Don’t Give Up (Slight Return)

That was me at Horror-on-Sea earlier this month, delivering the gospel of never giving up.

You can tell I mean it.

I try not to stand on stages, or in lecture halls, or whatever, and say things I don’t mean. My sign-off line of ‘my conscience is clear’ (which I seem to have used for 9 years now, which shows how insanely time flies) is tied to that, I suppose.

You can tell I mean it, and you can probably also tell I’m tired. Not just because I’m just finishing up an hour or so of talking non-stop, but because not giving up is exhausting.

When I wrote that final piece of advice for the 2019 show (the last of 50 bits of advice scattered through it), it was as much for me as for anyone in the audience. My career over the last 15 years has had an awful lot of points at which I’ve nearly quit. Funnily enough, they often seem insignificant in the past tense.

One stands out, though.

Some time after we’d shot TrashHouse (my first movie), I hadn’t been able to sell it to a distributor. I’d sunk a huge chunk of savings and over a year of my life into something that looked unlikely to ever see screens other than those of cast and crew. This was before YouTube or streaming sites; there wasn’t even a way of allowing people to watch it for free.

I can remember dropping in and visiting my parents, having a coffee and announcing very calmly “I really blew this, and I think I’m done”. At that moment I not only thought I’d never get to make another movie, I also thought I’d never write another script. I looked out at the rest of my life stretching ahead of me without screenwriting and filmmaking at the heart of it, and I actually made peace with it.

Made peace because I’d given it my best shot. Made peace because I’d genuinely thrown everything I could into it, and my massive gamble hadn’t paid off.

This story has become a punchline to an anecdote I sometimes tell onstage (“I added three seconds of nudity and sold it to the very next distributor to watch it”), but it was something a lot more profound than that. The desire to quit resurfaces all the time. Every time a project collapses or someone in a comments section tells you to kill yourself, that glimmer of despondency flickers your internal resolve. Your motivation often feels like a pilot light threatening to go out. That’s the day-to-day version of ‘not giving up’. It’s just what you do.

The TrashHouse one was different because of that sense of peace. In that moment, at least, it wasn’t just that I felt like giving up. It was that I genuinely thought that I already had, and it was only inertia carrying me forward.

I think about that sometimes, but I also think this:

Don’t give up.

Don’t give up.

Feel like giving up. Think about giving up.

Then don’t.

My name is Pat Higgins and my conscience is clear.

So You Want to Write a Screenplay?

My webinar from last week was a checklist of things to think about when starting to write a screenplay. It’s packed full of useful advice about everything from software choices to character development.

Check out the archived version on YouTube at the link below.

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FREE Screenwriting Webinar

I ran a little live test some months ago on Facebook Live, which was dipping my toes in the water to see whether webinars would be a good fit for what I do. Looks like the answer was ‘yes’, so I’m going ahead with some more.

I ran another test one last week, and the first official webinar is coming up this Friday (14th December) at 9.30AM GMT. It’s hosted over at expertise.tv and will cover the checklist you should be going through before embarking on a new feature film screenplay.

It’s going to be packed full of stuff, plus you can ask questions and get quick answers. It’s going to be great.

SO, make sure you grab a ticket from this link right here, and I’ll see you on Friday.

 

Am I My Brand?

Goddammit, I don’t know. Help me out.

Back when I started out in the shallow end of the film industry (where I’ve been splashing around for the last decade and a half, never venturing into the deep end but never actually getting out of the water), my brand was easy. My brand was Jinx Media.

Jinx as a brand happened organically. I wrote an unpublished novel called Jinxing Mosquitoes, which led me to start branding things as ‘Jinx’ if I was stuck for a name. Thus, when I set up a comedy club in the late nineties along with some like-minded friends the ‘Jinx’ brand was a no-brainer. The Jinx Comedy Club ran for three relatively happy years in my home town of Leigh-on-Sea, providing me with my first ever experience of standing on a stage talking to people. We used to get acts like Micky Flanagan and Gary Delaney onstage in a room above my local pub. We charged £3.50 on the door, it was great and it meant that I registered jinx.co.uk back when internet domain names were expensive but loads of good ones were still freely available.

