At last! The Erika Spawn ‘Body of a Whore’ EP

Our cult movie The Devil’s Music features shock rocker Erika Spawn as the mysterious core of the movie. In the process of making the flick, we recorded a number of tracks from Erika Spawn’s past, from her biggest hit ‘Body of a Whore’ through to the power ballad ‘Dying Bride’. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know some of these tracks.

For most of the past eight years, we’ve tried to keep the lines suitably blurred as to what elements of the film are real, and which very much aren’t. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler at this point to state that the songs featured in the movie were written and produced by the mighty Phil Sheldon from lyrics and extremely basic demos by Pat. Vocals were from the wonderful Vic Hopkins.

Check out Erika Spawn’s ‘Body of a Whore’ EP in full below, and be sure to mark your calendar for the worldwide VOD release of The Devil’s Music on October 21st 2016.

 

Amazon Video Direct, Vimeo on Demand and the Independent Filmmaker

So Amazon have now launched a new VOD service called Amazon Video Direct, which will allow filmmakers to charge for their work and has been labelled as a cross between Netflix and YouTube.

This is an interesting new wrinkle in amongst the VOD options available to filmmakers and indies. We’re planning on trying it out this week, so I’ll let you know how things progress.

We’re in an interesting and probably fairly unusual position at the moment. As a small independent company, we have a back catalogue of four features which have all seen significant distribution of one kind or another and have had the rights return to us after previous distribution deals have expired. One of these, The Devil’s Music, we’ve discussed in some detail already. Before we get back to Amazon Video Direct (and start talking about Vimeo on Demand, too), I’ll take you through the other three one by one.

First up, TrashHouse.

TrashHouse DVD
The first Jinx Media film to be released

Our first feature was shot in 2004, and it shows. The film exists only in standard definition, because that was the way it was filmed. It was shot on 4:3 DV, then masked to a 16:9 ratio in post. The film was released in the UK on DVD on February 20th, 2006. The release ended up in every Blockbuster in the country, which was incredibly gratifying. It was described as having “clever ideas but dodgy tech credits” by the mighty Kim Newman in Empire magazine. It turned up on the torrents on a scale that I wouldn’t, frankly, have predicted at that point, meaning that tens upon tens of thousands of people watched it with no context whatsoever and absolutely hated it (the fact that the torrent apparently had buggered up sound presumably didn’t help). The widescale torrenting torpedoed a US deal which was scheduled for later in 2006 and the movie’s reputation as a weird, fun little micro-budget midnight movie went into the toilet under the onslaught of negative commentary people who downloaded it expecting the next Saw. The UK release was the only official one the movie ever saw (although it got re-released in the same territory on a budget label the next year). The rights came back to us about two years ago, and I’ve never quite worked out what to do with the movie. There are certainly people out there who absolutely love the flick and we still get nice emails about it to this day. Apparently, there are bootleg versions of it knocking around in other territories too.

Jinx has never seen a single penny of our investment from TrashHouse back, and it would be really nice to monetise the flick in a way that works out for us this time around.

Next up, KillerKiller.

KillerKiller

KillerKiller was shot in HD but has thus far only ever been released in SD, and in most territories it’s been released as a 4:3 pan and scan crop rather than in the original aspect ratio (this kind of madness was still happening 10 years ago. Go figure). It’s had a little cinema release in Germany, lots of festival screenings and been released in at least half a dozen different territories on DVD, sometimes under exciting different titles (as you can see below). It’s been fairly heavily pirated, but not as badly as TrashHouse was (largely because by the time KillerKiller hit the shelves, the boom in independently produced horror had started to kick in, and there was more choice of movies to nick).

Jinx has never seen a single penny of our investment from KillerKilller back, and it would be really nice to monetise the flick in a way that works out for us this time around.

Finally, Hellbride.

Hellbride

Now, as you may be aware if you follow this blog, this is the one we’re concentrating on this month. Shot back-to-back with KillerKiller but released later because of a longer post-production, Hellbride was shot in HD but, as with KillerKiller, has only been released in SD prior to this year. It was released on DVD in both the US and the UK, and then licenced out by our distributor to various streaming platforms. Our best guess, judging by the figures that we have available to us, is that around a third of a million people have seen Hellbride on one platform or another by this stage.

You’ll never guess what. Jinx has never seen a single penny of our investment from Hellbride back, and it would be really nice to monetise the flick in a way that works out for us this time around.

Those were the first three movies we filmed. Hundreds of thousands of people saw the films. Many tens of thousands actually paid to see the films. Yet not a penny ever came back to the people who made them.

