This next thing follows this previous thing. Read the previous thing first.
I’m not a guy who tends to approach the big subjects in life. I’m a guy who makes horror films. I have no background in investigative journalism, beyond that my uncle used to do restaurant reviews for the local paper. I didn’t set out with any sort of agenda or gameplan. I didn’t even necessarily set out to make a documentary, let alone go on to write a book about it. This wasn’t the way that I expected 2008 and 2009 to pan out. In fact, in the summer of 2008 I was meant to be directing a fun little b-movie called [TITLE REDACTED] and instead I found myself coping with the fallout of having spent the previous year digging around the story of Erika Spawn. I’ve fended off everyone from fanboys to religious fanatics, all of whom have been convinced that I’ve been doing something very very wrong, even if they’ve had wildly differing ideas as to exactly what.
When the final phase of Erika’s story broke, in late summer 2007, I was dealing with making the delivery list for KillerKiller. When an independent film gets picked up by a distributor, that distributor sends you a delivery list, detailing all the weird and wonderful things that you’ll have to supply them with along with the master of the movie that they’ve just bought from you. KillerKiller’s delivery list to York Entertainment over in the US was fairly straightforward, and thankfully devoid of items such as the dreaded ‘Aeroplane Version’, where the producer has to deliver a cut of the movie that has no nudity, sex, violence or bad language yet somehow has the same running time, presumably via extended cutaways of bunnies hopping through fields. The job of making the delivery list had been made rather easier because Pip had joined the company full time a few weeks previously. Oh, and I should probably point out at this stage that Pip = Pippa Higgins, who not only produces all my flicks nowadays but is also my wife. She rocks my world on a daily basis, and also stops me doing incredibly stupid things without really thinking them through. She’s amazingly funny, astonishingly well organised and the most fundamentally interesting and brilliant person I’ve ever met. But when I say things like ‘I should phone Eddie Meachum’ when I’ve only got two days left before the deadline on a delivery list, she tends to call me on it.
‘You mean Erika Spawn’s manager? Why do you want to call him?’
‘To see how he’s doing.’
‘You’ve never given a shit how he was doing before. Why do you suddenly care now?’
‘He was a nice guy. Now he’s all over the papers and they’re tearing him to bits.’
‘You should delete the number. You don’t even know him.’
‘I liked him.’
‘Are we going to have to have another number deleting session?’
I winced. I didn’t like number-deleting sessions.
I have a habit of accruing numbers in my phone at a fairly rapid rate, often of people that I’m only very tenuously associated with. Years before I got into the movie-making business, I was involved with stand-up comedy. Involved in the sense that I ran a monthly comedy night over a pub, and I performed it fairly badly as a hobby. As a result, an awful lot of comedian’s numbers found their way into my phone and, over the years, some of them became famous. Funnily enough, when they became famous I didn’t want to delete their numbers ‘in case I needed them one day’. As a result, my phone was cluttered with numbers for people like Russell Brand and Alex Zane, most of which had probably stopped working years ago and I never actually intended to phone anyway, but somehow having them in my phone made me feel slightly higher up the ladder than I actually was. Once in a while, Pip would grab my phone and ruthlessly cull numbers. Allegedly this was to save space on the phone, but I think there was a very useful side effect of keeping me vaguely tethered to reality.
‘Even if we have a number-deleting session, his one stays. Because I want to phone him. Maybe I’ll wait till all this blows over, though.’
‘What’s this got to do with the delivery list?’
And then, without even really thinking about it, I blurted out;
‘We need a new project.’
‘We’ve already talked about this. There’s not enough cash in the company account to shoot another feature.’
This was true. The previous summer we’d shot KillerKiller back-to-back with another straight to DVD flick called Hellbride. Both were now complete, but at this stage we hadn’t seen a penny back from either of them. The cupboards were very much bare as far as funding a narrative feature went.
‘Maybe not a narrative, no’ I said, still not really thinking about what I was saying and really just looking for an excuse to ring the guy who was all over the papers and whose number I had in my phone. ‘But what about a documentary? Maybe just an interview or something?’
I hadn’t thought it through even slightly, but I was warming to my theme even as I spoke. Pip looked like she was biting her tongue, but appeared to be hearing me out.
‘Look, the Erika Spawn story is the hottest news story in the country right now. We’ve got an office full of HD filming equipment and a phone full of numbers of people connected to the story. If we can’t find a way to turn this into something financially rewarding we don’t deserve to be called filmmakers’
Pip thought long and hard before responding.
‘What do you mean a phone full of numbers?’
‘We’ve got Eddie’s’
‘We’ve got Eddie’s from two years ago. And that’s it? That’s not exactly a phone full of numbers. That’s one number. That almost definitely won’t work.’
