I love running sessions for Write a Movie in 30 Days. Since Covid-19 arrived, these sessions have been online rather than in person but they’ve still sometimes been in front of quite large audiences. The newly-announced sessions are a little different: online classrooms of ten (at most) and the only way to get a ticket right now is to back Powertool Cheerleaders vs the Boyband of the Screeching Dead.
Yes, tickets to the online classroom are being made available as a perk when you support the movie.
So, last week we launched a Kickstarter for our new movie and by Saturday night we were the MOST POPULAR FILM KICKSTARTER IN THE WORLD.
Out of 74,563.
Powertool Cheerleaders vs the Boyband of the Screeching Dead is a movie I’ve wanted to make for my whole life. It’s big and loud and gory and funny and musical(!) and it’s being made by a wonderful team of people who are doing it for the love of it.
Not gonna lie. Eight years or so ago, I had a major wobble about my film career.
When I started out, I’d intended to make fun midnight movies. My first film, TrashHouse, was an attempt to capture that crazy, eccentric vibe. I thought it might end up being the only film I ever made so I threw everything at it. We had monsters, weapons, retro fashions, stupid one-liners and it was the best thing I could have put together at the time.
2004 was a tough time to be making movies; celluloid was still the ruler, digital was frowned upon or not even thought about. Micro-budget flicks were thin on the ground, and the year TrashHouse came out it was one of only 16 British horror features released that year (according to the figures of the mighty MJ Simpson) because the technology really wasn’t there yet.
And it really WASN’T there. I cut the film on a 20GB hard drive. There was nowhere to research when you didn’t know how to do something, as this was in the days before YouTube and all the OLD instructions about how to do stuff were based on celluloid not DV.
As a result, bits of TrashHouse look… What’s the word? Well, they look shit.
They didn’t look great in 2004, and in 2020 they just look painful. But you know what TrashHouse got right?
It got the spirit right.
It was nuts and ambitious and it was edited on a 20GB hard drive and yet it somehow got into every Blockbuster in the UK.
In the years that followed, I started to take narratives a bit more seriously. I made films with a bit more craftmanship and possibly a more focused intent. When my fourth feature, The Devil’s Music, got the best critical reviews of my career I started looking more carefully at the ‘respectable’ screenwriting side of things and the possibilities of moving away from blood-up-the-walls midnight movies.
And then along came Strippers vs Werewolves, the worst professional experience of my entire life and something that drained the fun out of midnight movies for me altogether.
As always, I need to add the disclaimer that the horrific nature of working on Strippers vs Werewolves was in no way the fault of either the director (the brilliant and talented Jonathan Glendening) or the unfortunate man tasked with rewriting my script on an almost daily basis (Phill Barron). The project became misery incarnate, and left not only a sour taste in my mouth but also a growing feeling that I no longer wanted anything to do with the industry I’d once dreamed of being a part of.
I had a major wobble.
I pivoted a bit, shifting my focus to talking about movies on stages at festivals (and at TEDx) rather than actually directing anything. I continued writing, optioning scripts to third parties, and doing rewrites on other people’s projects. My filmmaking from 2015-2020 consisted of shooting an arthouse micro-micro-micro-budget horror movie then destroying it at the premiere and endlessly recutting, reshaping and reimagining it before showing it to a handful of people and starting the process again. I’d lost something, and I had no way of knowing whether I’d ever get it back.
And then came this tweet.
Rather than ditching my fledgling script (which was way more like a ‘funny title’ than an actual draft) I started chatting to Charlie about it. And, over the course of two years, it actually became something that I not only wanted to film but something I was DESPERATE to film.
The ultimate midnight movie.
A horror/musical/comedy with a brilliant and talented cast, a load of great songs and a defiantly independent spirit.
Something with a brain, a heart and an AWFUL lot of blood.
Last month we shot a promo. It was masked, distanced and a ridiculous amount of fun regardless.
Look, since the dizzying heights of the weekend, the Kickstarter traffic has dropped massively. That always happens in the second week of a Kickstarter, apparently, but JESUS it’s depressing. If you’ve got any interest in seeing this sucker onscreen (or even just seeing our promo video!) head over to the Kickstarter right now. If you could back us (even a quid!) that would be amazing. If you can’t afford it, a share or an RT would be brilliant too.
Once you recover from a wobble, all you want to do is get back on the horse and ride.
It would mean the world if you helped us make this project a crazy, blood-up-the-walls, big-hearted reality.
It’s not always easy to get your brain into a creative state.
Life during lockdown seems to have a lot of unpredictable side effects when it comes to creativity. Personally, I often fall victim to endless mental circling. My mind will get preoccupied with one idea and refuse to budge from it, just circling away rather than exploring other things to think about. These kinds of mental circles can be the enemy of positive creativity so I’m always looking for new ways to break my mind out of unhealthy habits.
This morning I opted for creating a short film outline (or pitch document) for a brand new movie idea. I gave myself a limit of 30 minutes to get it produced, just to make sure that I didn’t just end up spending my entire day doing it. I grabbed two blockbuster movies and took them as inspirational jumping-off points, mashing concepts together until I got something I kinda liked. In this case, I grabbed the biggest grossing movies of 1989 and 1990. Ghost and Terminator 2.
The result of my 30 minutes of labour is below.