We’ve got wiser as the years have gone by, I hasten to add. Both of the Death Tales movies that Jinx co-produced, and indeed our fourth feature The Devil’s Music, have made money back from their investment. We’re playing the long game with House on the Witchpit, but it’ll definitely make its meagre budget back if all goes to plan.

But those first three movies, man…

Now they’re back home, we’ve had a period of taking stock and looking at the options available to us. We decided a few blog entries back that we would set a re-release date for our fourth film The Devil’s Music of October 21st, and get it out in as many different platforms and territories as possible. It’s our most critically acclaimed movie, and we want to make sure that we do it right in terms of the rerelease.

As for Hellbride, KillerKiller and TrashHouse, that gives us an opportunity to try new things.

The first one up to bat is Hellbride, of course.

We uploaded it to Vimeo on Demand and made it available in HD for purchase or rental a few days ago. We used the functionality of Vimeo on Demand to send out review screeners to review websites who hadn’t already reviewed the movie, and hoped for the best. On the first day that Hellbride was up on Vimeo on Demand, we made six sales totalling about $20. That might sound like a laughably small amount for a movie that still represents a hole in the company’s bank account to the tune of thousands and thousands of pounds, but let’s not forget that out of the 300,000 or so people who’ve seen the movie, that $20 represents the first money that will actually come back to Jinx from Hellbride.

Ten years after the movie filmed.

So, with the Vimeo experiment just getting underway, Amazon throws its hat into the ring with Amazon Video Direct. We’ve already got a nice HD version of the film sitting ready to rock that we prepped for Vimeo, so it looks like we might as well take a punt and upload it to that platform too. Looking over the details, though, it seems to be the usual trade off; increased exposure via Amazon’s collossal reach, in exchange for a reduced cut of the money (50% on Amazon’s platform vs 90% on Vimeo on Demand).

Well, since we managed 6 sales on our first day with Vimeo on Demand, let’s see how we fare on Amazon.

Since I’ve started talking openly about this stuff (we used to hide it behind a curtain like the Wizard of Oz for fear of devaluing the perception of our movies) I’ve been lucky enough to chat to several other wonderful filmmakers and share their experiences. So, once you’ve done buying yourself a copy of Hellbride, go and check out Matt Jackson’s amazing Bigfoot-flavoured romp Love in the Time of Monsters, MJ Dixon’s entire goddamn catalogue and Bin Lee’s rocking Office Ninja.

More to come. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

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.

Pat Higgins Live – “My Glorious Career in a Selection of JPGs”

Another chunk from the 2014 live show “Fake Blood, Real Guts” from Horror-on-Sea. This is a four minute breakdown of how and why I made the choices that I did, starting with our low-fi cult flick TrashHouse and ending up fading out discreetly at around the point I wrote Strippers vs Werewolves. I’m speaking on behalf of nobody but myself, I’m not representing the views of Jinx Media, etc. etc.

TrashHouse: The Uncensored Truth

I was born in 1974. Movies were always my love and passion, ever since seeing Star Wars on the big screen on opening night at the Southend Odeon. It was December 1977, and I was three years old. In that same year, my amazing mum also took me to see the rerelease of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which I talked about in this blog entry over here. We also went to see Bambi, because, hey, she was a dutiful mum and that’s the drill. It was the sci-fi stuff and the rubber monsters that stuck with me, though.

From that point, I knew I wanted to make movies. I think I was muddled about the process for a few years; early on, I thought I wanted to act but this was because I believed films were made in real time. I knew it was all fake, but I think I thought that Sam J Jones would receive the Flash Gordon script, memorise it and then turn up at the studio. He’d spend 90 minutes running away from explosions, snogging Melody Anderson and wearing a t-shirt with his own name on it, and then he’d just bask in the glory when the flick got released.

As soon as I realised this wasn’t the case, I knew I wanted to be a film director.

Life gets in the way, of course. After university I ended up in a variety of jobs, from cinema usher through to video shop assistant and then through to being a customer services trainer in an internet company. I punched the clock, but I knew these weren’t the things I wanted to do. I never stopped thinking about directing movies.

Somewhere along the way, I started doing stand-up comedy. Because this was the late nineties to early noughties we’re talking about, no clips of this phenomenon exist online. If the Kickstarter project hits its total, I’ll post one. Anyway, the stand-up part of my life collided with the internet company part of my life, and I set up Jinx Media in 2003 as a company dedicated to delivering short stand-up clips to mobile phones.

The window during which this was a viable idea was incredibly short. One day, it seemed like delivering video to phones was just too hard from a technical point of view. The blink of an eye later, phones could get onto the web and a custom delivery system (let alone one that charged) looked utterly pointless. The idea missed its window, and I was left with a company with no purpose.

And we had a few grand in the bank.

