Make A Horror Movie

As a filmmaker, you need to start somewhere. I suggest you take action and make a horror movie.

Our first feature was a silly zombie movie. The production value was horrific. But the movie got a write up in Premiere Magazine, Fangoria and about one hundred horror related websites. As a result of this buzz, our crappy horror movie gained a cult following and sold very well.

As a result of popularity, our horror movie was pirated and is now available for free all over the internet. While this is not a filmmaking article focused on the merits of piracy as a marketing strategy – I did want to take a quick moment to remind you that you should probably get off your butt and make something.

Here are three reasons why filmmakers should make a horror movie:

  1. Horror Movies are inexpensive. With a good story, you do not necessarily need “name” actors.
  2. When you make a horror movie, finding your target audience is easy
  3. Even if your horror movie sucks, horror fans love to hate (and talk about) horror movies.

If you want to make a horror movie, my suggestion is to find a great script. Then break your script into a schedule and a budget.

Once you have an initial budget, create a crowdfunding campaign to test your concept. While getting money is a benefit of crowdfunding, the greater objective is to guage audience response and demand in the marketplace. Additionally, your crowdfunding campaign will allow you to test the reach of your social networks.

If successful, your crowdfunding campaign will emphasize the viability of your project in the marketplace. You can detail this in your business plan. Then with the added confidence of social proof, you can confidently enter meetings with prospective investors and demonstrate demand for your title.

Of course, if your crowdfunding campaign fails, all you gotta do is think up a new horror concept and start over.

Here is the trailer for Special Dead, our first feature, a crappy horror movie.

If I can make this type of movie, what is your excuse? Go grab a camera and make a horror movie!

Filmmaker David Allen Talks Modern Moviemaking and VOD Distribution

As we get closer to an independent filmmaking business driven by video on demand distribution, I am on the hunt for various case studies that can help filmmakers navigate the changing world.

I caught wind of an indie production company based in Australia called Rapidfire Productions. This is a production company that operates as a self sustaining modern moviemaking business. They develop, produce and distribute their genre specific titles through their own distribution arm. David W. Allen is one of the producers. Earlier this week he stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share some ideas on how to make, market and sell movies through new forms of internet distribution.

Jason Brubaker
What is your name?

David W. Allen
David W. Allen

Jason Brubaker
How did you get started making movies?

David W. Allen
I have always been into making movies with my long time best friend and director of our most recent feature, “The Gates of Hell,” Kelly Dolen. As kids in our early teens we would always be running around with a video camera making home movies and writing our own horror and action screenplays.

Jason Brubaker
And then when you felt ready, you made the shift to features?

David W. Allen
Yes. Our first feature length film was a low low budget vampire flick called ‘Reign in Darkness’ which we both wrote and directed. We only had $49k to make this with and considering the budget it came out okay.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like an exciting first feature.

David W. Allen
We jumped on a plane to LA wide eyed and innocent to sell our film and make it big in Hollywood.

Jason Brubaker
I felt the same way after our first feature. It’s like you work so hard to make the impossible, possible. Hollywood sure seems like the logical next step.

David W. Allen
Ahhhh how naive we were all those years ago. [Laughter]

Jason Brubaker
So what happened? Were you able to sell the movie for an amazing cash advance and get a 3 picture deal?

David W. Allen
We ended up getting a distribution deal with a sales agent who we were introduced to by an entertainment lawyer.

Jason Brubaker
Was it a good deal?

David W. Allen
No. We got ripped off and didn’t see a great deal of money for the film. That was 10 years ago. Today the title is still selling out there, online. The movie is making money for other people but not us.

Jason Brubaker
How did that change your perspective about traditional distribution?

David W. Allen
I learned a very valuable lesson with ‘Reign’ and vowed if we ever made another feature film we would distribute ourselves.

Jason Brubaker
I agree with you. Especially when it comes to video on demand distribution.

David W. Allen
I could see where the Internet was heading and knew it was going to be the way to reach our future audiences with our Independent films.

Jason Brubaker
What is Rapidfire Productions?

