There are a few film makers that are out there doing it right. Making good horror with small budgets and relying on story and scares rather than big budgets and millions of dollars in CGI effects. One of these guys is the UK's Andrew Jones who has two key films coming our way and a host of awesome projects in the fire. We caught up the other day and he was happy to answer my 13 Question Marks of Horror...
1. You’ve seem to come out of nowhere with some very exciting projects, can you tell me a little about yourself and North Bank Entertainment?
I worked on my first fully financed feature film in 2007 as writer and director. It was a good creative experience but ultimately the film didn't get released because of disputes between the numerous producers on the project. So I realised that in order to be in control of the direction of my work I needed to go into producing with my own production company. I gained a bit of experience associate producing and screenwriting on other people's projects before forming North Bank Entertainment in 2010 and making our first film in 2011. Horror has always been my favourite genre and it's never been more mainstream than it is right now so there's a big demand for it. So at the moment North Bank's remit is to produce 2-4 low budget horror films per year for the Home Entertainment markets in the UK and North America.
2.What film or experience first got you into horror?
In my hometown of Swansea in Wales I used to go to a local Video shop with my parents when I was a kid. I was drawn to the evocative VHS covers in the horror section so I would try to convince my parents to let me watch the films. They finally relented and
rented out 'A Nighmare on Elm Street' and 'Friday the 13th' for me. I watched both movies back to back and I felt what mucians must feel when they first hear The Beatles. The films didn't give me nightmares, they gave me dreams. My imagination was fired and although the idea of being a filmmaker seemed like an imposble dream, the seeds were planted and I knew that one day I would make a horror movie.
3.You started off as a one-man show with teenage wasteland in 2006. Was film always your first love?
Definitely. Even when I was five years old I would t through the entire end credits of movies to see who did each job. I loved learning about the mechanics of cinema as well as enjoying the viewing experience. As a child, I would much prefer to stay at home and watch movies than go out. My parents saw that I could handle horror movies so they allowed me to watch them and my childhood was a wonderful journey of cinematic discovery because of that. I'll never forget the feeling of seeing the clasc horror movies for the first time. The old Universal horror films, 1970s Grindhouse flicks, zombie films, creature features, the slasher movies and Video Nasties of the 1980s. Watching those movies as a kid was the best lesson I could have had as a filmmaker because I experienced first hand how movies can sometimes be gnificant enough to change peoples' lives.
4.Can he tell me about that first shoot?
I look back on my first film 'Teenage Wasteland' and I cringe about the technical naivety of it. Visually it looks like a very amateurish movie but the experience of filming it was a great education. I learnt how to direct actors on that movie. I also learnt from the many technical mistakes and that's what you need to do with every film, particularly your early work. If you learn from your mistakes then you can become a better filmmaker. I've progressed a lot nce that first shoot but I still have so much to learn. I think if someone is the same filmmaker, and person, in five years time as they are today then they haven't pushed themselves hard enough to evolve.
5.The main challenge for any young filmmaker is finding financing. How do you go about securing your films financing?
I tried to get some bigger budget projects off the ground when I first went into producing. Budgets in the range of £1-3million. That's chicken feed for US studios but in terms of the independent scene in the UK that's a lot of money, particularly when you're trying to raise it without the support of high profile production companies or producers. What I learnt from the process is that no private investor or funding body is going to throw millions at a producer with no track record. You have to prove you can make money for investors before you can secure those kind of budgets.
So I decided to streamline my budgets to the absolute essentials and pitch a low risk investment in films that can compete in the mainstream market but at a quarter of the cost of our competitors. On previous projects I've worked on I noticed how inflated and wasteful the budgets often were. So my goal is to make creatively satisfying and marketable pictures but at a budget level that gives the best posble chance of a healthy profit margin for our investors. If you show financiers that you understand buness and they see you aren't just a flake who doesn't give a shit about the investors once you have their money, then you become someone they want to do buness with.
If your low budget project secures a top distribution deal and makes money then opportunities to do bigger and better movies can become a reality. Look at the big name directors who started out on Roger Corman's low budget exploitation movies before hitting the big time- Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese etc. New filmmakers should always be prepared to work with whatever they can get and make sacrifices in the short term in order to prosper in the long term. Never wait for someone to hand you multi million budgets because you'll be waiting a long time. Take whatever amount of money you can get and just make movies. Making is always better than Waiting.
6.You secure some native projects including night of the living dead, lent night bloody night, Amityville, and Manson. What steps you take to secure such name projects?
