Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Interview With Phil Hughes, Writer and Director of "The Scare Game"

I was listening to an interview with Uncle Lloyd Kaufman this morning, where he was talking about how the conglomerate's are manipulating the theatrical experience and his Troma films don't get the theatrical releases that they deserve. He went on and on about how he shoots on 35mm and how his films are meant to be seen in a theater and that's how Troma fans want to see them.

Well, I hate to disagree with Uncle Lloyd, but... I love Troma with all my heart and I think I've seen one Troma film in the theaters... and that's the original "Toxic Avenger". The interview got me thinking and, really, there's a lot to take away from his comments, but the long and short is people still don't get the DVD and home entertainment market. Like, executives of major entertainment companies still don't get it. So many people are stuck in the theatrical release system and they're trying to apply those rules to a changing DVD and home entertainment market. Further, now they're trying to apply those same rules to online distribution. The reality is, we need to create separate, individual ecosystems for each. What works theatrically is not working for home entertainment and what works for home entertainment won't necessarily work for online.

I don't have answers, but I do have ideas. Truth is, a lot of people have ideas and I love to watch the trailblazers go out there and try new things. One such trailblazer is Phil Hughes, the writer and director of "The Scare Game", a web-based horror-comedy series. The series blends horror and comedy and has great production value... the budget is low, but you really don't get that feeling. It's well put together, fun to watch and as each episode will be 7 to 10 minutes long, they're easy to consume. Personally, I'm very interested in what the future holds for web-based entertainment, so I was quite excited to have the opportunity to discuss this project with Hughes.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you into indie horror filmmaking?

Well the basics are that I'm male, 32, born in Albuquerque, New Mexico but I've lived in a few different places like Texas, New York, and Japan. I have two degrees- one in computer animation and graphics, the other is creative writing with a minor in photography, so I'm kind of all over the place. I'd have to say my biggest horror influence was my dad. He would rent every ridiculous horror movie under the sun from the shop and let me watch most of them and then try to scare my crap out of me. I had a fairly traumatic childhood, but it was good times. When I got into filmmaking, I started making a variety of short flicks, but most of them were comedies or dramedies with a bit of romance. When I got a little more confident with the camera, then I started to delve into genre filmmaking.

Film School: Yes or No?

No, but I've taken a lot of assorted classes that all relate to the discipline. There wasn't any stellar programs around here so I decided to broaden my abilities and continue to make movies on my own (with a good group of friends, of course).Of course, 6 1/2 years working for a movie theatre can be a hell of a film education.

You've launched a web-based series called "The Scare Game", tell us a bit about the project.

The Scare Game is a horror/comedy about this group of friends whose love of horror movies leads them down some bizarre and dangerous paths. It's hard to get too deep into it at this point. The first 6 episodes all revolve around a mystery and then the back half launch into them dealing with the mystery. I wanted to take time to develop the characters before we started getting into the heavier stuff.

Is there a particular reason you developed this for online?

It's a new medium and the rules aren't set. It's also liberating filmmaking because you can focus your time and money into other aspects of the filmmaking as opposed to worrying if it is in HD and how will project and how will afford the repeated raping of film festival costs. There aren't any specific restrictions, so we can make things as long or as short and/or as risque as we want. The shorter episode format lets me tell a serialized story that's not really intimidating to someone if they come part way through- they can catch up fairly quick.

What is your approx budget for the whole deal and how did you secure financing?

The pilot was a little over a grand and that pretty much covered food, equipment rental, and art department stuff. It all came out of our own pockets (Especially Producer Brian Austin Wenrich's). The money for the 2nd and 3rd episode was donated to us by friends who really believed in what we were doing and wanted to help get the ball rolling. We would eventually like to be ad-sponsored and things like that, but that's probably a ways off. Until then, it's beg, borrow, and steal... and then beg some more.

Talk a bit about where you see the series going and what can people expect?

I answered that a bit in one of the earlier questions. I hope that we create a fun series where people laugh, dig the characters, and then occasionally get creeped out or jump out of their chairs. As it's mapped out now, things will get darker and go into some moral gray area which might be hard for some folk, but I'm hoping they will be with the characters if/when they make decisions that aren't always the most noble. We have very specific ideas and things are mapped out, but I don't want to box myself in. If certain things evolve thematically and tonally that I wasn't expecting, then we'll roll with it.

What's your ultimate goal for the series?

We would like to have the financing to where the team could get paid to get it out there. That way, it'd be getting out on a regular basis and we could really have a steady "dialogue" with the fans. I'd like to be able to pay the rent and the people who work to make this happen and look great. It would be nice to put it out on DVD and actually have a goodly amount of people pick it up.

How are you going about promoting the series? What would you pass on to other filmmakers that are considering doing an online project?

Well our other producer/writer/actor, Jenn Daugherty, has been hard at work on a online campaign. She sent out almost 600 emails to various blog sites and newspapers (mostly college) the night we launched the episode. Plus, she was working hard to get the local media to give us some notice so we can build more support at home and then grow outward through the web. She does a lot on YouTube to meet people and find like-minded individuals and invite them to the site, facebook updates, and twitter feeds (we have a few people working on that).

My advice would be- be prepared to put in a lot of time just trying to reach out to people and get to know them. Become part of the community and hopefully that community will embrace you and lift you up. Jenn says the publicity work she does is like staring into the void, but she keeps going- bit by bit.

Is there money in a web-based series? How do you see "The Scare Game" getting monetized? Talk about online distribution versus traditional distribution

Haha. Again, I answered this a bit. Our plan is to utilize the inherit trickiness of the genre by filming full on horror (nudity, violence, and language) and then putting the edited version onto places like YouTube to try and reach the greatest audience we can, but then point back to the main site for the full, uncensored episode which would theoretically be where the ads would be. We need a few more (haha) people before people would start to consider ads for us, but we'll keep having at it. We'd love it if we could do some product placement. That would be hilarious! Online, we have the power to make decisions about how and what we release- we just don't get paid for it. We don't have to negotiate with anybody over our product; we just have to worry about bandwidth.

Talk about the indie horror scene. Where do you think it's at now and where do you see it going?

There was a brief time where a well made but SUPER cheap indie horror movie could be made and get a decent amount of money from a distributor to go into DVD and on to services like Netflix. I think that window has pretty much dried up. Indie horror has traditionally been the most accessible and profitable genre, but as with all indie film now, there is such a saturation of reasonable film equipment that everyone thinks they can make a movie. And then there are the ones that can, who are a small percentage, but in that saturated market, it turns out to be a lot of people so it's just that much harder to get noticed. As to where it's going... that's a hard one. Lower budget stuff will continue to look better and better, but it will take something truly original and mind-blowing to really break out of the pack. That being said, the web gives the hardcore fan a lot of material to peruse and that is just going to get easier and faster to find. I'm hoping that saturation will raise the bar of quality in general.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

I have a feature script that I am almost finished with and another 3 or 4 in the works, but most of my film energy is going toward The Scare Game.

How can people support "The Scare Game"?

They can go and watch it on youtube.com/thescaregame and then if they dig it and want to see the boobs, then they can roll on over to TheScareGame.com. If they like it, then they should get a few friends to see it. If they don't like it, still get a friend to see it. AND if they REALLY like it, then they can donate some change on the main site. Plus, we're a small operation so we don't need big companies to help sponsor us so we're always down for getting the word out to smaller companies and boutiques trying to get their wares out to the people. That helps everyone.

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