David W. Allen
Rapidifire Productions was established by Kelly Dolen and myself in 1999 with the sole purposed to produce a diverse, wide range of Independent high concept genre films, ranging from action, drama, horror and sci-fi.

Jason Brubaker
So you are staying very genre specific?

David W. Allen
Our long-term goal was to make commercially successful projects that satisfy a marketplace craving for intelligent genre films and build a distribution arm for low budget Indy films.

Jason Brubaker
And it sounds like your title called “The Gates Of Hell” fits your model. Tell us about the project.

David W. Allen
The Gates of Hell is a dark psychological thriller and horror flick which is inspired by a combination of “old school” films like The Exorcist and The Thing and the adrenalin of cutting edge video games like Gears of War and Manhunt.

Jason Brubaker
Could you tell our readers where to find out more about your movie?

David W. Allen
Here is the website: www.TheGatesOfHellMovie.com

Jason Brubaker
How did you come up with the idea?

David W. Allen
It was back when Kelly and I were sharing a place together and we were talking about what we can make next for a low cost and high commercial value. We were talking about a filmmaking seminar we attended in Melbourne, Australia conducted by Dov Simmens, a Hollywood indy filmmaking guru.

Jason Brubaker
I am familiar with Dov and his work. What was the most inspiring advice he gave you?

David W. Allen
He said the best thing to do with your first film is to get a bunch of young people and take them to a single location and chop them up.

Jason Brubaker
Ha! I think that is sound filmmaking business advice.

David W. Allen
That was the thought process that ignited the idea for The Gates of Hell.

Jason Brubaker
So once you had your idea, what came next?

David W. Allen
Kelly and I started brainstorming ideas and we come up with an old condemned orphanage that used to house discarded deformed children that upper class people didn’t want.

Jason Brubaker
That sounds like a true horror movie.

David W. Allen
We researched this online to see if in fact a place like this did exist and they did back in the early 1940’s. And then we added some Hollywood to the idea and the first treatment was written.

Jason Brubaker
So once you had the treatment, what came next in your process?

David W. Allen
From there Kelly ran with the idea and developed it into a screenplay which was constantly developed over some years to get it to a stage where it was ready to make. We had a local artist drawing characters for the film and story boards you name it was all happening.

Jason Brubaker
What was your role during this time?

David W. Allen
I focused on the producing and marketing. I was responsible for developing an internet marketing strategy, building the website and creating the entire online distribution business model. I planned an online release from the very beginning.

Jason Brubaker
Building your movie business plan based on an internet marketing strategy is a very new concept. Was there any pushback from other producers or investors?

David W. Allen
The Investors had no intention of going down this path. They wanted the big blue sky and Hollywood. But I knew in the end they would end up going with my plan to self-distribute.

Jason Brubaker
What was Kelly’s role?

David W. Allen
Kelly went out and raised the large majority of the money from investors of our previous film and the new investors came from people he knew from his years selling home audio equipment at the large retailer JB HI-FI. The main investors were customers of Kelly’s from this store and over the years they come to value him as a friend more than just a shop assistant.

Jason Brubaker
So would you say that filmmakers must first understand the value of relationships?

David W. Allen
There is such a valuable lesson to be learned here especially with the social networking explosion on the Internet… Success is all about the relationships both online and offline.

Jason Brubaker
That makes me remember a quote I learned while selling overpriced hot tubs in college. “People buy from people they trust and like.”

David W. Allen
In my opinion this is the key to being successful in offline and online business and film distribution. Over time your followers will come to trust you and believe you, so when you have something to sell they will be far more likely to buy because they feel like they know and trust you.

Jason Brubaker
So let’s talk more about your movie sales strategy. How did you handle the sales, marketing and distribution?

David W. Allen
After the film was completed we took the film to a number of film festivals such as Screamfest, Amberg, Sacramento, and NYC. We also attended some film markets such as AFM and Cannes.

Jason Brubaker
Were you able to gain any traction?

David W. Allen
The film had great reviews but with all the positive hype around the the film the distribution deals were not very favorable and we didn’t want to go down the same path as we did with our first film ‘Reign in Darkness’ where were got a raw distribution deal.

