The UK has always been blessed with a bright and vibrant independent horror film scene. There is something appealing about these low budget labour of love films. Pat Higgins has been one of genres success stories, after setting up Jinx Media in 2003, Pat has gone on to make a series of fun-filled horror films such as KillerKiller, and TrashHouse.
Jim Mcleod was at hand to catch-up with Pat, recently.
Hello Pat, how are things with you?
Very good thanks. Busy but happy.
Could you give the readers a little bit of background information on just who is Pat Higgins?
PH: I’m a writer, director and sometimes producer of horror movies. I made my first film with a domestic camcorder in a warehouse in Essex, and was lucky enough to see it end up in more or less every DVD shop in the UK. I try very hard to make every movie different; I’ve got no interest in continually making the same flick over and over again.
PH: For me, the poster artwork for 70s and early 80s horror is totally bound-up in my early cinema-going memories. I might have been going to see Candleshoe, but I’d still have to walk past the posters for Scanners, Dead & Buried and Omen 2 – I guess it stayed with me! My childhood and adolescence also coincided with the rise of VHS, which helped.
Can you remember what first laid the foundations of your affection for horror?
PH: Well, I was scared shitless of the genre as a kid, and along with that fear clearly came a level of fascination. When I hit my mid-teens I started to realise that there was nothing to fear in these movies and that my imagination was far worse. So I guess I began to associate the genre as ‘mine’ almost like a coming of age.
What would you say are your three favourite horror films of all time?
PH: The Shining, The Haunting and The Evil Dead. I dig Gremlins possibly most of all, but that clearly isn’t a straightforward horror film.
People talk about the horror film renaissance, and the great decades of horror filmmaking. However this has been more in terms of box office success. With the exception of very few films, horror films have never really found much critical success with the mainstream. Why do you think this is?
PH: I think it cuts both ways to a degree. Horror rarely gets mainstream critical success, but it doesn’t particularly seek it very often either. The reputation of being a slightly disreputable genre is probably part of the appeal; the total freedom from having to appear ‘worthy’ is liberating for both the filmmakers and audience. Whenever a horror film crosses over to mainstream critical praise, it seems to get rebranded as something else. A thriller, maybe. Those are respectable.
As a horror filmmaker, what is more important to you, financial success or critical success, and would you ever compromise one for the other?
PH: Financial success only matters in that I want to be able to keep making movies. Reviews do mean quite a lot (and all the people who say they don’t are lying) but perhaps the thing that matters most is emails/tweets from people who’ve seen the flicks and like them. I wouldn’t compromise one thing to turn it into something more commercial, but I’d happily alternate commercially appealing movies with more art house ones.
PH: I took a degree in Media, but my only professional experience had been as a runner on a couple of unreleased 35mm features. I actually set the company up for a different project which involved supplying stand-up comedy clips to mobile phones, but the technology wasn’t really in place in 2003 and the project stalled. A few months later we decided to try and shoot a movie, so we used the company as the mechanism to do that.
Who else was involved in the birth of the company?
PH: My wife Pippa, who started out as the company secretary and became increasingly involved in actual production until she fully produced our fourth movie, The Devil’s Music. She’s incredibly talented and a fantastic producer; I’ve been unbelievably lucky that we’ve been able to work side-by-side throughout the whole experience.
It is hard enough setting up a traditional small company, but setting up a film production company must have its own set of pitfalls and hardships. What were the main hurdles you had to overcome in the first few years of the company?
PH: Paperwork doesn’t come naturally to me! Everything seems to cost ridiculous amounts of money, from banking charges through to insurance and so on, and then paying someone to do the accounting for all of these charges costs another load of money on top. The first accountants we signed with were less than helpful, too. In the early years, we only managed to keep the thing going by being quite clever in terms of minimising costs; I noticed when I took out the insurance for our first film, TrashHouse, that insuring for one shoot during a year would cost the same as insuring for two or three shoots, so next time around we shot two films back-to-back (KillerKiller and Hellbride) and effectively halved those kinds of costs.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
PH: Treat everybody with care and respect, always be honest and always under-promise and over-deliver. The technology nowadays means that anybody anywhere can shoot a feature, which is an astonishing opportunity.
How difficult is it being an independent filmmaker in the UK today?
PH: Actually going out and making stuff is easier than it’s ever been. Standing out from the millions of *other* people making stuff is incredibly difficult. Making a comfortable amount of money to live on is also difficult, which can lead to the need for an alternate source of income which can, in turn, stop your career momentum. So it’s a juggling act and, yeah, it can be tough.
PH: I can’t seem to write horror without throwing in jokes. On House on the Witchpit I consciously tried to, but all that happened was the humour came out blacker, sicker and more painful than usual. Sometimes the balance will tip one way or another; Hellbride is a much jokier film than The Devil’s Music, for example. But horror and humour are the constants, and I’m totally happy with that.
As mentioned earlier Trashhouse was your first film. Can you tell us about the genesis of this film?
PH: It was a whole load of things, to be honest, and over the years I’ve probably cited about half a dozen things as the inspiration for that movie. I knew right from the off that it needed to be a single-location, locked house kind of film. I wanted an excuse to throw in lots of horror iconography, from scary clowns to chainsaws. I knew there was a big chance it’d end up being the only film I ever made, so I had a wish list of crazy stuff I wanted to include. The giant squid never made it.
The film saw you taking on the roles of writer, producer and director, was this down to budgetary constraints or was this more a control issue?
PH: I’ve always been a better screenwriter than I am a director, but I knew I could trust myself to bring the movie in on schedule! Yeah, more budget than anything else. I don’t imagine I’ll ever take on that many roles on a full feature again.
The film debuted at the TromaFling festival in September 2005, where it won the Best Screenplay award and was runner up for the Best UK Film. That must have been a great boost to your confidence?
PH: I think that was the only year that TromaFling ran, but the people who organised it were lovely. We went along to the screening; it was my first ever Director’s Q&A and I was more than slightly drunk. It was a really nice introduction to festival screenings, and getting that screenplay award in particular was a great boost.
It states on your IMDB profile that you have a phobia of chainsaws, but this isn’t really true is it? And why have you left this on your profile?
PH: No, it’s not true. I’m not at all phobic of chainsaws. My phobia is actually of small electric whisks. And lathes. I keep the chainsaw thing on the profile in order to throw people who wish to scare me with whisks and lathes off the scent.
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