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.
Every now and again, it’s interesting to look back.
Ever since I saw the cinematic double-whammy of the late 70s rerelease of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and the original release of Star Wars when I was three years old, my life’s mission was to get involved in filmmaking by any means possible.
Nothing else grabbed me in the same way. TV was okay (especially Street Hawk), and I liked dabbling with the early home computers (Spectrums, Commodores, ZX81s and even Dragon 32s), but it was always the cinema which fired up my imagination like nothing else on this planet.
I was probably a bit of a nightmare at school: a smart, enthusiastic kid who who mainly only enthusiastic about things that weren’t being taught on the syllabus. Media Studies wasn’t a staple of education back then, so I spent my childhood in a state of constant frustration that my day-to-day existence just didn’t have all that much to do with the thing I loved.
I managed to persuade my parents to let me shoot and develop a couple of rolls of Super 8 film (in which I tried to make it look as if a plastic Tauntaun was running around and tragically melting) and later, as we crept towards the latter half of the 80s, to annually rent a video camera from a high street store (Visionhire) so I could spend a couple of days trying to make movies.
My decision to bail on the high school at 16 led to a very stern lecture from the headmaster (“What is this freedom you’re looking for, Higgins? The freedom to wear excessively long hair?”) which I’m fairly sure was because I was fractionally above the average and thus dragging the grades up rather than down. That headmaster certainly never seemed to have noticed my existence before I threatened to make a tiny impact on the school’s statistics. Nonetheless, I was ultimately much happier at the local sixth form college because it enabled me to take (gasp) Film Studies at A-level. This led to a uni course of combined Media & English, which of course led straight to depressing unemployment and then a series of name-tag jobs in places like Odeon or Blockbuster: basically anywhere that enabled me to stay, in some small way, close to the thing I loved.
Life moved on, as it does, and I got married and settled down. Meanwhile, in the background, the non-starting of my movie career felt like a ticking clock. At some point in 2003, I looked at a block of money sitting in our bank account with which we’d intended to buy a car. I suggested to my wife that, rather than buy that car, maybe we could make a movie. Because she’s the greatest human being in the universe, she said yes.
And that was how TrashHousecame into being. I don’t think about the flick all that often nowadays, and it’s been a long, long time since I’ve sat down and watched it. Nonetheless, if we’d never made that movie my life would have turned out very differently.
I often bang on about how, in some ways, it’s easier to do hard things than easy things. The greatest thing TrashHouse had going for it was that, in the early months of 2004 when I was shooting and editing it, cutting digital footage on a home PC was still really difficult. Even once you’d had a PC built specifically for that purpose, with the brain-meltingly huge 20GB hard drive (which the guy building the machine tried to dissuade me from, saying it was more space than I’d ever need ‘in a lifetime’), attempts at home editing for anything larger than a very short project presented a massive number of technical difficulties. Time after time I’d lose days of work to crashes, and backing up was just not a viable option without spending thousands more pounds on even more equipment.
But that’s where the ‘hard thing/easy thing’ kicks in, because once we’d actually shot TrashHouse it ended up getting broad distribution on DVD across the UK in exactly the same way that it would have done had it cost a hundred times as much as it did. The simple reason behind this? If something’s genuinely hard, less people do it. We had very, very little competition in the ‘microbudget British horror’ niche, and distributors were hungry for product to get onto the shelves.
Nowadays you could shoot something that looked ten times better than TrashHouse using the phone in your pocket. But anyone could do that, so could you actually get any bastard to watch it afterwards?
I could fill a book with the mistakes we made on that shoot. My God. We built sets from scratch and then didn’t actually dress them properly (or, in some cases, really even use them). We made up ‘action’ sequences on the fly without properly planning or blocking. We asked our poor, overworked make-up artist to painstakingly create zombies with subtle make-up shading (who would barely be seen) when we’d have been better off just covering them in blood and clumps of latex.
Oh, and we put meat in the gore mix. Never put meat in the gore mix. The smell of that industrial unit will stay with me until I die.
The team who worked on TrashHouse were an awesome bunch, mind you, and I have absolutely no regrets about the casting decisions. For all my enthusiasm, the script wasn’t as tight as it could have been and I’ve hopefully learned a lot since. I think this was partly just down to that sense that “this might be the only film I ever make” which first-time writer/directors are saddled with. I wanted to include everything on my wishlist, and would genuinely have stuck in a giant octopus if I’d thought for a moment that I’d have gotten away with it.
Loads of things made it feel ‘real’ to me as a genuine step into the industry. Getting signed by an established distributor with a couple of decades experience (although they closed their doors not long afterwards). The process of going through the BBFC, where the trailer got an 18 and the feature got a 15 (which I’ve never quite been able to work out). Getting shown at our first festival and doing my first director’s Q&A.
Above all, though, seeing it on the shelf of Blockbuster. The same Blockbuster I used to work in. That was a good day.
Because movies never really go away nowadays, you can still see the film on Amazon Prime if you’re in the UK or the US. If you choose to check it out, look kindly upon it as a product of its time. The crazy little movie which finally got my toe in the door of the industry I loved so much. It has dated horrifically, and you could shoot something that looks better on the phone in your pocket.
