Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Collector...

I thought I knew what to expect from The Collector. It looked the the usual guy in the basement with a mask torturing people with household implements film. Turns out I was wrong.


From the opening credits you can tell that this film has a style of its own. It reminded me of watching the opening credits of Ginger Snaps - that moment of revelation when you realise that what you thought was a typical straight-to-DVD horror film might actually be better than that. But while The Collector is brilliantly shot and directed, what really makes it work is the writing.

There are two things that make it great.

1) The main character is very well written. The film takes its time getting into the main story, so we get to know the guy and we get to understand why we should care about him even though he's a thief. And for once we have a slasher film in which the protagonists aren't dumb teenagers.

2) The bad guy is smarter than everyone else. This is what really makes the suspense in the film work. The bad guy is always three steps ahead of the other characters in the film, meaning he's also three steps ahead of the audience.

It's a bit on the nasty side, and if it wasn't so intelligently written would definitely be dismissed as torture porn, but it's further proof of what good writing can do for a standard genre film and I really enjoyed it.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Jenny Ringo Review Round-up!

Over the last few weeks a number of horror/film bloggers have been kind enough to watch my short film Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw and write about it on their blogs. It's been useful to get some unbiased feedback on the film and to find out what works and what doesn't, and it's certainly given me a few things to think about for the next one. For the most part the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive which is a huge relief. 


By the way, if you want to see the film you can do so by signing up to the mailing list at http://www.jennyringo.com/

You should get an e-mail asking you to confirm and when you click the link in that e-mail you will be directed to a confirmation page which has a link to the film and the password required to view it. Signing up just means that we'll send you an update every month or so with news about the sequel, but you can unsubscribe anytime you want.

If you do watch the film please feel free to post your comments or write a review as I'm still very keen on getting feedback and trying to get more people to see it. There's a facebook page, an imdb page or you can leave me a comment on one of the posts here. And if you have any problems watching the film or would like to contact me directly please e-mail whatwritesatmidnight[at]googlemail.com

So here's a list of all the reviews that have appeared online so far. Thanks very much to everyone who wrote about it:







These last two feature extra ramblings from me...


Thursday, 1 December 2011

A few days of awesome horror films in Brighton...

There are a few film screenings going on in Brighton over the next few days and they all happen to be horror-related. Which is awesome.

Firstly, on Friday there is a screening of Carnival of Souls with a live score. You can find out more about the screening here. If I had the time and energy to properly work out a list of my favourite horror films I can guarantee this would be in my top 5. I like it so much it inspired the ghosts in my short film...



Here's the trailer...


If you haven't seen it and aren't anywhere near Brighton this Friday I seriously recommend you check it out. Look, I'll even make it easy for you...


And then on Saturday Brighton gets its own one-day horror festival with Frighten Brighton! Fellow horror bloggers Cyberschizoid and Scare Sarah have been doing a great job promoting classic horror films recently and always put on fantastic events so I'm really looking forward to this one. They're screening Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), The Entity (1981) and Night of the Living Dead (1990) at the Rock Inn starting at 12pm. 
Then on Saturday night, my short horror/comedy Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw (did I mention I made a short film?) is screening at the Nightingale as part of the Cine-City festival.

And finally, on Monday evening it's Christmas MovieBar, but I couldn't find any Christmas short films so I'm mostly showing horror films again! Check out the full line-up here.

I'm planning on being at all of the above so if you're in the area and coming along to any of the above I'll see you there!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Jenny Ringo 2 - Pre-production Diary 1...

At some point during the endless post-production of Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw I started to think about possibly developing it into a TV series, or at least having some idea of how that would work should I ever get that far. The issue with this was that I was all out of story ideas - I pretty much just had the one. So I asked a few friends who also worked on the film to come up with a couple of potential episode storylines. I took the best of these and collated them into a pitch document. I then submitted this to a couple of BBC schemes and never heard anything back. That would have been the end of it but the story ideas were really good and it seemed like a bit of a waste not to do anything with them at all...

A few months ago, just after the film had been properly finished, I was chatting with Darren who shot the film and we drank too much and started talking about making another one. I mentioned one of the storylines Geraint D'Arcy (who also built the tongue creature) had come up with and we decided it should be pretty straight forward. And then we made bold claims about all the things we would do different this time and how it would all work out so much easier because we are obviously brilliant at this now.

The next day I woke up with a hangover and a sense of creeping dread as I realised I had accidentally committed myself to making another short film.

