Pat Higgins is somewhat of a legend in the UK's low budget indie scene. Since the release of Trash House in 2005 the Essex based filmmaker has gone on to produce a slew of internationally released horror titles such as Killer Killer, Hellbride, The Devils Music, as well as being one third of the creative force behind the 'Death Tales Anthology' series. As if he wasn't busy enough Pat also takes his time to run filmmaking and screenwriting masterclasses for the next generation of filmmakers.
We recently caught up with Pat to discuss his filmmaking career, his inspirations, the state of the UK indie market and his current and constantly evolving film project 'House on the WitchPit'.
Every journey starts with an origin story, How did you know you wanted to make films?
There were a couple of films that had a huge influence on me as a kid. I saw Star Wars on opening night as a three year-old, which was probably a considerable factor, but the other ones that left me thinking "this is what I want to do" were a rerelease of Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, (which I sat through fidgeting waiting for the squid fight, but when the squid fight turned up it basically rewired my brain) and Flash Gordon.
So the seeds of cinema were sewn early. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place with Gremlins turned up in 1984. I was too young to see it thanks to the 15 certificate, so I spent almost a year obsessing over every piece of merchandise and counting down the days until the rental release. That year kind of shifted my outlook to comedy-horror, before The Shining and a grainy tenth-generation pirate copy of The Exorcist shifted my brain and my outlook yet again a few years later.
What made you take the DIY approach to making your own movies?
Once I got out of Uni, I spent a while trying to shift a spec script that I'd written with a friend of mine. As a gradually realised that selling that script was very, VERY unlikely to happen, I began to focus on the idea of shooting something myself just to kick my career off. I set up my limited company in 2003 for a completely different reason; Jinx was originally intended to sell individual stand-up comedy clips to mobile phones (at a point when video on phones was somewhere between bleeding-edge technology and outright science fiction). Remember, this was before things like YouTube even existed. The window for that business opportunity lasted about a second a half. One minute, it was impossible, the next minute it was commonplace. So I was left with a media company with no real purpose, and a burning desire to make a film. So we took some money that we were intending to buy a car with, and make TrashHouse instead.
As we all now filmmaking can be tough, what were some of the downside of going out on your own?
I'm pretty sure I only ended up getting attention because we did what we did at a point when it was stupidly tough to make a movie. According to MJ Simpson, there were about 14 British horrors made in the year we made TrashHouse, whereas last year there were around 250. There were no options in terms of VOD, of course, so we were reliant on old-school distributors and getting our flicks out into bricks and mortar shops like Blockbuster. We managed to overcome so many hurdles to get the early films out there. The hurdle we never overcame was how to get the money to trickle back down to us once it had gone through the hands of multiple distributors. As a result, our first three films lost a considerable chunk (or, indeed, all) of their investment, despite coming out on DVD or limited cinema releases all over the world. Keeping going in the face of those kinds of issues is very, very tough.
Here's an example. Just last week we re-released our awesome horror romantic comedy Hellbride on VOD (which your wonderful readers can pick up extremely cheaply from http://www.jinxmedia.co.uk - go and do it. It's funny and it's scary and people like it). Now, that movie's been out for the best part of a decade. Out on DVD in the UK, in the US. Various streaming platforms worldwide. Our best estimate is that just over a third of a million people have seen that movie.
The money from the fine people who purchased the High Definition VOD version last week will be the very first payments that Jinx has ever seen for that film. We shot it in 2006.
On the flip side, what were the upsides of doing it by yourself?
Well, let's stick with Hellbride as an example. It's a genuinely sweet romantic comedy that just happens to have some fairly horrific bits of business (mouths getting stitched shut, brides hacking at one another with axes) and the odd genuinely filthy joke. If that movie had been made within the system, there would have been two options. You could have lost the gore and the dick jokes and made the thing a PG-13 date movie, or you could have lost the sweet, genuine romantic comedy and made it a full-tilt horror for the Saw crowd. Odd little movies that do their own thing aren't welcome within the system. The majors are massively risk averse in terms of the 'products' they make, and as cinema prices rocket the audience have become extremely risk-averse too, and I really don't blame them. if it's going to cost you north of £50 to go to the cinema once you've thrown in parking and popcorn, you want to make goddamn sure that the movie you watch is going to fulfil your expectations for your evening out. So the wonderful freedom allowed by doing things as a tiny indie is something you just won't find anywhere else.
You recently shot House on The Witch Pit, a completely different approach to filmmaking, what was the idea behind creating the never 'finished' film.
I wrote the first draft of something that was then just called 'Witchpit' in about 2002, and over the years the script has been through countless reimaginings with only the title remaining the same. Eventually, I came to embrace this. I loved the idea of a movie becoming almost an urban legend in itself. Where people who both thought they'd 'seen' it would come to discover that the versions they'd seen were so fundamentally different that they were effectively different movies. This approach also sidestepped the whole piracy thing that dogged the early stages of my career. I'm extremely excited about some of the versions that will be appearing towards the end of the year. It's not going to carry on forever, though. The experiment, for better or worse, ends on January 23rd 2020, four years after the premiere. I talked about some of these ideas over at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/pat-higgins/why-you-cant-watch-my-new-horror-movie_b_8707724.html for those that are interested.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to filmmakers, apart from 'just make movies' what would it be?
Be genuinely lovely to everyone you work with. Treat them like family members. If they let you down, try to understand why and continue to treat them nicely (although you may, of course, wish to avoid placing yourself in that position again). Feed people. Be honest with people. Never force them into a corner or mislead them.
Not everyone you meet will follow these same ideals. The industry has a few unpleasant sharks in the water, and you may well run into some of them. Don't become one of them, no matter what happens. Make sure that every night, when your head hits the pillow, you can sleep the sleep of the righteous and the just. That's more important than anything else. The things you put out there are the things that will come back to you.
Make sure your conscience is clear. If it's not, do something about it.
And finally, what is next for Pat Higgins?
The Witchpit experiment continues for another three and a half years, obviously. I've also got an absolutely KILLER script called Your Lying Eyes (which is probably the best thing I've ever written) which we'll hopefully be selling to a third party rather than making ourselves. There might very possibly be a sequel on the horizon that we aren't allowed to talk about yet. We keep busy, keep trying new stuff, keep breaking new ground. At the end of the day, there will be loads and loads of time to sleep when they shovel dirt over your head. Nobody's death bed wish was ever that they spent their life making less cool stuff.
You can find Pats work and more at http://jinxmedia.co.uk
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