Tag Archives: Hollywood

10 Most Underrated Horror Films

We all know about mega-hit horror movies that have spawned whole franchises, such as “Halloween”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Conjuring”. But what about the more obscure horror movies? Those which are critical successes but commercial failures, or films that were just plain overlooked? Here is my list of some of the best underrated horror movies.

10. They  (2002)

Director Robert Harmon is best known for the seminal Rutger Hauer movie “The Hitcher”. However, this suspenseful supernatural thriller was released with just a whisper. The plot revolves around a woman who remembers that as a child she was afraid of monsters in the dark.. now the monsters are back! The film has some standout moments, including the opening  and a very scary swimming pool scene that owes a debt to the Jacques Tournier classic “Cat People”.

9. Mean Creek (2004)

This could have been marketed as “Deliverance for kids”. Some bullied children decide to befriend their tormentor and, along with a much older sibling, take him into the woods where they plan to humiliate him. Things do not go as planned. Some terrific performances from the kids and some wonderful plot twists make this a classic. Yet somehow it failed to ignite moviegoers. Surely it deserves a second life on DVD.

8. Wolfen (1981)

Based on a Whitley Strieber novel, featuring an Oscar-winning cast that includes the likes of Albert Finney and Gregory Hines, and directed by none other than the director of “Woodstock”, this not-a-werewolf story is an eerie, atmospheric creature-feature. The distinctive night-vision “monster’s- eye point of view” shot would prefigure the Schawzenegger hit “Predator” years later. A must-see for horror lovers.

7. Fright Night II (1988)

The original was a hugely enjoyable breakout hit and the first of the 1980s vampire classics. Yet while it continues to delight audiences, the sequel proves much harder to get hold of. Which is a shame, because it’s a great film. There are some terrific vamps here, including one very ugly werewolf! Roddy McDowell once again is superlative as Peter Vincent, making this a great sequel. Sadly neglected.

6. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Everyone knows the Universal Monster movies such as James Whale’s “Frankenstein” and Todd Browning’s “Dracula”. But this eerie adaptation of H.G. Wells’ tale “The Island of Dr. Moreau” gets less respect than it deserves. Charles Laughton gives a bravura performance as the mad doctor who turns animals into men. Nowadays the film might be a little creaky in parts, and you have to wonder why they didn’t use a thrilling soundtrack in places. But the beast-men are fantastic, and the whole mood is one of dreamlike terror. Well worth tracking down.

5. From Beyond (1986)

Fresh from the success of “Re-Animator”, director Stuart Gordon (who would later go on to direct “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”!) employed some of the same cast in this very loose adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s extremely short story.  Sadly, it isn’t as well known as it deserves to be. Dr. Tillinghast invents a mahcine that allows you to see into another dimension. Unfortunately, its inhabitants also see into ours! Cue two hours of great pre-CGI SFX, and a plot that just keeps on getting darker. The movie is true to the spirit of the original story, but with added Barbara Crampton (for those who like that sort of thing)! The movie and the effects were much more “out there” in the mid-80s. But the acting and sardonic wit are enough to keep modern audiences interested as well.

From Beyond Poster

4. Tenebrae

Dario Argento is a name horror fans will be familiar with, mainly for the classic “Suspiria”. However, in my opinion “Tenebrae” is actually the superior film. The plot is simple and echoes other Argento films: an American horror novelist travels to Italy where he finds someone is offing people in the manner of his own books. But this audacious horror/thriller contains some masterful set pieces, such as the single take shot of a murder on a multi-storey building, and the final twist is awesome. Add to that the music of Goblin, and this is a masterpiece of horror cinema that should be rediscovered!

3. Hellraiser II

“Hellraiser” was the film that launched Clive Barker’s career. Yet the second film is in many ways a better movie. The story takes off where the first film ended, with a power-crazed psychiatrist bringing back from the dead the first film’s memorable femme fatale, played by Claire Higgins. This time she’s more fatal than femme, lacking skin for most of the movie. Character actor Kenneth Cranham steals the show, however. We also get to see where the Cenobites come from, which is cool. Everything is bigger in this sequel, including the imagination, yet most people only remember the lamentable, straight-to-video sequels.

2. Prince of Darkness (1987)

John Carpenter made horror history with “Halloween” in 1978, and directed such cult hits as “The Thing”, “Starman” and “Big Trouble in Little China”. “Prince of Darkness” has all the hallmarks of a great Carpenter movie: it’s a siege in a building, there are great special effects, the cast is solid, especially Donald Pleasance as the priest, and it also features Alice Cooper! Yet for some reason it remains one of Carpenter’s more obscure movies. Perhaps a scathing review by UK film critic Barry Norman at the time did its box office chances some damage. Which just goes to show critics don’t know anything, because this film is one of Carpenter’s scariest, with a shock ending that will play on your mind for some time to come.  You’ll never look at your reflection quite the same way again!

