Director, producer and script writer Andrew Jones has been working in the independent film industry for several years – his first commercial release was in 2012. With many titles under his belt, including Robert; Cabin 28, A Haunting at the Rectory and upcoming film, The Manson Family Massacre, Jones is fast making a name for himself in the world of film. With many of his projects being dark in nature, he has become a respected name in the horror genre, pushing boundaries and producing quality films on an independent budget. Exclusively for Made in Shoreditch, I sat down with Jones and explored his career, attitude to directing, his thoughts on film streaming and plans for his future…
Can you begin by explaining how you first got involved in the film industry?
I had dalliances with writing and directing in the mid 2000s but 2012 was the year of my first commercial release, so I consider that the start of my professional journey. The first film I produced Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection couldn’t have gone better really. We made it for a very modest budget of £5,000 which was raised through private equity by Independent Moving Pictures, a company owned by my producing partner Rob Graham. The film ended up playing in UK cinema chain Cineworld alongside big budget blockbusters, as well as reaching number 25 in the UK DVD charts. It was also released in North America by Lionsgate.
Like all filmmakers I fell in love with movies as a kid. Every time I shoot a film I’m thinking back to five-year-old me who used to beg his parents to let him rent videos like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Luckily they did let me watch them! Many filmmakers of the future went to the cinema and got their minds blown by Star Wars, but I got my mind blown by watching the shock ending of Sleepaway Camp on a grainy VHS! The process of writing, filming and editing movies that remind me of the films I grew up watching really enriches my soul.
How is the reality of directing films as an independent film maker compared to your expectations of it?
Every director can plan out intricate shots and ambitious ideas while sat in their living room, but the truth is when you’re working with very limited money and time you are always forced to compromise during filming. Your imagination is unlimited but your budget and schedule isn’t. So if a set of circumstances arise during a filming day which result in you losing time you have to quickly come up with a new and simpler approach to shooting a scene. Often a shoot day becomes more about getting as much coverage as you can within a limited time frame, so a low budget indie director can never expect to be Stanley Kubrick. You have to make quick decisions at every budget level as a director, but when you’re shooting a micro budget feature in 8 days you need to be particularly open to changing your plan at a moment’s notice. That’s why it’s important to have a talented and dependable crew.
The other thing an independent director has to learn to accept is they’re not going to be unanimously praised. Low budget work, particularly if it’s of the Horror or B-movie variety, will always be considered divisive by critics and viewers. Of course, you may also attract a cult following and many people will really appreciate and admire what you do. That’s certainly been the case for my company and I’m so grateful to the wonderful people who regularly buy our films.
What are some of the biggest challenges and difficulties you face when starting new film projects?
A big challenge is that the Home Entertainment market is constantly changing. Because of the glut of content, trends change at a moment’s notice so determining which projects have the potential to make an impact in the market place is becoming trickier. Getting a unanimous greenlight isn’t as straight forward as it used to be, we have to be a lot pickier about what we move forward on. We also need to be willing to change course suddenly and drop projects we’ve spent time developing in favour of something new which is considered more marketable.
What so far, in your personal opinion, is your best film to date and why?
I think when you’re making low budget indie films it’s impossible to be 100% happy with all aspects of the end product. In my experience I often love several sequences within each film and feel they turned out as well as or better than I hoped. But there will also be sequences in each film I know I didn’t have the time or budget to realise to full potential.
I’d say I’m most pleased with more recent work such as The Manson Family Massacre and The Jonestown Haunting. I’ve wanted to make films on those subjects for years and there was something to say which had a little more depth than the usual genre fare I produce. Having said that, I also quite like The Toymaker.
Commercially speaking, the true crime horror Cabin 28 is actually my most successful film in terms of sales.
Your films are dark in nature – mainly paranormal or horror genres. What attracts you to this style of film?