Jinx.co.uk ran as a comedy site for several years, with some terrible topical puns and the sort of visual jokes that regularly got us cease and desist letters (yes, letters) in the post from brands who weren’t yet used to seeing their logos get satirised online. We used to update every fortnight, then less often, and then we kind of fell dormant. I still remember our debate as to whether to run an update on the week of 9/11. We opted not to, but I was always blown away by the sites that did. That was a tougher gig than we were ready for.

Once the website stopped updating and the club closed its doors for the last time, I wasn’t sure where the brand would go next. However, when my wife and I made the decision to set up a company in 2003, I can’t really remember ever seriously considering anything else. Jinx it was.

And so, Jinx Media became the brand associated with all of my early micro-budget movies, my chapters of the Death Tales films and, much more recently, The House on the Witchpit (the film I destroyed onstage after its premiere). I knew where I was with Jinx. To a certain degree, I was it and it was me.

Over the last few years, though, things have been a bit different. I’ve not only been doing live shows under my own name, separate to the Jinx brand, but I’ve also been doing a lot of writing gigs for other people. Obviously, any scripts I sell to third parties get made by companies other than my own (the brilliant sale I made a few months back will likely result in a movie without Jinx branding anywhere to be seen), and my micro-budget work has very much taken a backseat over the last five years or so.

Thus, this site. My name, front and centre.

The Jinx site has been a bit neglected, in fairness. The Twitter account is still relatively active, tweeting out never-before-seen photos and, lets face it, retweeting a bunch of my own stuff. The website, though, only really kicks into gear when something happens with Witchpit or with one of my old movies.

So, am I now my brand? Does it actually make sense to try and plug ‘Pat Higgins’ as a creative entity, rather than the individual products that I get associated with? I’m honestly not entirely sure. I’m still working it out. Feels daft to ‘double up’ and end up plugging both the company on one hand and me on the other.

Speaking of which, go and watch my 2018 live show on Amazon Prime. I should have worked out a more subtle way to get that plug in, really, shouldn’t I?

I’m zcarstheme on Twitter, which again seems like a pretty crap piece of branding that I feel I should probably change if I’m putting myself at the centre of my own image.

Tweet at me, anyway. Advice gratefully received.

 

Watch FEAR & FILM on Amazon Prime NOW!

So, you missed the live shows?

Well, we’re proud to announce that the version of FEAR & FILM from the 2018 Horror-on-Sea festival was filmed, and is available to watch RIGHT NOW on Amazon Prime. It’s free if you’re a subscriber, or can be rented or bought if you’re not.

It was the first performance of the show we ever did, so forgive me for any stumbles or cock-ups along the way.

Just click the image below. We really hope you enjoy it.

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TrashHouse: My First Movie

Every now and again, it’s interesting to look back.

Ever since I saw the cinematic double-whammy of the late 70s rerelease of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and the original release of Star Wars when I was three years old, my life’s mission was to get involved in filmmaking by any means possible.

Nothing else grabbed me in the same way. TV was okay (especially Street Hawk), and I liked dabbling with the early home computers (Spectrums, Commodores, ZX81s and even Dragon 32s), but it was always the cinema which fired up my imagination like nothing else on this planet.

I was probably a bit of a nightmare at school: a smart, enthusiastic kid who who mainly only enthusiastic about things that weren’t being taught on the syllabus. Media Studies wasn’t a staple of education back then, so I spent my childhood in a state of constant frustration that my day-to-day existence just didn’t have all that much to do with the thing I loved.

I managed to persuade my parents to let me shoot and develop a couple of rolls of Super 8 film (in which I tried to make it look as if a plastic Tauntaun was running around and tragically melting) and later, as we crept towards the latter half of the 80s, to annually rent a video camera from a high street store (Visionhire) so I could spend a couple of days trying to make movies.