Suddenly, it looked like the time had come to make the movie I’d dreamed of for so long.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I’m telling you by way of context because of the video that awaits you at the end of this blog entry.

The short version: in 2004, (as you probably know if you’re reading this), I made a movie.

We had a small budget, very little practical experience and no connections. I advertised for cast and crew on the internet. I hired a warehouse, we built sets out of wood and I filmed a ludicrously ambitious script on a mini DV camcorder.

The movie was called Trashhouse.

TrashHouse_DVD

It ended up getting a wide DVD release in the UK. I had the joy of walking into the branch of Blockbuster that I had once worked in, and seeing multiple copies on the shelf.

Kim Newman in Empire magazine said it had ‘Clever ideas but dodgy tech credits’.

While we went about our insane quest, we let filmmaker Mike Borland film everything we did. A cut-down version of Mike’s documentary ended up on the DVD.

What follows, for the first time, is the full uncensored version of that behind-the-scenes documentary.

It’s filmmaking 2004 style; no DSLRs, no video blogs because such things just didn’t exist. No YouTube, no Facebook. Editing footage at home was only just becoming possible. I cut the whole goddamn film on a PC with a 20 Gig hard drive.

There’s a lot of love going on here. For better or worse, this was where it started.

Love,
Pat
x

#

Making The Devil’s Music – Part Two

This next thing follows this previous thing. Read the previous thing first.

I’m not a guy who tends to approach the big subjects in life. I’m a guy who makes horror films. I have no background in investigative journalism, beyond that my uncle used to do restaurant reviews for the local paper. I didn’t set out with any sort of agenda or gameplan. I didn’t even necessarily set out to make a documentary, let alone go on to write a book about it. This wasn’t the way that I expected 2008 and 2009 to pan out. In fact, in the summer of 2008 I was meant to be directing a fun little b-movie called [TITLE REDACTED] and instead I found myself coping with the fallout of having spent the previous year digging around the story of Erika Spawn. I’ve fended off everyone from fanboys to religious fanatics, all of whom have been convinced that I’ve been doing something very very wrong, even if they’ve had wildly differing ideas as to exactly what.

Erika Spawn - Goat Shoot

 

When the final phase of Erika’s story broke, in late summer 2007, I was dealing with making the delivery list for KillerKiller. When an independent film gets picked up by a distributor, that distributor sends you a delivery list, detailing all the weird and wonderful things that you’ll have to supply them with along with the master of the movie that they’ve just bought from you. KillerKiller’s delivery list to York Entertainment over in the US was fairly straightforward, and thankfully devoid of items such as the dreaded ‘Aeroplane Version’, where the producer has to deliver a cut of the movie that has no nudity, sex, violence or bad language yet somehow has the same running time, presumably via extended cutaways of bunnies hopping through fields. The job of making the delivery list had been made rather easier because Pip had joined the company full time a few weeks previously. Oh, and I should probably point out at this stage that Pip = Pippa Higgins, who not only produces all my flicks nowadays but is also my wife. She rocks my world on a daily basis, and also stops me doing incredibly stupid things without really thinking them through. She’s amazingly funny, astonishingly well organised and the most fundamentally interesting and brilliant person I’ve ever met. But when I say things like ‘I should phone Eddie Meachum’ when I’ve only got two days left before the deadline on a delivery list, she tends to call me on it.

‘You mean Erika Spawn’s manager? Why do you want to call him?’

‘To see how he’s doing.’

‘You’ve never given a shit how he was doing before. Why do you suddenly care now?’

‘He was a nice guy. Now he’s all over the papers and they’re tearing him to bits.’

‘You should delete the number. You don’t even know him.’

‘I liked him.’

‘Are we going to have to have another number deleting session?’

I winced. I didn’t like number-deleting sessions.

I have a habit of accruing numbers in my phone at a fairly rapid rate, often of people that I’m only very tenuously associated with. Years before I got into the movie-making business, I was involved with stand-up comedy. Involved in the sense that I ran a monthly comedy night over a pub, and I performed it fairly badly as a hobby. As a result, an awful lot of comedian’s numbers found their way into my phone and, over the years, some of them became famous. Funnily enough, when they became famous I didn’t want to delete their numbers ‘in case I needed them one day’. As a result, my phone was cluttered with numbers for people like Russell Brand and Alex Zane, most of which had probably stopped working years ago and I never actually intended to phone anyway, but somehow having them in my phone made me feel slightly higher up the ladder than I actually was. Once in a while, Pip would grab my phone and ruthlessly cull numbers. Allegedly this was to save space on the phone, but I think there was a very useful side effect of keeping me vaguely tethered to reality.

‘Even if we have a number-deleting session, his one stays. Because I want to phone him. Maybe I’ll wait till all this blows over, though.’

