John co-wrote and Produced PANIC BUTTON and now WE ARE MONSTERS, which he will also direct. John has directed a number of short films and TV documentaries. Broadcasters include BBC1&2, ITV, Channel 4, Discovery, Sky One, Sky Sports, Extreme Sports Channel, S4C, MTV & CNBC. Short films include BALANCE, ONE OF THE CROWD, FIXED PENALTY, SLEEP TRACKS and GHOSTS OF ABERCWMBOI.
Follow @MovieMogulLtd to keep up with John's latest projects.
Why did you decide to create Movie Mogul Ltd?
I was a freelance producer/director in Cardiff when I hit upon the idea of creating a ‘community generated film fund’. This was before filmmaking had entered the crowd-sourcing arena in the early days of Sellaband. MM was set-up on the back of a Technium award to help pilot the idea. Movie Mogul Fund (MMF), garnered much press interest and support, but sadly failed to generate sufficient funds to take the winning film into production. This was a film called RETREAT, which later went into production on a much higher budget with Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton & Jamie Bell.
MMF’s commercial failure cost me personally and facing bankruptcy, I was forced to review the direction of my company. Re-aligning my own personal filmmaking career with the objectives of MM, and with the help of a modest injection of private equity, MM became a film production company. The business plan was simple – to make commercially oriented feature films for the lowest possible price point. Everything turned around with PANIC BUTTON.
How has the horror genre changed since you started your company?
The Horror genre is becoming increasingly hard to categorise. There are so many sub, sub-genres and widely differing takes on exactly what constitutes horror that just about anything within the low-budget realm with the odd scare, token reference, or splash of blood seems to qualify nowadays. This is a good thing, you only have to look at the diverse range of emerging films that Film4 Frightfest showcase each year to understand that horror is more a place where you can have fun and let your imagination run riot - without fear of too many reprisals!
What is the current project you are working on?
Our next film is a Sci-Fi / Action movie called WE ARE MONSTERS. It nods to many of the horror sub genres, such as vampires, werewolves, alien invasion, mutants, survivalist, but it is also a hearty rites of passage of tale with a pertinent hook, surrounding the difficult financial times in which we now find ourselves.
How did making "Panic Button" prepare you for making "We Are Monsters"?
Panic Button was always a very ambitious, concept-driven project. With the exception of making TV programmes and numerous short films, making PB was my first personal opportunity to test the theory behind filmmaking, and to see if I really did have a grasp over what it takes to make a commercially successful film.
It wasn’t a simple or straightforward process by any stretch, but as a company, myself and producer Gareth I Davies took great reassurance from the fact that the company knowledge and business approach wasn’t too far off the mark, and we chalked the rest up to experience. This gave us confidence as a company to remain concept driven and to keep punching hard above our weight, safe in the knowledge that provided we have the passion project – we can and will make great things happen.
Why do you think the crowdfunding goal for WAM was tripled?
I guess it was kind of inevitable that at some point MM should have a dabble in crowd-funding, now that it has become more established as a viable, alternative means of audience building and fundraising. The truth is that nobody knows or fully understands the mechanics of crowdfunding - who exactly is backing and why? So it’s very much a ‘spray and pray’ tactic that you must undertake, staying on your toes and reacting as you go, it’s hard work for sure.
We actually ran two campaigns – the first was very optimistic with a £100k target. Using the Kickstarter ‘all or nothing’ platform really added to the stress of the 60 day campaign, which closed at around £35k – meaning we received absolutely nothing, despite the masses of support and interest WE ARE MONSTERS garnered. The toughest aspect of this is that the project then carries an ‘unsuccessful’ stigma, which feels counter-productive to all PR efforts!
We rebooted with a sure-fire strategy for success, with a 30-day campaign and a £5k target – which we smashed within 24 hours. We raised a further £5k over the next 27 days, and the final £5k came in largely within the very exciting final 24hrs. We clearly lost the interest of several of our early backers, but 300% funded did wonders for the films image, not least company morale. It wasn’t just the people and project however, a lot of the campaign success was attributable to the relentless efforts of our campaign/social media manager - Justin Tagg.
Why do some campaigns fail?
Most campaigns succeed when they can appeal directly to an existing fanbase, take Veronica Mars or the BBC Micro Elite video game reboot as prime examples. Most independent films seeking finance however, are new and (hopefully) original ideas, so they have to work a lot harder to convince people to take a punt of them.
Named cast and crew of course can help with this, but not always to huge effect. The old saying that people invest in people is proving to be very true, so filmmakers who cower behind glossy showreels are less likely to find crowdfunding success than those who really put themselves out there and try to infect others with their genuine passion for their project. This is counter-intuitive to many of us, who made a firm decision to stand BEHIND the camera (many with good reason) a long time ago. Unfortunately it’s all part of the process now, so this is no time to be shy!
We’ve taken a conventional approach to casting and have a wonderful agency in Jeremy Zimmermann’s, who love to embrace a bit of lateral thinking as we do. So both Doug Jones and Maisie Williams responded brilliantly to the screenplay and the key antagonist and protagonist roles respectively offered to them. We’re really thrilled to have them onboard, and we have more cast members shaping up now too. WE ARE MONSTERS is becoming a very exciting property!
What is the independent film industry like where you live?
There’s a thriving independent film scene going on in Cardiff right now, and people just seem to be going out there and getting on with it. A few years ago this wasn’t so much the case but the indie ‘get out there and do it’ ethos seems to be riding strong now. You only need to attend nights like Cardiff Mini Film Festival to see how popular the scene is.
Who are your favorite up and coming filmmakers?
Gareth Evans is a really exciting talent to watch, THE RAID just blew me away. In the US, Evan Glodell and the BELLFLOWER guys I find exciting too.
But there’s so much UK talent out there at the moment struggling to break out of their local film scenes that it’s difficult to point at anyone in particular, safe to say that we’re living in exciting times where more and more filmmakers can, and do come from nowhere and achieve a decent level of commercial success.
That’s mainly why we got the short film challenge ‘666 Short Cuts To Hell’ off the ground with Horror Channel and Frightfest. There’s £6,666 prize money up for grabs, Horror Channel, Frighfest and professional jury exposure and a mentorship with us here at Movie Mogul to be won. www.shortcutstohell.com
Filmmaking competitions like these can be a real leveler that help so many people progress in their careers - not just the competition winners. We’re all very interested to see if this will introduce even more sub-genres to the world of horror too, mix things up and murky the waters that bit more!
Thanks for doing the interview John. I look forward to seeing WAM. Let me know if WAM and the Movie Mogul crew ever come to Boston.