Friday, September 4, 2015

Closing the Casket on Contracted: Phase II

If you know who I am, or anything about my films, I'm sure you're aware that I made a film called CONTRACTED that now has a sequel called CONTRACTED: PHASE II that I have nothing to do with. Upon the announcement and eventual release of this film, I've been flooded with notifications, e-mails, texts, etc about the film and/or my involvement. Up until now, I've kept it honest and real - mainly only in short form. But Twitter's 140 characters only allow for so much, so I've turned to my virtual diary to "spill my guts", so to speak, on the subject and answer any lingering questions there may be and to clear the air on some things I've said.


To start, I think it's important that everyone know I have no issue with the hard working individuals that made the film happen. The director, Josh Forbes, and I have shared a beer in person after bumping into each other. The writer, Craig Walendziak, and I have spoken on the phone after the completion of the film and I have numerous close friends who helped me make the first film that put their incredible stamp on this film. Making a film is hard... Even ones that people hate. I know because I've made movies that people don't love. But there are some extremely talented people involved with this film (Matt Mercer, Cinematographer Mike Testin, Make-Up/FX Artist Mayera Abeita, Anna Lore, Morgan Peter Brown, Peter Cilella, Laurel Vail and many more) and I have nothing but love for them. 

Also, I think it's noteworthy to mention that I, for the most part, like the producers Rafi and JD. I recently saw them in a meeting we had about their current film DISMISSED, which is a wonderful script they've developed. I've shared many great memories with them and consider them to be kind people outside the realm of filmmaking. I say that because... As we know, this is a BUSINESS. So rather than just discuss opinions or thoughts, I'd rather just lay down the facts so that everyone can understand where my head is at when I tweet, post or whatever if the subject of CONTRACTED 2 is brought up.

For CONTRACTED, Rafi/JD (BoulderLight Pictures) approached me and said "We'd like to make a movie for very little money, would you be willing?" and at the time -- I was. I needed the film. I was getting ready to put my career on hold due to some lackluster performances on my previous films, but I looked at CONTRACTED as a way to test the waters with my weirder, more original side of storytelling, as opposed to MADISON COUNTY and ROADSIDE which were me showing some influences and trying to recreate what worked for others. I told them about CONTRACTED and they loved the idea. The only thing that held us up was the nudity... So I removed the nudity from the script and away we went. I also told them I wanted Matt Mercer to come on board to play a role and be a co-producer on the film as he and I were chomping at the bit to work together again. They agreed. I wrote the script in roughly 3 weeks. We did 3 drafts, which JD and Matt Mercer (my co-producer/Riley) gave very good notes on how to make our characters more sympathetic/dynamic and we began shooting roughly 2-3 months after we agreed to make the film. Rafi helped supervise the budget and made sure we didn't overspend. I gave him estimates on how much we should spend in what areas and he took that and ran with it. The script wasn't even finished before the press release announcing the film went out. It was very much put together on the fly -- which at the time was exciting. We were reverse engineering our film to fit our budget. None of us were making much money and we were fine with it. We were all friends, kids really, and we just wanted to make a cool film. No egos necessary. No one was getting rich off this...

We shot the film in 15 days and off we went to post. The production was still to this day probably one of the best experiences I've had because there were very few things to take issue with. When you're as bare bones as we were -- you're kind of just making due with what you have. We couldn't bitch about not having a jib or a crane or a steadicam or something fancy like big lights or trailers because we knew we wouldn't have them from the beginning. I designed the aesthetic and the production of the film to fit the budget. The producers were hands on and supportive, but this was very much an educational experience for them. We all agreed that we wanted to make a film that was a beautiful decay... A horrific art film in the vein of DEADGIRL, MAY, GRACE, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, BLACK SWAN, etc... Films with artsy aesthetics but gritty narratives. That was our goal and I think we succeeded. 

The very first teaser poster ever created for CONTRACTED
I made some lifelong friends on that film and still keep in touch with most everyone from the production. Some were friends from previous films and everyone knew we were in it together. I begged everyone to come on the journey with me. We were all underpaid and overworked, but I promised a film that would be worth it -- hoping I could deliver. Post production came and went and the film was finished. I had my management company, MOSAIC at the time, cut together a promo for future jobs. At this time in my life, I was penniless and couldn't get work for anything. I kid you not, I applied to direct porn and Asylum films (yes, the guys that make Sharknado) and was turned down without hesitation. I figured my future as a filmmaker was pretty bleak... I couldn't make a movie that people liked. Around the same time, Zachary Palmisano, an intern at MOSAIC at the time, delivered a cool promo trailer and a little teaser poster and the producer's eyes lit up. They knew this film could do something cool.


