Pat’s Labyrinth II: The pitfalls and the pendulums of producing low budget horror in the UK

Dean Newman continues his exclusive interview with British horror auteur, Pat Higgins, and asks him about how he got started, and the ups and the downs that low budget filmmaking bring.

DN: Like many filmmakers were you bitten by the film bug at an early age.

PH: Film was what I’d always wanted to do; I’ve still got Super-8 footage that I filmed when I was little, unleashing stop-motion monsters on Essex, then life got in the way but the love of film never went away.

I worked in video shops, cinemas, anything to be near film. I then found myself stuck in a call centre during the dot-com boom, literally writing screenplays between calls.

I bought stock in it when it floated on the stock-market, borrowing cash from family and friends, watched the company rocket and then sold it off. I paid back everyone that very week, but more importantly had enough money for a broadcast quality camera and an edit suite. With that we made our first film, TrashHouse, which won the Best Screenplay award at the 2005 Tromafling Festival in Edinburgh, and was also runner-up for Best UK Feature.

DN: Obviously you are working with low budgets, what are the advantages and disadvantages?

PH: The idea of losing the writing freedom at the scripting stage is something I would find almost impossible to let go of and move up the budgetary scale. The worst limitation however is that if there is something you really want to do you can just find that you just don’t have the resources to realise it, which is something we certainly came across in TrashHouse.

Fear the Cheerleader!

In terms of KillerKiller we had this wonderful location, the former Warley Hospital near Brentwood (now largely converted into luxury flats) and we couldn’t shoot in it for nearly as long as we needed as it just cost too much, so it’s those kind of brick walls that you keep running into really that make you think, damn it, if only I had an extra few thousand pounds in the bank.

It is a very different creative process though not being able to just hose things with money and make them go away or appear. I’m very used to that way of thinking now and I just love the freedom that comes with it.

For The Devil’s Music we chose a digital release platform for it over here on indiemoviesonline.com, which has worked very well, and over in America have released it as a special edition DVD (released December 22nd 2009) in a way that just wouldn’t be possible here due to the high cost of getting each extra rated by the BBFC.

Working with low budgets you get to have the final say on absolutely everything from the script, casting, editing, to even the promotional campaign. We’ve occasionally tweaked things to make them that little bit more commercial but that has been our decision. Ultimately I’m answerable only to me and others in the company, me and my wife.

DN: Everyone has to answer to their wife though don’t they?

PH: This is very true (laughs).

DN: How would you describe the Devil’s Music?

PH: For a long time we tried avoiding to describe it at festivals but it’s a horror movie in the style of a rock documentary, which tells the tale of a very controversial musician who for one reason or another is no longer ‘around’ and it gradually pulls the viewer into her world and lets them piece together the story of what actually happened to her and those around her.

DN: I’ve never heard of the horror rock documentary before, what has the feedback been like?

PH: It’s been terrific; everybody has been very supportive all the way through. When it was playing festivals it got very good reactions and people really seem to enjoy it. It was a very conscious decision from us that we wanted to produce something very different than what was in the marketplace at the time.

DN: The Devil’s Music has gained quite a bit of coverage hasn’t it?

PH: Kim Newman really likes it and was very complementary about it in Empire a couple of months ago and had actually seen it a couple of months before and kindly sent me some very nice comments about it back then. He’s been a supporter of it now for quite a while, which we’ve been very grateful for.

DN: Has that been the film that has got the greatest amount of exposure to date?

PH: It’s difficult to say really. TrashHouse, our first film, was very well distributed on DVD over here and was available in the high street up and down the country, so the distribution side of things worked very well but we didn’t get so much press.

KillerKiller got the widest release globally, even gaining a cinema release in Germany and I’ve got DVDs of it dubbed into Russian, but alas not here in the UK.

Aisle be back!

HellBride was really just in the States and The Devil’s Music has been these two very different releases in the US and UK. Every release has been very different but one day they will all come together and we’ll have all these elements at the same time for one movie.

DN: Can we expect to see the Pat Higgins boxset as well I presume?

PH: When all the rights revert back to us from the various distribution companies that would be great to do a huge boxset.

DN: Would that be like the Planet of the Apes boxset with packaging in the shape of your head?

PH: It’s unlikely to be me and more likely to be something like a killer cheerleader. Everything since TrashHouse has been shot in High Definition so we have HD masters for everything so Blu-ray could be another avenue that we look to go down in the near future.

Next time: looking forward in fear with Pat’s Labyrinth III: The future of Horror

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