Jason Brubaker
That is a tough choice. Many first time feature filmmakers will consider deals that do not pay a dime, just for the validation that comes from someone else saying “Great work! You’re a REAL filmmaker!”

David W. Allen
Yeah. But being passionate about everything Internet, I was pushing the proposal of just self-distributing online. But it was a hard sell to our investors who wanted to see the film in cinemas and up in lights.

Jason Brubaker
That is interesting. I guess some of those folks need traditional validation too?

David W. Allen
Well, all I wanted was to see a positive net return for sales of the film and focus on introducing the film to its market online and letting its popularity spread over time.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like a pragmatic approach to your modern movie business. Were you able to get your way?

David W. Allen
I managed to get my way in the end with a little compromise. The investors wanted to see the movie in the cinemas so we did a distribution deal with an Australian distributor for Australian and New Zealand rights.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like a hybrid deal. You retain some rights, while licensing other rights through other channels. Was this a profitable strategy for your movie?

David W. Allen
As I am writing this, the distributor is still yet to do anything with ‘The Gates of Hell’, which is no surprise to me, but a big lesson for the investors who wanted a quick return and blue sky.

Jason Brubaker
At least you can move forward with your own internet movie marketing strategy. Can you tell us a little more about your marketing plan?

David W. Allen
My marketing plan is simple. With very little money, I am taking the advice of a brilliant marketer Seth Godin and build a tribe and sell the movie to that tribe who over time will spread the word.

Jason Brubaker
What are the mechanics involved in building a tribe?

David W. Allen
I will be collecting emails from prospective customers so we can sell them backend products that they actually want.

Jason Brubaker
What about marketplaces? Where will you actually sell your movie?

David W. Allen
My distribution plan is to start off with selling the DVD then when I get some traction in the market I will approach a VOD distributor and then an iTunes aggregator and Amazon. I will also look at Netflix but I will wait until it gets more popularity so to get a better upfront fee.

Jason Brubaker
You mentioned DVD. Who is going to handle your DVD fulfillment?

David W. Allen
For the DVD distribution I use a company called Disk.com. They were highly recommended to me by some of my Internet marketing peers who use them to create and distribute their information products. They are based in the USA and is a great place for the shipping of the DVDs within the US and throughout Europe and the UK. There are some great companies here in Australia but the shipping costs would be way too high given our main market is in the USA and UK.

Jason Brubaker
Outside of distribution and your website, how are you spreading word of mouth?

David W. Allen
Facebook Pages and Twitter play a bit part in my strategy. I use these platforms to build what is called Market Leadership. I also hit the forums and get involved in the top ones and this is a great way to get people to check out the film.

Jason Brubaker
What about getting prominent website owners to review the movie?

David W. Allen
I am sending out copies to influences in the market place, people who already have a large following in the horror market and if they like the film they will tell their tribe about it.

Jason Brubaker
When I first saw your movie website, I was impressed. I think it has all the components necessary to create a movie sales funnel. But you also have something called an opt-in box to build your mailing list. How important is a mailing list for modern moviemakers?

David W. Allen
Very important! It is such a valuable asset for filmmaker if they don’t abuse it. It takes so long to build traffic to your website so you want to be capturing as many leads as possible so you can stay in touch with them, send them cool free stuff and then sell them backend products related to their film.

Jason Brubaker
Yes. I think filmmakers need to take charge of sourcing their own core audience. But what about in-between projects? How do you leverage your list?

David W. Allen
Between projects, the other thing filmmakers can do is introduce other people’s related products to their list for a fee or on an affiliate basis. Over time your mailing list will become very valuable. The bigger and more responsive the list, the more other industry players will want to pay filmmakers money to get related products or films in front of their subscribers.

Jason Brubaker
What suggestions do you have for other filmmakers who want to create their own movie business?

David W. Allen
Look at the market you’re making the film for first. This is a business and if you are going to spend money on making a film you better be sure there is a big enough and hungry enough market out there to buy your film and other backend products.

Jason Brubaker
You keep mentioning marketing related products. Could you explain this a little more?