Over the next few weeks I asked around to see if others from the old team were interested in working on another film. My wife Andrea agreed to produce again, Brother Pete and his girlfriend Charlotte were up for being our art department, and crucially Rosie and Lukas, our two leads from the previous film, were onboard. I think if they hadn't wanted to do it I may have abandoned the idea as the storyline for the second film had really been shaped by their performances in the first film. That, and the fact that they are brilliant and I really want to work with them again.

Then we had a really unproductive production meeting in which the answer to all questions was 'We'll have to wait for the script.' And for once this was out of my control.

I'd spoken to Geraint a few weeks prior to this meeting, told him we were thinking of using his idea for the next film, and then I asked if he wanted to write it. This may seem like an odd decision considering that I made the first film primarily to see how my writing worked without outside interference. But I'd done that now, and decided it worked very well (even if I do say so myself). If I had written this one I think it would probably have been more of the same. I also would have felt like a bit of a fraud taking what was a rather genius little idea for a story then passing it off as my own.

However, this put me in a strange and unfamiliar position. I found myself sending nonsensical e-mails with bits of ideas that could never be tied together, as well as music recommendations and links to scenes from films. In other words, lots of random and probably unhelpful stuff of the type I have often received from directors and producers over the years. Once I got the first draft I sent pages and pages of rambling notes, and then on the subsequent draft I sent pages of contradictory notes when I started to figure out what the film was about. Basically, I did everything that I hate people doing to me.

At the same time, I made sure I did three things that people quite often don't do. If you happen to be giving notes to a writer at any point in the future I seriously recommend following these 3 steps. There is a reason I've only really managed to successfully work with one director, and that's really down to him doing the following. And it mostly just comes down to courtesy.

So when someone sends you the latest draft of a script you've asked them to work on, you must:

1) Say thank you immediately!

Writing a script is a lot of work. There have been many occasions when I have been up writing well into the early hours of the morning writing a script. It is then really annoying when the person I send that script to doesn't even acknowledge that they've received it.

2) Read it as soon as possible.

As above. If someone has put the hours into working on something for you, then you can put an hour or so into reading it. The angriest I ever got with someone I was writing for was when they told me they'd read the first 30 pages of a feature script and decided it wasn't working. I'd written 90 pages based on their idea, and they couldn't be bothered to read it all. But that's a rare case. Usually people just don't respond at all for weeks. On one project I sent off a draft, heard nothing back, then a few weeks later received a heavily rewritten draft back. Which is fine, but it would've been nice to have been told.

There's nothing worse than putting days/weeks/months of work into something and then having to wait almost as long to find out whether the person you're doing it for has even read it.

3) Compliment the good stuff.

Part of this is personal preference. I'm not someone who prefers to hear only the criticism because that's the useful stuff. It's rather soul-destroying when the first response to a piece work opens with 'I don't like...' or 'What isn't working...'

Plus, it's just as helpful to know what is working. I've worked on so many projects where I've overhauled a whole script only for someone to say, 'What happened to that scene with the monkey and the clown? That was my favourite scene!' If no one tells you what is working as well as what isn't then there's a good chance you'll take out some of the good stuff by mistake.

So I made sure I stuck to those, and anyone reading this who may be in the same position should do so too.

Aside from that I learnt a bit more about collaboration. I made sure that when I asked for things to be changed it wasn't just because I would've done it differently, and kept reminding myself that it wasn't my script this time. I learnt that it's not an exact science, and that it's not just the writer who is figuring this stuff out as they go along. I learnt a lot of things I'd read in books, but you never really learn any of this stuff properly until you do it.

Most of all, I learnt that I could be genuinely excited about the thought of making someone else's script.

So we're now on draft 4 and it's very nearly finished. Now I have to work out how we're actually going to film it...

If you want to follow our progress or find out how you can see the first film, sign up to our mailing list at www.jennyringo.com for regular updates.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Another Jenny Ringo review!

The Mike of From Midnight With Love has reviewed Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw - check out the review here!

You should definitely check out the rest of his blog too as he manages to strike a good balance between unique opinions on films we all know and love as well as promoting more obscure titles - such as this rather awesome piece on one of my favourite horror films ever, Let's Scare Jessica to Death.

If you're reading this thinking 'I have a blog/website. Why can't I review Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw?'

Well the answer is you can! Just e-mail me at whatwritesatmidnight[at]googlemail.com and I'll send you a link to an online screener.


Alternatively if you just want to know when you can see the film sign up to our mailing list at www.jennyringo.com

There is sequel news on its way, I promise!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

House of the Devil...