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.
And when you’ve watched all ours, go and watch the awesome output of our friends at Mycho Pictures, who have also just got their back catalogue up online.
So much awesome, fiercely independent horror, so little time.
Ever since that eventful January, people have been asking about House on the Witchpit and where it’s going from here. People have also asked over and over again whether I really destroyed the master copy, to which the answer is yes. The film that screened at Horror on Sea no longer exists in that form. The footage still exists, of course, and will resurface in a radically different format in 2017. Tickets will be going onsale soon.
Witchpit hasn’t been the only major development at Jinx in 2016, of course. We launched our new VOD site and managed to get our whole back catalogue of features up on VOD. The death of physical media as a viable means of distribution has continued at terrifying speed, but happily coincided with us getting the rights back to a lot of our older movies (for which we’d signed 10 or 7 year distribution contracts).
Some of these were straightforward, some of them were (cough) a little bit less so. Either way, all four of our original features are now available online in one form or another. Here’s the way it breaks down:
TRASHHOUSE is now available via Amazon Prime in the original cut. This was our first movie, and it’s nice to get it back out into the world. It’s possibly fair to say that time hasn’t been kind to the visuals, but in terms of delivering a slightly mad midnight movie on a tiny budget, I reckon it holds up pretty well. TrashHouse was originally released on DVD in the UK (once in 2006 and once in 2007), but the US release was somewhat torpedoed after the movie got pirated on a scale that was somewhat ridiculous for such a modest flick. I always thought that TrashHouse might end up being the only film I’d ever get to direct, so I crammed an awful lot of things that I thought were cool into it. Except mole people. I’ve never found a way to fit them in. But they’re cool, aren’t they?
HELLBRIDE is also available on Amazon Prime. At least, it usually is. Amazon pulled it last weekend (along with THE DEVIL’S MUSIC) because of some undefined issue with the artwork. It’ll hopefully be back up by now, but it can also be purchased via Vimeo if you’d prefer (or if the Amazon listing disappears again). Hellbride remains a romantic comedy at heart, but one that just happens to have a fair amount of splatter and supernatural mayhem along the way. It was originally released on DVD in the UK and the US, and we were pleased to have the rights revert to us. Hellbride was actually the second movie that we shot, although it was the third to be released (KillerKiller beat it to release by the best part of a year). It was also the most fun I’ve ever had on a movie set. Still.
KILLERKILLER is NOT yet available on Amazon Prime, due a pesky certification issue which we hope we’ll be able to sort out before too long. Nonetheless, it’s available in the lovely, shiny 2014 Director’s Cut via our lovely friends at Vimeo, together with a bonus ‘look back’ video. This movie was our third to go in front of the camera, back during the long crazy summer of 2006. We shot chunks of it in a haunted asylum , which was fun, and it got released all over the world on DVD (EXCEPT in the UK) before coming back home to us. I’ve got a whole shelf full of DVD releases of KillerKiller. My favourite is the Russian dub, where the same dude does all the voices (including the women).
Like Hellbride, THE DEVIL’S MUSIC should be available from Amazon Prime (free to subscribers) but has experienced the same issues as Hellbride regarding the listing disappearing due to unknown issues with the artwork. Fingers crossed, you should be able to watch it right here, but if not then boogie on over to the Vimeo version which includes hours of bonus features, including the somewhat notorious ‘Director’s Breakdown’ commentary. Nine years on from filming it, I’m still pretty damn proud of The Devil’s Music. It’s a horror rock documentary, and there aren’t many of them around. This version, like KillerKiller, is a 2014 Director’s Cut. It’s been tightened up a little and has a few never-before-seen moments when compared to the original release. God, we had a nightmare getting TDM out to the public after the rights returned to us from the initial US DVD release. Everything from VATmoss to BBFC certification initially seemed to stand in our way, and various costs torpedoed the planned DVD release by the wonderful Cine du Monde (who are currently dark, but will hopefully return stronger than ever!)
So, that’s the back catalogue. Saved from the confines of shiny disks, and ready to watch whenever you choose. Why not go check one of them out? We worked hard on them.
In terms of live projects, the year has had its share of frustrations. Killer Apps (aka Evil Apps) ping-ponged between on again and off again, but remains very much a possibility for next year. A third Death Tales got a little bit closer to being a thing. Two things happened that were stupidly exciting but I can’t talk about yet. It was all enough to keep us very busy indeed.
In the bigger world, outside of the confines of independent horror, a lot of things happened this year that absolutely sucked. Even before we lost Leonard Cohen, 2016 had more than its fair share of awful stuff. Looking for diamonds in amongst the crap hasn’t always been easy.
We need to keep looking, though.
I hope 2017 has an enormous amount of wonderful surprises for all of us.
My name is Pat Higgins, and my conscience is clear.
