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.

lucy_david

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.

trashhousepage

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.

Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 11.11.57

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.

 

 

 

All FOUR Early Jinx Movies Now on Amazon!

When Amazon Video Direct launched last year, I was hopeful that it might finally provide a workable and user-friendly platform for people who make movies to get those movies into the homes of people who watch movies.

Check this out: I was actively moaning that the industry as it previously existed was broken back in 2008. Back when I wrote that article, Blockbuster was still a high-street fixture (albeit a fading one). I considered the biggest threat to the indies to be Bittorrent, mainly because file-sharing had sunk more than one distribution deal for me and my company, and knew full-well that the days of DVD/Blu-Ray releases bringing in decent coin for the people who made the movies were behind us.

What didn’t exist at that point was a viable alternative.

Nowadays, there are quite a few. We’ve tried more than a couple. We dabbled with Distrify, but never really got any results. We’ve set up a Vimeo page, enabling us to sell versions of our movies with the kinds of special features that we’d previously have produced for the DVD releases. The Vimeo set-up has worked well enough for us to continue with for at least another year, but it lacks the straight-to-your-TV integration needed to reach the casual movie fan.

This is why Amazon Video Direct looked like such a winner when it was first announced, and I’m happy to confirm that all four of our early movies (TrashHouse, Hellbride, KillerKiller and The Devil’s Music) are now, finally, available on the platform.

C7bgcz_XgAAarNQ

It hasn’t always been the easiest route to get them there, and Amazon’s T&Cs do seem to change by the day. Whereas last autumn they were blocking any content that was ‘self-rated’ any higher than 13+ from the Prime streaming service, (meaning that we had to go and get a BBFC rating for The Devil’s Music before putting it on the service) they now seem to allow content providers to self-rate as 18+ but still have their movies included in the Prime package. They do seem to be pulling more extreme content, and we’ll have to see where that particular line gets drawn as the years go by.  And whether it moves around, which is the most frustrating situation of all.

We did experience a blip after Christmas, when two of our titles got pulled from the service due to ‘issues with the artwork’. We were never quite able to work out what those issues were, so it became a bit of a ‘make a change and hope for the best’ situation. We got rid of the partially visible buttocks from The Devil’s Music artwork and deleted some of the smaller text from the Hellbride image and that seemed to do the trick, but it did serve as a reminder that the service does leave you somewhat at the whims of a massive company from whom it’s not always easy to get answers.

That said, the pluses seem to massively outweigh the minuses, and it’s great to have a platform that takes the movies (via Amazon Fire TV, PS4, Xbox and many more platforms) directly to the living rooms of potentially millions of customers. So, go and watch our movies. Support independent filmmaking. Spread the word, and tell us what you think.

And when you’ve watched all ours, go and watch the awesome output of our friends at Mycho Pictures, who have also just got their back catalogue up online.

So much awesome, fiercely independent horror, so little time.

 

The Devil’s Music – The Plan

Hi folks, Pat here.

You may have seen my entry a couple of weeks back about how the release of The Devil’s Music fell through. We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the movie and the situation, and I want to share my plan with you.

Quick recap: The Devil’s Music is our rock and roll horror mockumentary which an awful lot of people think is very cool. It’s described as ‘magnificent’ in MJ Simpson’s Urban Terrors book, ‘swiftly paced and visually inventive’ in Stuart Willis’ The New Flesh and is even positively namechecked a couple of times in Kim Newman’s magnificent Nightmare Movies. AintItCoolNews called it ‘highly recommended’ and namechecked the director’s cut in their countdown of best horror movies of the year. It won Best Independent Feature at the Festival of Fantastic Films. And more. And more.

the-devils-music

We had a short UK release of the original cut when it was streamed by IndieMoviesOnline, a really ahead-of-its-time streaming site which has now unfortunately gone under. IMO treated the film really well, taking out full page ads in the press and (gasp) actually paying us some money. The US release was handled by a company called Lono, who were lovely and wonderful and ceased trading almost as soon as the film came out, effectively deleting it before it had properly hit the shops. All of this meant that by the end of 2010, our film was effectively ‘lost’, (in that, there was no legitimate way for the public to buy the movie very easily) and all the rights came back to us because both IMO and Lono were lovely, honourable companies.

We started setting up a special edition UK DVD release in 2012, working with the wonderful Cine du Monde, which ended up getting delayed for reasons outside of our control until it ran straight into the ridiculous BBFC situation in 2014 that you probably already know about. That DVD special edition, therefore, also remains in limbo. It sits as a pre-order on Amazon but is unlikely to ever materialise in that form. So if you’ve ordered it, you might as well cancel it.