1. Martin (1978)

My final film on this list of underappreciated horror movies is by the King of the Zombies himself, George A Romero. George passed away recently, and with him passed a great horror director. Most people know him for his hugely influential “Dead” trilogy of zombie films, which virtually created the shambling, flesh-eating ghoul as a modern myth in popular culture. However, my favourite Romero film is actually the much quieter “Martin”. Played by a young John Amplas, Martin is a character study of a modern vampire… or is it?  Amplas is superb as the cold, alienated killer who may or may not be one of the undead. The film itself is shot in documentary style. It has this wonderfully earnest quality to it, and will leave you guessing for a long time to come. If you haven’t seen “Martin” I recommend it. It’s an uncompromising movie, even in the rather uncomfortable opening scene. But it’s also one of the very best vampire movies ever made.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this selection of obscure classics. All of these movies deserve much more love, so go out and rent or buy them. Just don’t watch them alone in the house at night, and especially not in the dark!

10 MARVEL SUPER-HEROES WHO DESERVE THEIR OWN MOVIES!

We’ve seen the X-Men, Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, The FF, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Ant Man. On TV we have Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil. But there are plenty of less well-known Marvel Super-Heroes who possibly deserve their own movies. Here’s a selection of some of the best candidates:

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Nova

Teenager Richard Ryder (because every superhero needs an alliterated name) gets blasted with a space ray and turned into a human rocket! Nova was never much more than a Spider-man clone. In the Psychedelic Seventies he fought such far-out cats as The Sphinx, Megaman (whose key attribute was having no face), and The Condor (a guy with wings) amongst others before becoming a member of the less-than-super New Warriors. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy introduced us to the Nova Core of Xanthar, the alien race that gave Nova his powers. But surely anyone with a costume this cool deserves his own movie?

 

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Dazzler

Interesting fact: Dazzler was supposed to be a movie right from the start. The character was ushered into the pages of X-Men purely to plug an onscreen character who was to both sing and act! The movie and the songstress never materialized, but Alison Blaire, a disco queen who can shoot light out of her body, became a regular member of the X-Men. With the rocking ’70s soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy, and her discotastic costume, has the time finally come for the Dazzler to shine?

 

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Moon Knight

Of all the characters in the Marvel Universe, few have undergone so many changes as Moon Knight. Appearing in Werewolf by Night #32 as a mercenary who was given a silver costume to hunt down the titular werewolf, Marc Spector morphed into a caped crusader to rival even Batman, before becoming endowed with supernatural powers courtesy of Egyptian god Konshu, dying, being resurrected, being briefly possessed by a demon, infected with lycanthropy, and even suffering multi-personality disorder from the pressure of adopting too many disguises a-la Mission Impossible!

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Captain Britain

The good captain was designed by Marvell UK in the 1970s to be Britain’s answer to Captain America. Unfortunately, he had a shaky start. Given a magic staff by Merlin (yes, the King Arthur one) Brian Braddock becomes a superhuman powerhouse who fought the Red Skull alongside Steve Rogers. The series hobbled along until scribe Alan Moore reinvented the character in the 1980’s as a strapping blonde mimbo who survived rather than won his battles against foes far cleverer than himself. Later stories had him joining comedy superhero team Excalibur alongside several former X-Men. But maybe it’s time Cap had his own movie. Heck, it worked for Ant-Man. Interesting factoid: his sister is Betsy Braddock, aka Psyclocke!

 

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The Son of Satan

Yes, you heard right. It’s fair to say that Marvel in the 1970s was… experimental. One of the better inventions of that time was Daimon Hellstrom, the son of Satan himself! Debuting in the pages of Ghost Rider #1 Hellstrom is constantly at war both with his own infernal nature and his demonic dad. He eventually got his own series before it was cancelled due to a panel that was considered too blasphemous ever to be reproduced! Surely a character this dark deserves his own TV show!

 

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Power Pack

Louise Simonson and June Brigman created this unique superhero team of children. The Power family find themselves in the middle of a secret war between the warlike alien Snarks (who look like walking crickets) and the peace-loving Kymellians (who look like sea-horses). When a Kymelian sacrifices himself to save the kids, they each gain one of his super-abilities. The series was ground-breaking for its realistic psychology, showing the kids scared, brave, petulant and spoiled, just like real kids. I have a soft spot for Power Pack. It’s my very favourite comic, and I’ll personally love to see it become a live action movie, if only as an antidote to all the dark and depressing fare that’s been served up recently.

