As we approach my third column on Wednesday focusing on all things geek in the UK, one of the most prominent points of feedback that I have received over the last couple of weeks relates to readers (especially those outside the UK) wanting to learn more about the films that are cooking right now in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the film-makers behind them. Homegrown films that don't always manage to find the international exposure that they often deserve because they aren't backed by Hollywood.
Being someone who strives not to disappoint, I immediately got to work seeking out movies and movie-makers in the UK, and have lined up a number of interviews that I look forward to sharing with you.
The successes of independent film-makers are often eclipsed by the stranglehold of the trials and tribulations of the industry, the most mammoth obstacle of which goes by the name of Money. And while such stories always make for fascinating reading, it's better to hear of those who have triumphed in the face of adversity. Those who, to quote Lloyd Kaufman, made their own damn movie. Over the course of this series of interviews, it is the hope of myself and those I speak to to shed a little light on the film business in the UK, from its current state, direction, censorship, emerging talent and future.
Kicking things off, I would like to introduce you to award-winning 27-year-old Welsh film-maker Andrew Jones of North Bank Entertainment, who is gearing up for production on the recently announced NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION, a film he co-wrote with acclaimed shorts director James Plumb, who will helm the movie. Another project that may have caught your interest in recent months is THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK PART II, the sequel to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST director Ruggero Deodato's gory cult classic from 1980. You may be pleased to know that Deodato will be returning to direct the film from a script written by Jones that is based on a story devised by Deodato himself and Giovanni Lombardo Radice, star of the original film, who will reprise his role as Ricky in the sequel.
I recently had an interesting chat with Jones to discuss both projects, his roots, remakes, the BBFC and the problem with zombies who would give Usain Bolt a run for his money on the track.
BRITGEEK: What made you want to get involved in film-making?
ANDREW JONES: I remember being five years old and going to the video shop in Tycoch, Swansea with my parents. I wandered over to the horror section and saw covers for movies like THE HILLS HAVE EYES, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, FRIDAY THE 13TH and HALLOWEEN. I became obsessed with wanting to see these movies, they just looked so much more interesting than the children’s films I was expected to watch at that age. So my parents allowed me to watch the horror movies, on the condition that they would watch them with me. I suppose watching those films at that age may have caused some kids to piss the bed, but after seeing those movies I just knew I wanted to be a film-maker.
BG: Was there one film in particular that, above all, really drove home the inspiration for you to become a film-maker?
AJ: I was hugely inspired by horror movies and I always wanted to be a film-maker, but I had no idea how I could do it. It seemed like a dream that was out of reach. But when I was a teenager I saw Larry Clarke's KIDS. That was the first film I saw that was gritty and realistic, and focused mostly on characters and real life scenarios rather than being plot-driven. I was the same age as the characters in the film when I saw it, so it really spoke to me in many ways. I thought to myself 'I could make a film like this about my friends', and ultimately I did years later with TEENAGE WASTELAND. I did think that Larry Clarke was a genius and, while I still admire his visual style, I've grown tired of seeing skinny teenage boys with their tops off in every fucking film he makes!
BR: What was your reaction to winning Best Feature Film awards for your first two films, TEENAGE WASTELAND and THE FERAL GENERATION?
AJ: I was happy at the time because I thought it would help me get future films financed. Turns out it doesn't help at all! I can't watch those films now. I cringe because I know so much more now than I did then. THE FERAL GENERATION has a couple of powerful scenes, but TEENAGE WASTELAND is the most technically naïve thing you'll ever see!
Awards are a strange thing, anyway. Those awards were voted for by a small festival jury, and unless an award is voted for by the viewing public, it's just “industry” people kissing each other's arses. It'd be nice to scrap awards altogether. Creative talent should unite and help each other rather than compete. It's nonsense really.
BG: Your name has been bandied about with a number of remakes and re-imaginings over the last few years, from THE DRILLER KILLER to BEYOND THE DOOR, and now with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION set for production later this year, what is your opinion of remakes and how do they fit into the North Bank Entertainment business model?
