American broadcaster,” said Rotea.

Their success continued across film festivals in Europe, but the filmmakers encountered a plot twist after a virtual film festival in Spain was hacked. As a result, Skinamarink was leaked.

“We were really worried at first because we thought that would jeopardize the broadcast deal we had with AMC Networks and Shudder, which no one had known about at that point other than me and [Ball] and the distributor and AMC,” said Rotea.

Ball and Rotea were left wondering how their film made its way into Rolling Stone Brazil – twice. At the time, Skinamarink only had English language distribution agreements in place.

“It’s kind of become a global phenomenon because someone from Portugal took the pirated copy and added Portuguese subtitles – what they call a fansub. Then they uploaded it, and it spread like wildfire in the Portuguese speaking world.” 

According to Rotea, piracy was the unlikely underdog behind the film’s worldwide popularity and the catalyst for AMC Networks to push for a limited theatrical release of Skinamarink.

“The Tik Tok generation … really helped with promoting and marketing the film because we’re beginning to hear reports that people are proclaiming this as the Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity of [Gen Z],” said Rotea. “We’re very honoured because those are films that people know about, and they’re classic films.”

“[It’s] not often you have an Edmonton-made independent film that costs less than $15,000 showing in so many theatres … you can actually go and watch Skinamarink in almost a dozen theatres in New York City alone,” said Rotea. He explained his recent experience seeing Skinamarink’s movie poster at a theatre in New York. “Right beside it was the poster for Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer film and then the other poster was Margot Robbie’s Barbie film, and then Skinamarink.”

“It’s pretty crazy, this was all science fiction to us a year ago,” said Rotea.

Skinamarink premiered to a sold-out hometown crowd at the Garneau Theatre on Friday, Jan. 13. Now, the hashtag #Skinamarink has 25.5 million views on TikTok, and the Edmonton-based film can be seen in media outlets like Variety, Bloody Disgusting, Los Angeles Times and IndieWire. 

“It was truly a community of people that brought Skinamarink to life. Everyone from the crowdfunders, to other NAIT graduates, to other filmmakers, and of course countless fans on TikTok and social media, and now, the Hollywood media and local media,” said Rotea. 

He shared sentiments from Ball that he believed NAIT students should hear:

“Always stay true to yourself, always try to fulfill your dreams. You don’t need the most expensive cameras, you don’t need big-name, well-established actors, you don’t need the fastest MacBook Pro … you don’t need a big budget. If you’re making a horror movie, your best currency is your friends and family, especially like-minded filmmakers.”

Fans can expect to see Skinamarink’s widespread release on the horror streaming service Shudder later this year. Until then, NAIT students can check out Ball’s YouTube channel, Bitesized Nightmares.

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