‘What’s this got to do with the delivery list?’

And then, without even really thinking about it, I blurted out;

‘We need a new project.’

‘We’ve already talked about this. There’s not enough cash in the company account to shoot another feature.’

This was true. The previous summer we’d shot KillerKiller back-to-back with another straight to DVD flick called Hellbride. Both were now complete, but at this stage we hadn’t seen a penny back from either of them. The cupboards were very much bare as far as funding a narrative feature went.

‘Maybe not a narrative, no’ I said, still not really thinking about what I was saying and really just looking for an excuse to ring the guy who was all over the papers and whose number I had in my phone. ‘But what about a documentary? Maybe just an interview or something?’

I hadn’t thought it through even slightly, but I was warming to my theme even as I spoke. Pip looked like she was biting her tongue, but appeared to be hearing me out.

‘Look, the Erika Spawn story is the hottest news story in the country right now. We’ve got an office full of HD filming equipment and a phone full of numbers of people connected to the story. If we can’t find a way to turn this into something financially rewarding we don’t deserve to be called filmmakers’

Pip thought long and hard before responding.

‘What do you mean a phone full of numbers?’

‘We’ve got Eddie’s’

‘We’ve got Eddie’s from two years ago. And that’s it? That’s not exactly a phone full of numbers. That’s one number. That almost definitely won’t work.’

‘Course it’ll work. I’ve had the same mobile number for 12 years.’

‘That’s because you’re not all over the papers. He’ll have changed it.’

‘Bet he hasn’t.’

‘Look, I don’t even want to talk about this. Have you burnt that DVD of photos yet, or do I have to..’

‘It’s ringing.’

Pip shot me a look and exhaled very slowly and carefully. I sat and watched the little readout on my phone, with the animated full stops after ‘Calling Eddie Meachum…’ dancing their path across the screen. It rang, and rang, and went to voicemail.

‘He’s screening. Hang it up,’ Pip said.

The voicemail message sounded incongruously upbeat, considering that the man in question was being called ‘The Shadowy Figure behind Evil Erika’ by the tabloids.

‘Hiya, this is Eddie. I’m out and about at the moment, but I’ll get back to you. Cheers.’

I cleared my throat, unsure as to what I was going to say. Pip made a ‘put the phone down right now’ gesture, and without getting the okay from my brain, my mouth apparently started speaking.

‘Hi, uh, Eddie? I don’t know if you remember me. My name’s Pat Higgins, I directed Erika’s video for Needles. I imagine that everything’s pretty insane at the moment, but I wanted to say that if you want to have a chat it’d be good to speak to you. Y’know, maybe if you wanted to give your side of the story or whatever. Give me a call, anyway. Cheers.’

There was a silence in the room as I hung up. My conscience had kicked in.

‘Did that sound a bit ambulance-chasey?’ I asked Pip.

‘Of course not’ she said, irritated. ‘You just phoned up a guy who’s all over the tabloids and offered to let him tell “his side of the story”. Just like every media outlet in the world is probably doing right now. Difference is, they can all offer him vast amounts of money. What can you offer him? A bit part in [TITLE REDACTED]? It makes us look unprofessional.’

I looked around our office. Just to shatter the illusions of anyone out there who thinks that making straight-to-DVD splatter movies is glamorous and well-paying, I’ll describe the office to you. It’s the room next to our bedroom in our semi-detached suburban house. It has one wall painted vivid green so that we can shoot green screen pick-up shots of zombies or whatever without having to hire studio space. It contains two computers; a massively out-of-date PC, on which I cut TrashHouse back in 2005, and a massively overpowered Mac which I use for everything nowadays. There’s a framed poster of Gremlins on the back wall and there are usually coffee cups everywhere. Prior to February 2005 the entire room was full of overflowing ashtrays which I could never be bothered to empty, nowadays it’s just covered in empty wrappers from sweets or gum. Pip tries her hardest to keep it clean, but I can be a one man mess-machine when I put my mind to it.

God forbid we should ever look unprofessional.

‘Doesn’t matter. We gave it a shot.’

‘Did you really mean that about shooting a documentary?’ she asked.

I grinned sheepishly.

‘Not really my area. I was just looking for excuses not to blat the number.’

And then the phone starting ringing, the vibrate function making it dance and clatter on the plastic IKEA stool where I’d absent-mindedly dumped it. I looked at the readout.

Eddie Meachum.

‘He’s phoning back,’ I said to Pip, eyes probably showing a slight edge of panic. ‘Do you want to answer it?’
Her look told me no. Really rather definitely no.

I answered it.

‘Hi Eddie.’

