Thursday, 30 June 2016

HOW ACTING CAN MAKE YOU A BETTER DIRECTOR


Back in the days of VHS and late night horror on TV, when I was about 15 years old, one the rare pleasures I had was staying over at my friends house, who had Cable TV and access to a whole host of rarities that would never, ever air on the 4/5 terrestrial channels most of us in the UK had. On one of these nights we watched a film that I had no idea what it was, a slasher horror set in supermarket that was fairly interesting and fun, yet the main thing that baffled me about it and made it stick in my mind was that one of the actors in it was 'Sam Raimi' the DIRECTOR of Evil Dead.

The film I later discovered went by several names, which made actually finding it again pretty tough. I eventually found it under the title Intruder (although it did go by Night Crew : The Final Checkout in the US for a while) and was always confused about why Raimi had turned up, outside of that his actors profile was pretty sparse (mainly reduced to cameos) and it just always stood out to me as odd. Years later the Evil Dead Trilogy finally came to DVD and on it was a very entertaining tit bit of information about 'The Intruder' via its special features. Raimi talked about how he wanted to get more experience as a Director by being on the other side of the camera to put himself in his actors shoes.

It was something that, to me at least, made perfect sense. What better way to understand what it was like to be an actor than to be an actor? I had done some acting for other peoples projects when I was young, simply because I was there and available and, most importantly... Free! Because of this, I knew that it would fairly easy for me to gain some more experience as an actor simply due to the fact that I work around other filmmakers all the time and as a result I ended up with, what I call, an 'Accidental Actors Resume' in order to gain more of an insight into what actors go through on set.

Here are the 3 things that I learned whilst acting in other peoples movies and how they helped me grow as a Director.

1. ACTING IS THE MOST FUN YOU CAN HAVE ON A FILM SET

On set of Vampire film HUSH (2011)
My love has alway been for Directing (or more accurately filmmaking), but that and most other production jobs come with a bucket load of stress. The one job that I always find breaks this rule is being an actor, now thats not to say it doesn't come with its own responsibilities, like Learning lines, hitting marks and, sometimes portraying extreme emotions, as well as it being physically taxing at times. All that aside though, its a good time, in reality you're playing pretend and its great fun to interact with other performers and if you get a really juicy role it can be the most fun you can have without taking your clothes off, unless thats required for the part of course.

On Legacy of Thorn, we had to grab some reshoots and inserts, our stunt performer wasn't available and I got to spend the evening running around as Thorn, due mainly to me being the only crew member there that was over 6ft. It was the most fun I had over the entire shoot, which was a fairly good experience to begin with, but it really was so good and cathartic just to run around dressed as a masked maniac for the afternoon. This really led to me not worrying about my actors when we were on set so much. Every so often I would get people who would complain, but for the most part actors are having a great time and so I learned just to let them get on with that. If people are happy and having a great time they'll give you a much better performance and create a much better atmosphere on set.

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2. HOW MUCH INFORMATION YOU GET INFLUENCES YOUR PERFORMANCE

Playing the title Character in WishMaker
This seems fairly obvious, the more information you have about your character and how your director wants you to approach that character the better. This isn't always how it works out though. A few years ago I would cast an actor in a role and then begin to talk about things like character and watch their eyes go vacant, all they really wanted was to go home, pop the credit on their IMDB and move on to the next thing. Of course, I took this for a long while to mean that actors didn't really care about anything that wasn't laid out in black and white on the pages of the script. In actual fact, good actors DO care and if there isn't enough information available they fill in the blanks themselves.

A few years ago I worked on a short film called 'Liam Is...' as an actor, the director gave me a huge insight into my character, his life, his backstory his relationship to the other characters and we worked on how he would be portrayed. Up until this point, I had mostly walked onto a set, said lines and been killed or chased or attacked or whatever and then gone home, hoping I'd done a good job. With Liam Is... however all that information was amazing to have and for the 3 or 4 days I was on set, I found it amazingly easy to slip into that character whenever the cameras started rolling because I had a sense of his past as well as his presence and for the first time I really understood the discipline of being an actor.

Now I make the effort to talk about our characters in as much depth as possible, even the small ones in order to try and make them more rounded. Of course, I still often get the glazed over look from some performers, but for the ones who listen it makes all the difference.

3. YOU SHOULD BE AS LITTLE OF A PROBLEM AS POSSIBLE

Being gutted on set of NightMan 3
This one works backwards from my other points, but being a director and producer on low budget stuff, I was fully aware of how much constant questioning can become a problem. Some actors want to know everything, or just want to create problems for you. From things like "I can't get there for the call time" after they cleared it with you 3 days ago to "I have to work today sorry" after you've covered everyone else's expenses and paid for locations and catering, and these are just a couple of the most common ones. Some actors just want to create more problems and that just adds pressure to the already impossible task of making a movie on next to nothing.

When someone asks me to play a role, I take this on board, fully aware of the stress that it causes myself and my producer Anna, and I work on making myself as flexible as possible. I read the script, learn my lines, check if I need to bring anything (Costume, food for specific dietary requirements), find out what time I need to be there and then apart from that, I simply make contact the day before to confirm the time. That's it. To my shock and amazement, I've found that filmmakers actually like it when people don't cause them extra problems.