‘Course it’ll work. I’ve had the same mobile number for 12 years.’
‘That’s because you’re not all over the papers. He’ll have changed it.’
‘Bet he hasn’t.’
‘Look, I don’t even want to talk about this. Have you burnt that DVD of photos yet, or do I have to..’
Pip shot me a look and exhaled very slowly and carefully. I sat and watched the little readout on my phone, with the animated full stops after ‘Calling Eddie Meachum…’ dancing their path across the screen. It rang, and rang, and went to voicemail.
‘He’s screening. Hang it up,’ Pip said.
The voicemail message sounded incongruously upbeat, considering that the man in question was being called ‘The Shadowy Figure behind Evil Erika’ by the tabloids.
‘Hiya, this is Eddie. I’m out and about at the moment, but I’ll get back to you. Cheers.’
I cleared my throat, unsure as to what I was going to say. Pip made a ‘put the phone down right now’ gesture, and without getting the okay from my brain, my mouth apparently started speaking.
‘Hi, uh, Eddie? I don’t know if you remember me. My name’s Pat Higgins, I directed Erika’s video for Needles. I imagine that everything’s pretty insane at the moment, but I wanted to say that if you want to have a chat it’d be good to speak to you. Y’know, maybe if you wanted to give your side of the story or whatever. Give me a call, anyway. Cheers.’
There was a silence in the room as I hung up. My conscience had kicked in.
‘Did that sound a bit ambulance-chasey?’ I asked Pip.
‘Of course not’ she said, irritated. ‘You just phoned up a guy who’s all over the tabloids and offered to let him tell “his side of the story”. Just like every media outlet in the world is probably doing right now. Difference is, they can all offer him vast amounts of money. What can you offer him? A bit part in [TITLE REDACTED]? It makes us look unprofessional.’
I looked around our office. Just to shatter the illusions of anyone out there who thinks that making straight-to-DVD splatter movies is glamorous and well-paying, I’ll describe the office to you. It’s the room next to our bedroom in our semi-detached suburban house. It has one wall painted vivid green so that we can shoot green screen pick-up shots of zombies or whatever without having to hire studio space. It contains two computers; a massively out-of-date PC, on which I cut TrashHouse back in 2005, and a massively overpowered Mac which I use for everything nowadays. There’s a framed poster of Gremlins on the back wall and there are usually coffee cups everywhere. Prior to February 2005 the entire room was full of overflowing ashtrays which I could never be bothered to empty, nowadays it’s just covered in empty wrappers from sweets or gum. Pip tries her hardest to keep it clean, but I can be a one man mess-machine when I put my mind to it.
God forbid we should ever look unprofessional.
‘Doesn’t matter. We gave it a shot.’
‘Did you really mean that about shooting a documentary?’ she asked.
I grinned sheepishly.
‘Not really my area. I was just looking for excuses not to blat the number.’
And then the phone starting ringing, the vibrate function making it dance and clatter on the plastic IKEA stool where I’d absent-mindedly dumped it. I looked at the readout.
‘He’s phoning back,’ I said to Pip, eyes probably showing a slight edge of panic. ‘Do you want to answer it?’
Her look told me no. Really rather definitely no.
I answered it.
‘Hey Pat. Sorry I missed your call. I was having a shit. Got a fucking headache like you wouldn’t believe. Haven’t heard the voicemail, just thought I’d phone straight back. You’re the guy from Warners, yeah?’
‘Ah, no. I’m Pat Higgins. We shot a music video for Needles with you a couple of years back.’
‘It came up Pat on the phone. I’m sure that’s the name of the guy from Warners.’
‘Yeah, must be. So, how can I help you Pat?’
‘I’ve been reading the papers.’
‘Yeah, hasn’t everyone,’ he said, ending the sentence as a statement rather than a question. Suddenly, he brightened. ‘You’re the tall guy, right? Dice earring? We shot that video chopping up that blonde chick on the hospital trolley?’
Thank fuck. He remembered.
‘Sorry about my manners. Been a hell of a week.’
‘I guess so,’ I said. I decided to go for broke. ‘Look, if you want to talk about it..’
I heard him take a deep breath on the other end of the line. I imagined that he was massaging his eyes with his fingers, willing his headache to fade. He spoke carefully but firmly.
‘Ah, look Pat. I’m just gonna sit tight and wait for Erika to turn up. Don’t really want to talk to anyone. This’ll all blow over. Thanks for phoning and everything, though.’
And he hung up.
I relayed the conversation to Pip. She chewed a pen thoughtfully, and ventured;
‘He’d have been happy to talk to Warners, though, wouldn’t he?’
I had to concede that it sounded rather like he would.