Video Blog: Viewing Conditions for Horror

When Paranormal Activity came out, a lot of people were absolutely terrified by it. The flick’s reputation nowadays isn’t really up amongst the horror greats, and I think an awful lot of the reason for this can be put down to the conditions under which we experience horror movies.

Here’s the first in what will hopefully be an ongoing series of short rants about filmmaking, screenwriting and whatever else is on my mind. Hope you enjoy it, and don’t forget to subscribe.

SCREENWRITING TIPS: Embedding Your Theme

I spend a lot of my time teaching screenwriting in both classrooms and on one-day masterclasses (with webinars coming soon – see the note at the bottom). This means that I often end up studying concepts related to education that aren’t necessarily directly associated with screenwriting. One of these has been the concept of SOLO Taxonomy, which is a way of judging a student’s understanding of a subject. It begins with a very basic and uncertain level of comprehension of the subject, but gradually builds up to a far more nuanced and complicated understanding. One such model of SOLO taxonomy, as first developed by John Biggs and Kevin Collis, is used below. Although this exists, as I mentioned, primarily as a method of gauging levels of complex understanding, I have come to use it as instead a method of embedding theme in a meaningful way throughout a narrative.

As a bit of background information, I’ve been working on a screenplay about a masseuse trapped in a room with a mutating corpse. Yes, I use academic models to deepen the thematic content of splattery horror movies. That’s me. Let’s investigate my idea using a SOLO Taxonomy and see where it leads us.

Level 1 is prestructural. The concept in rawest, wooliest form with no further analysis attached. In my case: the concept of flesh.

Uni-structural is level 2. One single meaning of the concept. Flesh is the meaty stuff on top of the skeleton. We’re covered in it. I always was crap at biology.

Level 3: other uses and meanings start to come into play at this multi-structural level. At this juncture, we might well be thinking about not just our own flesh, but the other meanings and associations that we have with the concept. Sexualised flesh. Corrupted flesh and concepts of beauty. Eating the flesh of another to survive. Flesh as home to a parasite. Here is the level where I might be able to include different concepts within my own narrative. For example, if the central theme is going to revolve around flesh from the point of view of massage, we can start to mess around with these other concepts as parallel concerns.

Meat eating, for example.

My lead character is Lauren. Maybe I’ll make Lauren a carnivore, and another character (maybe my mutating corpse, before their unfortunate demise) a vegan. Maybe I’ll make Lauren sexually voracious on a superficial, physical level (seeing lovers as ‘meat’) which not only plays with some interesting textures, but also gets away from the virginal ‘final girl’ paradigm that we’ve seen on way too many occasions for it to be anything other than a bog-standard trope (albeit a useful one that’s often fun to play with). At this multi-structural level, however, we don’t need to join these different elements. The relationships between them is not what matters; at this point we’re just looking for different examples, and different ways to emphasize a central theme. We don’t need them to relate to one another yet. That comes next.

The next step is a relational level. Here’s where we start to feed these concepts into one another. Is it possible that we can use Lauren’s attitudes towards meat or sexuality to inform and deepen the central problem in which she is locked in a room with a mutating corpse? Might it be possible that the only way to dispose of the fleshy invaders in her room (which have erupted from the mutating corpse, as such horrible things often seem to) is to eat them? Questioning attitudes towards flesh in all of its aspects is where this relational idea comes in. If we can tie in ideas of flesh as food, flesh as sexual object and flesh as comfortable home both for the creature who wears that flesh and, indeed, for any invading parasite, our script is likely to become thematically richer. Every element starts to reflect back that central concern with flesh in a way that compliments and interrogates every other element.

It’s at this point that we might want to start thinking about how to state the theme of our movie in just one sentence. By progressing down the taxonomy and coming up with interlinked ideas of the different meanings of the central theme, we can perhaps produce a question that sums up the attitude of the film and the themes that will be interrogated. In this case, for lack of anything else at the moment, let’s go with giving an unsympathetic character the line “I don’t care whether it’s hanging on a human being, on my plate or torn up on a slaughterhouse floor, flesh is just flesh. Just a collection of atoms like anything else.”