My decision to bail on the high school at 16 led to a very stern lecture from the headmaster (“What is this freedom you’re looking for, Higgins? The freedom to wear excessively long hair?”) which I’m fairly sure was because I was fractionally above the average and thus dragging the grades up rather than down. That headmaster certainly never seemed to have noticed my existence before I threatened to make a tiny impact on the school’s statistics. Nonetheless, I was ultimately much happier at the local sixth form college because it enabled me to take (gasp) Film Studies at A-level. This led to a uni course of combined Media & English, which of course led straight to depressing unemployment and then a series of name-tag jobs in places like Odeon or Blockbuster: basically anywhere that enabled me to stay, in some small way, close to the thing I loved.

Life moved on, as it does, and I got married and settled down. Meanwhile, in the background, the non-starting of my movie career felt like a ticking clock. At some point in 2003, I looked at a block of money sitting in our bank account with which we’d intended to buy a car. I suggested to my wife that, rather than buy that car, maybe we could make a movie. Because she’s the greatest human being in the universe, she said yes.

And that was how TrashHouse came into being. I don’t think about the flick all that often nowadays, and it’s been a long, long time since I’ve sat down and watched it. Nonetheless, if we’d never made that movie my life would have turned out very differently.

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I often bang on about how, in some ways, it’s easier to do hard things than easy things. The greatest thing TrashHouse had going for it was that, in the early months of 2004 when I was shooting and editing it, cutting digital footage on a home PC was still really difficult. Even once you’d had a PC built specifically for that purpose, with the brain-meltingly huge 20GB hard drive (which the guy building the machine tried to dissuade me from, saying it was more space than I’d ever need ‘in a lifetime’), attempts at home editing for anything larger than a very short project presented a massive number of technical difficulties. Time after time I’d lose days of work to crashes, and backing up was just not a viable option without spending thousands more pounds on even more equipment.

But that’s where the ‘hard thing/easy thing’ kicks in, because once we’d actually shot TrashHouse it ended up getting broad distribution on DVD across the UK in exactly the same way that it would have done had it cost a hundred times as much as it did. The simple reason behind this? If something’s genuinely hard, less people do it. We had very, very little competition in the ‘microbudget British horror’ niche, and distributors were hungry for product to get onto the shelves.

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Nowadays you could shoot something that looked ten times better than TrashHouse using the phone in your pocket. But anyone could do that, so could you actually get any bastard to watch it afterwards?

I could fill a book with the mistakes we made on that shoot. My God. We built sets from scratch and then didn’t actually dress them properly (or, in some cases, really even use them). We made up ‘action’ sequences on the fly without properly planning or blocking. We asked our poor, overworked make-up artist to painstakingly create zombies with subtle make-up shading (who would barely be seen) when we’d have been better off just covering them in blood and clumps of latex.

Oh, and we put meat in the gore mix. Never put meat in the gore mix. The smell of that industrial unit will stay with me until I die.

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The team who worked on TrashHouse were an awesome bunch, mind you, and I have absolutely no regrets about the casting decisions. For all my enthusiasm, the script wasn’t as tight as it could have been and I’ve hopefully learned a lot since. I think this was partly just down to that sense that “this might be the only film I ever make” which first-time writer/directors are saddled with. I wanted to include everything on my wishlist, and would genuinely have stuck in a giant octopus if I’d thought for a moment that I’d have gotten away with it.

Loads of things made it feel ‘real’ to me as a genuine step into the industry. Getting signed by an established distributor with a couple of decades experience (although they closed their doors not long afterwards). The process of going through the BBFC, where the trailer got an 18 and the feature got a 15 (which I’ve never quite been able to work out). Getting shown at our first festival and doing my first director’s Q&A.

LucyHouse

Above all, though, seeing it on the shelf of Blockbuster. The same Blockbuster I used to work in. That was a good day.

Because movies never really go away nowadays, you can still see the film on Amazon Prime if you’re in the UK or the US. If you choose to check it out, look kindly upon it as a product of its time. The crazy little movie which finally got my toe in the door of the industry I loved so much. It has dated horrifically, and you could shoot something that looks better on the phone in your pocket.

Maybe you should.