I recently work on a short film called 'Night-Man 3' and the director Kieron Johnston contacted me about a week before shooting to ask if I would take a role in it, he'd had an actor drop out and I was fairly local. He was having problems getting in touch with his actors and I could sense that it was a little stressful for him. Of course, the last thing I wanted to do was add more stress to his plate. So I asked him when we were shooting, what I needed to bring and left it at that until the following week, when I checked in to make sure the times were still correct (things like that shift fairly often) and up until I arrived I got the feeling that no one was sure if I'd actually turn up as I had been so relaxed about the whole thing. If you knew me, you'd know I'm on the least relaxed people on earth, so if I didn't make it an issue its not that tough, trust me.

Once there, I also tried to make myself as useful as possible on set in between takes and that went a long way to making the day, way more fun and helped us get done quicker. Going that extra mile aways helps.

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Overall its good to stand in someones shoes, it helps you understand them and their craft and as a filmmaker, standing in the actors spot helps you realise what its like to be them and what kind of information you need to be fed so you can apply that to your craft. Not only that, but acting is fun, at least until you have to watch it back and you realise you suck. 

MJ

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Thursday, 2 June 2016

INDIE INTERVIEWS : FILMMAKER/AUTHOR - JAMES PLUMB

Based in Cardiff, Wales, Filmmaker and recently debuted Author James Plumb is well known in the UK for directing brit remakes of classics 'Night of the Living Dead' and Slasher classic 'Silent Night, Bloody Night'. Plumb also debuted his first novella as part of the 'Year of the Zombie' book series with his new undead tale 'Little Monster'.

I caught up with James Plumb to talk about remaking classics, his latest film 'Kerb Krawlers' and the challenges of being a first time author. 

Every journey starts with an origin story, How did you know you wanted to make films?
Origin story, huh? Well, I was bitten by a radioactive video cassette on a school trip and the next day… Wait, wrong guy…

I guess I’ve always known. I was obsessed with film at a very early age when my parents were watching “Jaws” on TV while I was in my bouncer. Every time Bruce would eat a kid, I’d go mental clapping my hands and shouting “Big Fish, Big Fish!”

Later on during school holidays, when my mum was doing her studies at the library, I’d plonk myself down in front of film reference books which dissected films through its stills. So I was exposed to famous horror set pieces from “The Exorcist” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” years before I got to see the films themselves.

In 1987 my dad brought home a JVC VHS homevideo camcorder from work and let me get my grubby little hands on it. I was seven years old and the thing was nearly as big as me. Straight away I was making these weird little Twilight Zone-esque shorts. Creepy little films about dopplegangers, ghosts and crazy cat ladies with skeleton babies… These gradually became more and more elaborate.

As a teen in the 90s, I was lucky enough that my local newsagent stocked Fangoria, Gorezone and Starburst cementing my genre fandom. I got a job at the local indie videoshop and devoured the horror section, moving onto sci-fi, action, basically any genre stuff.

After that I guess I didn’t have a choice.


How did you become involved in Night of The Living Dead : Resurrection and Silent Night, Deadly Night : Homecoming?
Both of those projects came from the producer Andrew Jones. He saw my short film/love letter to slasher films “Final Girl” back in 2011 and asked if I wanted to make a zombie feature. At first he didn’t tell me it was a remake of NOTLD, just a zombie film. I was initially hesitant as, although I’m a fan of a number of zombie films, from Romero to Fulci to O’Bannon to Kitamura, there’s been so many bad or unremarkable zombie films I didn’t want to add to that mountain, unless there was a hook, something to hold my interest. Then he revealed it was a remake of THE classic zombie film, I freaked out and started crafting a polite e-mail why I didn’t want to make a zombie film, let alone a remake…

Thank god I didn’t send that e-mail, because here was a guy offering to produce my first feature film! Anyway, I turned that polite e-mail into a manifesto of why I’d do the film under certain conditions. Andrew was very patient, and at our first meeting agreed to each and all of the points.

Andrew’s initial idea was to do a British spin on the original, which is such a classic tale that you can set it anywhere. So we didn’t try pretend we were shooting in the States or even London, we decided to make it Welsh through and through, to give the film it’s own accent. By setting it in the UK, we turned what could be seen as disadvantages into strengths, e.g. in the UK not everyone is packing heat. So it would be harder for our characters to dispatch the zombies, no double taps to the head. Developing that led us to the conclusion that if a family member got bitten, the characters would not necessarily jump to the conclusion that the logical course of action would be to kill their loved ones. If there was even the slightest chance that their relatives could get better, wouldn’t they take that risk? This led to locking undead relatives inside the house, creating a pressure cooker environment, which meant that inside the house is just as dangerous as out there.

While editing NOTLDR, Andrew approached me with SNBN. I loved working with the cast and crew, so the opportunity to reteam with my new extended family was an easy decision to make.


As we all now filmmaking can be tough, what were some of the downside of going out on your own?

I don’t have much frame of reference cos I’ve always been an indie guy. But juggling filmmaking, the day job and parenthood can be a little rough sometimes. But totally worth it.


On the flip side, what were the upsides of doing it by yourself?
Independence! And the control that comes with it.
That’s what I love about your Mychoverse, you have complete creative control over it. 


What were the differences for you between working on an established property like Night Of The Living Dead or Silent Night Bloody Night as opposed to working on a Brand New work like Kerb Crawlers?

There was a level of freedom with an original property like Kerb Crawlers, which I didn’t feel we had with the remakes. We could literally take the film in any direction, across any number of genres. With NOTLDR, we took the film in a number of direction within the zombie siege sub-genre, but it was still within that box. With SNBN, we chafed against the complex giallo-esque plot, so we ended up following the original more than I would have liked.

