Archive for the ‘Filming’ Category

It’s here! It’s free! It’s NSFW (strong language, gore & nudity)! Full-length video about low budget horror filmmaking! Full of useful information for budding filmmakers about every step of the process, plus rare clips from Jinx movies (including behind-the-scenes stuff). Filmed live at Horror-on-Sea in January 2013.

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s pretty much only one reason that my shot-on-miniDV first feature ended up getting decent commercial distribution (which, in turn, led to me being considered a ‘proper’ filmmaker albeit one on a very, very low rung of the ladder).

I climbed an obstacle.

Cutting footage on a home PC was tough at the beginning of the century. It wasn’t something that the average home PC could do straight out of the box; it required a souped-up kit, capture cards and software that certainly wasn’t standard issue. It cost money, time and patience.

 

 

I cut Trashhouse on a home PC with a 20GB hard drive, (which at the time was a ridiculously huge amount of storage space and cost me a whole load of money). The flick is completely a product of its production context; the average film student watching the movie now would be dumbstruck at how amateurish certain elements of it look. From a technical point of view it’s all over the place; the grade is inconsistent, the compositing is shocking and there are CGI elements that look laughably poor in 2013 (and didn’t exactly look brilliant by 2004). It doesn’t look like the commercially released indies of 2013, which are within spitting distance of Hollywood in terms of visual qualities and technical expertise. But, in 2004, it didn’t really have to. The fact that it existed at all was enough to at least get a few potential distributors to watch it; there were only a tiny number of indie features getting produced in the UK each year.

There are some good things about TrashHouse, which ultimately meant that I got the chance to keep making films. These good things are the stuff aside from the technical stuff. It’s got a pretty decent script and some interesting ideas in it. If people go to it looking for a mainstream horror flick with high production values they’ll be bitterly disappointed, but if they go to it looking for a lo-fi oddity they’ll hopefully still find stuff to enjoy.

It’s a product of the obstacles I had to climb to get it made, and it only found its way onto the shelves of major stores because I had to climb those obstacles.

At the risk of sounding all “Eeh, in my day it were all fields around here”, which is never a good look, (especially when the day you’re talking about was only about a decade ago), I think what the new generation of filmmakers need more than anything else is some obstacles.  Otherwise every brave new voice is competing with EVERYONE who can pick up a camera and produce something that looks perfectly great without really putting in any particular effort. The democratisation of film production comes at a price; if you give everyone a voice, you fast discover that an awful lot of people have got fuck all to say but they keep shouting anyway. The voices that would otherwise have immediately stood out get swept away on the tide of mediocrity. Bark bark bark.

At the time that clerks hit, Kevin Smith was an original voice. The reason that people heard him was because (can you guess?) his movie had to climb huge obstacles to get made. Shooting a movie wasn’t something that guys who worked in convenience stores could easily do, and Smith’s determination just to get the bastard made meant that at least a couple of people watched his flick out of curiosity. The fact that it existed meant that at least a few sets of eyes would be interested in watching it. As it happened, that was enough to set the ball in motion and make sure that the original voice got heard.

 

Pat outside the Quick Stop, where Kevin Smith shot his debut.

Pat outside the Quick Stop, where Kevin Smith shot his debut.

 

Nowadays, there are a hell of a lot of guys who work in convenience stores who are making movies. Some of those movies look close to professional. Very few of them are an original voice waiting to be heard, and my worry is that the ones that are have no way whatsoever of standing out. The average member of the public isn’t just going to keep watching no-budget movies looking for a diamond in the rough; they’ll decide they don’t like ‘them’ as if ‘they’ were a homogenous mass and go straight back to watching Hollywood product. There is nothing inherently interesting about making a 90 minute movie for no money, because it’s literally something that an eight year-old can do.

In the past, there were potential gems that never got made.

Now, they’re getting made and nobody’s actually watching them.

In a way, I think that’s worse.

PS. Despite all this, I still encourage people to go out and shoot movies. Go figure. My hour-long live show Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws is full of advice about how and why to do it. It’s a bit NSFW (gore, nudity and naughty words) and is embedded below.

I’ve been trying a bit of a smartphone detox lately, which makes a lot of sense given that we’re deeply involved in the development process for our smartphone horror Evil Apps. I’ve been attempting to stick the iPhone in a box as soon as I’m home, and to only use it when out and about. This is basically a strategy to stop the goddamn thing sucking every single second of unallocated attention out of my life; I realised that all the little pockets of time that I used to spend thinking (from waiting for a kettle to boil through to taking a crap) had become pockets of time during which I just plunged straight back into twitter/facebook/whatever and I never got the chance to just let my mind wander. If you never let your mind wander, the thing just stays wherever you left it and you never get any new ideas. So the phone goes in the box and I give my brain some breathing space.