 

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Machine Man

Here’s a character who’s better than he looks. Aaron Stack, a.k.a. Machine Man, is an unusual comic book superhero, because he’s a robot! X-51 is a sentient and rather sensitive android. When his creator is killed, he decides to go off and tackle crime, along with his Go-Go-Gadget arms and legs. Created by comics legend Jack Kirby in the back pages of “2001: A Space Odyssey” , X-51 was also memorably drawn by Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko. There’s something both moving and creepy about a character trying to pretend to be human, even down to wearing a latex face mask and dark glasses! One of Marvel’s more interesting characters.

 

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Howard the Duck

I know what you’re thinking. But try and forget the sickeningly-sweet George Lucas aberration and think more along the lines of a rather adult ALF. Now you’re closer to Steve Gerber’s bizarre vision of a duck trapped in a world not of his own making. Hailing from another dimension, cigar-smoking, wise-cracking Howard finds himself in Cleveland and up to his feathers in trouble. The comic was a satirical take on superheroes that sometimes had to be read to be believed. Vegetarian supervillain, anyone?

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Doctor Zero and Saint George

In the mid-1980s Marvel’s mature comics line, Epic, launched a series of titles outside the Marvel Universe. “The Shadowline Saga” involved a world where superheroes were non-existent, but where a second race lived alongside our own. Possessing awesome powers, some of these were sinister, others heroic, but none were what they seemed. Cue Doctor Zero, an immortal who pretends to be a superhero. Is he really a supervillain, or does he have a more Machiavellian scheme for the human race? Saint George, meanwhile, is a human priest who is given a suit of technologically advanced armour and sent on a crusade to rid the world of dangerous “shadows”. Each series, along with another about a super team called “Powerline” ran for a limited time before being wrapped up. But the series crated some memorable characters and had some interesting artwork by Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz (of TV’s “Legion” fame), and just might be something fresh and different compared to the existing Cinematic Universe. Time for a change, anyone?

 

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So there you have it. Plenty of weirder options for Marvel to explore. And I haven’t even mentioned Alpha Flight, Ka-Zar, The Human Fly, Killraven, The Living Mummy, Skull the Slayer, or Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner! Do you agree with my choices or have I left out anyone you’d like to see? Maybe you have a burning desire to see a West Coast Avengers movie or to witness the Avengers clash with the Squadron Supreme? Food for thought for the movie gods at Marvel Studios.

The Werewolf Movie That Time Forgot: “The Werewolf” (1913)

Today I’d like to share something for all the horror movie fans out there. I’ve always loved werewolf movies. One of the first horror movies I ever saw was “Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man”. As my novel THE AUTUMN MAN is also a werewolf novel it made sense to study the genre. The result was a book about werewolf movies that I will be finishing soon. Here is a free excerpt from that book for your delectation and delight, in which I examine the very first werewolf movie, a “lost” silent  film called “The Werewolf”. This article was originally published in “Withersin” magazine. I hope you enjoy it!

 

THE WEREWOLF

Bison Motion Pictures (as 101-Bison). 18 min. Directed by Henry MacRae. Screenplay by Ruth Ann Baldwin based on the short story “The Werewolves” by Henry Beaugrand.

All copies of the film are now believed lost. Only a few still images survive.

When most people think of the first werewolf film, they think of Lon Chaney Jnr. in The Wolf Man (1941). However, that honour actually goes to The Werewolf, a short silent film made several decades earlier in 1913.

Silent film star Marie Walcamp plays Kee-On-Ee, a Navajo woman who believes she has been abandoned by her husband, when in fact he has been killed. She becomes a bitter witch, hating all white men and taking revenge through her daughter Watuma, whom she teaches to transform into a wolf and attack the invading settlers. However, a friar armed with a crucifix dispatches the unhappy girl. One hundred years later, Watuma returns from death to take revenge once more.

Lycanthropes have a healthy tradition in Native American folklore. In Navajo legend, the Yea-naa-gloo-shee (“he who goes on all fours”) is an evil witch with the supernatural ability to take on animal form. However despite this cultural legacy, The Werewolf remained the only film to examine Native American legends of skinwalkers for many years to come.

Tragically, the last known print of The Werewolf was destroyed in a fire in 1924. Yet we know that the special effects in the movie consisted of a simple camera dissolve from a woman to a real wolf.

As the for the original short story, Beaugrand’s werewolves are clearly enemies of Christianity. In league with the Devil, they are dispatched by a crucifix or holy water. But in the film, the tragic nature of the werewolf and the idea of the misunderstood monster make The Werewolf more than a simple morality tale.

It is tempting to give The Werewolf too much credit because we will never know how much these ideas come out in the movie, which was only very short in any case. However, the themes it foreshadows would become staples of the horror genre, from The Wolf Man through to The Incredible Hulk and beyond.

Another intriguing still from the film.

 

 

Top 20 Alternative Halloween Horror Movies!