With Kerb Crawlers, we set up our protagonists in Act One, then flip the tables entirely in Act Two, by Act Three we’ve changed it up again.

When I saw From Dusk Til Dawn at the cinema, it had an immense effect on me. Starting as a hard-boiled crime film and then flipping to a vampire monster movie so suddenly, showed me how a film could manipulate and subvert an audience’s expectations.

Basically, I love mindfucking the audience.


If there was one piece of advice you could give to filmmakers, apart from 'just make movies' what would it be?

Just make movies.

No?

Learn basic storytelling.

The ability to convey information through mise-en-scene.

Show don’t tell.

Horror is one of the purest forms of cinema, the intention is to make the audience feel something: fear. It’s all well and good having beautifully composed shots but if they don’t convey meaning, then you have to rely on the characters spouting exposition, and in a horror film that will grind your film to a halt.

The angle of a shot, and the way you cut to another shot: 100% affects the meaning of your film. Learn the grammar of cinematography.



And finally, what is next for James Plumb?

Middle of last year, I decided to put the filming on the back-burner due to health reasons within my family. It was a hard decision, but the right one for me at the time. The day after I made the decision, Wayne Simmons (author, horror convention organiser and lovely humanoid) dropped me a message to ask if I’d like to take part in a zombie novella event as part of David Moody’s (author, bald and also lovely humanoid) Infected Books label. I was speechless.

When I did regain my speech, I told him I was honoured but could I have twenty-four hours to think about it. I’d just decided to put my family first and although I’d written a number of scripts over the past few years, it had been awhile since I had written prose, let alone a novella.

But I was intrigued. It was a challenge; could I write a novella? And I had an idea, originally it was a film idea, one that I had plotted out, and written about 40 pages of script for. But there were elements of the idea, which appeared to work better as prose.

So I bit the bullet and agreed.

Aaaaand it was a challenge. A fun/rewarding/terrifying/frustrating challenge.

Funny thing about the feedback from early proofs of LM, everyone said it’d make a great film. So I may dust off that script and finish it…

The book is “Little Monster”, it’s out on Amazon Kindle from 1 June 2016 as part of the Year of the Zombie event. Blurb below:

Your six-year-old daughter has been bitten by a zombie and now hungers for human flesh.

What do you do?

Do you double tap her in the brain?

Or do you become the ultimate enabler and feed her human flesh?

And where do you get human flesh from?

This is the dilemma that Gareth and Jen face with their beautiful daughter Ana.

What will they do?

And how far will it go?

You can pick up a copy of 'Little Monster' now at HERE

MJ

IF YOU FIND THIS BLOG USEFUL. PLEASE SHARE. You can keep up to date with our filming goings on at our FACEBOOK PAGE :)
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Thursday, 26 May 2016

INDIE INTERVIEWS - FILMMAKER KURT DIRT


Kurt Dirt is a musician, filmmaker and self proclaimed Duke of Puke, a well known artist in the UK indie Underground scene having contributed to movies like Troma's 'Return To Nuke Em High' and a string of other Indie concoctions as well as recently debuting his own latest gore soaked masterpiece in the form of the shot on Hi8 'Life is Cheap'.

I recently caught up with Kurt to discuss low budget filmmaking, old skool formats and what inspires him to make movies.

Every journey starts with an origin story, How did you know you wanted to make films?

I was a pretty sickly kid so I'd be asleep most of the day and awake all night, therefore I got hooked on late night ITV and channel 4 horror / weird movie marathons. I'd come in to school the next day and excite & horrify my classmates by telling them about what i'd seen. Of course sleep deprivation, fever and calpol always made my memory of the plot lines a little more trippy! I loved seeing the fear / disgust on their faces and I get the exact same buzz when I screen my movies today!

With more and more people choosing to just go out and shoot their own movies now, what made you take the DIY approach to making movies?

For me it's about maintaining control and the fun, I do this for my own enjoyment and to entertain fellow weirdo's. I have ideas for a hundred movies and I don't think I could ever pitch one of them to a studio / production company without being sectioned or put on some kind of register. I also like the way DIY movies look, to me they feel more dangerous. My main inspirations for 'Life is Cheap' were Troma,Yorkshire low budget film makers Smile Orange and the early films of Alex Chandon such as Bad Karma


As we all know DIY filmmaking can be tough, what were some of the downside of going out on your own?

Money is an obvious one, we were really lucky to have some generous donations via kickstarter (triple figures is mega bucks to us!) but there were costs for things such as travel expenses for actors etc that stacked up pretty quickly, also getting people all in one place can be a knightmare, it certainly pays to sit down, work out where and when you need everybody and plan it properly. 


On the flip side, what were the upsides?

As previously mentioned there's the freedom, we weren't bound to any set in stone script or screenplay so we could kind of riff on what worked on camera and what didn't work. All of our cast were fantastic but Ben & Louise in particular really shone when it came to improvisation and building on their grotesque characters. As a director I think it's important to stick to your vision for the project but it really does pay to listen to your cast and crew and allow people to think outside the box and come up with their own ideas, shoot everything and see what works and doesn't work when it comes to editing. My main indicators for what was going to stay in the movie was if I was struggling not to laugh behind the camera or if I was squirming to the point of thinking "what am I doing with my life?" 

Another great thing is getting to see the enthusiasm people put in to the project, especially the actors / crew working for little or no money, a good atmosphere on set / a buzz around the project as a whole can be really infectious. 


You recently produced 'Life is Cheap', which you shot on Hi8, what were the challenges of working on an old skool format?

