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.
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.
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.
With the movie IT smashing box office records for an R rated release all over the place, there are a number of think-pieces floating around on the Internet suggesting that IT is not really a horror movie after all.
The emergence of Jordan Peele’s frankly brilliant Get Out earlier this year also showed signs of this phenomenon, with some critics falling over themselves to suggest that this was somehow more than “just” a horror movie. A Guardian article tried to float the tag of ‘post-horror’.
This seems to happen with monotonous regularity, whenever smart horror films with good characterisation cross over to a new audience who don’t consider themselves to be the “type” of audience who routinely watch horror movies. It’s a subject quite close to my heart, as I have worked in horror all of my professional life and am heavily involved in the launch of an exciting new company called Sun Rocket Films which also deals largely with genre releases.
Horror is poised to have its very best year ever at the box office (and was even beforeIT came along and ripped through even the most optimistic expectations of box office returns with a taloned clown-hand), so I expect this particular drum to be drummed again and again, as people who don’t like horror wriggle and squirm to avoid facing up to a cold, hard truth.
Yes, they do. They do like horror. They might not like the label, but they like the contents.
My next movie is KILLER APPS, which will be shooting through Sun Rocket next year. It’s another horror, certainly, but throughout the scripting process I’ve taken a great deal of care with the characters and I’m hoping that my dark little story of Kayla Frost and her cellphone addiction will be able to stir emotions in the audience other than just fear. I love my characters on the page, and try as hard as I can to make sure that those characters survive the sometimes bumpy journey from page to screen.
I’m proud of my genre.
When horror is done well, it can change the way people think and feel in a way that few other genres can. It can prompt empathy where none previously existed, and point out injustices in a way more visceral and involving than any number of well meaning but funereally-paced dramas.
And even when it doesn’t do these things, that’s fine too. Sometimes, just fear is just fine. Even when the genre doesn’t reach the heights of Get Out or IT, a glimpse into a fictional inky darkness can make us truly appreciate the sunshine in the lives we have.
FOOTNOTE: Horror represents fantastic opportunities in terms of ROI and tax incentives for investors. Sun Rocket Films are holding a presentation in Southend-on-Sea on September 27th for those interested in film production, business professionals or those looking for tax-efficient investments. Places can be reserved via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/film-as-investment-tickets-37731400635
For more information about Sun Rocket Films, please visit sunrocketfilms.com and follow us on Twitter @sunrocketfilms
For the past decade, I’ve spent my working life in two areas: education and film.
I’ve got a lot of love for both. With that love, however, comes the knowledge that both areas have some issues. Not just the big ones that make headlines, but smaller issues which undermine all the good stuff.
In the education sector, there’s a real issue with talented students getting the work experience and the breaks that they deserve. The focus on practical experience (for courses in the FE sector in particular) mandates that most students on Film & TV production courses undertake meaningful work experience as part of their qualification. The government has recently doubled-down on this aspect of 16-19 education, with the Chancellor referring to ‘high quality industry work placements’ as being a requirement for technical routes rolled out from 2019/20. Initial indications are that the duration of these placements will be significantly longer than those required already, on a basis of “no work placement, no certificate”.
This would be a great idea, of course, if there were enough good placements available to fulfil the requirement.
The risk here, of course, is that the definition of a ‘high quality work placement’ gets watered down to meet the tick-box requirement, and students who are looking to forge careers as directors of photography on major feature films end up working unpaid in high street photography shops or whatever in order to tick the box. Everybody loses in that equation (well, except the high street shop, I guess), and whether it’s a meaningful experience from which the student genuinely benefits is certainly open to discussion.
There’s also a largely unspoken gender issue at play here. In the majority of graduating classes I can think of over recent years, I’d say that over 50% (and in some cases more like 70% or so) of the very top performing students are female. I’ve been in education long enough to have had the pleasure of seeing some of my former students go on to forge very successful careers in the media, but the vast majority of students who seem to ‘get the break’ after graduating are, for whatever reason, male.
So, the driving need here would seem to be for work experience placements to be a genuine beneficial professional experience (resulting in a recognisable professional screen credit) in order for students to get a foot in the door of the industry, and for those placements to be allocated based on skill and capability rather than any other factor.
Elsewhere, over in the UK film industry itself, there’s another issue in a similar area.
Since the advent of digital filmmaking in general, films as a finished product have been devalued in the marketplace. The middle-tier of independent filmmaking has largely collapsed, leaving only no-budget movies put together on favours and pizza (for which very few of those involved ever end up seeing a paycheque) and massive budget blockbusters of £100 million or more which are incredibly risk-averse and usually based on existing intellectual properties so as to guarantee an audience of a certain size. There are exceptions, of course, but the bread-and-butter mid-level projects upon which experienced professionals relied to pay the rent, largely, no longer exist.