‘Hey Pat. Sorry I missed your call. I was having a shit. Got a fucking headache like you wouldn’t believe. Haven’t heard the voicemail, just thought I’d phone straight back. You’re the guy from Warners, yeah?’

‘Ah, no. I’m Pat Higgins. We shot a music video for Needles with you a couple of years back.’

‘It came up Pat on the phone. I’m sure that’s the name of the guy from Warners.’

‘Different Pat?’

‘Yeah, must be. So, how can I help you Pat?’

‘I’ve been reading the papers.’

‘Yeah, hasn’t everyone,’ he said, ending the sentence as a statement rather than a question. Suddenly, he brightened. ‘You’re the tall guy, right? Dice earring? We shot that video chopping up that blonde chick on the hospital trolley?’

Thank fuck. He remembered.

‘That’s me.’

‘Sorry about my manners. Been a hell of a week.’

‘I guess so,’ I said. I decided to go for broke. ‘Look, if you want to talk about it..’

I heard him take a deep breath on the other end of the line. I imagined that he was massaging his eyes with his fingers, willing his headache to fade. He spoke carefully but firmly.

‘Ah, look Pat. I’m just gonna sit tight and wait for Erika to turn up. Don’t really want to talk to anyone. This’ll all blow over. Thanks for phoning and everything, though.’

And he hung up.

I relayed the conversation to Pip. She chewed a pen thoughtfully, and ventured;

‘He’d have been happy to talk to Warners, though, wouldn’t he?’

I had to concede that it sounded rather like he would.

Making The Devil’s Music – Part One

The first time I met Erika Spawn on the hottest day of the year in the summer of 2005. We were scheduled to shoot a video for her track Needles, which was third single from her second album, in a tiny green screen studio in the shittiest part of West London. Granted, Erika wasn’t a star by then, but I was still somewhat stunned that her label wouldn’t spring for a more expensive studio or, to be frank, a higher profile director than me. Over the next few years, I’d go on to make a handful of cult movies which would at least establish me as a safe pair of hands. At this point, however, all I’d shot was my debut flick, Trashhouse, and that hadn’t even been released on DVD yet. When I was offered the gig for the Needles shoot, I was just told that Erika had seen the TrashHouse trailer online and had thought it was funny. I wasn’t going to turn down any paying gig whatsoever at that point, so I didn’t ask any questions. I just showed up.

Well, at least, I just tried to. The studio was the hardest place to fucking find that I’ve ever been late getting to in my life. Pip was behind the wheel, turning corner after corner cursing my navigational skills as I led her from dead end road to one-way street. By the time we finally got there we were both frazzled and spent, convince that we’d walk in to find a pissed-off production team and an Erika at the end of her tether. We thought we’d probably get fired. We made our way across the baking forecourt, the sun bleaching our hair and reddening our skin with every second that we exposed ourselves to it. As it turned out, we were the first ones there.

Erika finally turned up four hours later. In a full length fur coat.

The shoot’s nominal producer was Eddie Meachum, Erika’s manager. Quite how he considered that being her manager meant that he was going to be a competent producer for a music video shoot I have absolutely no idea. Pip (who was officially only there as my ‘assistant’ on this case) ended up pulling so much of Eddie’s slack that when she actually came to produce a music video herself a couple of years later (the Rocky-themed video for Jim Bob’s Battling the Bottle) she’d already had all the practice that she needed and could probably have done the whole thing with her eyes shut. That’s no offence to Eddie there; he’d tell you the same thing himself. I liked the guy then, and still do actually. There aren’t all that many people that I met in the course of this story that I’d actively choose to stay in touch with, but Eddie’s one of them. Doesn’t change the fact that the guy couldn’t produce worth shit, and I was a first time director as far as music videos were concerned. So neither of us were particularly able to rein Erika in. She’s very much the unstoppable force, and neither of us were an immovable object.

The video ended up more unpleasant than it was intended to be, which made things even more difficult when it came to getting it played. I was going to stick an embed of it on here, but it looks like they’ve all been blitzed off the ‘net, so you’ll have to content yourselves with a fan-made Dying Bride video up at the top of the page. If you’re still massively curious about the Needles video, there’s an extract from it in the final cut of The Devil’s Music. Oh, and here is the only photo in existence (as far as I know) of me and Erika Spawn in the same room. Snapped on the very day I’ve been talking about.

Pat Higgins and Erika Spawn

We’d always planned the rubber lingerie and the surgeon tools, but the original concept was for the whole video to be POV from the patient’s viewpoint. Here’s the rough breakdown from the storyboards I’d been emailed.