AJ: The reality that film-makers face is that it is easier to get a film financed and distributed when it has a brand name title. The current financial climate doesn't lend itself to risk-taking, so investors are looking for a title that has made money before. That's just how the industry is right now, and as an independent company it is easier for us to raise finance for a film that has NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in the title. I have tried to get original material off the ground but it's a long, arduous process, whereas going to investors with a title they have heard of instantly gets their attention.
But that is no reason to churn out an unimaginative piece of shit. A lot of remakes duplicate the superficial elements of the original film without any attempt to understand the social and emotional context which made the source material so compelling. The directors often don't give a shit about the horror genre and rarely recapture the genuine suspense and tension that the classics are known for. You can see those hacks coming a mile off, with their flashy editing and loud soundtracks overcompensating for their inability to create genuine scares. They just want their three-picture deal with the studio and have no genuine passion for horror. The studio remakes often lack imagination in cinematography, too. Every horror film seems to be bathed in those awful green and brown filters. It looks like shit, literally. Not to mention that the wonderful practical effects we saw in the '70s and '80s have now been replaced by so much CGI, you end up with a film that looks more like a fucking video game! One of the biggest flaws is a lack of interesting characters. No wonder audiences can't feel true tension when the characters are so faceless and we're rooting for the villains!
I'll make no bones about it: new upcoming film-makers without a major track record need a brand name title to get a film financed and there will inevitably be many people who are cynical about that. But we are not in this business to churn out crap that rips off horror fans with a promising title but substandard product. We are independent of the studios so we have the freedom to be as innovative as we can with our story and characters. We are not subject to test screening and studio executives. I actually hope people go into NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION with cynicism and low expectations because they are going to be pleasantly surprised.
BG: What is your favourite remake and why?
AJ: I loved Martin Scorsese's CAPE FEAR remake. It took the premise of the original and added new elements that made it far more interesting, like a dysfunctional family and a villain with religious convictions. I thought that remake was superior to the original in every way. In terms of horror remakes, I really liked DAWN OF THE DEAD. Although I can't get on board with zombies running like Olympic sprinters. What the fuck is that all about? But in fairness that's not as bad as when they had zombies climbing the walls and ceilings in the DAY OF THE DEAD remake! That idea was mind-numbingly moronic.
BG: Over three decades ago, Ruggero Deodato made waves in horror with the visceral THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK, which found its way onto the video nasties list in Britain. Why do you think the story should continue so many years on?
AJ: The original has a solid cult following, particularly here in the UK, because of its role in the video nasty furore. So again it comes back to finances. It's easier to grab investors' attention with a title that has previously had some level of success or notoriety, plus, as a new and emerging company, we can only look at securing the rights to films that aren't going to cost us a fortune. THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK fitted the bill. I've got to know David Hess and Giovanni Lombardo Radice in recent years through other projects and I'm a massive fan of the original film, so it felt like something we should pursue. There is precedence for a long gap between sequels, PSYCHO II being the one I look at for inspiration. I thought that was a great sequel. It was never going to live up to the classic status of the original, but the story was unique and it was a believable continuation of the Norman Bates character that didn't try and duplicate the original.
BG: What can fans of the original film expect from the belated sequel?
AJ: This will be Ruggero Deodato's most violent film to date, without a doubt. But it's not just violence for violence's sake, there's a central story that delves into deep themes of redemption, revenge, love and death. So it will probably be his most thought-provoking film. It will be beautifully brutal.
BG: How did Deodato get involved in the project and what was his reaction to your desire to see a second part on the screen?
AJ: I initially contacted Ruggero with my own idea for a sequel but he thought my outline was shit! Yet he was intrigued by the possibility of a sequel, and after discussions with Giovanni, they came up with a story that they really wanted to tell. I wrote the screenplay from their outline and it's ended up as a very unique story that, in my opinion, surpasses the original. I was told prior to speaking with Ruggero that he has mellowed and is not as interested in violence these days, yet in the outline, he came up with the most outlandishly gory scenes I've ever read!
