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Nathaniel Tapley (Natt)
Username: Natt

Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 78.149.238.109
Posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 02:05 pm:   

Last night I went to a talk in Brighton called 'Under The Skin Of The Horror Genre', given by Alan Jones and David McGillivray. The horror genre it referred to was horror films, and, when I mentioned it, very few of the people there, despite being horror film fans who lived in or around Brighton, knew that the WHC was going to be happening there next month.

Afterwards, I chatted to David for a little while about why there was not more of a crossover between the literary and film horror fields in Britain. It seems to me that with the history of low-budget horror film production in Britain, and the fact that we now have directors like Neil Marshall and Chris Smith, it is bizarre that more of the great short stories that are produced each year aren't adapted as films.

Apart from Clive Barker, have the fields cross-fertilised each other at all? Anyone have any thoughts about why there isn't a thriving market of adaptations of British horror stories?
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Paul_finch (Paul_finch)
Username: Paul_finch

Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 195.93.21.74
Posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 03:13 pm:   

Mainly because, in financial terms, the independent British film industry is in one of its worst states ever. For every one or two British films that get made, another fifty or so are bogged down in Development Hell, with no sign of a financier. And I'm talking from experience here.

In fact, there are only two places on Earth at present where the movie industry seems to have been unaffected by the cash crisis - Hollywood and Bollywood. In both those localities, huge amounts of money are still set aside purely for development. That means writers and directors can get to work on projects straight away and be paid a living wage from Day One.

That is no longer the case in Britain, at least it hasn't been for the last two or three years. Currently, premises, treatments and even first-draft scripts are required before approaches can be made to money men, and most independent producers are only able to offer peanuts as remuneration. The result, there are fewer and fewer professionals pitching their ideas. At last year's Screenwriters' Festival in Cheltenham, several seminars were held advising script writers on how and why to diversify into novel-writing.

This applies as much to the horror movie field as to any other, even though the horror genre has long been famous (Hammer, for example) for being low on budget and high on ingenuity. It's very frustrating in reality, because the sums you're often talking about are microscopic compared to the sort of fees that routinely get chucked around in the City of London (once a regular sponsor of movie production).

The other thing, Natt, if you're talking purely about 'British' projects, is that our horror story market, while it may seem vibrant to us, is not as vibrant as the American one (and that's where most American movie-makers look). If we're honest, Britain doesn't have that many mass-market outlets for short horror fiction. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Steve Jones's annual Year's Best, while our mass-market horror novels are still few and far between. Many authors who are household names to us, and whose writing style I'd have thought would be perfect for film development, are most likely completely unknown in film-making circles, and will remain so as long as they are rooted in the independent press or semi-independent press.
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Nathaniel Tapley (Natt)
Username: Natt

Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 78.149.238.109
Posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 04:15 pm:   

Paul, I agree with you about the difficulty of getting things made, but I'm not sure this explains why, historically, these two areas have never cross-fertilised.

I also don't think that the global financial crisis has been as much of a sea-change as you suggest. I had my first script optioned in 2003, and in the same year won a Europe-wide screenwriting competition that came with a certain amount of funding to go towards production of the film. To this day, neither of those films has been made.

In my experience, to expect a living wage without even having written a treatment hasn't ever (since 2003) been realistic in the British film industry unless you had a very solid track record. Even in TV, where I do most of my writing, although you get paid for treatments, standard procedure at CBBC is to ask you to prepare a 'mini-treatment' on the basis of which they can decide whether or not to commission a treatment.

Yes, it's difficult to get things made, and to find the time to write them. Even if you do get development money it is likely to be structured as a loan repayable which principal photography begins. (*)

However, given that some things do still get made and there are still film students, I'm still surprised that well-developed, probably-cheap properties in the most profitable genre of film-making are completely unknown within the film-making world.

And I'm as guilty of it as anyone. Until I started making In The Gloaming I didn't know anything about modern horror literature in Britain. A read of Danse Macabre led me to the landlord, who introduced me to Lieber, Straub, and the Stephen Jones anthologies, which led to Charles Black's ones, the Strange Tales anthologies, Poe's Children, and the BFS.