Now, this obviously isn’t representative of my best work. It leans heavily on very obvious tropes and shows my inability to make a decision as to whether I prefer to spell it ‘grandad’ or ‘granddad’. For 30 minute exercise, though, it’s actually not too bad. It’s the sort of thing might be worth keeping in a back pocket, just in case I have another one of those meetings with a producer that includes the words “So, what else you got?”
In my experience, those meetings tend to crop up when the producer likes something about you but isn’t hugely interested in the project you’re touting at that point. If you walk into one of them without a scrap of a back-up idea, it can sometimes end up with you both looking a little bit blankly at each other and trying to remember exactly why you’re having a meeting in the first place.
In the grand scheme of things, 30 minutes of my time is nothing. When you consider how many hours I sacrifice to the great God of Twitter, frantically scrolling my endless pointless tribute, the idea of spending 30 minutes and actually getting something out of it seems like a massive bargain. After all, every screenplay on my hard drive (not to mention the ones that made it out into the real world and are now Blu-rays on my shelf) started out as a tiny scrap of an idea. So, I think I’m gonna do another one of these tomorrow morning. And maybe the morning after that. And the one after that.
Oh, I forgot to mention the London Screenwriters Festival 365, which I’m very proud to be a part of. Starting at the weekend, it’s an online festival of sessions for screenwriters. I’ll be bringing three online sessions to the programme over the next couple of weeks from the comfort of my front room, and I very much hope to see some of you there!*
* ‘there’ being online, not in my front room. That would be weird for all kinds of reasons, and would definitely break social distancing guidelines.
I used to call myself a ‘prolific’ writer. I still do, sometimes, but I waver about how true it is nowadays.
See, I still produce a LOT of content. Thanks to the various methods I’ve honed and stuck to over the years, my words-on-page-per-day count is still pretty goddamn high (especially considering that there are an awful lot of other factors at play in my life). The thing that’s changed is the percentage of those words making it out into the public in one form or another.
For example, I started writing a book about screenwriting a couple of years ago. I genuinely intended to get the book written and out in a few months. I used to be pretty proficient at getting something produced, getting it ‘good enough’ and getting it out into the marketplace. Somehow, though, my screenwriting book still needs a good sort and a polish. Three years after I started writing it, it’s been seen by precisely nobody.
This would have destroyed the ‘me’ of 20 years ago. He’d seen too many promising careers lost to procrastination and perfectionism. People who’d let ‘perfect’ become the enemy of ‘good enough’ and had somehow gone from decade to decade without letting their projects grow up and leave home. People who’d lost the ability to finish something and move the hell on.
I don’t think that’s me, even now. I’m pretty sure that the screenwriting book will find its way out to the public sooner rather than later, and that its delay is just down to the fact that I’ve got so many other damn projects at varying stages of completion. That’s what I think. What I hope.
We’re going to lock The House on the Witchpit in the next few weeks, closing the lid on a movie that I’ve been shooting on and off for five years now, and which has already been publicly premiered twice despite the fact that the latest scenes for it were shot just last month. Maybe Witchpit has let a sickness into my bones: permission not to finish things.
If that’s the case, I’m revoking that permission. I’m reclaiming my ability to see things through to completion. Reclaiming the title of being the guy who actually finishes the damn things, gets them out to the public and moves on. Because being prolific is a good trick, but it’s not a good enough trick.
It’s not just the words you make, it’s making sure that they reach their destination.
Bloody hell, 2020.
I wrote a dice-based role-playing game called 2020 when I was a kid. Got all my friends to play it. In the game, everyone was flying around in cool spaceships and trading exotic space goods. The reality is a bit more down-to-earth, but isn’t it always?
Got a great year ahead, and I’m intending to get as much stuff done as possible.
First order of business is a couple of gigs to kick the year off. On Thursday the 16th I’ll be bringing my ‘Write a Movie in 30 Days’ talk to Milton Keynes, then on Saturday 18th I’ve got the horror-based variant ‘Write a Bloody Movie in 30 Days’ over at the mighty Horror-on-Sea festival in Southend.
The first half of the year is also going to be crammed (crammed, I tell you) with pre-production for our sensational horror musical Powertool Cheerleaders vs the Boyband of the Screeching Dead…
We’ve got eleven awesome songs written, a script full of gags, gore and heart. We’ve been assembling a killer cast. Still a LONG way to go if we’re going to get the film in front of the cameras in July (which is the current plan) but I’m feeling quietly confident. It’s going to be awesome.
Elsewhere this year, I’m hoping to finally get my screenwriting book (also called ‘Write a Movie in 30 Days’, like this year’s live show) finished and out on the shelves. It’s been sitting nearly completed for way too long now. I’ve also nearly finished a children’s novel that I started writing in order to keep my kids entertained, but which might now find a life outside of the Higgins household. Because I really like it.
I hope that your 2020 proves to be a huge success, and that you find joy in the things you do.
Don’t forget to hug each other as often as possible. Life’s pretty goddamn short.
On Thursday 7th November I’ll be bringing Write a Movie in 30 Days to the wonderful Birmingham Film Festival!
You can grab your ticket here for the insanely low price of a FIVER.
Yes, nuts isn’t it?
Just click my smiling face, and I’ll see you there. It’ll be the only Birmingham date for the talk, which covers all sorts of tips and tricks to get you up and running with your screenplay. Trust me, it’ll be cool.
See you there!
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.
My name is Pat Higgins and my conscience is clear.