David W. Allen
I look at the film itself as a lead generation product for the purpose of building a big list. I am not all that concerned about making the money back on the DVD itself but on other monetizing avenues over time including advertising.

Jason Brubaker
That is an interesting concept. Most filmmakers do not think like marketers. Yet if we want to make money making movies, it makes sense that we would need to diversify our product offerings.

David W. Allen
The modern filmmaker needs to think beyond the film itself as the only means of generating income. The money online is where the eyeballs are. Think about it.

– – –

Find out more about how to sell your movie.

Filmmaking through Toxic Soup

A few years back, while flying aboard a loud propeller driven airplane somewhere over the snow capped mountains of Colorado, I heard the guy in front of me talking to his girlfriend about an idea for a movie. Since I had just finished production on my second feature, I felt compelled to chime in. And when I heard his movie pitch, I just had to help. . .

Fast forward to today and filmmaker Rory Delaney is getting a ton of buzz on the film festival circuit for his feature documentary, Toxic Soup. The movie exposes corporate carelessness and profiles everyday people afflicted by the Toxic Soup dumped in their back yards. (And yes, I am one of the producers of this movie. After you see it, you’ll understand why this story can’t be ignored.)

Jason Brubaker
Where did you get the idea for “Toxic Soup”?

Rory Delaney
I got the idea for “Toxic Soup” when I met West Virginian Kyle Stratton Crace in Los Angeles. Being in LA we got to talking about movies of course. I told Kyle that I was from Kentucky and had edited a documentary “Method in the Mountains,” which was shot in West Virginia. In turn, Kyle talked about growing up in Charleston, WV, in what is known as the Chemical Valley.

Jason Brubaker
Chemical Valley? Sounds like a horror movie. Why do they call it that?

Rory Delaney
At one time West Virginia had the heaviest concentration of chemical plants in the world. After Kyle spoke about the health effects that his family and friends had experienced as a result of their residence in the area, I thought it had the makings of a great documentary. Additional research affirmed my suspicions, and then an early test shoot erased all remaining doubts.

Jason Brubaker
As a filmmaker, often the idea you start with grows into something much bigger and often, unexpected. Would you say that your original focus shifted?

Rory Delaney
Originally I thought the documentary was going to be about one specific case involving the water contamination of Parkersburg, West Virginia with the DuPont manufactured chemical C8 (also known as PFOA). I just couldn’t believe that the EPA had found C8 (PFOA) in the blood of 96% of Americans, and that Dupont had covered up the fact for decades, while the state government had turned a blind eye. However, during production we heard a lot of similar stories.

Jason Brubaker
Like what?

Rory Delaney
We heard about a series of explosions and leaks of MIC in Institute, West Virginia, at a Bayer chemical plant. MIC is the chemical that killed over 20,000 Indians in 1984 after a catastrophic leak at a the US run Union Carbide plant. Institute, West Virginia is the only place left in the world where MIC is still manufactured and stored in massive quantities far eclipsing that which caused the Bhopal tragedy, which Time Magazine dubbed the world’s worst industrial accident.

Jason Brubaker
These are deadly chemicals in people’s back yards.

Rory Delaney
Yes. We also learned about the pollution of a community’s well water in Mingo County, West Virginia by Massey Energy with coal slurry containing heavy metals like arsenic and lead. We even visited the radioactive oil fields abandoned by Ashland Oil in Red Bush, Kentucky where community members have been developing brain tumors at alarming rates and a cat was born with 2 heads, 6 legs, and 2 tails. But while the companies and toxins differ, there is a pattern connecting them. “Toxic Soup” was made to examine and question that pattern.

Jason Brubaker
A lot of documentary filmmakers are impacted and forever changed by their subjects. Would you say the work impacted you?

Rory Delaney
Toxic Soup work has definitely impacted me. For one, I’m an official Kentucky Colonel now. For real.

Jason Brubaker
Really? How do you prove that?