I find it provides the most fertile ground for making tonal shifts with the stories and taking characters into unexpected directions. If I have to be concerned about always portraying a character as a hero or telling a feel good story it feels kind of limiting. The most interesting characters and stories to me exist in a world where morality is not black and white, it has shades of grey. The horror genre offers great flexibility, it feels possible to mix tones and subject matter with more ease than other genres. That’s why I love the work of filmmakers like Wes Craven and Rob Zombie. Wes wasn’t afraid to mix horror and humour even when dealing with the darkest of subjects. Look at one of his most under rated movies The People Under The Stairs, it’s a movie about an incestuous couple who keep abused children in the basement yet there are several scenes which are intentionally funny and still fit into the context of the story. When you look at Rob’s work he has the courage not to care about making his characters massively likeable, he really pushes the concept of the anti-hero to the point where sometimes there’s not even a clear protagonist and antagonist. The horror genre offers the opportunity to take that kind of subversive approach to storytelling.
You often work with the same actors on various films. Does it make the process easier for you, to work with people you are already familiar with?
It is a lot easier working with people I know. There’s a comfortable shorthand with them and they’re already in tune with how the set operates, so you can launch into the work without needing a long discussion to get on the same page. Of course you do still have to bring in new faces and mix it up. We make 4 to 7 feature films per year so it’s good to freshen up the leading cast from time to time.
Do you think the era of online streaming for movies has had a positive or negative impact on the film making industry?
As someone who first discovered movies through VHS it’s sad to think the next generation may not share my generation’s love for physical media. But I do have to challenge the notion that the DVD market is dead. There is still mileage in it, it’s just a smaller and more competitive market now, mostly confined to a select number of supermarkets in the UK and US. But I think if you have the right concept and artwork you can still get decent results on DVD. 11 of my films have cracked the top 5 of best selling Direct-to-DVD releases in recent years so that proves low budget indies can continue to attract business with the right concepts.
Do you have any insights, tips or advice for people starting out in the film making industry?
To be honest, anyone can learn the rudimentary skills needed to make a film, particularly with how accessible the technology is these days. Making a film is not the hardest part. The toughest bit is trying to entice a paying audience to buy your work and that’s all done through your cover art, trailer or advertising. It really is all about the marketing. Someone who wants to make a living from filmmaking and have their films regularly released can’t just be artistically minded, that’s not enough. They need to work out how to package and present the marketable elements of their film as a product, otherwise no one will get to see their work and filmmaking will remain a hobby.
Also, an aspiring filmmaker believing that someone in Hollywood is going to absolutely love their script and suddenly propel them to fame and fortune is a fantasy. If you’re waiting for that, you’ll be waiting forever. Hollywood is the corporate elite, the 1%. The more realistic part of the film industry involves hundreds of independent companies competing to get their films on DVD shelves and digital platforms, hoping they’ll be lucky enough to make another film if the current one sells enough.
I know it may seem like a very broad and difficult question, but can you roughly outline your creative process – from the beginning of an idea for a film, to the point of production?
I start by sending a bunch of concept ideas to my distribution partners. The concepts usually take the form of a synopsis around a paragraph in length, some taglines and also a DVD artwork mood board. So I’m not just pitching the creative concept alone, I’m closely aligning it with marketing ideas. I feel that gives the concept a far better chance of getting the greenlight. Then once we get the greenlight on a concept I let it percolate in my head for a while. I think it’s important to dream about an idea before you physically write it, your imagination is what’s going to bring the concept into being after all. It’s good not to force anything, I just let it swirl around my head for a week or two. Then once I have a good handle on the themes, I’ll write a treatment which is usually around 10 pages, just a general outline of the story which gives me a basic structure for the script. Then I’ll write the script based on that outline.
When writing I have to acknowledge that I’m also the producer and director and need to take the low budget and tight schedule into consideration. So I tailor the script to the resources I know I have available to me. When it comes to working with people on set I like to be open minded creatively. If an actor has a new idea that’s not in the script or if the Director of Photography spots a new shot then we will definitely try it if we have the time. We have a script to fall back on but I like to be improvisational with the material. The moments I love the most in my films are usually ideas we came up with on the day. Although it’s still important to maintain self discipline, I edit in my head while we shoot so no shot is wasted.
Editing is definitely one of my favourite parts of the process, it’s the first time you get to really sit with your material and not have to make quick decisions. You can experiment a bit, thinking of alternative ways to translate something to an audience that perhaps didn’t occur at the writing or filming stages.
Where can people find out more about your work?
My personal Twitter account is the best place to find the release dates and latest news on my films: @AJonesFilmmaker