BG: Although THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK is infamous for its violence, Deodato's most controversial film – and one still regarded today as one of the most controversial of all time – is CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, which was recently resubmitted to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) for its upcoming re-release. Once again, the BBFC requested cuts, albeit only 15 seconds, making it the longest cut of the film that has ever been available legally in the UK. What is your opinion of film censorship?
AJ: I don't have a problem with classification as a concept. Giving advice about the content of films and putting age restrictions on certain material – okay, I can see the need for that. But for a select group of people to appoint themselves the moral arbiters of an entire nation, cutting up film-makers' work because they feel they are qualified to decide what the impact of a movie will be on people they have never met, is utterly absurd. Not everyone wants to see CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but I'd imagine every freethinking adult would at least like to make that choice themselves. What I particularly dislike about the BBFC is how snobby they are. They look down on the working class and feel someone who works with their hands is more susceptible to influence than middle class intellectuals. That kind of thinking is discrimination and pure hypocrisy. As a horror fan, I always thought the treatment both the MPAA and BBFC dished out to the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies was a disgrace. Those movies are all about stalking and slashing, yet they cut most of the slashing out! I remember seeing an old British VHS of THE FINAL CHAPTER as a kid and the BBFC had cut out the shot of Jason's head being impaled on the machete at the end. It's a mechanical head for Christ's sake!
BG: Do you feel that it should be legal for films to be solid in the UK unrated like in the US?
AJ: I think that would be a great thing. But the problem is that, despite the BBFC having become more lenient in recent years, they still don't fully trust the British public to completely decide for themselves. So getting unrated editions in the UK will probably never happen until the BBFC acknowledge that British adults are capable of deciding for themselves. I don't know why the BBFC are so grouchy to be honest. I'd love a job watching porn and horror movies all day long.
BG: Since 2008, when MURDER SET PIECES was refused classification, making it the first movie banned in three years, we have seen the BBFC slash quite a few films. The following year, we saw Japanese gore film GROTESQUE refused classification. In 2010, A SERBIAN FILM became the most-cut film in 16 years with five minutes of scenes deemed obscene removed, and the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake received almost a minute of edits, while the re-released original from 1978 remained cut by nearly three minutes. In June, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) was banned outright, and just last week, two minutes of cuts were requested on international box office hit 3D SEX AND ZEN: EXTREME ECSTASY. Do you think that the BBFC has changed its attitude on what is considered to be “obscene” and “damaging” to viewers in the 21st century, or are today's films genuinely pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable?
AJ: I know the BBFC is bound by British laws on obscenity, and in that respect they often say that they are obligated to cut many films, but I do think a lot of their decisions are based on how influential they feel a film may be. They seem to believe that British people will see a violent film and be compelled to go out and replicate that violence in real life. If you read the reasons they give for cuts and bans, ultimately that's the bottom line for them. But with the 24-hour rolling news coverage on TV, people will see something far more disturbing on there than anything in a fictional film. Films are a reflection of what's going on in the world at that time, so it's not film-makers who are pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable, it's human beings in the real world who are doing that.
BG: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION will shoot in Swansea in September. How will it differ from and rise above the previous remakes of the George A. Romero classic?
AJ: I actually have a lot of respect for Tom Savini's remake. I think it's a very underrated movie.
As for our film, what we want to do is give the audience characters and relationships they can invest in. I think too many zombie movies throw together a bunch of strangers and all they do is argue for the entire film. Instead, with this film, we focus on how four generations of a family, with all of that history and emotion involved, cope with facing their own mortality in a very real way. In our film, the characters aren't informed by a history of zombie movie “rules”, we have them reacting to situations as we would in the real world. The threat level to the family also extends beyond the zombies. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but they won't just have the undead to deal with.
BG: What can we expect from a British spin on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and how will it feel fresh given the recent influx of zombie movies?
