Last night, we had our first business presentation for our mighty new organisation Sun Rocket Films at the Metro Bank in Southend.
It’s always an awesome experience to talk to people about a new venture for the first time, especially one with as much drive, potential and focus as Sun Rocket. I’d like to thank the staff at the Metro and the rest of the Sun Rocket team for making such a great first impression.
Can’t wait for the stuff that comes next. If you want to get involved or hear more, don’t forget to register your interest on the site.
Here’s to the next step on this stupidly exciting adventure.
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:
Pat’s interview is the latest in a terrific series of chats with low budget horror writers and directors. The series has also featured Liam Regan, who created the awesome Troma-influenced flick Banjo, and the prolific and unstoppable Jason Impey.
Check out the interview by clicking on the graphic below!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s here! The full-length video of this year’s appearance at Horror-on-Sea!
Join Pat Higgins (described by SFX magazine as ‘The Tarantino of budget gore flicks for style and dialogue’ and by Empire magazine as the ‘Essex Auteur’) on another romp through the highs and lows of low-budget horror filmmaking. Assisted by the awesome Paul Cousins, he lifts the lid on the horror industry.
Pat has built a career on making zero-budget but fiercely original horror movies such as ‘The Devil’s Music’ and ‘KillerKiller’. He’s also the original writer/creator of ‘Strippers vs Werewolves’ (although he takes no responsibility for the resulting film) and co-creator of the successful ‘Death Tales’ series of films (the latest of which, ‘Nazi Zombie Death Tales’, was released in the States as ‘Angry Nazi Zombies’). His career has taken him and his movies all over the world, from his home town of Southend in the UK all the way to Hollywood and the Cannes Film Festival.
In this feature-length live show, Pat discusses everything that can go wrong an a low-budget horror shoot. Complete with video contributions from cult horror filmmakers like Keith Wright (‘Harold’s Going Stiff’), Dani Thompson (‘Serial Kaller’, ‘Axe to Grind’), MJ Dixon (‘Slasher House’, ‘Legacy of Thorn’), James Eaves (‘Bane’, ‘The Witches Hammer’), Al Ronald (‘Jesus vs the Messiah’), Jonathan Glendening (’13 Hrs’) and Jason Impey (‘Home Made’, ‘Snuff Film’), who all share their worst experiences from the trenches of horror filmmaking.
Packed with with never-before-seen behind the scenes clips and a healthy sense of humour, the show is a must-see for horror fans, aspiring filmmakers and anyone who has ever just grabbed a camera and tried it for themselves.
NOTE: The show contains strong language, and clips featuring bloody violence
It’s here! It’s free! It’s NSFW (strong language, gore & nudity)! Full-length video about low budget horror filmmaking! Full of useful information for budding filmmakers about every step of the process, plus rare clips from Jinx movies (including behind-the-scenes stuff). Filmed live at Horror-on-Sea in January 2013.
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.
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.