One of the current trends in the industry is for remakes and brand name titles. Money is tight in this economic climate, so distributors are more drawn to films with a marketable brand because they have an in built consumer recognition and therefore represent less risk as an investment. So I knew North Bank's first projects needed to have some form of brand name to give us the best posble chance of getting distribution. Robert Shaye who founded New Line Cinema started out as a copyright lawyer and he discovered that the copyright on Reefer Madness was in the public domain so decided to release the film. That's how he began distributing films with New Line which of course went on to become a prosperous Hollywood studio. Most new independent distributors often start out by distributing public domain films because it doesn't cost anything to secure the rights. So I applied the same principle to my production company after discovering 'Night of the Living Dead' was in the public domain. I knew it had a public recognition and wouldn't cost us anything to secure the rights to the name. A lot of fans of the original movie may see that as taking advantage of Romero and Co. But everyone involved with that original film is a successful millionaire so we're not leaving anyone in poverty. The bottom line is if someone who dreams of being a filmmaker is faced with the choice of being able to produce a remake that gets your career started, or struggle on for years unsuccessfully trying to get something "original" off the ground then that isn't even a choice at all. Anyone with common sense would take the remake in a heartbeat.
7.Acting as writer producer director on projects gives you an immense amount of freedom. Would you say this is the best way to work?
As long as you don't have an over inflated ego it most definitely is. I love being an independent filmmaker. A big benefit of keeping budgets low is that you retain full creative control. That's nice when I'm directing but it's most satisfying when I work with another director and I can give them the freedom to implement their vion without interference. If you bring in a director who understands the material then he should be allowed to do the job without facing the added pressure of a producer on his back questioning his creative decions. That has worked well in my partnership with James Plumb who directed 'Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection' and 'lent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming'. Although I'm involved creatively with the script, once that first draft is done and we are both in agreement on what the film should be I leave him alone to make the film his own. Then I stick to my job which is the organisational and buness de of the project. I think that's the best way to work as a producer.
The best part of producing for me is selling the film to distributors. Because we're so low budget I'm sure some of the actors and crew who work on our projects think the films will just get a screening and then disappear like so many other low budget indie flicks. So I get a lot of satisfaction telling them that the film they were a part of has been picked up for UK and North American distribution, as both 'Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection' and 'lent Night Bloody Night: The Homecoming' have been. It makes everyone's hard work worth it. Even more so if the films do well and help those who worked with us to progress in their careers.
8.Can you tell me about lent night bloody night homecoming?
It's a UK based remake of an American cult clasc from 1974 which focuses on a manor house that has a dark history involving the family of it's owner Wilfred Butler. The original pioneered a lot of the techniques that would later become staples of the slasher genre such as the Stalker Point of View shot and it has a very dark, unique back story. I've always wanted to create the first UK based slasher franchise so the ultimate plan is for 'lent Night, Bloody Night' to become a series of films for the Home Entertainment market. So for this first film we wanted to reboot the original 'lent Night, Bloody Night' origin story and expand it so it has the potential for continuation. It's a low budget movie that we shot in just 10 days and we only had three months for post production so that presented big challenges for us. But I'm very proud of what we managed to achieve despite the limitations, it's superbly directed and the practical FX by Alex Harper are very impresve. I'm sure slasher film fans will enjoy the brutality and creativity of each kill. The film has been picked up for distribution in the UK by 101 Films and we'll be announcing the North American distribution deal we've recently agreed for the film soon. We already have original stories in mind for the next two instalments so if the sales figures are good when it's released on DVD in the UK and North America then we'll begin production on a sequel. It's up to the audience now whether they want to see a continuation or not.
9. How did Adrienne King, the original heroine of Friday the 13th, come on to the project?
I found out Adrienne was exhibiting her artwork at the Misty Moon Gallery in London at the same time as we were shooting the film. She's very accesble to her fans so I got in touch directly and asked her if she would like to provide the voice for a series of phone calls the killer makes to potential victims in the movie. She read the script and agreed to do it. Adrienne has done a lot of voice work before and getting the heroine of an iconic slasher film involved in our project, which is a love letter to that slasher era, was a great thrill. James Plumb and I are both huge fans of Adrienne and working with her was a fantastic experience. Adrienne has a wonderful profesonalism and warmth and the support she gives to new independent filmmakers is amazing. Her potion as an icon of the horror genre is thoroughly deserved.10.One thing that has my attention is that of the living dead resurrection. What made you want to tackle such an iconic property?