 

 

 

Getting FEAR & FILM to visit your town!

Hey folks

Had loads of fun gigging FEAR & FILM so far. What started as a kicking off point for my TEDx talk last year became a fully fledged interactive show at this year’s brilliant Horror-on-Sea festival, and since then we’ve expanded it a bit and taken it around some more venues.

It’s a 70 minute (or two hour, depending on the venue/situation) show covering horror, screenwriting, fear and a bunch of other stuff. We’ve got an Atmosfear-style horror host called The Scissors Man interrupting proceedings throughout, and we’ve had a load of fun with it.

But we don’t know where to gig next.

The show works best with an audience of 20-50. It’s aimed at grown-ups with some swearing here and there (so it’s not for an all-ages crowd).

Basically, if you can suggest a venue and we can see that there’s a potential audience, we’d love to bring the show to your fair town. But how can you let us know, I hear you cry?

Easy. There’s a Facebook page for FEAR & FILM that I’ve just set up and is right over here. If you ‘like’ the page and just make a post with the town of your choice (and maybe encourage a few of your townfolk to do the same), we’ll try and set up a gig.

I have, of course, no idea if this plan will work. But at the moment, I get people if I’m going to bring it to x town, and then I never know whether they’d be the only person to want to buy a ticket. We’ll always keep the ticket prices to under £11 for this tour, so if we can’t make that work we won’t set up the gig. But we’d love to come and visit you.

If you’d like to meet the Scissors Man, head over and make your voice heard.

Peace and love,

Pat

 

Video Blog: Viewing Conditions for Horror

When Paranormal Activity came out, a lot of people were absolutely terrified by it. The flick’s reputation nowadays isn’t really up amongst the horror greats, and I think an awful lot of the reason for this can be put down to the conditions under which we experience horror movies.

Here’s the first in what will hopefully be an ongoing series of short rants about filmmaking, screenwriting and whatever else is on my mind. Hope you enjoy it, and don’t forget to subscribe.

Gigging FEAR & FILM

Last week I did a bit of a landmark FEAR & FILM gig, in that it was my first ever non-festival solo show.

I’ve spent quite a lot of my adult life talking to groups of people. I’ve done this in a bunch of different contexts: from stand-up comedy, academic lecturing, festival shows and one-day masterclasses through to last year’s TEDx talk. What I’ve never done, until last week, was have a show that was unconnected to a festival or event and consisted of me standing on stage for two hours.

Well, cross that one off the list.

I had no idea if anyone would turn up (they did) and whether they’d enjoy it (apparently they did). I’m massively glad I took the leap, and I’ll book up some more shows throughout the rest of the year until next year’s Horror-on-Sea rolls around and I’ll unleash the 2019 show (which I’ve already started working on and is tentatively called Pat Higgins vs The Scissors Man).

At this point, I’d also like to give an absolutely massive shout out to Three Wise Monkeys in Colchester, who provided an absolutely wonderful venue and were flat-out amazing through the whole gig. Go and visit them, because they rock.

So the next date for FEAR & FILM is the Ruined Childhood evening in Downham Market Town Hall on Sunday, May 27th. Tickets are on sale already, and I hope you can make it. It’s a double-bill with David Lawrence and Stephen Brotherstone, who wrote the brilliant Scarred for Life about terrifying kids’ TV from the Seventies. It should be a great evening.

Oh, and I’ve had a couple of people asking whether we’ll be making a filmed version of FEAR & FILM available. The short answer is ‘yes’, but we’re going to hold off until we’ve finished doing gigs with the show (hopefully avoiding that problem of audiences watching the filmed version then going to see the live show, which messes things up a little for everyone). Having said that, the filmed version is in the can, so if there’s any bloggers or horror websites out there who think they’d be interested in the show but aren’t going to be able to make it along to any of the dates, get in touch via Twitter and I’ll sort it out for you to watch the recorded version.

Likewise, if there are venues or festivals who really want a show about horror and screenwriting (now available in 1 hour or 2 hour versions! Wooo!) please give me a shout.

I bloody love doing this stuff.