Since running the last piece about this situation, people have emailed me with a lot of suggestions. We’ve looked at everything people have suggested and examined every possibility.

The following is what we’ve come up with..

We’re going to launch the movie on October 21st 2016 on as many platforms as we can afford, in as many territories as we can. And rather than doing my usual magician’s trick of keeping all this under wraps, I’m going to be honest about it as it comes together. Ask me questions on Twitter, make suggestions via the comments here or wherever. I’m been looking at the usual platforms and making the usual kinds of decisions. I’ve been eyeing up aggregators, particularly Distribber, and would love to hear from other filmmakers’ experiences with them.

We don’t have much money in the bank, but we’ve got a cool movie and a handful of people who’ve really enjoyed it.

Let’s see whether that’s enough.

If you’re interested in helping, there are a bunch of things you can do. If you’re a producer who has worked with distribution platforms anywhere in the world that you’ve had a positive experience, it’d be great to hear about it. If you run a genre-based website, magazine or blog, it’d be brilliant if we could generate as much coverage for the movie as possible for the month of October; if you’d like to review a screener, or run an interview, or feature an exclusive image or whatever we’d love to arrange it. Just contact us via Twitter either on my account or the Jinx Media one.

Anything else? Well, we’ll be firing up the long-dormant Facebook page for the movie too, so if you feel like liking and sharing that page (and the Jinx Media one while you’re at it!), that would be awesome. The more visible support the film has, the more possibilities we have in terms of sorting international platforms.

I’m really sorry you guys have waited so long. I’ll be honest about the way this shakes down, so that people can either cheer at this success story or wince at how NOT to do it in future.

We love you guys. Now let’s finally get this goddam movie out there.

 

How the BBFC, DCMS and EU VAT Regulations Killed our Movie

Between them, they killed the release of our film The Devil’s Music.

It’s a good film that people like, and they killed it.

The Devil's Music

I was worried this would happen when the BBFC introduced changes to their exemption criteria as a result of a DCMS consultation. I hoped that calmer heads would prevail, and the misguided legislation wouldn’t go through.

It did.

The way the BBFC implemented the DCMS changes within their fee structure took our movie from being ready for release in autumn 2014 to being financially non-viable on UK DVD. The additional charges levied against special features meant that the upfront fees to get it through the BBFC went from being a manageable risk to being potentially suicidal from an investment point of view. You can read all about this in an article I wrote for the Huffington Post back at the time. Back when I hoped it might not happen after all.

Back when the DVD was listed as a pre-order on Amazon.

Two years later it’s still listed as a pre-order, but it’s unlikely to ever be fulfilled. The disc had been put together already by the wonderful people at Cine du Monde, but the disc as created would now cost £2000 or more to put through the BBFC. Given that the DVD market is shrinking almost by the week, that kind of an upfront investment in addition to replication costs and so on rendered the disc non-viable. It’s a real shame. It’s a beautiful disc. I’ve got a test pressing of it.

So what? I hear you cry. The future isn’t DVD anyway. Damn the man, skip the BBFC and just go direct digital distribution!

That was my instinct, too, until I began to try and unpick the additional legislative nightmare that is VATmoss – forcing digital distributors to deal with absolutely impossible requirements for tiny companies. It was apparently created to stop massive companies using loopholes, which it doesn’t really do. What it DOES do quite spectacularly, though, is to close all of the options for direct digital distribution for the little guys by creating such an astonishing amount of legal difficulties and paperwork that nobody could ever properly unpick and administer it all without investing thousands.

So, between the BBFC and the insanity of VATmoss, The Devil’s Music was killed dead. The UK DVD release never happened and the intended direct digital release was binned. Here at Jinx, we’ve been concentrating on House on the Witchpit together with our various screenwriting classes and festival shows. Our most critically acclaimed movie has been hanging in limbo; an unfulfilled pre-order and an unreplicated master copy.

Back in 2014, AintItCoolNews reviewed the intended release, saying “The buildup of tension and horror that takes place in here is outstanding and Higgins makes the entire thing feel like the real thing“.

Just last month, WhatCulture listed it as one of the great modern horror films shot for next to nothing.

I hope we’ll find a new way forward. It strikes me as pretty heartbreaking that the release of a movie we worked so hard on, and that so many people seem to really connect with, got strangled by two pieces of ridiculous and ill thought-out legislation.