As I mentioned earlier the idea of a brand name title that I could acquire for free influenced the decion to make that the first project for North Bank. The 'Night of the Living Dead' name gave us the best posble chance of securing distribution and finding an audience. But once we had that marketing hook we were free to take the original concept of Zombie-apocalyse-survivors-trapped-in-a-farmhouse in a new direction. The film has new characters and new plot twists that are completely different to the original film. With 'lent Night, Bloody Night' we stayed close to the original, but with 'Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection' we've gone in a completely different direction than the Romero movie. I think James Plumb did a fantastic job directing it, particularly as the process of shooting was very challenging. We were in a cottage in the middle of nowhere with a tight budget and a 12 day shooting schedule. So it's always difficult to get a film completed under tight restrictions but it turned out very well. It amused me that one or two of those involved in the film slagged us off because of the difficult conditions but then the film got picked up for North American distribution by Grindstone Entertainment Group and Lionsgate Home Entertainment and for a UK theatrical release by 4Digital Media. Needless to say, they're now kisng our arses. It's a fickle old buness.
11.Being creative is one thing, the biggest problem young film makers have is how to get their film out there and people interested in it. What would you recommend?
I think it's very important to understand the current trends of the market place and the audience demographic you are aiming at. That's something filmmakers should conder before they even make the film. So many first time filmmakers struggle to get distribution because they don't conder what kind of movie would appeal to distributors and audiences. I made that mistake myself with my first two films, they were arthouse dramas and there's a limited commercial appeal to those films. I'm lucky in that the genre I love the most always seems to have a place in the market if you get the timing right.
As well as the title, another reason why we managed to get 'Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection' picked up for distribution is because zombies are very popular at the moment, particularly because of the success of 'The Walking Dead'.
So distributors are obviously on the look out for zombie films. The popular films always come in cycles and the cycles are based on what is the most successful recent film in that genre because everyone wants to emulate that success. So distributors will be looking for milar films. I'd advise any first time filmmakers to look for those trends and try to capitalise on them. There's nothing wrong with making a film which follows what is popular at that time. After all, a filmmaker wants their work to be seen by as many people as posble. When you've had a successful film then you can start to worry about being an original artist who sets the trends yourself.
When it comes to actually selling your film the accepted route for indie filmmakers is to travel to festivals and hob nob with distributors at Film Markets around the world. That's fine if you can afford it but if your budget doesn't stretch to that then you can approach distributors via phone or email. If the approach is concise and profesonal and they agree with your demonstration of the sales potential of the movie then you should be able to convince them to conder a DVD screener. I rarely go to film markets or festivals. Not because I can't afford it but because I don't see the point in flying half way around the world to secure distribution when I can do it from the comfort of my living room!
12.You have a Manson film in preproduction. As a UK filmmaker, what do you hope to bring to America's most infamous mass murderer?
The project has had quite an extenve development process. I initially wanted to do a bit of an epic over five decades of Manson's life with a keen focus on his childhood. But the script was too big in scale and needed re-writing to be more practical. Then the opportunity to do 'Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection' and 'lent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming' arose so the project was put on the back burner. I've now brought in another writer to work on the script. I think the Tate/LaBianca story has been depicted more than enough times on TV and film, so we're going to portray areas of Manson's life that no other project has covered, such as his childhood and his incarceration after the infamous murders. I think that approach will create a fresher and more complete portrait of Manson, rather than the one dimenonal way he is currently portrayed in movies and on TV. Being in the UK I think I am well placed to avoid the bias of the US media's portrayal and present him in a way that allows an audience to decide for themselves what they think of him. Once we get the script into the right shape we'll move forward on production.13.You have a lot of films in the oven for small production company. How do you keep your budget slow and your marketability high?
It's all about trying to achieve a marriage of marketability and low budget on every project.
There's no point trying to make an action or fantasy film because we can't compete with the spectacular scale and set pieces of movies that have far bigger budgets. But Horror definitely lends itself to the grittiness that often comes with a low budget so we'll continue to work in that genre. We have a 4 picture deal with our backers Independent Moving Pictures so while we're moving away from remakes next year we will continue to make films that follow popular trends. Two of the films on our slate for 2013 are in the supernatural and found footage sub genres and we're also set to move into sci-fi and creature features. At the end of the day, the people who buy our films and become our fan base will be the ones who decide what kind of
films North Bank Entertainment make in the future. The audience always knows best.
This is how ya do it.