By having a character verbalize this theme somewhere in the first act, we can proceed to pull that idea apart in whatever ways we can, whilst giving the audience confidence that, thematically, this is going somewhere.

Finally, we have the extended abstract level. This is where our different concepts are not only brought together, they are combined and used as a springboard for increasingly abstract thought or the different ways of looking at that central theme. For example, it may be that we can introduce the themes of flesh in ways other than just the ones that we have already discussed. How about visually? Could we introduce a colour grade onto the final film to make the movie itself look more like skin texture? OK, this kind of idea is likely to be out of the hands of the screenwriter, but it’s the sort of visual prompt that can work its way subtly into a script and find its way into the final movie. Perhaps themes of flesh as a canvas could be brought into play with ideas like tattoos? Perhaps the other career that Lauren is dreaming of following might be a tattoo artist rather than a masseuse, which would introduce the interesting idea that she is effectively trying to change her relationship with flesh itself?

Take the time to make your way through the SOLO Taxonomy from that initial blunt, unthinking statement through to a more complex, interconnected and abstract way of dealing with your central theme. You might end up looking at it in a whole new way. Even in writing up this exercise, I’ve grown rather fond of that tattoo idea (which certainly hadn’t occurred to me before I’d thoroughly examined the whole ‘flesh’ concept).

Have a good writing day. My name is Pat Higgins, and my conscience is clear.

Note from Pat:

LIKE THIS STUFF? Please follow me on Twitter (@zcarstheme) and share this article to people you think might enjoy it. After years of teaching screenwriting to people face to face, I’m setting up a series of webinars via jinx.co.uk which will range from simple Q&As to more complicated, focused classes on specific aspects of screenwriting and filmmaking. Hope you can attend. I’m still finishing up work on my first book, Write a Movie in 30 Days, so if you’re reading this in the future go and buy a copy. Thanks!

 

Pat’s Halloween Letter

Hey folks

Some of you will be reading this on Halloween night 2017. That’s when I’m writing it. This isn’t a post I wrote a while back that’s been stored in a buffer. I’m sitting typing these words with a lit Jack O’Lantern outside our door, and the sounds of kids laughing in the street outside.

Halloween used to be shit when I was a kid, growing up in the UK. We knew it COULD be good. We’d seen E.T., and marvelled at the kids roaming around in costumes. There was NONE of that for us. There was a vague awareness of the holiday, in that the TV would show a horror movie or two (I fondly remember watching the airing of Ghostwatch in a hotel TV room packed full of terrified students a few years later, when I was at Uni) but that was about it.

Britain just didn’t GET Halloween, and the first Trick or Treater who ever knocked on my door was in 1994. Just one angry looking teenager in a non-costume. I was a bit surprised, simply because it had never happened before. I gave him an apple, (which was all I had in the house except beer and cigarettes: I was only 20 myself) and he sprayed the words ‘fuck off’ on the side of my house. So, not the greatest initial Trick or Treat experience.

It kind of carried on like that for a good few years, with the only people roaming around being older kids who really wanted to throw stuff at peoples houses whether treats were forthcoming or not. And that kind of sucked even more than when nobody knocked at all. It was a rocky start to the holiday.

Slowly but surely, though, the nation started to get it. More kids started Trick or Treating, and the majority of the angry late-teens kind of vanished in embarrassment, not wanting to be seen doing something that kids a third of their age were doing. Nowadays, frankly, the whole thing rocks. At least round these parts: I imagine that mileage may vary depending on where you’re based.

Anyway, this Halloween we decided to make my mysterious ‘lost’ movie, THE HOUSE ON THE WITCHPIT, available for one night only. The links are up (at the time of writing) on the front page of the Jinx Media website – Choose your option from Amazon or Vimeo. Come tomorrow, we’re deleting the movie and the Halloween 2017 version will never be seen again, just like the version that we premiered in at Horror-on-Sea in 2016 (which I promptly destroyed onstage after the premiere). We do this stuff because it’s fun. If you choose to spend Halloween night with our film, I hope you enjoy it. We’re very grateful for your support, and hope you find our odd little spookshow a worthwhile diversion on this crisp autumn night.