It’s almost that time of the season again… Hallowe’en is like Christmas for horror writers. Are you looking for some great horror movies to watch and scare the life right out of you? Great. But before you reach for that Stephen King DVD or watch “Halloween” for the zillionth time, you might want to check out these top 20 alternative horror movies that are (almost) just as great!

Some of these are obscure, some of them are lesser known titles by horror masters like John Carpenter and George A Romero. But they all share one thing in common. These are great films!

 

 

Elvis and JFK versus The Mummy!

Elvis and JFK vs The Mummy in “Bubba Ho-Tep”!

20. Bubba Ho-Tep (2006)

Elvis is alive and well and living in a nursing home, along with JFK, whose brain has been put in the body of an old black man. Cue an undead Egyptian mummy that is picking off the other residents one by one.  Yes, this is a real movie. Worth it for Bruce Campbell’s Evil Presley impersonation alone.

19. The Innkeepers (2011)

Ti West follows up his masterful homage to 1970s slasher films, “The House of the Devil”, with this slick, scary supernatural tale about  two bored, postmodern clerks looking after a haunted hotel. Scooby Doo it ain’t.

18. It Follows  (2014)

A terrific modern horror film about a ghost that… follows. To say any more would be to spoil the plot. Guaranteed to completely ruin any teenage date.

17. House! (1986) 

Fantastic, rubbery horror/comedy with William Katt (“The Greatest American Hero”) at his most likeable. A horror writer moves into a haunted house. What else do you need to know? With Norm from “Cheers”!

16. Martin (1976)

George A Romero is of course best known for zombie films. Here’s his vampire film. Or is it? John Amplas is excellent as the young man who may or may not be a bloodsucker in this disturbing, realistically told tale.

15. Black Sabbath (1963)

Mario Bava is not a name that is widely known. But it should be. This atmospheric, Technicolor Italian masterpiece features three scary stories and is introduced by none other than Boris Karloff!

 

A gorgeous, full-colour apparition in Black Sabbath!

A gorgeous, full-colour apparition in Black Sabbath!

 

14. April Fool’s Day (1986)

Great, fun 80s slasher movie that is a cut above the rest.  Features great set pieces, but I promise you’ll never see the ending coming. April Fool!

13. Wolfen (1981)

Psychedelic horror featuring Albert Finney. Something is killing vagrants in New York City. The detective in charge thinks he’s investigating a werewolf. But the truth is stranger than he could have imagined. A very original horror movie.

12. Vampyr (1932)

If you thought the only old horror film worth seeing was Nosferatu, you’d be wrong. This semi-silent movie classic still has the power to chill with its surreal imagery and its depiction of vampirism as almost a mental illness.

11. Carnival of Souls (1962)

Made by a former banker with a cast composed almost entirely of friends and neighbours, this creepy ghost story has been imitated countless times. The fact that only the lead actress is a professional just adds to the unnerving quality of the movie.

 

Going Our Way? A bus load of ghouls in "Carnival of Souls".

Going Our Way? A bus load of ghouls in “Carnival of Souls”.

10. The Innocents (1961)

The great Deborah Kerr stars in this adaptation of a rather unsavoury tale by Henry James called “The Turn of the Screw”. That’s all you need to know about this classic creepy kid horror movie.

9. Tenebrae (1982)

Dario Argento is one of the Italian kings of slasher movies (or giallo movies as they’re called there). This is possibly his best. An American horror author in Italy finds that someone is killing people using his novels for inspiration. The identity of the killer will keep you guessing right up until the very end.

8. Lord of Illusions (1995)

Clive Barker’s follow up to Hellraiser is less well know but equally atmospheric.  Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap) is great as down-on-his-luck supernatural Private eye Harry D-Amour, investigating a very hellish cult.

7. Silver Bullet (1985)

Here is the obligatory Stephen King movie. But this is a less famous gem, starring Corey Haim and Gary Busey and based on King’s illustrated novella “Cycle of the Werewolf”. It grabs you from the start and never lets you go.

6. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Carpenter didn’t direct this sequel. But the image of kids in pumpkin masks that suddenly start to decompose will haunt me for the rest of my days. And what’s with those indestructible bodyguards?

 

Jesus, this is creepy. That pumpkin mask from Halloween III!

Jesus, this is creepy. That pumpkin mask from “Halloween III”!

 

5. Near Dark (1987)

Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent vampire road movie never says the V-word once. Beautiful photography and a classic Tangerine Dream score make this possibly the best cult horror film of the 1980s.

4. The Fog (1980)

John Carpenter’s “other” movie. A rip-roaring ghost story with Jamie Lee Curtis and some phantom pirates. Just steer well clear of the hideous Disneyfied remake!