With the above mentioned films as inspiration, we hoped to premiere at a top tier festival (IE: SUNDANCE, SXSW, TRIBECA or TIFF)... They all passed. We came close on SXSW and TRIBECA, but ultimately we were left behind. The foreign sales company at the time (before BoulderLight Films decided to get into foreign sales as well) took the film to the Cannes Film Market and held a buyers screening. From there, we got domestic bids on the film and I got a frantic phone call after the offers came in... They were low. Unexpectedly low. I remember the words "We'll be lucky if we ever BREAK EVEN on this film!" being said to me.

I was a failure in both the creative and financial sense. I made a film that no festivals wanted and that wasn't going to make any money. Fuck. I started scrambling to find my next movie. I began writing any script I could cobble together a shitty idea for. I was willing to work for anyone doing anything at that moment. The film ultimately sold to IFC and the producers called me to say "We're having the World Premiere of CONTRACTED in Switzerland at the Neuch√Ętel International Fantastic Film Festival (otherwise known as NIFFF) because we were told it's the greatest and most beautiful film festival in the world by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (the directors of SPRING)". I thought, GREAT! A cool festival in Switzerland. I've never even left the country. I'm dying to go! Then came the next sentence... "Rafi and I will be accepting the plane ticket that the festival will provide on your behalf since we didn't pay ourselves to make CONTRACTED and we probably will never see any compensation from the film" <--- because at this point in the process, we had heard nothing but horror stories about distribution on how you would never see any money -- thankfully this was wrong and IFC has been nothing but the best! But the feeling was that BoulderLight was simply saying... "You tried your best, but we'll go ahead and take it from here..."
JD (left) and Raphael (right) at NIFFF in 2013 premiering CONTRACTED


My heart was broken. I was devastated. I said "Sure... I get it", but my stomach still felt sour. I wasn't going to attend the World Premiere of CONTRACTED... and I didn't. And I regret it to this day. 


But something strange happened after that summer and the film premiered at NIFFF... Reviews came out that were glowing. People started talking. Posters were being released. IFC's acquisition was announced... More festivals started inviting the film to screen... Suddenly, an avalanche of positive word of mouth started happening and life began to change. People were EXCITED about this film... Even though we didn't sell for much up front, the film seemed to be getting a great response! It was literally like an overnight change.

The film released to amazing success and money started coming in immediately after the release of the film in theaters/VOD. BoulderLight took over the foreign sales of the film and did an amazing job getting it out all over the world. It was an incredible epidemic. The film was a SUCCESS (a pretty sizable one at that) all across the boards... creative and financially. 

I signed with my agent at GERSH and began the dance of deciding what film to do next and meeting with companies that wanted to know what magic powder I had sprinkled on CONTRACTED. To be honest, I still wasn't sure at the time...

After I took time to asses projects (many of which I recount in my previous blog about GET THE GIRL), and after being passed or let go from other films, I decided to get proactive and work on my next film myself. I was asked to do a sequel by BoulderLight Pictures around the same time I was developing GET THE GIRL. I told them that I would if I could think of an idea that could spin the story in a unique way so that I wasn't doing a disservice to the audience. I came up with an idea, typed up a treatment and called it CONTRACTED: PHASE II. 

I won't go into specifics on what my story was about, but I can guarantee you, it was very different from the film that now exists. At some point in my life I would like to release it in some capacity. I feel it's a cool spin on the story.
This is the title page from my initial C:P2 script

BoulderLight sent it to IFC with a budget estimate and they loved it. They sent back their proposal and the budget estimate was a little lower than initially anticipated and that's when the executive decision was made... The budget would be lowered. That's when things get weird. My sequel was essentially ALIENS to ALIEN. I wanted to take what worked in the first film, spin the narrative in a different way and treat the zombie/infection in a way that we've never seen before. This was not a disease film or a body horror film like the first... It was a ticking clock movie. A race against time and body with elements of social commentary and very unique characters. But if I couldn't pull it off, I didn't want to attempt it.

Screenshot of my e-mails for my directing deal

So I bowed out as director. I told them that I couldn't do it the way I felt it needed to be done... BUT, I would continue to write the film and produce it if they allowed me to choose the director that replaced me. Happens all the time.  