Rory Delaney
I got a certificate from Governor Steve Beshear and everything. How awesome is that? But kidding aside, on a practical level “Toxic Soup” has influenced my consumption patterns. I do my best to avoid products associated with different companies, ranging from gasoline. Marathon bought Ashland Oil. And pain killers made by Bayer as well as frying pans.

Jason Brubaker
Frying pans?

Rory Delaney
Frying pans with Teflon. C8 leaches into your food from the nonstick action.

Jason Brubaker
It sounds like Toxic Soup is everywhere.

Rory Delaney
I look at the ingredients in my personal care products. I don’t wear deodorants with phthalates in them also referred to as “Scent” or “Perfume.” That stuff is gnarly for you. Finally, I pay a lot closer attention to politics and corporate campaign donations. I was deeply troubled by the latest Supreme Court decision on that front.

Jason Brubaker
Along the way, you traveled across the country to  meet some very high ranking officials and interesting people. How were you able to plan your days?

Rory Delaney
I scheduled interviews, aerial flyovers and community meetings as far in advance as possible. On off days we shot b-roll and performed additional research and community outreach. We emailed and called countless lawyers, politicians, journalists, filmmakers, nonprofits, professors, activists, and celebrities in search of interviews, stories, and tips. A lot of these phone calls and emails paid big dividends.

Jason Brubaker
Many of the people you profiled have been living in “Toxic Soup” their entire lives. Why do those people choose to stay in polluted land. Why don’t they just move?

Rory Delaney
Polluted or not, where you are born is where you are born. It’s home. You don’t choose it. And most people have an acute sense of that bond. Often they have extended family and friends in the area. They have roots there. So leaving becomes difficult for emotional reasons. Also there are financial reasons. Some of these folks own property, but that property has been depreciated 80 to 90 percent of its value because of toxic contamination in some cases. As a result, many can’t move because they lack the resources to do so. It’s a vicious circle.

Jason Brubaker
What did you shoot on?

Rory Delaney
We shot the majority of footage on the Canon XHA1 at 24p 1080 HD. For three camera shoots we also utilized the Canon HV20, which also shoots in 1080 HD.

Jason Brubaker
How did you find your crew?

Rory Delaney
When I was getting my MFA in dramatic writing from NYU I met director Christina Voros when I wrote the short film “Rosy” with her. “Rosy” played at the 2008 Florida Film Festival and Nantucket Film Festival. In any event, I contacted Christina because she is also a very talented DP, and she recommended her friend Sergei Krasikau who is a sound recorder and still photographer. Later, I met Lisa Bragg and Curtis Baskerville while shooting in West Virginia. Lisa and Curtis are local filmmakers who proved to be invaluable as they could film stuff when the rest of us were out of town. It just kind of came together like everything else.

Jason Brubaker
I know some of your locations did not permit a video crew or a camera. How were you able to capture footage there?

Rory Delaney
For a couple hundred bucks we also picked up a cheap spy camera at the Spy Museum in Washington DC, which we used to film the DuPont annual shareholders meeting in Wilmington, Delaware, where our camera crew had been banned.

Jason Brubaker
How did you get big names like Bill Clinton and Morgan Spurlock in your documentary?

Rory Delaney
Despite being a first-time director, we had a lot of success getting celebrity cameos in our documentary. As we all know, we live in the age of celebrity, and the truth is that you are more likely to get into bigger festivals and achieve wider distribution if you have “names” attached to your project. Although we had difficulty pursuing celebrities through official channels (Many had a protective wall of handlers and assistants), we opted to cut out the middlemen and personally pitch our documentary.

Jason Brubaker
And how were you able to get within talking distance?

Rory Delaney
To do this, we researched their public appearance schedules before turning up with our camera crew in tow. This is how we got an interview with Bill Clinton and Morgan Spurlock. The same strategy worked for cameos by Jim Carrey, Jenny McCarthy and RFK Jr.

Jason Brubaker
Is Morgan Spurlock supportive of Toxic Soup?

Rory Delaney
We believe that Morgan is supportive of “Toxic Soup”. We approached him months ago with a fine cut of the documentary and welcomed his input and advice. However, he is super busy with his FX show “30 Days” and also judging at film festivals like Sundance, so we haven’t had a chance to really connect with him. As we build up more grassroots support for the documentary, I am cofident that Morgan will resurface and assist the movement.