A direct result of this is I’ve found myself grabbing books off the shelf, just to dip into them for a few minutes, for the first time in years. Over the weekend, the one I happened to grab was The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made. It’s a cracking read, and well worth dipping back into. I was reacquainting myself with the story of various failed attempts to film I Am Legend, when I stumbled across a phrase that stuck in my mind a little bit.

The film only finally made its way to the screen because it found a champion (in that case, Will Smith).

The first thing this reminded me of was Harvey Keitel getting hold of the script for Reservoir Dogs, and that being the key to raising the $1.5M the production needed. We’ve never worked that way around. We’ve always raised our budget and then sorted out our cast on that basis. As I mentioned in the last post (well, I hinted it, but I was hardly subtle) we’re currently planning on raising at least part of the budget for Evil Apps through Kickstarter and making sure that it’s the most kick-ass Kickstarter campaign we can possibly put together for you guys. The Will Smith line, however, made me wonder whether changing the order in which we do things would change the nature of the campaign.

EVIL APPS

Evil Apps has two fantastic lead roles and a whole bunch of meaty supporting roles too. We’ve approached the budgeting on the basis that we’ll cast newcomers and people with a bit of genre experience, but it crossed my mind over the weekend that doing this in reverse might be a valid approach too. If we can raise £x amount of money for a movie starring talented people with fairly low-profiles, might we not be able to raise £y amount of money to do the movie in a slightly bigger fashion if we had a ‘name’ attached? We’ve got a decent enough track record at this game now. We’ve won some strong awards, we’ve had some great reviews, we’ve proven time and time again that we can bring in genre movies on time and under budget. I’m tempted to even boast once again that Penny Dreadful in SFX magazine called me “The Tarantino of budget gore flicks, for both style and dialogue”, but that would probably be a bit guache so I won’t. If a higher profile performer than we’ve previously worked with decided that they rather fancied taking a lead role in a cracking indie rather than a supporting role in a tepid larger movie, mightn’t that change the landscape of what we’re planning to do?

I’m really just thinking aloud in the form of a blog post at this point. I haven’t formulated a game plan or even decided if this is genuinely something that we’d want to do. After all, with a higher profile performer a lot of other considerations with the production might change too. But it’s got to be worth at least considering, which is something we’d never done before. After all, money isn’t the only motivating factor for a performer contemplating a role, and our script is pretty goddamn cool. Put it side-by-side with the script to most British movies scheduled to go into production any time soon, and I’m quietly confident that ours can hold its head up high as sharper, funnier and generally more interesting.

In other words, if you’re the sort of person to have people, have your people talk to my people. Except I’m not the sort of person to have people, so I guess your people will just have to talk to me instead.

PS. Needless to say, I’m going to use the end of this blog post to plug my live show again. It’s packed full of anecdotes and advice for no-budget filmmakers, rare clips and a few jokes. It’s not really safe for work, since there’s a bit of nudity, gore and strong language along the way. It’s free, so be sure to let us know if you like it or find it interesting. If you want to give me feedback or ask questions directly, I can always be found on Twitter.

Ah, sound recording.

BeachtekBeen writing this blog since 2005 and think I’ve managed to avoid talking about sound recording at pretty much every step. I think it’s safe to say that it’s not my specialist subject. Not the thing I’d be grilled about on Mastermind.

It’d be an understatement to say I’m ‘still learning’, because I’m still making mistakes all over the shop. I try new approaches with each movie but the simple truth is this:

Sound is amazingly, incredibly important. To get great sound requires skill and TIME. You won’t always have these things, which means you’ll end up with problems.

Ok, let’s break down the kit we’ve used along the way. That way you can learn from the mistakes that I’m apparently still making, despite having been in this game for a good few years now.


TrashHouse has actually got cool sound given the ridiculously echoey environment that it was filmed in. This is down to one man, Danny Lenihan (credited as Danny James) who came along, brought a whole bunch of kit and did an amazing job. He recorded to MiniDisc (which was still the best route in 2004) and we post-synched. He now runs the fantastically funky tripod company 3 Legged Thing, so go buy some of his brilliant kit and tell him I sent you.