 

3. Curse of the Cat People (1944)

Subtle, sophisticated, psychological horror that perfectly captures what it’s like to be a kid when nobody believes you. This film  has nothing to do with Cat People or lycanthropes of any variety. The studio simply gave the writers the title to work with!

 

2. Dance of the Vampires (1967)

Roman Polanski directs this beautiful Gothic horror movie, complete with castles, wolves, vampires, hunchbacks, and snow-topped mountains. It’s also a hilarious comedy! The ill-fated Sharon Tate gives this movie a poignancy that was never intended.

 

Who is the werewolf? Who cares? Just enjoy this great 70s B-Movie romp!

Who is the werewolf? Who cares? Just enjoy this great B-Movie romp!

 

1. The Beast Must Die (1974)

This groovy 70s werewolf movie is also a whodunnnit! In fact, you get the chance to solve the mystery for yourself while the film stops halfway through! Peter Cushing and a host of character actors are lured to a big game hunter’s isolated mansion while their host tries to figure out which one of them turns furry under the full moon. A fun time is guaranteed for all!

 

There you go, my pick of the best alternative horror movies to brighten up your Halloween night. Happy viewing, and don’t have nightmares!

 

 

 

Fantasycon 2016 report: Fantasycon-by-the-Sea!

 

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Scarborough – home of all things sci-fi, fantasy and horror!

 

Last weekend marked my third foray into Fantasycon, the annual convention of the British Fantasy Society. This year it was held in Scarborough at two hotels: the Grand and the Royal. Guests of Honour included bestselling science-fiction, horror, and fantasy authors Joe Hill, Mike Carey, Adam Neville,  Scott Lynch, Elizabeth Bear, Frances Hardinge, James Smythe, and Derek Landy.

The main hotel was, shall we say, interesting. Scarborough itself seemed to be stuck in a bit of a time warp – appropriately perhaps. But no-one can deny that the Grand is awesome to look at – a Gothic façade that dominates the Scarborough seafront. The main staircase served as an impressive backdrop, as did the various antique ballrooms.  I found myself reminded of The Shining several times!

 

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The Overlook Hotel… I mean The Grand in Scarborough.

 

Registration was easy enough, although the wristbands proved to be a bit fiddly and impossible to remove, except by accident! The usual bag of goodies included a stick of rock, to put us in the mood. Having learned from previous experience, I signed up to several of the agent/editor sessions and masterclasses straight away. Perhaps unsurprisingly the session with Joe Hill was booked up even before Friday afternoon.

Fantasycon 2016 was absolutely stuffed to the gills with panels and events. I attended as many as I could fit in around socialising, which is the most enjoyable part of Fantasycon.

Highlights for me included the panel titled “It’s a Kind of Magic” featuring Sue Tingey, Pete McLean, Peter Newman, James Bennett, and Irene Soldatos.

Also, the newly-launched UK chapter of the Horror Writers Association was a strong presence. Friday saw the HWA launch several books in concert with Jo Fletcher Books. Many authors were on hand to sign their latest books and to rub shoulders with newer authors like myself. Kudos to HWA organisers Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan for hosting such a well-attended event.

Agents and editors were also available to provide insights into the world of publishing and screenwriting. I found these sessions to be a particular highlight and hope they will continue to be a theme at future cons.

Another addition to the programme was writing masterclasses sponsored by Gollancz. These were of a very high standard, catering to the new writer but also useful to writers of all levels.

There were many book launches over the weekend. In fact, you needed limitless pockets to be able to attend them all! But the ones that I did get to were lively, informal affairs. Of course I soon abandoned my vow not to buy any more books and came away with a small armful.

Saturday saw another horror panel: “Creepin’ up on You”, about the overlap between reality and horror fiction. Chair Paul Finch interjected some welcome humour into what could have been very grim proceedings. Other attendees included living legend Ramsey Campbell, Tracy Fahey, VH Leslie, Helen Marshall, and Mark West.  Topics ranged from the scariest things ever written, to things the writers would not consider writing about, and an interesting discussion on how shifting cultural awareness has meant that some horror devices may no longer be legitimate ways of frightening an audience, such as the “terrifying” reveal of the disfigured composer’s face in the Phantom of the Opera.

Another standout was the HWA panel on getting published. The experienced panellists included Paul Kane, Marie O’Regan, agent Ian Drury, publisher Jo Fletcher, and editor Stephen Jones. Again, this was a standout for me, with many “dos” and “don’ts” on dealing with publishers and agents.

Saturday evening saw my first ever reading at Fantasycon (though not my first ever reading) along with horror scribe Terry Grimwood. The listeners were very graceful and it seemed to go down well. I thoroughly enjoyed Terry’s reading from his new book. My thanks to Roy Gray for providing much-needed coffee!