Jason Brubaker
What advice do you have for filmmakers pursuing controversial topics?

Rory Delaney
Talk with a lawyer and possibly form a legal entity. Also get a business card. Other than that make sure the topic is something that you’re passionate about because people are going to flake on you when you start rocking the boat. In other words, if you’re doing it just to be controversial, you aren’t going to have the stamina to finish the project and get it out there for people to see.

Jason Brubaker
You’re taking about genuine passion.

Rory Delaney
Yes. Despite all the obstacles we faced in production and post, I was driven to get “Toxic Soup” made after meeting all the inspirational people fighting for environmental justice in their communities. I also felt like they were depending on me to get their stories and voices heard, so I just put my head down and did it.

Jason Brubaker
Any film festival advice?

Rory Delaney
Initially when submitting “Toxic Soup” to film festivals, I applied more or less blindly through withoutabox with mixed results. After consulting with Toxic Soup DP Christina Voros – She’s an amazing director who was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 20 new faces in independent film –  Anyway, after chatting with her I revised my strategy.

Jason Brubaker
If you don’t mind sharing, could you describe your secret film festival strategy?

Rory Delaney
Christina explained that with her previous films she had had a lot of success writing in advance to festival programmers and requesting fee waivers. I utilized Christina’s idea and approached festivals with a brief pitch of “Toxic Soup” and a plea for fee waiver, explaining that any funds we could save would help us to attend the screening and promote the documentary.

Jason Brubaker
That’s an awesome idea. What was the response from festivals?

Rory Delaney
The majority of the festivals responded positively and granted “Toxic Soup” either full fee waivers or at half-price. Now some folks wrote back and said no, but hey, festivals are like the lottery. You can’t win if you don’t play. But the real brilliance behind Christina’s strategy isn’t the money that you save; it’s that your DVD is no longer anonymous DVD #10-HFX3004, which arrived in the mail one day and is sitting under a stack of a other anonymous DVDs.

Jason Brubaker
Right. It’s like you initiated the first steps to a personal relationship with the festival programmer.

Rory Delaney
Yes. Now you have corresponded with the programmer. They now have knowledge of your project and who you are, and they are waiting to watch your film, giving you an immediate edge over a good 80 percent of the other submissions.

Jason Brubaker
Are you still playing the festivsals?

Rory Delaney
We are still playing the festival circuit. We just sent off to fifteen or twenty festivals who granted us waivers. We even got a call from a festival in Buenos Aires, Argentina, interested in including “Toxic Soup” in their program. So keep checking back to (The Official Toxic Soup Movie Website) for updates on that front. We are also screening at universities. We just played at West Virginia State University in Institute, WV, and at the University of Maryland School of Law.

Jason Brubaker
How is the response thus far?

Rory Delaney
The response has been encouraging. The university screenings as well as our world premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival were well attended, and the Questions and Answers afterward were lively. People really want to do know what they can do to protect themselves and their communities from pollution. Basically, folks are outraged by the inability of our government to protect Americans and regulate corporations hell-bent on profits over people.

Jason Brubaker
What have you learned about the world of distribution?

Rory Delaney
I have learned that nothing happens overnight. There is no fairy godmother, glass slipper, or pumpkin coach. You’ve got to push your movie / documentary into the world yourself, and the more you do to publicize and build a grassroots following, the greater your chances will be of attracting a distributor. Also I’ve learned that when you are presented with deals, don’t jump on the first thing that comes along. The last thing you want to do is sign a three year contract with a lackluster sales agent, and then a year in, find your hands tied after a more recognizable name decides to take on your project.

Jason Brubaker
Where can folks find out more about Toxic Soup?

Rory Delaney
On the official Toxic Soup Movie  Website, you can follow our blog, connect with nonprofits and research what’s in your backyard. You can also join us on facebook, twitter, and YouTube as well as watch clips from the movie.

- Here is the trailer for Toxic Soup -