Really not as many as you may think. What I love about working with Hi8 is that everything instantly looks kind of grubby and a little worn, you get all these cool little glitches and dirt without having to spend time and money on plug in's. The only real restrictions we faced were when it came to digitizing the footage. I work on a Mac and for some reason the majority of digitisation devices only come with PC software so we had to hunt around for a compatible programe online. The other is sound. Even if your going for the whole grunge / video nasty asthetic it's always worth still recording everything with a boom / sound recorder. I really regret not doing so on 'life is cheap', fixing audio issues in post was a nightmare and left us with lots of great scenes which were unusable due to actors lines being muffled or distorted.


Apart from 'Just make movies' what advice would you give people starting out making their own films?

Be yourself. Don't feel like you have to make films based on what you think other people want to see. Take time to sit down and work out what kind of aesthetic you want, what you want your audience to feel and do your research. Reading books by people I admire like Lloyd Kaufman, William Castle and John Waters and then making notes was a great help. Network and find other people who share your excitement and get them on board. Helping out on others projects can also be a great learning experience, for me working in various capacities on Lloyd Kauffman's 'Return to Nuke Em High', Liam Regan's 'Banjo' and Heidi Moore's 'Dolly Deadly' taught me much more than any film school could. 

And finally, what is next for Kurt Dirt?

Me and Ben (joeby cleftico in life is cheap) have been making plans for our next project, a gory buddy road movie with Jimmy Savilles ghost and Peter Sutcliffe. Ben has written some songs for it already and they're hilarious, definitely secured our place in hell. Also I'd like to take a break from comedy/ exploitation make a really scary, gruelling Horror movie, something that will make people feel like I did when I was a little kid cringing infront of the TV watching Evil Dead or the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, too afraid to get up and stop the VCR. I've been working a 'day job' at pasaje del terror in Blackpool and as well as being fun it's great research in to what not only makes people jump but scares them on a deeper psychological level.

You can pick up 'Life is Cheap' now at https://videorgasm.bandcamp.com
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MJ

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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

NIGHT SHOOTING : FILMING ON LOCATION AT NIGHT

Shooting at night s probably one of the toughest things you can attempt as a low budget filmmaker, this is because, no matter what you are shooting on, your camera needs a good amount of light to capture a good quality image. Shooting at night reduces your light sources drastically if you are shooting in urban areas and if you are shooting in the woods, the middle of country side or even somewhere that isn't usually accessed after dark it becomes even trickier business to get that light onto your cameras sensor.

One work around is to shoot 'Day for Night', which involves shooting the scene in sunlight (works best shooting on  cloudy/overcast day) and then grading in post to make the image look a little like twilight. I tried this early on when I started making films and really hated the results, I've always found it better to shoot in darkness and bring in whatever light I can. The result is always a far better image.

Having a budget usually solves this problem by hiring huge spotlights and generators to help make up for the lack of good light, but this is expensive and something that is usually saved for large budget productions. If you, like us, are usually make stuff on spit and buttons, then you'll need to come up with more creative solutions to work around your lack of light.

Here are 3 tips to help you get the most out of shooting at night and how to take that into account when you are looking for your location.

1. PICK YOUR LOCATION WISELY

The easiest way you can start to combat shooting at night is by picking your location wisely. A few years ago, when we were working on preproduction for Creepsville, I would wonder around at night looking for the best lit streets, alleys, carparks, you name it and once there I would look at how much light is already there from street lamps, security lights. Then I would look at what other extraneous light sources there were like shops signs, obviously the more light the better. This means less light I have to bring along with me, which in turns means less disturbing people and less drawing attention to yourself.

Legacy of Thorn (2014)
On Legacy of Thorn, when it came time to shoot the infamous 'bridge scene', I spent months looking for a bridge that we could shoot on without being disturbed that would also give us enough light to cover the action. The first one we tried, we scoped during the day, took note that it had street lights above it and figured it would give us enough light. On returning in the evening, not only did we find that most of the street lights were broken, but it was also a well known hangout for crackheads who made themselves a problem very quickly.

We eventually found something closer to home that fit perfectly and although it had some street lighting, we still had to make up the difference with our own portable flood lights.

 Get Legacy of Thorn on DVD and Digital HD now.
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2. PORTABLE LED LIGHTS

Chances are, if you are out shooting in the woods, on the street or in an abandoned factory at night, you're not going to have access to power. This always something I try to avoid, simply to make life easier for us and give us more freedom in lighting. However, if its not possible, we bring out the portable, rechargeable LED'S. These are bright flood lights that charge on the mains and give around 3 Hours + of continuous use and weigh next to nothing. They are fairly harsh, but used correctly (with gels or diffusion) are a great way to light dim sets when there is no good natural light. They cost around £45 each when I bought them in 2013, there are now better cheaper options out there too.


Cleaver : Rise of The Killer Clown (2015)
On shooting Cleaver : Rise of The Killer Clown, we were shooting a scene in a car, in the middle of the night, in a residential area. The last thing we wanted to do was pull a generator out there, or we certainly want to run cables across the road. The street lamps gave us some coverage, but nowhere near enough once our actress was in the vehicle. In stead we matched the street light colour on LED's with gels and just used whoever was free as light stands. It matched the natural light, but it gave us the extra light we needed to make the scene more visible.

