'Skinamarink' Director Kyle Edward Ball Turned His Nightmares into a Viral Horror Hit
"The movie's not even out yet and I'm at the centre of a Twitter controversy. But it ruined my Halloween."
Published Jan 18, 2023Back in December 2021 to combat the tedium of another lockdown, I was scrolling through Reddit's r/Filmmakers sub. A post titled, "Skinamarink (2022) Teaser" caught my eye with memories of Sharon, Lois & Bram in my head — but what I saw couldn't be further from the brightly coloured trio and their plushy elephant friend.
The teaser was a collection of grainy footage with matching crackling audio, reminiscent of home videos from the '80s and '90s. Partial shots of door frames, couches and bedrooms punctuated with the constant repetition of three words: "In This House," taunting viewers right until the end when the cries and screams of children can be heard.
I filed it away in my brain as "weird but terrifying" and carried on with my day. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when I was preparing for last year's Fantasia International Film Festival and saw a familiar thumbnail and title listed in the program lineup.
Skinamarink is effectively a nightmare on screen. The uneasiness we have all felt at one point in our lives, mostly as children when we're up late in a quiet house, is played out in quick spurts and torturous climbs up a darkened staircase.
After watching the film and being suitably terrified, I promptly emailed the director, Kyle Edward Ball, to inform him as such: "Apologies if this isn't appropriate, but fucking hell that was one of the scariest things I've seen in a long time. Amazing job."
That was in July 2022 and since then, I've had a front row seat to the incredible rise of the film and its creator.
While Ball has wanted to be a director since he was a child enthralled with Goosebumps in Edmonton, AB, his story arguably begins in 2017, when he filmed a four-minute video visualizing a nightmare he had in his youth and posted it to his YouTube page. His channel gained momentum, and soon people around the world on YouTube and Reddit were sending Ball nightmares to put to film. Viewing those clips today, it's clear the vibe and aesthetic for Skinamarink were honed in those videos.
A couple years after starting his YouTube page, Ball decided to finally take the plunge and develop a short film. "[After making so many videos online] I said to myself, I think I know who I am as a filmmaker now. I do everything for zero dollars, so why not do a feature for next to nothing?" Ball tells me in a call from his home in Edmonton. "So in 2019, before COVID, I did a proof-of-concept for a feature [titled Heck]. I like how it turned out, but it didn't really go anywhere. Funny enough, I submitted that to Fantasia and didn't get in."
Undeterred, Ball turned to online crowdfunding to finance a feature film, and with the help of some additional financing, $15,000 was raised. Deciding to film in his childhood home, he then took to Facebook and Twitter for casting. "It was a weird kismet thing," Ball recalls. "I thought casting would be incredibly difficult. I just posted something during our crowdfund. I have a lot of friends in the film community, and so [they] all shared it."
Actor Jaime Hill responded to the posting and, after being hired by Ball, referred her friend Ross Paul, who happened to have a son, Lucas, who was the perfect age for the main child in the film, Kevin. And finally, Ball cast his goddaughter, Dali Rose Tetreault, in the role of Kevin's sister, Kaylee.
After a quick seven-day shoot and post-production, Ball submitted his film to various festivals and was accepted into Fantasia — a decidedly perfect festival for Skinamarink's debut. From there, things moved quickly.
"Right after Fantasia, we had gotten the Shudder deal. Jonathan Barkan [executive producer of Skinamarink], based on the reviews from Fantasia, sent it to a few services, including Apple and a few others, but Shudder fell in love with it right away," says Ball. "So we actually signed basically on the dotted line not that far after Fantasia."
Things were looking promising for Ball and Skinamarink. Shudder was set to give the film the highly coveted Halloween release slot in 2023 alongside a theatrical and physical release. But then a slight hiccup occurred. In October 2022, a festival in Europe (which Ball prefers not to name) screening Skinamarink had its films leaked online.
"I was searching on Twitter by keyword, 'Skinamarink,' and I saw some account that was like, 'Here's what we've stolen today,' basically," explains Ball. "I looked at all the other titles, and it's like, this is that festival. The entire lineup got leaked. I emailed my distributor and they immediately emailed the festival."
Refunds and apologies were issued, and to be clear, Ball doesn't hold any ill will towards the festival. "It wasn't the festival's fault," Ball says sympathetically. "You don't program an entire lineup with the hopes, like, 'Hey, I hope these all get leaked.'"
After being notified, Shudder was entirely accommodating of the situation, but that didn't stop Ball from going into a bit of a tailspin.
"For the first three weeks after the leak, I was having a meltdown about it," Ball tells me with a laugh. "Before that if anyone tweeted about the movie or anything I would retweet it and like it. After that, more and more people were tweeting about it and I felt like I couldn't [retweet or like anything] because if I retweet it, the more people talk about it and the more people are going to try to find a pirated copy."
A nightmare all of its own, this ordeal was oddly in keeping with the journey Skinamarink has taken. The earliest stages of the film's development were explored on YouTube. The majority of financing was raised through online crowd sourcing. Casting was done through Facebook and Twitter. Distribution was found through Reddit.
Skinamarink's DNA has been so bonded to the internet that it's almost fitting its story includes a bout of piracy. It follows then, that it's only fair that the film also goes viral.
"[Skinamarink being leaked] blew up on 'Horror TikTok' and then there was Twitter discourse. It was kind of neat," admits Ball with a laugh. "The movie's not even out yet and I'm at the centre of a Twitter controversy. But it ruined my Halloween."
The horror sects of various social media platforms had Skinamarink trending, and when the Friday the 13th theatrical release date in January was announced, horror fans jumped at the opportunity to see it on the big screen. As of writing, Skinamarink has earned $890,000 at the box office in the US and Canada alone — not too shabby for a $15,000 budget.
Skinamarink and Ball represent a new wave of cinema and filmmakers who use the internet, and social media specifically, to not only develop ideas and execute them, but to market them to all corners of the globe. It's a welcome change in an industry that, for much of its history, has been ruled by studios and executives who decide which filmmakers are able to participate.
As for Ball, Skinamarink's success at festivals and online has gotten him into (virtual) meeting rooms with representatives from A24, NEON and New Line Cinema, among others. Things are looking up for the young, Canadian filmmaker and while he appreciates the work and hustle he's put into it, he understands timing and circumstances have also played a role.
"I think it's no stretch to say that I probably am one of the luckiest filmmakers in the world right now," says Ball. "It's been incredible. But it's weird, because it's not like I'm famous. I'm just 'Horror Twitter' famous."
When I remind Ball that social media famous can be pretty famous these days, he says, with the greatest deadpan: "I'm still not rich though."
Not yet, anyway.