So last night I watched Ti West's House of the Devil and I really really enjoyed it. Pretty much everyone who's into horror films raved about this one when it was released a couple of years ago so I won't go on about it too much. I'd put off watching it because people were telling me that what was so great about it was that it was like a 70s film. I assumed this meant it was part of the rather tedious grindhouse revival and would have authentic film scratches, deliberately bad edits and knowing winks to the audience to show that the filmmakers are fully aware that they are making a bad film - when will people learn that you can't set out to make a good bad film? The bad films that are funny are only awesome because the filmmakers made them with complete sincerity.

Anyway, House of the Devil isn't trying to be a 'so bad it's good' film. It's simply a very good horror film. There is something very deliberately retro about it, but it's a stylistic decision and one that really helps the film. And it tells a proper story.

I don't want to give too much away in case you haven't seen it, but it has a really interesting structure. First off, West isn't afraid to use the first 30 minutes of the film to concentrate on developing the main character, played brilliantly by Jocelin Donahue. There are no scares in this first section which is exactly how it should be. This is something that is missed by so many modern horror films, but we just won't care about the characters when they're in danger unless we get to know them first. Here, we do.

What happens next is a slow-paced, perfectly executed building of tension. The majority of the film is scenes of Donahue's character wandering around a house on her own. You wouldn't think this could keep an audience interested but every time it starts to get boring West throws in a plot point, but makes sure to only give it to the audience. By the end we know more about what's going on in the house than the main character does and that really works.

The slow build really pays off when the horror finally kicks off in the last 15 minutes. Because it's so well structured there's a huge sense of relief as the tension is released coupled with genuine fear for a character you've come to sympathise with over the course of the film.
 
House of the Devil is a lesson in how to pace a horror film and for that reason it should be required viewing for anyone looking to work in the genre.


Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Finally, a Jenny Ringo review!

So after giving away 200 copies of the film to randoms in the hope that a few of them might enjoy it enough to write a review online, our first proper review actually came from a friend I showed the film to the weekend before last. I was a bit concerned it hadn't gone down that well on the night, particularly as we started watching it at about 1 in the morning, right after we'd watched the rather awesome Kindred. Luckily it seems David rather enjoyed it! You can read the review here or here (it's about halfway down). I recommend checking out his reviews of the other films we watched that weekend as well as the Row Three and Blueprint Review websites in general. One thing I really like about David's reviews is that he always tries to say at least one positive thing about whatever he's reviewing, which is something all bloggers/critics should take note of.

Speaking of Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw, the film is screening in Brighton as part of Cine-city on December 3rd after which I'm planning on releasing it online. However, in order to find out exactly how I'll be releasing it online you'll need to sign up to our mailing list over on the right, or at www.jennyringo.com

Also, if you have a blog/website and would like to review Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw please e-mail me at whatwritesatmidnight[at]googlemail.com and I'll provide you with access to an online screener. You can be as honest as you like, I won't hate you if you write about how much you disliked the film, I promise! All feedback is good feedback at this stage as I'm currently working on the sequel.

Speaking of sequels, I will post a production diary about the new one soon, I've just been too busy actually working on it.

And speaking of short films, I helped out on Simon Messingham and Mark Tew's epic short House Trafalgar at the weekend. I don't want to say too much about it as I think the less you know in advance the better, but I do think it's going to be pretty awesome. Here's the teaser trailer:



Hopefully there will be a MovieBar screening of the finished film in the new year.

And speaking of MovieBar, last Monday we screened the rather disturbing music video for Birdeatsbaby's new single Feast of Hammers...




...which is worth mentioning becuase a) it's awesome, b) I posted a Q&A with the director over on the MovieBar website and c) the single was released yesterday, you can get it here.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A collection of awesome short horror films...

Rich Badley has posted a write-up of the Halloween MovieBar event which you can see here. If you couldn't make it along on the night, or you aren't based anywhere near Brighton and have no idea what I'm going on about every month, you should definitely check out the website. Rich posts all the films we've screened that are online as well as photos of the event like this one of Tintin and Dr. Zaius...


All the films we screened on Monday were really great so I seriously recommend you head over there to check them out. And feel free to leave feedback in the comments section too - I'm sure the filmmakers would appreciate it.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The most horrifying film ever made...

I run a monthly short film night in Brighton called MovieBar. Last night was a horror-themed special in honour of Halloween. It went really well, loads of people came along, we crammed in around 15 films all of which were really good and I had a great time, as seen here...


But there was another reason for inviting a large number of Brightonians to the Caroline of Brunswick last night; an ulterior motive if you will. You see, every month I advertise online for submissions, or I'll see something I really like online and get in touch with the filmmakers. But there was one film we screened lat night that didn't come via the usual channels.