Cock-ups I made: Rather than just using the XM1s onboard sound and keeping that as a guide track to lay Danny’s lovely MiniDisc sound over, I got all over-excited and decided to plumb an external mic into the XM1 on the off-chance that I caught useable sound with that too. I figured that I was increasing my chances of getting a decent audio take. What actually happened was that the external mic set-up for the XM1 was forgotten about and only sometimes switched on, and nobody was in charge of making sure that the onboard mic was switched back on when the external wasn’t being used. As a result, I had entire days of filming with NO SYNCH SOUND WHATSOEVER, and, this being our first shoot, our use of a clapper board (or even just having someone stand in front of the camera clapping) was inconsistent to say the least. So I had good sound sitting on a bunch of MiniDiscs and a load of silent video footage, with no easy way of matching them up. A fresh, unusual and exciting mistake to make.

Another wrinkle on TrashHouse‘s sound came about when the inevitable Bittorrent DVD rip (which hit the net on the day of the UK release) turned out to have a massive sound glitch on it, meaning that all the people who’d downloaded it then proceeded to piss and moan about the ‘appalling sound’ on various message boards. This meant that as well as torpedoing our deals in several other territories just by it’s very existence, the DVD rip also ended up giving the film a reputation for bad sound which wasn’t the case on the released version. Aah, the joys of internet.


We went a different route for the sound on Hellbride. We took our shiny new Sony HDR-FX1 HDV camcorder and paired it up with a BEACHTEK break-out box, allowing us to plumb an XLR mic straight into the camera and avoid the post-synch that had given me so many headaches on TrashHouse. Combined with the post-production dialogue sweetening talents of Rich Miller, this wasn’t a bad solution as long as we had a dedicated sound guy checking things out (James ‘Magic’ Mitchell, take a bow) and were shooting in environments without too much ambient sound.

Cock-ups I made: As I said, things usually went fine as long as we had a sound guy there. Unfortunately, particularly on days of pick-ups and reshoots, that wasn’t always the case. When the rough cut of the movie underran rather badly we brought back some of the cast to shoot some additional scenes, which tended to be character-driven and featured such material as romantic autumn walks in the woods. So, two people walking through crunchy leaves. Followed by a couple of other people walking through crunchy leaves, recording some largely unuseable sound. Hellbride is a mixed bag as far as sound recording goes, and the bad stuff is all my fault. The technical set-up was fine, but the practicalities weren’t always handled as well as they could be.

I’ve continued to make a variety of varied and interesting mistakes when it comes to recording sound, but I think that’s enough from my personal hit parade of regrets for now. If there is a deafening clamour for more, I’ll break down my later movies in a future post.

Does that sound good?

Jinx Media has been going for ten years.

Ten years of horror, rock n roll, killer cheerleaders and death tales. Ten years of celluloid and zeroes & ones. Ten years of staying afloat and staying alive while the entire industry reforms around us.

To celebrate ten years of Jinx Media, we’ve got some really awesome stuff coming up. The first big date of the year to put in your diaries is Friday February 22nd, when we’ll give you something cool to watch and the opportunity to get involved in one of our movies like never before. It’s going to be an insanely busy and exciting year for us, and we really hope that you’ll join us for the journey.

As we get ready for all the forthcoming festivities, we’ve been trying to bring together all our various ways of keeping you guys informed. Obviously, this here website is one of our main portals of information, but it’s by no means the only one.

Our wonderful, soaraway, sunshine-filled Facebook page actually contains a load of exclusive photos from our movies that you can’t see anywhere else. So.. Here’s our first little giveaway. The ‘Death Tales’ mini-comic that was published in Southend’s Level 4 magazine earlier in the year has just hit the Facebook page! We’re going to be putting even more exclusives on it over the next few months, so please head over there by clicking the awesome artwork below…

NZDT_Comic_Teaser

And please don’t forget to hit ‘like’ whilst you’re at the page so we can keep you up-to-date about this sort of stuff. I hesitate to even ask if you’d be kind enough to plug it to your friends… Ah, sod it. We just gave you an awesome mini-comic. Please plug the Facebook site to your friends!

Next up is Twitter. I use my Twitter account to share all sorts of bits of stuff. It’s often the first place that I mention big developments. So, while you’re busy ‘liking’ our Facebook page, why not follow me on Twitter too? Who’d have guessed it? There’s a nice big button below making it as easy as possible. Press the button. Go on.

Twitter

You’re already at the official site, but don’t forget to subscribe to this too.

And what will we give you for this care and attention, dear reader?

Well, we’ll keep you totally up-to-date through what promises to be the most exciting year since Jinx started. We’ll give you freebies ranging form that mini-comic through to the hour-long video going up on the 22nd (what could it be? I’m sure that a few of you will be able to work it out..) plus keeping you informed right the way through pre production, production and post production of our latest feature. We’ll do everything we possibly can to make this year as exciting for you guys as it’s going to be for us.