I confess to being surprised at what there was out there. I'm a horror film fan, and have been for as long as I can remember, and have always been interested in gothic and weird literature, and am a big reader, but there was a whole genre that I was missing out on. Maybe I should have sought it out sooner, but I honestly didn't know it was there to seek out.

I suppose my question is why is there so little crossover, and are there things we could or should be doing to correct that?

I'm guessing that your answer is that the industry isn't hungry enough for new scripts; there is no crossover because there is no need for one.

(*) I maintain that this is because we are subsidising the wrong end of film-making. We are trying to subsidise development and production, which, counter-intuitively, inhibits the amount of development and production that gets done. In my view, something like the Eady Levy which made it very easy to turn a profit on a low-budget film by subsidising and ensuring its distribution ensured that there were more private investors interested in taking advantage of that. So, yes, a lot of rubbish got churned out, but, in the process of making that rubbish, people were at least being trained and earning a living in the industry, and developing their skills. What we have now is a situation where it's almost impossible to make a feature without Lottery funding, and their instinct is to fund fewer, bigger, safer projects rather than actually to foster an industry. Anyway, that's a different debate for a different thread...
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Craig (Craig)
Username: Craig

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 75.4.247.214
Posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 04:19 pm:   

I'd venture to guess, it's similar with the horror film market in America, which is a statement about how they make films as a whole. And generalizing greatly, it's basically this: horror films must be as broad as possible, taking in a younger audience as that broad market.

It's all about ensuring as many eyes as possible, beforehand; therefore, you get the slew of remakes - because remakes kinda-sorta insure previous viewers will return. They don't, but that's the mad, craven judgment-making of Hollywood. It's also why they green-light novels or the occasional "based-on-a-true-story," which is just a way, again, of these utter cowards ensuring what can't be.

Can you name more than a mere handful of mainstream horror movies of recent years, that did not in some way incorporate the "adolescent"? Even (what I would say are) quite intelligent, sophisticated horror films - THE ORPHANAGE or (for all its flaws to me) LET THE RIGHT ONE IN or (genre-crossing) PAN'S LABYRINTH, centered around children, and even catered in some respects to the "youth," the unsophisticates.

The immediate recent adult-only horror film that springs to mind is THE ANTICHRIST, which got all sorts of flack, and - did it make money? Everything is somewhat sanitized now if it's not an ANTICHRIST, in horror - ZOMBIELAND was fun, but to call it a horror film, is to say horror in film really is dead.

The children is the second part of the formula, which is: they want broad films - films that are constantly touching on character development/arcs, universal/personal themes, familiar elements (family dynamics, relationships, etc.), and so on. Everything has to be uber-"familiar" somehow, and it's not a recent development really, though it does mean so much pure genre work (I'm not being disparaging by saying "pure genre," just descriptive) is left aside - and from what I've seen, most great horror stories in the realm of what is usually discussed here, is: purely genre work catering to an adult audience. Exactly what Hollywood doesn't want....
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Paul_finch (Paul_finch)
Username: Paul_finch

Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 195.93.21.74
Posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 04:55 pm:   

Natt ... I'm in a similar situation to you.

I still have projects 'in development' that were first optioned back in the early 2000s. But one difference is that in two of those early cases I received a decent commission fee for writing the first draft script. That hasn't happened in recent times. My main screenwriting experience is also in TV. When I worked on THE BILL, the normal procedure was to produce a premise, from which a treatment would be commissioned, and so on. It was a staged process, but once your basic idea had been accepted, there was fairly reasonable money all the way to first draft. I'm not finding anything like the same thing in film work these days. 'Mates rates' seems to be the new phrase for producers wanting to get that essential first-draft script out to the money men. Another one is 'deferment', which I loathe and detest as that endangers the one beacon of light so many movie writers have striven towards for so long - principle photography. Also, for the first time ever - and this is something I really find worrying - options are expiring and not being renewed, the reason given that the money can not be raised at the present time so there's no point in hanging onto the property. It's all very disheartening.

I agree with all your other points. There are so many good literary products out there that could be developed as films or even as TV shorts, and it does, on occasion, surprise me, despite everything I've said, that more of that isn't done.
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Nathaniel Tapley (Natt)
Username: Natt

Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 78.149.238.109
Posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 05:11 pm:   

That's interesting, Paul, I hadn't realised that things had changed so much. I agree that the whole picture is disheartening.