Back in the first few weeks of 2004, we rented a warehouse in Shoeburyness and shot an insanely ambitious locked-house horror movie on cheaply built sets that still had the paint drying on them. It was an insane learning curve, back from the days when digital filmmaking was fraught with difficulties and precious few routes through which to get assistance. We laughed, we cried, we made a load of mistakes and got a certain number of things right.
The result was TrashHouse, a cheerfully odd midnight movie which a certain section of the cult movie audience still hold in a lot of affection. A bunch more people absolutely hated it, of course, but if it was designed for a mass audience it would scarcely be a cult movie, would it?
When I wrote the first few lines of the script, I was working in a branch of Blockbuster Video (remember them?) in Westcliff. The day the movie came out on DVD, (on a surprisingly wide release for such a small movie), I walked back into that branch and saw a copy on the shelf. If I get ten days that good in my life, I’ll have done alright.
It’s got jokes. It’s got (somewhat rubbish) zombies. It’s got chainsaws. It’s got a weird monologue about a man who thinks he’s a dolphin. It’s got three seconds of gratuitous nudity. It’s got Gary Delaney, who’s now one of the UK’s best comics and is on Mock the Week all the time. It’s got a sequence in black and white, with a laugh track. It’s got the amazing Amber Moelter. It’s got some appalling CGI that looked iffy even in 2004. It’s got practical blood splashing up the walls.
It’s got a whole load of love and good intentions bubbling in its crazy soul.
It’s on Amazon Prime, free for subscribers, right now. So please go and watch it if it sounds like something you’d enjoy.
Oh, and it’s got this kick-ass new artwork from the mighty Paul Cousins.
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.
There’s a cliche that every creative in any industry will be constantly asked where they get their ideas from. I’ve heard a bunch of great responses, from specific store names to outright abuse, but I guess the reason that the question keeps getting asked is because the answer is never fully satisfying.
I had the idea for TrashHouse (or, at least, the idea of a chainsaw-weilding heroine who happened to be styled like a 50s soda-pop girl), whilst wandering around an outdoor museum in the States. They had a recreation of a 50s living room which I walked into whilst absent-mindedly pondering zombies and, boom, Lucy Sweet was born somewhere in my brain. Why, yes, of course you can watch her in action. Here’s our short from last year.
I had the acorn that would eventually grow into the idea for Strippers vs Werewolves after labelling a Sky Movies VHS recording (which probably contained Kandyland and Stripped to Kill, or at very least two movies that were so similar to them as to require DNA testing to tell whether they were actually those films or not) as ‘Strippers vs Nutters’, which then became a running joke for years (as I detailed in this blog entry over on the Huffington Post)
Ideas can come from anywhere. And, of course, sometimes they don’t come at all. What can you do? What can you do if you need an idea, and nothing is forthcoming? Well, there are a bunch of things that I can recommend if you are trying to get your poor, long-suffering brain to crap out that acorn of potential.
There are several great idea generation exercises in Blake Snyder’s brilliant Save The Cat (which is still flat-out best book on screenwriting I’ve ever read) and some of them can be found at this link over here.
I also recommend grabbing yourself a nice bunch of random words, writing them down and playing with them in any way you see fit. Sometimes just jogging your creative instincts out of their usual patterns can be really productive, and throwing in something random can be a great way of doing that.
Here’s something a bit more unusual. Try drawing a schematic map of a building that you’ve visited in real life (overhead view, nothing fancy, don’t worry if you can’t draw because no bugger is ever going to see it but you). Once you’ve finished, take a look at the layout and see what genre and plots the location would be most suited to.
Just to try an example, here’s my off-the-top-of-my-head sketch of a flat I lived in around 2001.
There are a number of things that immediately come to mind looking at this image. The first one is that my own rule about not worrying how awful the drawing is because no bugger will ever see it has clearly led me into a false sense of security in this case, particularly as some bugger (specifically YOU, you bugger) is now looking at it. Try and put this, and my lack of any drawing ability, from your mind.
I’d forgotten a lot of details until I drew this image. The blind on the front window only covers the middle pane of glass, thus allowing a partial view into the lounge from the street. This immediately gives me ideas for plot and incident, most of which would be best suited to a thriller. The guy who worked in the shop opposite used to watch the going on in our flat with interest, and relay my life back to me with an alarming amount of detail whenever I popped in for cigarettes. Maybe he could be a witness to something?
Back to the flat. Next up; the only way to the toilet is through the main bedroom. There’s some vague idea here for either a scatological comedy (perhaps of the unwanted houseguest subgenre) or, again, a thriller. Probably dependent if the character was trying to get into the toilet or out of it.The whole place could be a fucking nightmare in a case of fire, or course. So many places to get trapped. Or to hide.
Yeah, I reckon a domestic thriller would be the way to go with this location. If I had the little map sitting next to me while I wrote, I’d have so many ideas for little bits of business which simply wouldn’t cross my mind (in terms of how characters could get from room to room, or what they could or couldn’t do) without a strong sense of the layout of the location. If you know of a location that you might be able to use for an indie shoot, why not try the exercise with that?
Once the idea is in place, of course, the real fun begins..
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.
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.
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.