1. POV from patient’s perspective strapped to trolley. Empty room.
2. POV of Erika entering room. She’s wearing a rubber outfit with stockings and suspenders and a spiked collar.
3. POV as Erika sings to patient (ie. Straight to camera)
4. POV as Erika produces tray of vicious-looking surgical equipment.
5. POV surgery – Erika pulls entrails and organs out of the unseen patient.
6. POV slow, slow fade to black.

The idea was that the video would feel horrible, but that we wouldn’t actually need to show any of the graphic stuff (scalpels cutting flesh, and so on) by sticking firmly to the POV, so we’d get away with post-watershed on the only music channels that would actually be interested in showing us anyway. By the time Erika arrived, got done with hair and makeup and turned up on our tiny little stage in her rubber outfit, it would ordinarily have been about time to break for lunch. Pip made murmurs in this direction, which Erika firmly cast aside with an ‘I already ate. Let’s shoot this thing’.

So, we shot. For about an hour. After which time, Erika was starting to get into it. She was stalking around the stage, growling the lyrics straight into the camera in time to the guide track which was booming around the little studio. I was just about to call for another take when she brightly asked;

‘So, where’s the chick?’
‘What chick?’
‘The chick I’m cutting?’
‘Oh, we’re sticking to the Point of View shot, so you’re never gonna need to see them.’
‘No, no, no. I mean, the chick I’m cutting up.’
‘I thought we were going to..’

She smiled abruptly and turned to Eddie.

‘Eddie, get us a girl down here. This guy hasn’t got us someone for me to cut. Not Carol, someone different, maybe a blonde. You know the score.’

Eddie gave a quick salute, and within an hour we had a wriggling glamour model strapped to the operating table. I filmed her in decidedly non-POV shots, as Erika prodded at her with a rubber scalpel and the fake blood flowed. As you’ll know if you’ve seen the video, the POV stuff kind of goes out the window after the first minute. It’s cheerfully horrible, but not exactly psychological horror.

Erika Spawn - Needles

And that was pretty much it as far as drama went. It was a cheap, two day shoot that ended up rather bloodier than expected. It was a fun little side project which was barely seen by anybody until two years later, when anything remotely connected to Erika immediately became hot property. The YouTube hits for it are pushing three million now. Erika and I didn’t argue, didn’t have some blow-up. I was a rookie director who needed the money, why the hell would I argue with the star of the show?

The last time I met Erika Spawn was at the first showing of the completed video, which took place in a small room in the offices of her record label about six weeks later. We watched the completed video, gave each other a hug and promised to work again together in the future. Standard Operational Bullshit, obviously never see each other again.

I should probably mention Erika’s accent. As you probably know from footage that you may have seen of her, it ping-pongs around all over the place. People’s take on this seems to differ depending on how benignly they look upon Erika. Fans claim that she’d lived in so many places throughout her life that she’d picked up different inflections on the road, and that her accent was a kind of cultural gumbo reflecting a varied upbringing. Her critics claimed that the thing was an affectation that she never quite mastered, like she was shooting for a broad New York accent but fucked up and always had to live with her mistake when in public or be exposed as a fraud. Personally, I believe that Erika spent her whole life pretending to be different things to different people. In researching her life, I found that she did indeed spend time in a fair few places growing up, but I don’t believe that she picked up those inflections naturally. I think she’d fake it wherever she was. In London, she’d fake RP. If she was in Australia, she’d affect an Aussie drawl. And the whole lot just bled together. I’m not sure there was ever actually an accent that was hers to begin with, just the residue of a whole bunch of different fake voices that she’d put on. So many different fake voices that the genuine voice never had a chance to properly develop.

Erika loved fake stuff, and I think she would have genuinely regarded that as a triumph rather than a tragedy. Fake voices, fake nails, but, above all, fake bloodshed. Even in the two days that I spent in her company, it was obvious that Erika had not only a deep love of, but also a borderline compulsion towards, any kind of make-believe horror or gore. This was matched only by a mirroring sense of revulsion towards any kind of real-life brutality. She would be repelled by images of war or violence in the papers, yet would think nothing of pretending to gut and dissect a struggling glamour model in one of her music videos. It was pantomime, and she loved it for that reason.

This is why, when the violence and the bloodshed turned very, very real in the summer of 2007, I simply couldn’t get Erika Spawn out of my head. I couldn’t reconcile the images that the papers were reprinting day after day with the woman I’d seen recoiling from a tabloid because it contained a photo of an old lady bruised from a mugging. I simply couldn’t understand how Erika could get from the messy Grand-Guignol ridiculousness of the Needles promo to that notorious eight minutes of shaky video referred to by baying red-tops as ‘The Torture Footage’ in just two years.

The Erika Spawn phenomenon went from being a fun little goth metal band with some killer tunes and gross-out stage show, to being one of the darkest news stories of the decade with a genuine body count.

