Sun Rocket Films – The First Presentation

Last night, we had our first business presentation for our mighty new organisation Sun Rocket Films at the Metro Bank in Southend.

It’s always an awesome experience to talk to people about a new venture for the first time, especially one with as much drive, potential and focus as Sun Rocket. I’d like to thank the staff at the Metro and the rest of the Sun Rocket team for making such a great first impression.

Can’t wait for the stuff that comes next. If you want to get involved or hear more, don’t forget to register your interest on the site.

Here’s to the next step on this stupidly exciting adventure.

 

‘IT’ isn’t a horror film? Get Out!

With the movie IT smashing box office records for an R rated release all over the place, there are a number of think-pieces floating around on the Internet suggesting that IT is not really a horror movie after all.

The emergence of Jordan Peele’s frankly brilliant Get Out earlier this year also showed signs of this phenomenon, with some critics falling over themselves to suggest that this was somehow more than “just” a horror movie. A Guardian article tried to float the tag of ‘post-horror’.

This seems to happen with monotonous regularity, whenever smart horror films with good characterisation cross over to a new audience who don’t consider themselves to be the “type” of audience who routinely watch horror movies. It’s a subject quite close to my heart, as I have worked in horror all of my professional life and am heavily involved in the launch of an exciting new company called Sun Rocket Films which also deals largely with genre releases.

Horror is poised to have its very best year ever at the box office (and was even beforeIT came along and ripped through even the most optimistic expectations of box office returns with a taloned clown-hand), so I expect this particular drum to be drummed again and again, as people who don’t like horror wriggle and squirm to avoid facing up to a cold, hard truth.

Yes, they do. They do like horror. They might not like the label, but they like the contents.

My next movie is KILLER APPS, which will be shooting through Sun Rocket next year. It’s another horror, certainly, but throughout the scripting process I’ve taken a great deal of care with the characters and I’m hoping that my dark little story of Kayla Frost and her cellphone addiction will be able to stir emotions in the audience other than just fear. I love my characters on the page, and try as hard as I can to make sure that those characters survive the sometimes bumpy journey from page to screen.

I’m proud of my genre.

When horror is done well, it can change the way people think and feel in a way that few other genres can. It can prompt empathy where none previously existed, and point out injustices in a way more visceral and involving than any number of well meaning but funereally-paced dramas.

And even when it doesn’t do these things, that’s fine too. Sometimes, just fear is just fine. Even when the genre doesn’t reach the heights of Get Out or IT, a glimpse into a fictional inky darkness can make us truly appreciate the sunshine in the lives we have.

FOOTNOTE: Horror represents fantastic opportunities in terms of ROI and tax incentives for investors. Sun Rocket Films are holding a presentation in Southend-on-Sea on September 27th for those interested in film production, business professionals or those looking for tax-efficient investments. Places can be reserved via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/film-as-investment-tickets-37731400635

For more information about Sun Rocket Films, please visit sunrocketfilms.com and follow us on Twitter @sunrocketfilms

The One Thing Film Students Need

For the past decade, I’ve spent my working life in two areas: education and film.

I’ve got a lot of love for both. With that love, however, comes the knowledge that both areas have some issues. Not just the big ones that make headlines, but smaller issues which undermine all the good stuff.

In the education sector, there’s a real issue with talented students getting the work experience and the breaks that they deserve. The focus on practical experience (for courses in the FE sector in particular) mandates that most students on Film & TV production courses undertake meaningful work experience as part of their qualification. The government has recently doubled-down on this aspect of 16-19 education, with the Chancellor referring to ‘high quality industry work placements’ as being a requirement for technical routes rolled out from 2019/20. Initial indications are that the duration of these placements will be significantly longer than those required already, on a basis of “no work placement, no certificate”.

This would be a great idea, of course, if there were enough good placements available to fulfil the requirement.

The risk here, of course, is that the definition of a ‘high quality work placement’ gets watered down to meet the tick-box requirement, and students who are looking to forge careers as directors of photography on major feature films end up working unpaid in high street photography shops or whatever in order to tick the box. Everybody loses in that equation (well, except the high street shop, I guess), and whether it’s a meaningful experience from which the student genuinely benefits is certainly open to discussion.

There’s also a largely unspoken gender issue at play here. In the majority of graduating classes I can think of over recent years, I’d say that over 50% (and in some cases more like 70% or so) of the very top performing students are female. I’ve been in education long enough to have had the pleasure of seeing some of my former students go on to forge very successful careers in the media, but the vast majority of students who seem to ‘get the break’ after graduating are, for whatever reason, male.

So, the driving need here would seem to be for work experience placements to be a genuine beneficial professional experience (resulting in a recognisable professional screen credit) in order for students to get a foot in the door of the industry, and for those placements to be allocated based on skill and capability rather than any other factor.

Elsewhere, over in the UK film industry itself, there’s another issue in a similar area.

Since the advent of digital filmmaking in general, films as a finished product have been devalued in the marketplace. The middle-tier of independent filmmaking has largely collapsed, leaving only no-budget movies put together on favours and pizza (for which very few of those involved ever end up seeing a paycheque) and massive budget blockbusters of £100 million or more which are incredibly risk-averse and usually based on existing intellectual properties so as to guarantee an audience of a certain size. There are exceptions, of course, but the bread-and-butter mid-level projects upon which experienced professionals relied to pay the rent, largely, no longer exist.

One of our central ideas in setting up Sun Rocket has been to tackle both of these issues. Sun Rocket Films works by having heads of department (experienced specialists paid at standard industry rates) overseeing departments featuring significant numbers of high-performing students, who work on the project to fulfil the mandatory work experience element of their Film & TV production courses. Rather than working unpaid in a retail shop which has precious little connection to their career goals, students get a genuine experience of their chosen specialism (be that cinematography, design, sound, post-production or whatever). The experienced professionals at the head of each department get to do the job they love whilst whilst getting paid a realistic rate for their hard work and expertise (which seems to happen increasingly rarely, sadly).

Hopefully, a few years later down the line, we’d be looking to see those former work experience students coming back as heads of department themselves. It’s a sustainable model for creating strong genre movies with high production values in a changing marketplace.

We’re trying to make things better. We’re genuinely looking for a set-up in which everybody wins.

As someone who loves both education and the film industry, I can’t wait to get started.

FOOTNOTE: Sun Rocket Films are holding a presentation in Southend-on-Sea on September 27th for those interested in film production, business professionals or those looking for tax-efficient investments. Places can be reserved via:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/film-as-investment-tickets-37731400635

For more information about Sun Rocket Films, please visit sunrocketfilms.com and follow us on Twitter @sunrocketfilms