Witchpit 34 artwork

But that’s enough plugging stuff. After all, an awful lot of you will be reading this after Halloween has long passed. Besides, I’m in reflective mood and don’t want to launch into endless sales pitches.

Still haven’t decided on exactly what flick we’ll be watching ourselves this evening. Probably Boys in the Trees because I keep hearing amazing stuff about it. Either way, I’ll be curling up with a glass of red and quietly cheering the fact that Halloween isn’t shit in the UK anymore.

I’m going to be taking a little while off from my social media accounts after tonight, so if you follow me on Twitter (or Facebook or whatever) you’ll probably find I’ve gone silent.

It’s ok. Don’t worry. Just like every good Halloween boogeyman, I’ll be back.

My name is Pat Higgins and my conscience is clear.

End of Part One.

‘IT’ isn’t a horror film? Get Out!

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

The Tale of Hellbride II

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.

The cast of Hellbride - Horror Comedy

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.

Bride Nicole Meadows, bloodied but unbowed

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.

HELLBRIDE POSTER FINAL s

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.

 

Jinx Media vs 2016

Well, the year’s nearly done.

It’s been stupidly eventful, stupidly exciting and, at some points, just flat out stupid.

I started the year by hosting a new live show before premiering my new movie (Jinx Media’s first full feature since 2007) and then destroying the master copy (and back-up) live on stage. Which was a busy way to kick things off.

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_2016

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 HELLBRIDE POSTER FINAL ssome 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.

Battlefield Death Tales and more...

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).

The Devil's Music

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.

 

 

Hellbride hits Amazon Prime!

With our lovely new artwork courtesy of the fantastic Paul Cousins, our much-loved horror romcom Hellbride has hit Amazon Prime this week. Subscribers can check the movie out for FREE as part of their subscription, and non-subscribers can rent on buy.

We’ve got a lot of love for this film. It was the second movie shot under the Jinx Media banner (back in 2006) and is the sort of film that could only ever be made as an independent.  Fire up your Amazon Prime app and stick ‘Hellbride’ into the search field to check out our unique little supernatural stew of brides and bloodshed. We’ve got a script for a killer sequel which we’d dearly love to put into production next year, but it all depends on how the VOD release goes.

So, please, go watch it. Buy it. Rent it. Share it.

Consider this your wedding invitation.

HELLBRIDE POSTER FINAL s

Filming in a Haunted Asylum

I’m not a believer in the supernatural.

I’m a rational kind of guy. I love writing about ghosts, demons and the possibilities of experiences beyond what we comprehend, but the blunt truth is that I don’t believe in any of it. I’m not a guy to get rattled by dark corridors or abandoned buildings.

With that in mind, I want to tell you a few things about our 2006 shoot for the movie KillerKiller.

We shot in the then long-disused building then known as Warley Hospital. Nowadays, the site is a posh housing development known as The Galleries.

Before it was Warley Hospital, it was known as Brentwood Mental Hospital. Before that, back in 1853 when the building first opened its doors, it was known as Essex County Lunatic Asylum.

Attitudes towards mental illness in 1853 weren’t, of course, quite as enlightened as we’d like to think they are nowadays. “Treatments” included lobotomies and electro-convulsive therapy. Not only that, but ideas of who actually constituted a ‘mentally ill’ person were flexible enough to include an awful lot of people that society would rather just keep out of sight; everyone from unwed mothers to soldiers suffering from PTSD.

So places like Warley ended up having some fairly horrible things happen in them. Over a century and a half, even the recorded incidents make for grim reading. God knows how many worse things went on that nobody will ever know about. If ever there’s going to be a building to store up bad vibes, it’s going to be a place like that.