Afterwards, all eyes were on the legendary Fantasycon Karaoke, the disco, or the bar. I stayed up way too late and had way too much fun nattering to people. Sometime after midnight I slunk off to my guest house to grab a few hours of sleep before Day Three!

 

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The Grand lives up to its name – from the outside, anyway.

 

On Sunday morning I took part in my first ever Fantasycon Panel. “Lost in Hollywood” was moderated by agent Ellen Gallagher and featured legendary TV writer (and all-round nice bloke) Stephen Gallagher of Dr Who and Oktober fame, as well as Stephen Volk (screenwriter of Ghostwatch and Gothic), as well as Remington Steel TV writer Joanna Horrocks. The discussion was wide-ranging and I enjoyed it a heck of a lot. Hopefully, I’ll get to do it again!

My Sunday ended with the Monster mash panel, in which Ross Warren, Adam Millard, Georgina Bruce, Alastair Rennie, and Laurel Sills discussed monsters and what makes them scary (or not). It was a lively and varied debate, and I found myself getting one idea after another as I listened.

The BFA Awards ceremony rounded off the weekend. Having never attended one before, this was an eye-opener, and as each Award was dished out too thunderous applause I found myself aware of just how much the BFS is a very inclusive family.

In all, I found Fantasycon-by-the-Sea the best Fantasycon yet.  Or perhaps I’m just getting into the swing of things more. It was great to catch up with existing friends and to make some new ones. As always, my reading list has grow exponentially. It was also great to continue to appear on panels and perform readings. My thanks to the more experienced writers who took time to talk with me at length about this insane and insanely entertaining business we’re engaged in. I left feeling invigorated, pumped up, and ready to write. To anyone who hasn’t been, I can’t recommend the experience highly enough.

 

How to sell a screenplay to Hollywood while living in the UK – Part Two!

Here is the second part of my article on how to actually sell screenplays for film and television to Hollywood while living abroad, for instance, in the UK. This may seem like a daunting if not impossible task. But let me assure you, it can be done.

To recap what we learned last time:

 

Step One – Write the screenplay

Last time we covered the fact that there really is no magic bullet, no secret trick for success. Also, be prepared for failure. You will encounter rejection. Lots of it. But the beauty of writing is that there is no way to “fail” providing you keep learning and improving in terms of skill.

 

Step Two – Learn about the business

We also covered the importance of leaning about the movie business. Doing this will help you understand what types of script people want and the different people who work in the industry: agents, managers, producers, actors, directors and executives. Learn their jobs. Discover what it is they are looking for.

 

So without further delay, on to Step Three!

 

Nicholas Cage as Charlie and Donald Kaufman in "Adaptation" by Charlie Kaufman.

Nicholas Cage as Charlie and Donald Kaufman in “Adaptation” by Charlie Kaufman.

 

Step Three – Reverse engineer your career

What kind of writer do you want to be? Do you know the kind of screenplays you wish to write? Do you long to write character-driven indie productions or big tentpole pictures? And do you know how to get there?

When I was first starting out, I knew my strengths were writing action scenes, creating cool, often fantastical images and snappy dialogue. I am also a huge comic book fan and enjoy adapting material from other sources. So I looked at what it takes to be a successful studio writer for hire.

I wrote that down.

Then I looked at the easiest way to become that kind of writer: get an agent and get handed writing assignments. Okay, now how to get an agent… I found that it was possible to submit directly but that this was unlikely to garner results. Many (but by no means all) agents pick up clients based on recommendations from other people. So I knew I needed an established track record of sales or options to get their attention.

Backtrack a little: how do you get a sale or option without any contacts and without living in Hollywood?

I scoured the Internet for sources to help get screenplays produced and to meet other people who might be able to give me that recommendation. I discovered listing sites like Inktip and others where you can even pitch direct to an agency via Skype or in writing.  It’s no longer necessary to live in L.A. to sell pictures to Hollywood. That’s another screenwriting “lie” you can expect to hear a lot. Does it help? Sure. But you still need an awful lot of luck and talent.

So I wrote down where I wanted to be. Then I listed all the steps that could get me there. Then I simply followed those steps!

Obviously, it’s not that simple. Would that it were. Some steps are much harder to take than others and none of them ensures your script will be accepted. But this kind of mind-mapping can be a good way to focus your career and create a strategy. There are many routes to getting a film made. The above methods are just a few of them.

One strategy for success is copying the strategies of others who are successful. For this I recommend studying how big name screenwriters got where they are. Read Tales from the Script edited by Peter Hanson and Robert Hermann to get an idea of how top Hollywood writers made it in L.A. There’s no one path. Joe Eszterhas was a journalist, William Goldman a playwright and novelist, Antwone Fisher was a security guard at the studio that produced his incredible life story. Paths to success can be as individual as the writers themselves.

