How Skinamarink's director made a viral horror hit out of $15,000 and his film leaking online
'Audiences are way cooler than than a lot of filmmakers would have you believe'
Almost overnight, Edmonton filmmaker Kyle Edward Ball has become one of the most talked-about directors in horror. His feature-length debut — Skinamarink — became a word-of-mouth sensation via platforms like Reddit and TikTok after a copy from a festival was accidentally leaked online in the fall of 2022.
Skinamarink had its official debut on Jan. 13, 2023, and has received positive reviews from outlets like Roger Ebert, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone. The film — which was made with a mind-blowingly small budget of $15,000 U.S. — tells the story of two small children who wake up to find their parents missing, the lights not working, and all the doors and windows in their house gone.
Ball, who shot Skinamarink in his childhood home, came on Q to discuss the film and his lifelong love of horror with host Tom Power, who called Skinamarink "the scariest thing I've seen in so long … bone-terrifying."
Ball says he first got interested in horror movies at the age of 8, when he watched The Shining.
"Also around that age, CBC in Edmonton started playing an Alfred Hitchcock marathon once a year before back-to-school," he says. "So that also started gears rolling. And obviously other stuff like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? — so kid-friendly horror, kind of. And then as I got older, I started watching more daring stuff like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, The Exorcist, etc. etc."
The title of the film, obviously, comes from a children's song that most Canadians know from veteran children's performers Sharon, Lois, and Bram. But Ball discovered that the song was actually much older, dating back to the turn of the last century, after seeing it sung in an old Elizabeth Taylor movie.
He adds that, originally, it was only supposed to be a working title. In the end, though, no other title seemed to work as well.
"It sticks in your head," he says. "It's personal; it evokes childhood … [I thought,] 'Why don't I keep that as the working title for my movie for now, and eventually I'll come up with something better later?' But that never happened."
Ball honed his ability to stretch a film budget while working on Bitesized Nightmares, his YouTube series where viewers would submit their nightmares and Ball would attempt to bring them to life. Because he had, in his own words "no budget," he had to get creative in his filmmaking technique.
One way he managed to keep costs down was to "imply action, rather than showing it." He points out that, in Skinamarink's entire 100 minute run-time, you only see people on screen for just over 10 minutes. It's a technique that requires a lot of faith in the audience — something that Ball says not all filmmakers have.
"Audiences are way more willing to watch something experimental and intelligent than a lot of pretentious filmmakers would give them credit for," he says. "I think that's been shown with the success of this movie. Audiences are way cooler than a lot of filmmakers would have you believe."
Clips from Skinamarink began circulating online last fall, eventually going viral on TikTok. But that wasn't part of some social media long game on the part of Ball — it was the result of a European horror festival having its entire slate of films leaked online.
Shudder, the all-horror streaming service who bought the rights to the film after it played at Montreal's Fantasia film festival in the summer, had originally planned to release the film in October of this year. Initially, Ball was terrified that the leak would wreck the film's release plans.
"There was this three-week period after [the leak] where I was panicking, because people just kept sharing my movie more and more," he says. "I was afraid that it was going to put the deal we had signed with Shudder in jeopardy."
Instead, he says, the streamer reaffirmed their support for the project.
"We never had a meeting saying, 'Oh, how can we get out of this deal?'" he says. "Every meeting we've had has been, 'Oh, how can we accommodate this situation and bump up the release dates? Because we still love and want to support the movie.' Once I heard that, I instantly calmed down."
Ball says his parents are thrilled that their house has become immortalized in film, although they've managed to keep its actual location private to avoid hoards of horror fans on the lawn. Ball says his mom is thrilled with every news article about the movie.
"I'm pretty sure she's listening right now," he adds.
And Sharon, Lois and Bram? How do they feel about the song they made famous becoming the title of a horror movie? Ball doesn't know. He hasn't heard from them — but he hopes if they see the movie, they like it.
"I sincerely hope that they don't take [the movie] the wrong way," he says. "I hope they get that I'm not, like, making a dig at them or anything. The word 'skinamarink' or the song 'Skinamarink' never actually appear in the movie outside of the title card. But if they are listening, I want them to know that I love them and grew up with their music."