How Breakthrough is breaking out in horror

Breakthrough Entertainment's Peter Williamson delves into the strategy behind the Toronto prodco's latest move into the horror feature-film genre.

On Friday the 13th in a creaky cabin in the woods near Erin, ON, Breakthrough Entertainment’s Peter Williamson sits in the middle of a pentagram, surrounded by burning candles.

If it sounds spooky, it’s supposed to – Williamson is on the set of The Heretics, the latest project from Breakthrough and horror specialists Black Fawn Films.

Part of the eight-picture deal signed in 2014 between Breakthrough and Black Fawn, The Heretics follows a young girl who is kidnapped by a cult (hence the pentagram) and meant to be sacrificed, but who mysteriously survives.

For Breakthrough, the collaboration with Black Fawn marks a shift in the company’s strategy. Previously known primarily for its television and MOW slate, the production company and distributor is now focusing more on genre films.

“We have done feature-length TV films, but that was always quite difficult to finance in the marketplace.There are only so many places you can finance made-for-TV movies and that market has pretty much dried up,” Williamson told Playback Daily.

The idea behind the eight-picture deal, he said, was to create a slate of films that would sell in the OTT marketplace. “There’s a demand for genre films and so I thought it was a commercial opportunity for Breakthrough to work with filmmakers to create and share in the distribution of a slate of films.”

As set out in the deal, Breakthrough finances the films, which are produced by Black Fawn. Black Fawn’s Cody Calahan and Chad Archibald also trade directing and writing duties for the majority of the films.

For Williams, the deal has already proven a clear success. Antisocial, their first collaboration, was picked up by Hulu and 2015′s Bite was released by Shout! Factory on VOD, iTunes and limited theatres in the U.S. on May 6.

Black Fawn’s Archibald hopes Black Fawn will be able to continue its partnership with Breakthrough. “We’ve done so many films with them now it’s like clockwork with all of us,” he said. “In a perfect world we’d like to make movies with Breakthrough until the end of time. But we just have to figure out how we can keep building…because there’s going to be a point where we get too ambitious with our movies.”

All of the films produced under the deal thus far have been made for less than $500,000, said Williams. The goal going forward, he said, is to partner with other companies to commission films that are “in a bigger budget range – or a bit bigger budget range.”

The Heretics is directed by Chad Archibald from a script by Jayme LaForest. It is produced by Black Fawn’s Calahan, Archibald and Christopher Giroux, and executive produced by Breakthrough’s Williamson, Nat Abraham, Ira Levy and Michael McMGuigan.