However, I take some comfort from the fact that, in many ways, production and distribution are getting cheaper, there are new ways of doing them. Then I remember I have two kids who like eating food, and that my time exploring new distribution channels in the hope of finding one that works must be limited...

(To add to what you say, ScreenSouth have a development fund which they say on their website includes funding the writing of a script. However, when you apply for that fund you get told that it is not available to anyone who does not have a full script already...)
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Paul_finch (Paul_finch)
Username: Paul_finch

Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 195.93.21.74
Posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 05:34 pm:   

That sounds about right, Natt. Sadly.

As you say, we have to feed the kids. But in the long run, you're definitely correct - production and distribution costs (distribution particularly) are going down, and that can only be a good thing.
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Barbara Roden (Nebuly)
Username: Nebuly

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 216.232.190.19
Posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 06:17 pm:   

Craig: I'm trying to understand your argument, which you state is that "And generalizing greatly, it's basically this: horror films must be as broad as possible, taking in a younger audience as that broad market."

You support this with the reasonable statement that this explains, in part, the recent slew of remakes of older horror films: they have an appeal to viewers who remember the originals and want to see what's been changed/updated, while appealing to younger viewers with the promise of better effects and more sex (or at least characters who are usually a good deal younger than they were in the original).

However, you then state "Can you name more than a mere handful of mainstream horror movies of recent years, that did not in some way incorporate the "adolescent"? Even (what I would say are) quite intelligent, sophisticated horror films - THE ORPHANAGE or (for all its flaws to me) LET THE RIGHT ONE IN or (genre-crossing) PAN'S LABYRINTH, centered around children, and even catered in some respects to the "youth," the unsophisticates."

You seem to be saying that horror movies incorporating children are, in some way, "sanitized" (your word), and that they're including children in order to reach a broader market (i.e. families and young people). I don't know where you live, but here in North America all three films you mention got an R (Restricted) rating, meaning that people under the age of 18 needed to be accompanied by an adult. This would seem to go against your theory that these films were catering to 'youth', as would the fact that all three are in languages other than English and were shown in North American theatres with English subtitles. How many adult North Americans will willingly go to see a subtitled film? Now ask yourself how many North American teenagers will do the same thing. 'Not many' is almost certainly the answer to the first question, and 'So few as to be barely measurable' would seem to be the answer to the second. To argue that ANY of these films 'cater to' youths, or unsophisticates, is ludicrous (and you actually counter your own argument that this is so earlier in your statement). Yes, a complex and multi-layered Spanish fantasy/horror film with English subtitles set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, which poses questions about the boundary between fantasy and reality, and has an ambiguous and unhappy ending: that screams 'catering to an unsophisticated youth market' to me.

You continue: "The children is the second part of the formula, which is: they want broad films - films that are constantly touching on character development/arcs, universal/personal themes, familiar elements (family dynamics, relationships, etc.), and so on." I'm not clear who 'they' are in the phrase 'they want broad films': children? Hollywood? But I'd argue that horror films which incorporate such things as character development/arcs, universal/personal themes, and family dynamics and relationships are apt (if they're done well) to be much more frightening to more people than an 'adult' film which moves from one gory set-piece to the next without anything as pesky as character development, universal themes, and relationships getting in the way.

Finally, you say: "Everything has to be uber-"familiar" somehow, and it's not a recent development really, though it does mean so much pure genre work (I'm not being disparaging by saying "pure genre," just descriptive) is left aside - and from what I've seen, most great horror stories in the realm of what is usually discussed here, is: purely genre work catering to an adult audience. Exactly what Hollywood doesn't want...." To dismiss, say, PAN'S LABYRINTH as 'pure genre work' because it contains or concerns children is ludicrous. On that basis, we have to similarly dismiss THE INNOCENTS, and SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, and NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, and THE SIXTH SENSE, and THE OTHERS, and RINGU. Personally, I find any of these films more frightening and harrowing than any amount of 'pure genre work', concerned merely with nauseating rather than frightening the viewer.
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Craig (Craig)
Username: Craig

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 75.4.232.98
Posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 07:32 pm:   

Let me clarify somewhat, Barbara: I think maybe my example of THE ORPHANAGE might have been misplaced, but it too had scary children in it; but surely there IS that injection of the "younger" audience factor going on in both LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and PAN'S LABYRINTH, and it's borne out by the facts: both of those were very popular with "younger" audiences.