Cleaver : Rise of The Killer Clown (2015)
These lights are great in place of having to drag a noisy generator down and even then it takes an expensive generator to run even our low wattage work lights, never mind our red heads or spotlights. Using these also means that should we need to, we can use a smaller generator to run other low power things like charging stations and smoke machines.

P.S. Before I could afford my own portable LED'S I made some for about £5/$7 each, find out how HERE.

3. FAST LENSES

One the best weapons to combat low light situations is using a fast lens on your camera. This is something that wasn't even really a choice when I started out filmmaking, if your camera's fixed lens sucked in low light (which they all did) then that was that. Now even the most inexpensive DSLR'S can capture great low light images with the right lens attached,  If you're shooting on an interchange lens system camera, you should try and have at least one fast lens that opens to at least f/1.8. This will help you get more light into your camera and make picking up a usable image just that little bit easier. Its best not rely on this, but it can give you that extra boost once you've done the above. There are also cameras like the Sony A7S/A7S2/A6300 that can shoot in incredibly low light with out damaging your image, but I still advise taking location and lighting into account even with miracle cameras like that available.

When shooting the infamous 'Bridge Scene' on Legacy of Thorn, even with choosing the best location for light and having the portables there, I still ended up shooting almost every shot on my Canon 50mm f/1.8 to get a better image. The downside of this is that the depth of the image was very shallow, but the upside was that I got a better image and because we were shooting in a wide open space it meant that the close focal length didn't impact what I wanted to get too much.

These days if we're shooting outdoors I try to plan my shots around the widest opening lenses that I have. Its not always possible, but its worth thinking about.

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MJ

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Thursday, 19 May 2016

INDIE INTERVIEWS : WRITER/FILMMAKER PAT HIGGINS

Pat Higgins is somewhat of a legend in the UK's low budget indie scene. Since the release of Trash House in 2005 the Essex based filmmaker has gone on to produce a slew of internationally released horror titles such as Killer Killer, Hellbride, The Devils Music, as well as being one third of the creative force behind the 'Death Tales Anthology' series. As if he wasn't busy enough Pat also takes his time to run filmmaking and screenwriting masterclasses for the next generation of filmmakers.

We recently caught up with Pat to discuss his filmmaking career, his inspirations, the state of the UK indie market and his current and constantly evolving film project 'House on the WitchPit'.

Every journey starts with an origin story, How did you know you wanted to make films?
There were a couple of films that had a huge influence on me as a kid. I saw Star Wars on opening night as a three year-old, which was probably a considerable factor, but the other ones that left me thinking "this is what I want to do" were a rerelease of Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, (which I sat through fidgeting waiting for the squid fight, but when the squid fight turned up it basically rewired my brain) and Flash Gordon. 
So the seeds of cinema were sewn early. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place with Gremlins turned up in 1984. I was too young to see it thanks to the 15 certificate, so I spent almost a year obsessing over every piece of merchandise and counting down the days until the rental release. That year kind of shifted my outlook to comedy-horror, before The Shining and a grainy tenth-generation pirate copy of The Exorcist shifted my brain and my outlook yet again a few years later.

What made you take the DIY approach to making your own movies?
Once I got out of Uni, I spent a while trying to shift a spec script that I'd written with a friend of mine. As a gradually realised that selling that script was very, VERY unlikely to happen, I began to focus on the idea of shooting something myself just to kick my career off. I set up my limited company in 2003 for a completely different reason; Jinx was originally intended to sell individual stand-up comedy clips to mobile phones (at a point when video on phones was somewhere between bleeding-edge technology and outright science fiction). Remember, this was before things like YouTube even existed. The window for that business opportunity lasted about a second a half. One minute, it was impossible, the next minute it was commonplace. So I was left with a media company with no real purpose, and a burning desire to make a film. So we took some money that we were intending to buy a car with, and make TrashHouse instead.

As we all now filmmaking can be tough, what were some of the downside of going out on your own?
I'm pretty sure I only ended up getting attention because we did what we did at a point when it was stupidly tough to make a movie. According to MJ Simpson, there were about 14 British horrors made in the year we made TrashHouse, whereas last year there were around 250. There were no options in terms of VOD, of course, so we were reliant on old-school distributors and getting our flicks out into bricks and mortar shops like Blockbuster. We managed to overcome so many hurdles to get the early films out there. The hurdle we never overcame was how to get the money to trickle back down to us once it had gone through the hands of multiple distributors. As a result, our first three films lost a considerable chunk (or, indeed, all) of their investment, despite coming out on DVD or limited cinema releases all over the world. Keeping going in the face of those kinds of issues is very, very tough. 
Here's an example. Just last week we re-released our awesome horror romantic comedy Hellbride on VOD (which your wonderful readers can pick up extremely cheaply from http://www.jinxmedia.co.uk - go and do it. It's funny and it's scary and people like it). Now, that movie's been out for the best part of a decade. Out on DVD in the UK, in the US. Various streaming platforms worldwide. Our best estimate is that just over a third of a million people have seen that movie. 
The money from the fine people who purchased the High Definition VOD version last week will be the very first payments that Jinx has ever seen for that film. We shot it in 2006. 