This wasn’t really something I thought about when I locked down the location, I’m ashamed to say. I was far more concerned about budget; the fee for shooting in the building was pretty huge for a film shooting on such a tiny budget. I was worried about how we were going to afford the location for long enough to get a huge amount of footage in the can. In the end, we did this with a mixture of good planning and dumb luck; we shot with available light rather than lighting set-ups, and the building was so cinematic anyway that the footage ended up looking pretty great now matter how quickly it was shot. We shifted complex ‘kill’ sequences to non-Warley locations where we could take our time a little more and somehow got everything we wanted in the can over a mere three days of filming at the former hospital.

By the end of those three days, however, all those things that I’d never even considered were beginning to get under my skin.

By the end of those three days, quite frankly, I was more than happy to wave Warley goodbye.

Our wonderful photographer Debbie Attwell discovered dozens of torn-off butterfly wings inserted between the bricks in the chapel. We would regularly find scrawled messages or carefully folded pieces of paper with troubling pictures on them tucked away behind radiators or whatever. The phrase ‘I Am Not Alone’ gouged into one of the walls (which can be seen in the first montage of the hospital in the finished film) wasn’t added by an enterprising member of our production crew: it was already there.

And then there was the incident with the footsteps.

KK4small

Like I said, not a superstitious guy, so I’ll stick to the facts.

We were about to call action on a scene, when we heard footsteps in the next corridor over. These were loud enough that all of the crew heard them, and loud enough for our sound recordist to shake his head as a ‘no go’. They got louder until they stopped abruptly on the other side of the door from the room in which we were filming. Irritated, I probably called out something like “You might as well come through now” and we waited.

My lovely DoP Al Ronald went to investigate when nobody came through. As I’m sure you can guess, there was nobody there.

It sounds so Scooby Doo and hokey. It sounds ridiculous. But that’s what happened.

KillerKiller – A Look Back Behind the Scenes from jinxmedia on Vimeo.

I also became increasingly convinced that I could hear whispering voices in the corridors of the building. This was probably an auditory trick caused by the wind whistling through the cracks, but, goddammit, once I thought I heard panting about a foot away from my ear. Enough to make me spin around like I’d been stung.

I’m not even sure what these are examples of. Weird acoustics in an old building? An over-active imagination triggered by the fact that we were shooting a gory horror movie in a location that had seen an awful lot of unhappiness?

Soon after the film came out, a few enthusiastic souls started suggesting that they could see ‘orbs’ in the final film (specifically in the scene starting 31:43 on the special edition, for those interested), which made me chuckle a little because I’m pretty goddamn sure that those floating orbs are dust kicked up by the chair that gets thrown against the wall in that scene. On the other hand, since I’m the dude swearing blind that I heard footsteps with no source that vanished into nowhere, who the hell am I to judge what others perceive?

After three days I was unreasonably happy to be leaving the most cinematic location I’ve ever filmed in. I still don’t believe in ghosts. I still believe in science over superstition, logic over legend.

But if I never hear a panting sound a foot away from my ear again for as long as I live, that’ll be just fine.

– Pat Higgins

 

KillerKiller: The Special Edition is available NOW to rent and purchase on VOD. Click through the trailer below.

KillerKiller – The Special Edition (2014) from jinxmedia on Vimeo.

Amazon Video Direct, Vimeo on Demand and the Independent Filmmaker

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

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

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

First up, TrashHouse.

TrashHouse DVD
The first Jinx Media film to be released

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

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

Next up, KillerKiller.

KillerKiller

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

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

Finally, Hellbride.

Hellbride

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

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

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

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

But those first three movies, man…

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

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

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

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

Ten years after the movie filmed.

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

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

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

More to come. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

Nudity in Independent Horror Films

I’ve read a couple of pieces about nudity in horror films recently.