Your R-rating point is factually correct, but pragmatically not so: they've been making R-rated horror films for years and years and years - FRIDAY THE 13TH, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SAW, and so on - and everyone knows it's still getting the 16-17 crowd in (let alone younger) - the dirty little secret of Hollywood, that they know the "kids" are seeing what they shouldn't (or, "shouldn't").

I never dismissed anything for being pure genre work - again, I stated, I'm being "just descriptive"; this could be an essay in and of itself, but "genre"-bound stories are different from "broad"er stories. PAN'S LABYRINTH is exactly not pure genre work catering to an adult audience - that's why I named it as an example. Pure genre work (here, that would be: horror) that caters to an adult-only audience is (from what I can gather, not having seen it) THE ANTICHRIST. Another I would argue - and let me be clear: I love this film and think it one of the best, most underrated horrors of the recent decade - but another genre-bound, adult-only horror film is the Spanish one made from Ramsey Campbell's THE NAMELESS.

I lament the fact Hollywood is not making more genre-bound work! Most of Hollywood's classic "noir" films are, to me, utterly genre-bound films - and they are revered and watched and studied and will last, even the minor ones, whereas oh so many "broad"er films - take your random comedies from the 70's and 80's (hell, take most mainstream, non-B movies from the golden age of noir!) won't be....
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Craig (Craig)
Username: Craig

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 75.4.228.114
Posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 04:34 pm:   

Barbara - it's not just horror films that are being specifically tailored for younger audiences:

http://www.deadline.com/hollywood/new-wuthering-heights-to-get-twilight-ed/
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Nathaniel Tapley (Natt)
Username: Natt

Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 78.149.238.109
Posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 07:16 pm:   

Haven't horror films always been tailored for younger audiences, though?

From the creature features and B-movies of the fifties, through Last House On The Left, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween in the seventies, and then into A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The 13th, up to Scream, Urban Legend and Final Destination, it seems like American horror films have always, generally, been aimed at the teen market.

There are notable exceptions, like Psycho, Straw Dogs, Deliverance, and perhaps the Exorcist and the Omen, but those are mainly from a period when all (American) films were generally more thoughtful and adult than they are now.

If the majority of cinema-goers (as opposed to DVD-buyers) remain males aged 15 - 25 then we shouldn't be surprised if a lot of cinema tries to feed them what it thinks they want. Should we?

Yes, the rise of the PG-13 horror film is a new phenomenon, but I'm not sure Drag Me To Hell is a worse horror film than Saw VI just because it's less gory.

In fact, in these circumstances it becomes even more confusing as to why the huge number of great British ghost stories isn't better exploited. I'm sure a ghost story that would have nothing in it to classify it with one of the higher ratings could be just as terrifying as the latest torture-porn gorefest.
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Ian Alexander Martin (Iam)
Username: Iam

Registered: 10-2009
Posted From: 64.180.64.74
Posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 07:30 pm:   

According to this post here on Christopher Fowler's blog, the reason that British Cinema in general is so appalling is all the producers are too busy trying to shove cocaine up their nose to actually make decent films. Which could very well be the cause of all the silly decisions already noted above.

One can't wait to see what sort of interesting column from Mr. Fowler in Black Static results from that postů
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Nathaniel Tapley (Natt)
Username: Natt

Registered: 11-2009
Posted From: 78.149.238.109
Posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 07:42 pm:   

Yes, as I commented over there, if in exchange for giving us the entire Hollywood output of the mid-1970s, including The Sting, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, everything Martin Scorsese made during that period, we have to put up with the occasional longueur in our own film industry, I don't think anyone will complain...
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Stephen Theaker (Stephen_theaker)
Username: Stephen_theaker

Registered: 12-2009
Posted From: 62.30.117.235
Posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 08:43 pm:   

I think we are sometimes more forgiving of foreign-language films, and we're less conscious of the gaps between good ones.

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