On the flip side, what were the upsides of doing it by yourself?
Well, let's stick with Hellbride as an example. It's a genuinely sweet romantic comedy that just happens to have some fairly horrific bits of business (mouths getting stitched shut, brides hacking at one another with axes) and the odd genuinely filthy joke. If that movie had been made within the system, there would have been two options. You could have lost the gore and the dick jokes and made the thing a PG-13 date movie, or you could have lost the sweet, genuine romantic comedy and made it a full-tilt horror for the Saw crowd. Odd little movies that do their own thing aren't welcome within the system. The majors are massively risk averse in terms of the 'products' they make, and as cinema prices rocket the audience have become extremely risk-averse too, and I really don't blame them. if it's going to cost you north of £50 to go to the cinema once you've thrown in parking and popcorn, you want to make goddamn sure that the movie you watch is going to fulfil your expectations for your evening out. So the wonderful freedom allowed by doing things as a tiny indie is something you just won't find anywhere else.


You recently shot House on The Witch Pit, a completely different approach to filmmaking, what was the idea behind creating the never 'finished' film.
I wrote the first draft of something that was then just called 'Witchpit' in about 2002, and over the years the script has been through countless reimaginings with only the title remaining the same. Eventually, I came to embrace this. I loved the idea of a movie becoming almost an urban legend in itself. Where people who both thought they'd 'seen' it would come to discover that the versions they'd seen were so fundamentally different that they were effectively different movies. This approach also sidestepped the whole piracy thing that dogged the early stages of my career. I'm extremely excited about some of the versions that will be appearing towards the end of the year. It's not going to carry on forever, though. The experiment, for better or worse, ends on January 23rd 2020, four years after the premiere. I talked about some of these ideas over at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/pat-higgins/why-you-cant-watch-my-new-horror-movie_b_8707724.html for those that are interested.
 

If there was one piece of advice you could give to filmmakers, apart from 'just make movies' what would it be?
Be genuinely lovely to everyone you work with. Treat them like family members. If they let you down, try to understand why and continue to treat them nicely (although you may, of course, wish to avoid placing yourself in that position again). Feed people. Be honest with people. Never force them into a corner or mislead them.
Not everyone you meet will follow these same ideals. The industry has a few unpleasant sharks in the water, and you may well run into some of them. Don't become one of them, no matter what happens. Make sure that every night, when your head hits the pillow, you can sleep the sleep of the righteous and the just. That's more important than anything else. The things you put out there are the things that will come back to you.
Make sure your conscience is clear. If it's not, do something about it.


And finally, what is next for Pat Higgins?
The Witchpit experiment continues for another three and a half years, obviously. I've also got an absolutely KILLER script called Your Lying Eyes (which is probably the best thing I've ever written) which we'll hopefully be selling to a third party rather than making ourselves. There might very possibly be a sequel on the horizon that we aren't allowed to talk about yet. We keep busy, keep trying new stuff, keep breaking new ground. At the end of the day, there will be loads and loads of time to sleep when they shovel dirt over your head. Nobody's death bed wish was ever that they spent their life making less cool stuff.

You can find Pats work and more at  http://jinxmedia.co.uk

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Tuesday, 17 May 2016

THE WAPAH!! CHECK LIST : 5 Ways to Check Your Location Has EVERYTHING You Need.


So you've found the perfect place to shoot. It has the right aesthetic for your films tone and its functionality matches your script perfectly, but there are some things that you'll want to bear in mind before you start booking your cast and crew.

Once you've found your location, we talked about some ways to do that HERE, you'll need to make sure that it suits your needs and that its a viable venue to set your movie. Not all locations are created equal and there are 5 things that you need to look at to make sure that where you want to shoot works for you. 

I created something called 'THE WAPAH!! CHECK LIST', which are 5 things that you should look at when you are scouting for places to ideally shoot your next film.

WATER
One of the first things I do is check that there is running water on location. Especially if you are going to spend any length of time there. It seems like something that wouldn't be that important, but if you don't have access to running water, trust me, you notice fast. This could just be a bathroom or kitchen and if you are shooting in a standard suburban house or commercial facility then, chances are, that they'll be water for bathrooms/washing/cleaning up/doing hair and makeup/special effects etc. 
Legacy of Thorn (2014)

However when you're out shooting in warehouses, old buildings and abandoned places (as well as out in nature) Water starts to become harder to come by. This is where you need to figure out how much water you need to bring yourself,  for people and for functionality. Drinking water should always be brought anyway (don't EVER let your cast and crew drink from taps in abandoned or old buildings), but you should be aware of how much you need and what you need it for. 

On Slasher House and Legacy of Thorn, we shot in old, non functioning government buildings. They had electricity and some running water (only cold), but there was no water flow to the showers in either case. This was a problem when most people returned from shooting each evening covered in dirt and sticky blood. Obviously before we got there we had to figure out a solution to that. Which brings us to...

AMENITIES  
Based on how much access and the type of access we have to water and facilities, I then look at the local amenities to figure out just how far we'll have to travel to do things like shower/use the bathroom/get refreshments. This should, again, give you a good idea of what you need to bring in terms of equipment, food, water and what you can have access to on the day. What shops are available locally? How far is it to get to them?

The distance between your set and your amenities can make a huge difference. If you're working with a small crew and suddenly someone you NEED has to take a 90 minute round trip to pick up food or take an actor to the bathroom or what have you then you are gonna see a lot of downtime when you're not shooting and this is when thing start to overrun and cause problems. Also, if you've every met an actor who can't shower for a couple of days, then you'll understand how important it is to find somewhere for them to wash regularly. 

On Legacy of Thorn, the school we shot in (and lived in) for 14 days, had electricity and running cold water, but then water only ran in the admin building and not to the showers down in the sports block. We bought solar showers as it was the height of summer, but they were less than successful, luckily we had scoped out the leisure centre before hand, about 20 minutes down the road and told them what we were up to, they agreed to let us use their showers and we scheduled in time in the day for actors (and then crew) to go and get washed if they needed. 