One of our central ideas in setting up Sun Rocket has been to tackle both of these issues. Sun Rocket Films works by having heads of department (experienced specialists paid at standard industry rates) overseeing departments featuring significant numbers of high-performing students, who work on the project to fulfil the mandatory work experience element of their Film & TV production courses. Rather than working unpaid in a retail shop which has precious little connection to their career goals, students get a genuine experience of their chosen specialism (be that cinematography, design, sound, post-production or whatever). The experienced professionals at the head of each department get to do the job they love whilst whilst getting paid a realistic rate for their hard work and expertise (which seems to happen increasingly rarely, sadly).
Hopefully, a few years later down the line, we’d be looking to see those former work experience students coming back as heads of department themselves. It’s a sustainable model for creating strong genre movies with high production values in a changing marketplace.
We’re trying to make things better. We’re genuinely looking for a set-up in which everybody wins.
As someone who loves both education and the film industry, I can’t wait to get started.
FOOTNOTE: Sun Rocket Films are holding a presentation in Southend-on-Sea on September 27th for those interested in film production, business professionals or those looking for tax-efficient investments. Places can be reserved via:
For more information about Sun Rocket Films, please visit sunrocketfilms.com and follow us on Twitter @sunrocketfilms
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.
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.
So much awesome, fiercely independent horror, so little time.
Our movie Hellbride has been seen by more people than any other Jinx movie, (with the possible exception of TrashHouse, which was torrented insanely upon DVD release in 2006, but figures for that are really hard to accurately find). It was released on DVD on both sides of the Atlantic, with the UK release getting piled high and sold cheap in HMVs across the UK for at least one Halloween special promotion. It was, at one stage, uploaded to YouTube as part of a side deal by a company we’d licenced it to, and racked up in excess of 180,000 views before their licence ran out and we politely asked them to take it down (which they did). On Amazon streaming, it’s been consistently performing ever since it went up last summer. Even the version on Vimeo has outsold our other movies.
Lots and lots of people have seen Hellbride.
That doesn’t, of course, mean we’ve made money from it. Hellbride is unlikely to ever make it into the black as far as cash goes: as far as budget is concerned, it cost ten times as much as The Devil’s Music did. As far as income is concerned, we never saw a single penny of our investment back (for all the usual depressing reasons) right up until the point we got the rights back last summer and stuck it up onto Amazon ourselves. Since then, our decade-old movie has brought in a reliable trickle of cash (but certainly nowhere near the amount we spent making it in the first place)
Regardless, I’m still aware of the fact that a sequel might be a different proposition as far as being a worthwhile investment goes. The way the industry works has moved on a great deal from when we signed Hellbride with a distributor around the beginning of 2008. Indies have got an awful lot more control over their movies and their are an awful lot more revenue streams that are accessible without going through a third party middleman. If, say, half of the people who’ve watched Hellbride in one format or another over the last few years would return to watch a sequel via legitimate channels we could access directly ourselves (Amazon streaming, Vimeo, etc.), then a sequel could make its money back pretty easily without leaving us to remortgage our homes.
I started pondering options for a sequel back when the film first hit the shelves (and before, of course, we realised that we weren’t actually going to see any revenue whatsoever from it for the best part of a decade). Back then, I scribbled together a treatment for a movie called Hellbride 1985 , which was a retro prequel focusing on the cursed ring’s previous appearance in everyone’s favourite decade. Of course, the 80s are pretty damn hot right now, partly as a result of magnificent shows like Stranger Things. But since the idea resurfaced in my brain last summer, (at the point that Hellbride finally broke the ‘zero’ in the Jinx Media incoming funds column), I started thinking about the sequel rather differently. This was partly due to the one-off audio epilogue called The Ring of Josephine Stewart that we’d recorded with Cy Henty a couple of years previously. I started thinking about a straight sequel rather than a retro prequel.
And then I wrote a treatment about two kids called Danny and Bronwyn, who were getting married. Nice kids. You’ll like them.
Well, one of them.
I started thinking about how we could learn from the mistakes we made with Hellbride and make something leaner, bloodier and funnier. I started to warm to the idea quite a lot. I pondered whether it might be feasible to run a Kickstarter for the eventual (inevitable) wedding massacre where, as a perk, people could turn up as a guest on the final day of filming. Get killed onscreen and stick around for a wrap party that evening with all the cast and crew. Run that final day almost like an actual wedding, with guest footage from cameraphones and whatnot getting edited into the final movie.
And I came up with a killer of a final scene, which I ended up writing out in full before I’d written another word of the script.
Thing is, we’re at a point where we have a lot of projects floating around right now. We’ve got bigger budget scripts that I work on for third parties, and a couple of smaller scale ones that we’re perilously close to getting decent funding for. I’ve no idea whether Hellbride II (or Curse of the Hellbride as I sometimes cheerfully call it) will make it in front of the cameras.
But I can’t quite stop thinking about it.
Go and watch Hellbride a few more times, and maybe that’ll twist my arm.