It arrived in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago, a loud THUD as it dropped through the letter-box onto the hallway floor. Being a coward when it comes to such things I sent my wife to investigate. She returned with an unmarked envelope. Sure, we could've missed it when we came in from work that day; maybe trampled over it thinking it was a bill or something for one of the other flats. But the sound had been very distinctive and had been followed by footsteps on the street outside. Or at least they sounded like footsteps at first, but soon became more like something large with many legs scuttling along the road. Sometimes out of the corner of my eye I still see the monstrous shadow I caught slipping around the corner of the street when I peered out from the bedroom window...

I opened the envelope. Inside was a DVD. Fine, I thought, someone has decided to post a submission in the early hours of the morning. Nothing odd about that. Nothing odd about that at all. I ran through the list of films I had chosen to screen, but had no idea which it could be. A new submission then. Something I hadn't seen yet.

The disc appeared unmarked at first, just a few red splotches in what I now presume to have been the blood of the last poor soul to receive the film. And when I looked closer I noticed that some of the splotches formed arcane symbols in a pattern around the circumference. In the centre three words were scrawled in the same chilling style - 'DO NOT WATCH'

Dear reader, I watched it.

It was the single-most terrifying film I have ever seen. And I couldn't even make it to the end.

I did some research online. Others had seen the film. There were rumours on horror forums and blogs. Some claimed it had been banned in every country, others went further to say that a group of activists had sought out every copy and destroyed them all for fear of what it might do to the general public if released. Some claimed to have actually seen it, but the reviews I found were rambling streams of nonsensical text raving about seemingly unrelated subjects such as which circle of Hell contains the most bananas. Curiously it was always the very last post that the blogger in question had ever written, even when that post dated back several years...

Intrigued, I watched it again. The whole thing this time. And again. And after the seven-hundredth viewing (or thereabouts) it became clear what I must do. I knew why the film had been sent to me. I had to show EVERYONE...

Jenny Ringo stills...

For anyone interested in writing about Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw here are a few stills you can use on your blog/website...

 




Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Exorcisms, Monkeys, Podcasts and the Devil...

I'd heard really bad things about The Last Exorcism but I watched it the other night and have to say I really enjoyed it. The story is about an evangelical preacher who makes some extra money on the side performing faked exorcisms. He decides to quit when he loses his faith and takes a film crew along on his last job with the aim of debunking the whole practice. Only this time he may have come across a genuine case of demonic possession. Which is an awesome setup.


What makes it work so well is that the filmmakers (and the actor Patrick Fabian) do a great job setting up the lead character, particularly on the subject of him losing his faith. The typical and over-used way to do this is to have some tragedy occur that makes the preacher character question God etc. But in this film, he loses his faith when doctors save his son's life and realises he's thanking them rather than God. He questions his faith because of a miracle. This adds a level of complexity to the character you wouldn't otherwise have and I think it's a stroke of genius on the part of the writers.

Once you set up a character like that then if you've got an actor strong enough to carry it off the audience will go with you no matter how absurd it gets. At least I did. I know a lot of people had problems with the ending but I thought it was okay in a Race with the Devil kind of way.

And speaking of the Devil (how many times do you get to say that literally?) I recently came across this while googling projects I'd worked on ages ago on the off chance one of them has miraculously been finished (something I do on a pathetically regular basis)...


This was a student project I wrote something for last year; a portmanteau film about the Devil in Dublin called The Satan Project. I'm looking forward to seeing it finished (and this will make me sound like a dick) because it was a really good script. I just read it again to make sure and I'm still really happy with it, especially considering I wrote it in one evening. At the moment I have no idea whether they stuck to the script or whether they managed to pull off the ridiculously challenging special effect I'd made central to the story, but let's hope so. It was about a freak show, as a lot of my things are, and I think that part with the people on stage near the end is from my story. Hopefully there will be more to report in the not-too-distant future.

In other news I was on a podcast this week! The Filmsploitation podcast is run by Phil Hobden who produced Ten Dead Men what I wrote and also features Richard Blanchette who used to co-host the AMR Movie Show. It's been a while since I did anything like this so I may well be terrible on it, but there are some good rants about 3D and remakes, and I had a go at explaining why everyone needs to see Dellamorte Dellamore right now (Answer: Because it's an existential art-horror film with the best ending ever and Rupert Everett is super-cool in it). I'm on Episode 4.

Finally, what are you doing on Halloween? If you're in Brighton you are presumably coming to Halloween MovieBar. Because that way you'll get to see what this is all about:

It is very important that you know why this monkey has a gun. It may well save your life one day. All will be revealed at Halloween MovieBar.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Incoming filmmaking diary...