Let’s go…

It’s been a while since we’ve run auditions, but I thought it might be worth writing about the subject. What follows is meant for both low-budget indie filmmakers/producers and also those kind prospective cast members who come along to audition.

Sod it, let’s turn this into a game of advice-tennis.

Producers: Hire someone pleasant and professional to hold auditions, or at least as close to pleasant and professional as you can afford. Don’t invite people to audition ‘at your house’ because it not only sounds massively dodgy but also suggests you have no organisational skills whatsoever. A room above a pub will do at a push, and you can probably get that for free if you ask arouund and get it during the day when nobody else is using it. Better than a room above a pub would be one of the business or function rooms in a hotel. If you go this route, though, for Christ’s sake you make sure that you specify ‘Function Room 1’ or whatever on the directions to your prospective cast. Asking them to audition ‘at your hotel room’ sounds even dodgier than ‘at your house’.

Cast: Turn up on time. If you’re not going to turn up on time, send a polite message as soon as you can letting the producers know. If you’re not going to turn up AT ALL, let them know at least a day in advance. Weirdly enough, I can still remember the names of pretty much every actor who has completely failed to turn up for an audition and just left us sitting there, and not in a good way. A special note for one guy who failed to show in Summer 2007: if you’re going to fail to turn up for an audition, and you’re going to fail to notify the people sitting in the room waiting for you, please do NOT then send an excited email a couple of days later trying to plug the project that you decided to work on rather than attend the audition. For fuck’s sake.

Producers: Be absolutely upfront about everything. You might feel awkward telling people what crappy money you’ll be paying them, but you need to do this BEFORE you expect people to drag themselves across town (or further) to attend an audition. If you’re explaining how little you’re going to pay when you’re sitting face to face YOU HAVE LEFT IT TOO LATE. Likewise, if your script requires nudity, or being held underwater or licking live rats or whatever, (and there’s no possibility of dropping these elements if your actor isn’t up for them), then if you’re telling them face to face YOU HAVE LEFT IT TOO LATE. If there’s something that might absolutely rule out an actor’s participation other than them being simply wrong for the role, you have a duty to try everything in your power to find that out before asking them to travel anywhere. That’s your bare minimum.

Cast: If you’ve been given a script extract in advance, read it in advance. I know, I know. There ain’t enough hours in the day for any of us. Personally, I wouldn’t expect you to know an extract by heart, necessarily, (although some might), but I won’t be expecting you to say ‘I haven’t had a chance to look at this, sorry’ either. Oh, and if you’re too hungover to audition properly I’m not sure it particularly matters whether you announce this fact or not. I suspect you won’t get the role regardless.

Producers: Telling people they haven’t got the role after they’ve auditioned sucks. Just because it sucks doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it. A prompt, courteous email is the bare minimum for people you’ve face-to-faced. A phone call can more problematic on both sides but is probably the better option for someone you’ve seen more than once (or led to believe they were a front-runner). Professionalism, courtesy and respect, folks.

Cast: once you’ve had that email or call, that’s the bit where you go away, I’m afraid. Sending endless emails at this point isn’t a good look for anyone. Try not to over-analyse why you didn’t get the part, either; odds are it was something someone else did incredibly right rather than anything you did wrong.

Everyone: Be nice. Be kind and friendly and professional. Remember that people’s feelings are at stake as well as the movie. Being professional but pleasant is possibly almost as important as being right for the role. I can remember thinking “this person seems very talented, but seems like they might be a nightmare” quite often, and that factor has probably swung my decision more times than I care to admit. A set only works when everyone is pulling in the same direction; if you’re openly rude to hotel staff at an audition, the odds are that you won’t be much more considerate to those around you on a set.

Usual disclaimer: I’m not saying any of this stuff putting myself forward as some kind of guru or role model. Shit, I know I’ve failed to follow my own advice on a few occasions (as anyone who has auditioned at my house will attest) but I put these ideas forward in the hope that we can keep the experience of auditioning as painless as possible for everyone concerned.

See you in Function Room 1, guys.

WCLCS_logo

We’re into the final week before Werewolves Cheerleaders and Chainsaws at the Horror-on-Sea festival. As I write these words there are still a handful of tickets left, which can be snatched up by just clicking the logo above. It’s a 90 min live event about low budget horror filmmaking, including all sorts of clips, anecdotes and advice. Should be a hell of a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to it; hope to see you there!