POWER
Obviously if you are shooting a movie, you are probably gonna need power. Although not in all instances, which is why its actually 3rd on the list (that and it helps me spell WAPAH by being here). After checking our water supply and amenities I look to see how much power (if any we have). How many power points are there? Are the functional? Are they wired safely? How many extensions will we need to set up how many lights? This way I can plan exactly what I need to pack in terms of power/lights and if we need a generator or not.

If we're shooting outdoors, we use rechargeable led lights and scout with that in mind to try and find places with decent natural light already, If we're shooting in the day, this becomes less of an issue obviously and its entirely possible to shoot with natural light and some reflectors. If you're shooting in doors at night you'll probably need power. This is also useful for things like recharging gear, batteries, running footage off the camera and making cups of tea (The most important use of power on a British set). 

On Slasher House 2, we needed to shoot in a graveyard, but getting power out there was a problem that we found impossible to solve. To try and regain control over lighting, we asked a lovely friend of ours who had helped us out on a previous film, if we could use there expansive garden to build a graveyard and run power from the house. The only problem is that they only had one outlet we could run power from, we thought it would be enough at a push and very quickly we started to find that we would lose power to the 3000 watts worth of lights we were running. This meant having to pause filming every 20 minutes of so in the pitch black on a -1 December evening. Make sure you have enough outlets to run your equipment properly.


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ACCESS
What kind of access you have to your location is important and it will ultimately determine if the location is right for your shoot. Can you only get in to the location at certain times? Can you access it around the clock? Is it a 6 hour drive away from base camp? Is it near any civilisation at all? Can you drive to it or do you have walk on foot? There is a huge list of things that will make getting to a location a problem and you sometimes have to weight up if that location is worth using if its too difficult to get to.

You also want to be aware about how long you have at the location, if you need to work around a business then you will probably be shooting after hours, if you need nightfall then you'll have to check that you have access at night. Its worth checking if you can house your cast and crew there to. The easiest shoots i've had are the ones where we lived on set (or in the same complex) as there wasn't travel to worry about or driving back and forth from location every day. Plus it makes its easier for everyone to bond.

On Slasher House 2, we had our main location around the clock, which was fine as we needed to shoot at night because of the locations huge factory windows, we just couldn't cover them. This was fine as we could get in anytime we wanted, The only stipulation was that if we didn't leave by 10 when the gates closed, then we had to stay until 5 in the morning when the gates opened. This led to either having to rush through what we were doing as soon as it got dark, or finishing in the small hours in the cold and then having wait to leave. It took us a while to try and swing the right balance, so its important to try and factor these things early on if you can.

HEALTH AND SAFETY
After I've checked all the above, I then do a huge sweeping check that I consider the MOST IMPORTANT one of all. Health and Safety. This really goes to looking at most of the previous things over all, Is the power safe? Is there enough water to clean wounds? (Real ones rather than sfx) Where is the nearest hospital? The nearest first aid kit? and then I look at what has to happen in the scenes and looks at where our actors will be and how to keep them out of as much danger as possible. Looking for things like loose flooring, nails, low hanging roofs, doors, wires anything that I think might be a hazard and just look at what I need to stay away from and what I can clean up or make safe again. 

Its most important of all to keep you cast and crew safe. If they are going to be crawling around of the floor then I'll make sure its swept and that any sharp objects are removed and just generally try and make it as comfortable as possible without ruining the aesthetic. If there are any stunts, I look at how we are going to do them safely and securely and wether we'll need mats or not. A lot of it is really just common sense, like "don't touch that live wire", "Don't hold that 1000 watt light with your hands" or "don't kick this pile of asbestos boards thinking they are plaster" (That one was me on my first shoot). 

Also and this is a BIG ONE : Make sure you have Insurance, even if you are just making a little no budget movie, make sure that have insurance that covers you in case of any accidents to your actors and the public, you'll save yourself a load of problems should the worst happen. In all honesty there have been very few accidents on our sets, Thats probably down to a mixture of luck and planning, things do just happen, especially when people are in the heat of the moment during a performance and all you can do is do your best to try and account for what could go wrong. Just be careful and ask your actors and crew to do the same, but try and stay safe.


___________________________________________________________________


MJ

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Thursday, 12 May 2016

INDIE INTERVIEWS : LIAM REGAN - DIRECTOR OF BANJO



Liam Regan is a UK born filmmaker who has recently made waves in the indie community with his low budget debut feature Banjo based on his short film Confessions of Peltzer. Since premiering last year the film has played all over globe and solidified Mr Regan's status as a up and coming filmmaker to watch. 

Inspired by filmmaking legends such as Lloyd Kaufman (Who makes an appearance in Banjo) and Frank Henenlotter, Liam Regan wears his love of genre movies on his sleeve with a style and approach that is reminiscent of the golden age of splatter cinema.

Micro Budget Massacre recently caught up with Liam about his experience making Banjo and what comes next.



Every journey starts with an origin story, How did you know you wanted to make films?
Ever since I can remember, I've always been enamoured with horror movies, some of my favourite childhood memories was when my Mum took me to my local video rental store and I would instantly be overcome with goosebumps and have a outer body experience (became dizzy) whilst browsing through the video boxes with gnarly artwork. A few of the memorable films I rented were the likes of 'Cat's Eye', 'Critters 2: The Main Course' and 'Ghoulies Go to College'. 