AJ: Zombies have penetrated popular culture so it is a big challenge to make them fresh again. But look outside the zombie sub-genre and at the famous icons of horror. In the original HALLOWEEN, Michael Myers is a constant threat but he's in the shadows a lot of the time. Same thing with Freddy Krueger in the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Then if you look at the subsequent sequels and remakes of those films, they put the villains to the forefront. You see them a lot and their impact lessens. So in that case, I think it's important to use the villain sparingly, and pick the right moments for maximum shock and impact. In the zombie sub-genre, if you see someone blowing a zombie's head off every five minutes, you become desensitised after a while. So what our film will be trying to do is build suspense and tension, and create genuine empathy for the characters. I think that's what a lot of these films miss. They have zombies galore but they don't build genuine tension and the characters are so one-dimensional that we want to see them all eaten ten minutes into the film!
There will also be some distinctive British elements in our version that reflect the current social issues, but I can't really go into too much detail without giving away spoilers. I think this film will have a greater impact the less you know about the story before seeing it. There are some major twists and turns that, if we do our jobs properly, will shock people.
BG: Do you think that a definitive zombie film is what the British industry needs?
AJ: There have been some successful British zombie movies in recent years: THE ZOMBIE DIARIES and COLIN both sold worldwide. Plus, SHAUN OF THE DEAD was widely successful. But with all due respect, those movies weren't really frightening. We are seeking to make a British zombie movie that is genuinely scary. Suspense, tension, emotion and shocks. So we'll try and deliver those things and see what happens.
BG: Do you think that there is anything “underhand” about remaking a film that has fallen into the public domain, like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, or do they instead present a perfect opportunity for film-makers?
AJ: I sympathise with the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD team that a distributor's mistake led to them losing a lot of money from the original release. I sympathise with any film-maker that happens to. It's a tough old business and losing money you felt you were entitled to is an occupational hazard for film-makers. But I'm sure the team behind the original film have done well financially over the years. All of them have launched successful careers and made a comfortable living because of their involvement in that movie. No one has been left destitute as a result of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD being in the public domain. They are certainly worth a lot more money than any hardcore fan who forks out his or her hard earned cash to see the films they have made since.
I hope the makers of the original film remember the position they were in when they made it; talented people just looking for a chance to get their work to a wider audience. The original film gave them that opportunity. So it would be great if they were happy for other newcomers to take the opportunity to make a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD movie and launch their careers, too. Although judging by their past comments, I get the impression they won't be!
BG: What is your opinion of the current landscape of the British film industry?
AJ: They release those yearly figures saying how many millions British films generate, but it's not accurate. They count HARRY POTTER and other studio offerings as British films, but they aren't genuinely British because they are made with American studio backing. The various funding bodies set up with a remit to help new talent are a joke, too. Here in Wales, we have the Film Agency. They often have meetings with new film-makers and read their scripts, but most of the time they just jerk them off for months on end with no intention of funding their movies. The truth is they never put their government-allocated money into the best scripts or ideas, they only back film-makers or companies who have a high profile. What they really care about is going along to the film festivals all over the world and rubbing dicks with the rich and famous. They couldn't care less about giving new talent in Wales a chance. I've spent years trying to establish contacts in private equity investment because that's your only chance as an independent film-maker in the UK unless you get a very lucky break. My advice to any film-maker is to use your natural talent and whatever resources you have at your disposal and make a self-financed film. Go out there and make things happen for yourself because no one else is going to help you. Especially in the UK.
BG: In what ways do the independent scenes in the UK and US differ?
AJ: There is independent film production in the UK, but budgets have fallen and it doesn't get any easier. Underneath the deceptive box office figures bolstered by American-backed films, there are less films fully backed by British money being produced. Speaking to actors in the US, there does seem to be a more vibrant indie scene over there, particularly in the horror genre. There are actors I know in the US who seem to be constantly working on independent horror movies. Certainly more than actors over here. I'm sure many US-based film-makers face the same problems as we do in terms of securing finance. Anyone who is independent will. I think a big problem with the UK over the years has been that the independent scene is often full of the same old shit: kitchen sink dramas, football hooligans or cockney gangster movies, and audiences are tired of all that. We need to focus more on a wider range of genres and perhaps think about not casting Danny Dyer in every film.
Many thanks to Andrew for his time.
See you Wednesday. Until then, feel free to follow me on Twitter