I'm going to start up the filmmaking diaries again soon, if only as a way to keep myself motivated (if you don't know what I'm talking about the diaries for Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw are here. Speaking of which, have you signed up for the mailing list yet? You really should. We've been sending out e-mails and everything). We're aiming to shoot the next Jenny Ringo film in February which isn't all that far away. We've started signing people up, we've been looking at locations...stuff is happening! Stuff I can write about in a sometimes amusing fashion!!

Meanwhile, if you want an idea of what the Entertainment Media Show I went to a couple of weeks ago was really all about, check out this video:


And if you pause it around the 6.43 mark you can see our table for a split-second! It's not at all sad that I'm pointing that out, I'm just making up for the fact that we didn't take any photos on the day and...actually, it is quite sad but at this point I'll take any exposure I can get.

So far all the feedback we've had from the people we gave the film to has been overwhelmingly positive...we just haven't had that much of it. We sent out our first e-mail which generated a bit more of a response but that seems to have slowed down now. Then again, I bought an indie comic at the show which I keep meaning to review on here and haven't done yet. Plus I'm hopeless at watching stuff - Brother Pete finally lent me his copy of Solomon Kane which I'd been bugging him about for months and it's been sitting on top of my TV unwatched for a week, and will probably remain so for a while. The point is I am taking comfort in my own laziness.

Meanwhile I'm preparing for an online release, which will probably happen after the Cine-City screening in December.

While I'm here, if you are in Brighton on Halloween you should definitely come to the MovieBar Halloween Special. We're showing short horror films all night and dressing up as monsters and stuff. Look, I made a new logo and everything...


I'm still working on the rather epic line-up, but there are some awesome films on there so far.

One last thing - here's the trailer for John Dies at the End, the first trailer I've seen in a long time that's actually made me really super-excited about an upcoming release...


Well, that and the trailer for A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Why you should buy the Last House on the Left soundtrack right now...

I try not to write about famous dead people on here too often these days as it prompts internal debates about why I find it perfectly okay to write about dead people I never met but won't ever mention people I know who died in real life. Then I start to question why the things I write about on here don't seem like real life and find myself speeding towards a head-on collision with a major existential crisis...

But I'm ignoring such concerns today to talk about David Hess who sadly passed away over the weekend. Hess was most famous for playing the ultimate bad guy, Krug, in The Last House on the Left. Which is a film I don't like very much (although I don't think it should've been remade either). The point is, Last House on the Left has an amazing soundtrack. And it's not at all scary. In fact, it's just really, really sad. Example 1...


I first saw the film in my early twenties and have never felt the need to watch it again. But I have listened to that soundtrack a thousand times since, easily. Example 2...


It's the kind of album that shouldn't work out of context, but it actually works best that way. Oddly it does suit the film too, and the moments that really work are the moments that are accompanied by Hess's haunting tunes. It's the soundtrack I will always keep coming back to. If you haven't heard it in its entirety I can't recommend it enough.

That's why it's worth mentioning who David Hess was. Because in 1972 he wrote and performed the greatest horror film soundtrack ever produced.

Friday, 7 October 2011

News and stuff...


So after ranting about how much I hate film festivals I am hypocritically excited to announce that Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw will be screening in Brighton on the 3rd of December as part of Cinecity. Which is okay because that was one of the free ones so I would have been happy even if I'd been rejected. As it happens they actually want to show the film and I'm genuinely excited about it. I'll post further details closer to the time, and possibly a reminder every week...perhaps even daily reminders...

Have you signed up to the Jenny Ringo mailing list yet? You really should! Depending on whether I get into any other festivals I think I've decided how to release the film. I'm a bit excited and also a bit scared. I'll post full details here eventually but it will involve signing up to the mailing list at some point. You can't avoid it forever...well,  you can, but then you probably won't be able to see my film. Unless you come to the screening in Brighton on the 3rd of December. Did I mention that yet?

Just came back from seeing Red State with Brother Pete. Loved it. I was going to try to explain why I loved it, but there's no way without spoiling it. You should definitely see it, that is all.

I don't have much other news, apart from the fact that I enjoyed the varying accent of Colin Farrell in London Boulevard.Which wasn't very good, but it was nice to see MovieBar regular Nick Bartlett looking particularly mean as Ray Winstone's bodyguard.

Speaking of MovieBar, the website has been updated with details of how it went down on Monday, which makes it sound like it all ran really smoothly! You can see a couple of the films there too. Luckily the photos were taken after all the people had arrived -