I quickly became a fan of creature feature flicks and with the addition of Sky Television in our household (in the early 90's) my love for the genre grew further as channels such as Sky Movies Plus and 'Bravo' showcased such milestone films in my life like 'Child's Play 2', 'Puppet Master 3: Toulon's Revenge' and 'Basket Case 2'. 
However it wasn't until the Summer of 1996, when one of my weekly trips to Blockbuster Video resulted in a purchase (My Mum purchasing that is, I was only 11 years old at the time) an ex-rental video tape of 'The Toxic Avenger Part 2', a movie that showcase a dark mixture of horror and comedy, fused with exploitation and ultra violence, I had never seen anything quite like it before, and then when opening my Sky TV guide magazine back in September of 1996, I noticed that the channel Bravo was having a Troma season in October, and this eventually introduced and exposed me to their back-catalog of films. 

Titles such as 'Surf Nazis Must Die' and 'Rabid Grannies' made me excited for every Saturday evening to roll around, with my eyes firmly glued to the TV at 10pm in excitement. So thank you to Troma Entertainment, they corrupted my fragile little mind, to want to be a filmmaker with self masochistic tendencies. 

With more and more people choosing to just go out and shoot their own movies now, what made you take the DIY approach to making your first film?
I realised that nobody was going to give me money to make the kind of movie, that deep down in my heart, I wanted to make. Plus, I'm a nobody (still am) - Prior to Banjo, I had no track record, other than a shitty 13 minute short film titled 'Confessions of Peltzer' and numerous IMDb credits as a production assistant on independent genre movies I've worked on over the years, and why should they give me money? This is a business at the end of the day, and investors at least want to see a return, and I'm wanting to make a movie about a guy who snaps his penis (based on a true story) and summons his imaginary friend, which in turn, manipulates him to shoot up his office. 

Banjo isn't a possession movie, or a zombie movie by the numbers, so it's a gamble - and it was a gamble for yours truly also. Plus, I didn't want to compromise my vision, I wanted this to be purely my movie, with my name on it, I have always viewed filmmaking as immortality in a way, leaving art behind for generations upon generations to discover (now I have panic attacks about all physical media being destroyed and digital rights being lost in the apocalyptic wasteland, long after I die. Paranoia is a bitch!),

As we all now DIY filmmaking can be tough, what were some of the downside of going out on your own?
It's a very long, lonely and self masochistic process. You write the movie on your own, then you have like a hundred people help you during the actual film shoot, and then you're on your own yet again. It can be depressing, self deprecating, yet it's the best kind of film school I have ever experienced. You make a million mistakes, and ruin and tarnish relationships and friendships, but through the blood, sweat, semen and tears, you create your film-baby. 

On the flip side, what were the upsides?
Creative freedom and expression, I had producers, actors, you name it drop out during pre-production, due to the extremities and content of the initial drafts of the screenplay. However I felt like I managed to strike the right balance, and I was able to hire the people I wanted to work with and move forward with the project, and held the vision I always had for 'Banjo'. I remember the first draft of the screenplay having at least 12 rape scenes, I remember being heavily influenced by hardcore exploitation horror movies during that period. I cut that down to 1 rape scene, which people never mention in reviews or interviews. 'Banjo' is essentially a rape-revenge movie, but has never been branded by that genre, which has puzzled me. 

So after that hard work, your filmmaking journey is far from over, what happens when the film is done?
The film is finished and everyone thinks you're rich and a millionaire, when in reality, you're broke as you have ever been in your life, and are clutching at favours, and you'll meet a dozen people wanting to take advantage of your current desperate situation. People you would class as friends will inevitably end up on your shit list by the time the year is through. You'll make another million mistakes on trying to find a sales agent/distributor for your project, and then you'll waste a shit load of money on film festivals that don't even consider your movie, even though you have paid them an extortionate fee to at least watch the movie. I think the best way I could put it is: "Life is not a movie. Good guys lose, everybody lies, and love... does not conquer all."  

Every film is an experience and more importantly a lesson, what did you learn that you'll take with you to your next movie?

Don't write too much dialogue, create more action sequences and make a much more fucked up movie. Lloyd Kaufman (President of Troma Entertainment) is my favourite shit disturber, he dealt with "taboos" and subject matters that the Hollywood system were too afraid to conquer back in the 70's and 80's, and I'm wanting to carry on that tradition. The key is to make a movie that nobody forgets, sure they can love it, or hate it, but they'll never forget it, that's the dream. I absolutely love making films, it's what I was put on the earth for, and I don't care if I need to max out more credits cards, or take out more loans or work as many legally available hours I can at my day-job, nothing will stop me from creating, it's the best therapy out there. I want to entertain people, I consider that as one of the major importance in life, other than finding the cure to cancer. 

And finally, what is next?
I'm currently writing a rape revenge/black comedy titled 'Parents Evening' which if you put the following movies: 'Heathers', 'Jawbreaker', 'Detention', 'Class of 1984' and 'I Spit On Your Grave' in a blender, you would have the 'Parents Evening' protein shake ... full of bodily fluids. I hope to shoot that in 2018, and if anyone wants to give me money for 'Banjo 2: Make Room for Daddy' I would be more than happy to bring those characters back, but it all depends on the success of the home video/on demand release of 'Banjo' which is due out on Amazon and iTunes by late 2016. 
For more information, feel free to add me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/refuseliam or follow me on Twitter @refuseliam

For more information on 'Banjo' please like the page at http://www.facebook.com/banjofilm or follow us on Twitter @banjomovie

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