As an independent horror filmmaker who needs to get my stuff distributed in order to stay in the game, the question of nudity tends to crop up in every film we make. I’ve seen it argued that horror tends to shy away from nudity nowadays; that in the 70s it was seen as an essential part of the mix for a successful flick (particularly an indie) but that nowadays, what with the internet and everything, people can look elsewhere for a dose of skin and really don’t expect (or necessarily want) to see nudity in horror films.

I also read a piece which framed the discussion in somewhat different way, suggesting that there’s a section of the horror fanbase operating a massive double standard and that although they expect a degree of female nudity in horror they are actively repulsed by any male nudity. I must admit that particular article lit something of a fire in the back of my mind, and I found myself rewriting a scene in a spec script to include full male nudity that I could just put into the background of a shot and leave a dick swinging there for ages.

Seriously, if you’re a male who is not grown up enough to deal with male nudity as just one of the elements likely to crop up in a film aimed at adults, (yet are perfectly happy with female nudity), you’re not grown up enough to be watching horror films in the first place. Leave the DVD on the shelf, and go check out a footballing blunders compilation or something. You’ll enjoy it more. Seriously, just bugger off and let the grown ups have a conversation without having to put up with your pantomime cringing and inability to relate to your own body.

There clearly isn’t enough male nudity in my back-catalogue. There is, however, a certain amount of female nudity, so I worry that I’m feeding into this vibe. The roots of this trace back to 2004 when I was knocking on doors (literally and figuratively) and trying to sell my first movie, TrashHouse. I’d included an awful lot of stuff that I’d figured would make the flick a viable commodity, from chainsaws to decent one-liners, but that initial cut didn’t have any kind of nudity.

I tried to sell the flick for about a year after we locked it. No dice. I was increasingly worried that we were going to lose our entire investment and never even see the thing get released. In a vague state of panic some time in 2005, I commissioned an agency in Essex to shoot cutaways of a glamour model. I dropped about 3 seconds of partial nudity into the next cut of the movie and, by complete coincidence, shifted the UK and US DVD rights to the very next distribution company to view the film.

TrashHouse

I’m sure it was coincidence.

Don’t you reckon?

Either way, those three seconds of partial nudity were enough for our very first ever review to mention ‘boobs’ in their list of things to enjoy about the flick, and that review quote ended up on the DVD cover for both the original release of the movie and the re-release.

This meant that my producer and I sat down and had a serious chat about how we’d deal with nudity in the next two movies (Hellbride and KillerKiller) which we’d already scheduled to shoot back-to-back in the summer of 2006. We decided to stick some nudity into the opening scenes of both movies just to tick the box for potential distributors, then not particularly worry about it for the rest of the running time. As it happened, this suited KillerKiller‘s intro rather beautifully and the opening scene remains one of my favourite things that we’ve ever done. Even a fairly bad review we got somewhere on the internet said of the opening ‘Now that, my friends, is how you start a fucking movie’.

However, this really wasn’t the case with Hellbride. Despite various attempts to make it work, the ‘opening scene nudity’ thing really didn’t fit the vibe of the film, which, as was increasingly apparent, was really a romantic comedy with horror elements rather than being a full-on fright flick. We ended up ditching that opening and going for something that felt true and right. The only nudity anywhere in the film is so massively out of focus I suspect that to all intents and purposes it doesn’t really count. We still sold the movie in the end, but it wasn’t as easy a sell as KillerKiller and we didn’t get nearly as many distribution offers.

Again, I imagine, coincidence.

I approach all of these elements with a fairly fierce desire to do right by everyone and not add to the problems of the world. I would never want any actor to ever feel pressured into shooting something they might regret being ‘out there’ at another point of their career. On the other hand, as long as the performers are fully onboard and it suits the movie, I figure it’s just another potential ingredient in the mix.

I bet I get pressure to cut that swinging dick in order to sell that spec script, though. Hypocrisy is alive and well and going straight to DVD in a horror section near you.

PS. Since writing this blog, we’ve made available a filmed version of our 2013 live show Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws. It features a few anecdotes about nudity in movies. It’s NSFW and features bloody violence, strong language and, indeed, nudity. The video is below.