This is the biggest step. It requires time and commitment. Read the stories of other writers. Listen to interviews and podcasts. The Internet contains a wealth of information. Use as many free resources as you can find. That’s really the only way to find out what working as a screenwriter is really like. Without working as screenwriter, of course.

 

Step Four – Don’t quit.

You only fail by quitting.

Along the way I have seen many people give up on screenwriting for a variety of reasons. They have a family to support and have to get a “real” job.  They don’t have the time. They can’t stand the constant rejection.

In order to be taken seriously in this business, you have to take the business seriously. Like any career, screenwriting requires an investment of time and money from you. You have to commit to it.

Write. Read. Submit. Repeat.

 

Step Five – No, really. Don’t quit.

It’s easy to be crushed by rejection. When you’re typing away in solitary confinement, day after day, it’s also easy to get bitter and frustrated. It’s also very easy to get desperate, especially when you need money.

If you do need money, I recommend getting a job that will allow you to write. A 9 to 5 job will grind you down. A vocation will demand too much of you. Find something that will leave you time to write each day.

One thing you must do is learn to love the process. By this, I mean the process of Writing, reading, submitting and repeating.

You won’t hear back from everyone who requests a copy of your script (Annoying as that is, but true for so many reasons it’s impossible to list them). Even if it is accepted your work may be rewritten. You may be fired from projects. Not paid for others. Projects you invest lots of time in will come to nothing. People you work with may be difficult, others will be pleasantly professional. You may even become friends with some of them – and wouldn’t that be cool?

Elliott Grove in his excellent book Raindance Writer’s Lab says you should rephrase the statistics. Think of every rejection as bringing you one step closer to a “yes”. And you only need one “yes” to make it happen.

Good luck!

 

How to Sell a Screenplay to Hollywood from the UK – Part One

trumbo

The screenwriter’s dream: now you too can get to work in the bath.

 

Okay, here is the big one. How do you sell a screenplay to Hollywood while living in the UK? I suppose this is what this blog is supposed to be all about. So let me take you through the steps involved. Sounds simple, right?

First of all, about myself: I am a British screenwriter, but I’ve made spec sales and had options with companies in the UK, Europe and Los Angeles, USA.

Secondly, as William Goldman famously said: “Nobody knows anything”. He was talking about the movie business. So as you read this, please place your tongue firmly in your cheek and take all of this with that pinch of salt.

However, this being the confessions of an English screenwriter and all, I thought I should at least attempt to share with you what I have learned when trying to sell a script to Hollywood without having to go and live in L.A..

And what better way to start than with the secret “one easy step to success”?

The secret trick to success

First of all, here is the secret trick — the magic bullet, if you will — that all professional writers know about…

Ready?

There is no magic bullet!

Yes, that’s right. There is no secret trick to selling a screenplay. No magic bullet. No one way that ensures success. There is only hard work, practice, lots of practice, a lot of luck, and a lot of failure.

“What? I’m going to fail?”

Yes. You will fail. Sometimes spectacularly. Sometimes you will want to quit. But to quote from Benjamin Franklin “Energy and persistence conquer all things”. That is especially true of screenwriting.

Let me explain…

There is no one way to sell or option a script today. Elliott Grove in his excellent book “Randance Writer’s Lab” compares the movie industry to an enormous building full of doors. Behind those doors are the people who you can make deals with or who can further your career in some way: agents, industry executives, producers, etc.

Your job is to get in the doors. It doesn’t matter which one. Just keep trying.

Now all this sounds pretty wishy-washy, so let’s get down to brass tacks.

Step One – Write the screenplay

The first step to selling to Hollywood is: you must be able to write great screenplays. This is not as easy as it sounds. Many writers produce script after script which never sells. But as long as you are learning your craft, you are progressing.

“But how come so many bad movies get made? I just saw a terrible movie. I could write better than that!”

Yes. Bad movies do get made. For a variety of reasons. Sometimes a producer just desperately needs a screenplay because they have actors or locations available. Sometimes studios butcher screenplays because they’re trying to appeal to a broader audience than the material can support. Sometimes a “star” will insist that the script goes in a terrible direction to make them look good. Sometimes a hurricane will blow the set away. The list goes on. And don’t forget that making movies is hard. Really hard. Heck, if it was easy everybody would be doing it, right? Just because you can spot a bad movie doesn’t mean you can make a good one.

You must write, write, write. Devour all the screenwriting books you can find.

You must read screenplays. Actually read them.

Watch movies. A lot of movies. Deconstruct them on paper to see how they work.

This will require you to invest time in your craft and will also involve spending money. A lot of money.  In short, you must approach screenwriting like a job. Because that’s what you’re trying to achieve.