And I decided, rather foolishly, that I was going to find out why.

PS. I might continue telling this tale. I might not. It’s not something I talk about much, and the only reason that it’s back on my mind is because I’ve been asked to look back at The Devil’s Music ahead of the upcoming re-release via Cine du Monde. It’s weird thinking about it all again. For more information about my movies, why not check out the live show “Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws” embedded at the bottom of this blog entry? It hasn’t got much about Erika, but it’s got blood, boobs and bad language so I’m sure she’d approve. Wherever she is.

TrashHouse – We Have the Rights Back

Weird thing about Jinx Media still being in business after ten years; we’ve got the rights for our first movie back.

We signed a seven year distribution deal for Trashhouse back in February 2006. We signed the UK and the US, but the US elements of the deal went wonky when one of the companies involved folded, and that release never happened. The UK release, however, was pretty damn great and saw us on shelves of stores all over the country, not to mention our first review in Empire. ‘Clever ideas but dodgy tech credits’ if memory serves.

TrashHouse_DVD

And now the film has come back to us. It’s the first time ever that we’ve owned the rights to a movie that has a valid BBFC certificate in this country, meaning of course that if we fancied knocking out a cheapo rerelease it would cost us pretty much nothing to do so, provided the film was in exactly the same form as it was when rated in 2006. And there, of course, lies the rub.

I’ve talked about revisiting movies and recutting them before on this blog. My re-edit of The Devil’s Musicwas signed to Cine du Monde last year and we’re just waiting for a shelf date. My director’s cut of KillerKiller should be along later in the year too.

But TrashHouse… Aah, TrashHouse is a different case.

Whereas doing new versions of KillerKiller and The Devil’s Music was really a matter of recutting some scenes – tightening some bits and adding a handful of elements that hit the cutting room floor and perhaps shouldn’t have done – if I were to revisit TrashHouse it would be a big job. As I mentioned in last week’s blog, the flick is a total product of its production context. Some awful special effects, dodgy grading, iffy pacing. The problem with revisiting TrashHouse is that if I started tinkering I just wouldn’t want to stop.

All the things I hate about it (watching it back now) could be fixed. Things that were waaay out of our reach in 2004 could now be dropped into the mix with relative ease, and considering the number of special effects bits that were put together as cutaways or against green screen, I genuinely think we could make the sucker fly like it never has before. Last week I installed Adobe CS6 on my laptop and I tested how well the software was running by tinkering with a couple of shots from the TrashHouse rushes. Shots that had taken me DAYS to get a pretty poor result with in 2004 looked about a hundred times better after I’d worked on them for 20 minutes with my 2013 software (and skillset). Plus, I’ve still got nearly all of the wardrobe and props, so additional cutaways wouldn’t be out of the question either. Perhaps the film could finally look like I’d always wanted it to; it was, after all, the most ridiculously over-ambitious micro-budget movie to ever actually get completed.

I was talking about this situation with Paul Cousins, who was very much my right-hand man throughout Nazi Zombie Death Tales and was the director and editor of the filmed version of my live show Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws. What’s that, you say? You’ve never seen it? Why, click the link below…

Anyway, I was discussing what to do with TrashHouse with Paul. Paul suggested that I might be better to remake/reboot the movie rather than trying to tinker with such a flawed flick. He thought I’d be better leaving it as a product of its time and shooting the whole damn thing again at some point. He might well be right, but I can’t help feeling that I’ll never get the chance. That if I leave it to attempt a reboot at some point in the future I’ll never actually do anything with it at all.

Of course, as soon as I start tinkering with the movie it becomes unreleasable on DVD under the old BBFC rating; we’d have to resubmit it and swallow all the costs associated with that. Right now (considering that TrashHouse is still a LONG way in the red overall) we’re really not in a position to do that.

Weirdly enough, I had another idea which is the most radical of the lot; I thought of making the entire rushes available for people to have their own crack at re-editing. Let all the bedroom SFX gurus loose on green-screen footage of poor blood-splattered Lucy and her heavy artillery and see what they could come up with. Let people recut the whole goddamn film as a showreel piece or just for fun. Release dozens of hours of rough footage into the wild and just see what happened.
I liked that idea for about ten minutes and then the control freak in me kicked back in. It’d be a fun experiment, but I suspected that nobody would ever bother to recut the whole film (a couple of people might have a go at the big fight scene with the blood up the walls and the chainsaw, but that would probably be it) and then I’d never be able to get the genie back into the bottle.