I can’t stress Step One enough. You will be up against UCLA college graduates who have done nothing but read and write screenplays for the past 3 years. Think you can measure up to them? Knowing your craft is the only part of the business you can control. So make sure you deliver a superb script. “Competent” is not enough. “Good” is not enough. Your screenplay must be “great” to stand out from the hundreds of thousands of screenplays circulating every year.

Got that? Good.

Once you’ve done all that, you may be ready for step two:

Step Two – Learn about the Business

Let’s go back to Elliot Grove’s comparison of the movie industry to a building full of doors. Behind those doors are the people you want to do business with. And this IS a business, make no mistake. It’s called “Showbusiness” for a reason. Yes, you can enjoy giving your creativity full reign when you come up with an amazing scene. But remember that you have to sell the script when it’s done. And like any salesman, you must know what people want.

One mistake writers often make is to try to predict trends. Every now and then a movie does phenomenal business at the box office. For up to a year afterwards, everybody wants something similar, be it “Memento” or “Saw” or “The Lord of the Rings”. You may be tempted to begin work on a similar project, hoping that people will go crazy for it. But by the time you have finished your script, which can take anywhere from a month to even years, the market will have moved on, and people will be clamoring for the next big thing.

What’s a writer to do?

Instead of thinking in terms of the hot movie genre, you should think more in terms of what is sellable. You will find that certain types of movies are always in demand, while others are pretty much dead. For instance, don’t bother writing that Western or Period Drama. Even if you see a major picture in those genres. The spec market for those films are almost impossible to break into. Most new films in those genres are initiated by the studio, who then hires a writer for the project.

(Caveat: remember how we said that nobody knows anything?)

My advice is, if you have a great idea for a new Queen Boadicea film, turn it into a novel. Then Hollywood can come to you when it sells a million copies. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Genres that are always in demand?

Cheap ones.

Block Comedies, low budget horror movies, found footage movies (a recent trend which probably will not continue as the justification behind them becomes more and more bizarre), movies without lots of SFX, low budget thrillers, “contained” movies with only a few locations or characters.

Did I mention cheap?

One of the biggest independent hits of all time, “Halloween”, which launched the careers of John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis, was about a man in a William Shatner mask walking around homes with a knife. It was made for $325,000 and raked in $47 million at the box office alone.

There are several other things you must know about the movie industry before embarking on your odyssey to net that lucrative spec sale.

What is a spec sale?

A spec is a screenplay initiated by a writer who has not been hired to write a screenplay. That’s about it.

Sometimes studios mainly generate their own projects and put calls out to everyone they know (agents, managers, producers) that they are looking for writers for the project. The lucky writer than gets to “pitch” their take on the material to the studio. These jobs are called assignments.

The film industry is bigger than Hollywood.

Motion pictures are made all over the world these days. China is a huge upcoming market. My first option was to a company based in Germany. I’ve also written for companies in England and Canada as well as the USA. Plus, nowadays everyone can be a filmmaker. Just invest in a decent phone camera. Recent indie breakout hit “Tangerine” was filmed entirely on an iPhone. Now you too can be Cecil B DeMille! (note: if you don’t know who Cecil B DeMille is, stop reading this immediately and go watch a ton of old movies made before 1960. I’m serious).

Sales vs Options

More fun terms! In the movie industry, you don’t have to sell your screenplay until it’s produced. You can option it instead. The producer usually pays you less money than they would for a sale. They then have the option, within a specified period (say, 12 months) to get the money to make the picture. If they do, you should be then paid more money to sell the script to them. If not, you get the rights to the script back. It’s a win-win for a newbie screenwriter.

However, an option can also be a disappointment if the producer is not willing to pay a lot. I have seen (and signed) options for as little as $1. Are you being taken advantage of? Well, that depends on where you are in your career. A dollar option to someone with no credits whatsoever is a step up the ladder.

So, to recap: there is no one way to sell a script. You can sell screenplays around the world these days, thanks to the Internet. But you must work on your craft. Read as much as you can. Read screenwriting books, read online articles (there are many free ones), read the trades (by which I mean the trade magazines such as Variety or The Hollywood Reporter – all of which are online), subscribe to newsletters. The Scoggins Report can also give you invaluable guidance as to which companies are buying which type of script. These will all give you a feel for how the industry operates. You must become familiar with this, because these are the people you will be trying to sell your work to.

Hot tip: You will find that writing equates to about half of a screenwriter’s working life. The rest involves that dreaded word: marketing. You must become your own PR expert, agent, manager and marketing guru, because that is how you are going to sell your script. Enjoy!

In the next part we’ll look at what to do after you’ve written the script, and how to (hopefully) get it into the hands of Hollywood professionals!

It all sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

See you next time!