But, damn, I really liked those couple of shots I put together with CS6 last week. It gave me a sense of the movie that TrashHouse always wanted to be but never was due to the fact it was shot by a first-time filmmaker in 2004.
Maybe the project’s time will come. Maybe I’ll remake/reboot when I’m about 70, as the last film of my career as a kind of bookend. Or maybe I should learn to let the past stay there, and concentrate on the fact that I’m hurtling into a project-packed future and already can’t keep up with my own schedule.

PS. Incidentally, I’m being interviewed for new documentary about micro-budget horror called Making Monsters this evening. You can check out the teaser trailer below.

Indie movies and the Illegal Download Thing

Here’s another topic I’ve avoided talking about.

I’ve avoided talking about it largely because both sides of this discussion seem so entrenched in their thinking that nice, civilised discourse often gives way to people chucking insults, hyperbole, misleading figures and great big chunks of horse shit at the other side.

‘The other side’. Even that turn of phrase suggests a divide that can’t be conquered. An issue where you’re either on one side of the fence or the other. No grey area or defections allowed.

Well, sod it. I want to wallow in that grey area a bit. I’ve been trying to find ways to give stuff away for free for years. We’ve put Werewolves, Cheerleaders and Chainsaws up as a freebie, of course, on the basis that if we can get it to meet as many sets of eyes as possible then it might be able to spread the word about our company. At best, it might make a few folks go and buy our movies or attend next year’s live show, and we’ll ultimately get some money that way. So, in order to get it in front of as many sets of eyes as possible, here’s the embedded version again. If you haven’t watched it yet, hope you enjoy it. It’s a live thing about filmmaking. It’s vaguely NSFW in places.

Right, that’s the great big plug out of the way. It actually serves to illustrate a point, though. If your business model relies on the good effects of giving something away, you’re gonna need to keep plugging it. There’s a reason those annoying fuckers trying to give you a free paper as you walk through London are so persistent. It’s a numbers game, and if you’re giving it away for nothing then you need great big numbers of people to watch your product or you won’t see any benefit whatsoever.

We also tried to give The Devil’s Music away for free on initial release, via a third party who placed a couple of high-yield ads at the beginning of the stream. It was a great big risk despite the fact that the company in question threw a load of weight behind the release in terms of conventional advertising. I think it’s fair to say that the experiment wasn’t fully successful, and that the business model still had some kinks. The next release will be going back to conventional DVD, which is a bit more predictable even as the air seems to be leaking out of the balloon.

On the DVD purchase model, I need a lot less people to buy a copy of a feature than I need to watch a freebie in order to make that business model make sense, (provided I’ve struck a decent deal with the distributors). The advantage with this as well, (that nobody seems to talk about much) is that the DVD purchase model is targeted. By its very nature, the people who end up watching the movie have likely done their homework because they have made the decision to drop a tenner on the disc. Odds are they’ve at least Googled the title (even if whilst standing in the shop) and read a bit of background, therefore deciding whether the movie experience they’re about to pay for is one that they are likely to enjoy.

One of the things I found most difficult about having flicks end up on the torrents was that the nature of the distribution model required no investment, research or engagement from the people who ended up watching the flick. The end result was that as soon as any of my tiny little indies hit the torrents all of the average scores on sites like IMDB absolutely plummet, regular as goddamn clockwork. Whereas the guys who’d gone and bought the movie had looked it up and thought “Okay, this is a tiny micro-budget flick with a lot of talking. It’s a slow-burn with a creepy pay-off. That’s my kind of movie, I think I’ll buy it”, the guys pulling it off the torrents were just seeing ‘horror’ and hitting download with no further engagement with the process. Sometimes there might be a lucky match-up, and someone might enjoy it, but far more often the end-user would be expecting a mainstream Hollywood product (or at least a gorefest) and end up clicking the ‘1’ out of 10 on IMDB or wherever. Often accompanied by a comment about how they only watched the first two minutes because it was ‘so fucking cheap’. Something that they’d have inevitably found out before ever deciding to watch it if they’d had to cough up some money, travel some distance or even put in some time and effort. It’s one of the things I find toughest about the flicks getting distributed illegally; well, there’s that, and the fact that other territories get much, much harder to sell once a flick has hit saturation point online, and there’s no way that an indie can organise an international day and date release (as they’re likely to be dealing with different distributors in each territory).

I’ll keep looking for ways to give stuff away online. As I watch the distributors I’ve dealt with over the years go out of business one by one, it becomes apparent that, yes, the old business model is busted and the new ones have yet to settle down. I’m trying to find a pithy way to wrap this up, one that doesn’t come across as a further shot across that divide. I want to build bridges not create bad feeling. There must be a nice, neat one-liner to sum it up.

Can’t think of one, so I’ll just let the article dribble out incoherently.

Fuck it, it’s not like you’re paying for this stuff.