They agreed and I continued writing while hiring none other than MATT MERCER to be the director of CONTRACTED: PHASE II. I did this because Mercer is not only an incredible actor, but he's an extremely talented filmmaker and he was right by my side through the process of making CONTRACTED... It felt "right" to keep it in the family.



Screenshot from e-mails of the negotiation of my co-writing deal
Before I would continue writing, I wanted my contract to be finished so I could feel comfortable handing over my ideas and materials... 


The negotiations went on, we passed about 3-4 drafts of the contracts back and forth between lawyers but eventually they came to a screeching halt. The producers didn't feel I was valuable as a writer and producer if I wasn't directing, so they didn't want to pay me the amount we were asking for... Which was a difference of $2,500 from what they were offering.

Disclaimer: I OWN PART OF CONTRACTED 2, EVEN THOUGH I DIDN'T MAKE THE FILM... So by not endorsing it, I'm theoretically taking money out of my own pocket.

I respect myself and my ideas way too much to just give them away for free, or nearly free, so I stood firm. They countered back with "we're passing on Eric's involvement"... which was odd because contractually I had to pass first before they could move on without me, which I'm sure I had at that point... So I decided to let it go. I later heard from several people and even from the producers themselves in person that they decided they wanted to go in a different direction anyway, so they felt it pointless to have me on board... Pointless to have the creator of your property on board... 



They began cobbling together ideas for CONTRACTED 2 and even asked what ideas I came up with versus what ideas Mercer came up with while we developed the sequel together... In blunt terms, which ideas can we try and use without paying for?

It was like being in a break up where your ex was constantly coming over to your house and asking if you still wanted the toaster after you're sitting in an empty apartment already. They owned the property CONTRACTED and now that I had passed on being involved, they were doing what they wanted with it... The company that "would be lucky to break even", that took the plane ticket to the World Premiere as payment for their work on the film... Those guys now freely owned that thing they thought wouldn't make them any money and make more of them without me because it did, in fact, make them money... SHOW BUSINESS.

Hollywood kids! Ain't it glamorous?

I was contacted by several friends and filmmakers that I greatly respect asking me why the guys from BoulderLight were asking them to pitch for CONTRACTED 2... I explained to them that I wasn't involved and they all agreed they wouldn't be either. Some of the initial crew members asked the same and pledged loyalty. Some took the job. I'd be lying if it didn't hurt at first, but ultimately I understood... People need to eat and pay bills... And a job is a job. 

On day 3 of production on GET THE GIRL, I got a phone call from one of the biggest agencies in town saying they just got the script to CONTRACTED 2 and they would be sending me materials to review for actors... Even one of my lead actors was asked to be in the film while they were on the set of GET THE GIRL... It was like I had my identity stolen. People internally were calling it "the sequel to Eric England's Contracted", thus muddying the waters to as if I was involved or not and leading people to believe that I was... It was awful.

I would see photo updates on Instagram and Facebook of people shooting the film, which was beyond weird. I saw things that made my skin crawl, that didn't match the tone/aesthetic... But that wasn't for me to decide... Not anymore.

After the dust settled, I was sent a private link to the film. Upon watching the film I was met with a mashup of conflicting emotions... Happiness to see my characters on the screen, confusion by the new characters, new choices that were being made, things that were being said, laughter at some of the effective gags and humor... But the one that hit home the worst was just knowing someone took what I created and changed it without me. It was like watching someone color over your childhood drawings or in more extreme terms... raise your child without you. 

I later saw Josh Forbes, the director at a bar and we had a beer and chatted. Super nice guy and he explained how he was brought on to the project very last minute (after a few other directors dropped out). Mercer had decided not to direct, so the seat became open. More than anything, I was upset to learn Forbes initially had a different idea for the film, as did the writer and essentially what made it to the screen was a mash-up of ideas the producers came up with (tip-toeing around ideas I gave them), mixed with parts of the script Craig wrote and ideas Josh had... Which is why in an interview I stated that the film felt disjointed and not cohesive. 

Forbes, from my understanding, didn't love the first film so he wanted to make something very different. Craig, the writer, actually did enjoy the film and wanted to stay a little more faithful to it while the producers wanted to "make a midnight movie".



I wish at least they would have been able to make the ideas they initially had. As a filmmaker that strives to have an original voice in my films, I wish my property was being used as a spring board for emerging talent to use to their advantage, rather than become a money-driven sequel machine. Even Darren Bousman was given the opportunity to make SAW II his own, with the blessing of James Wan and CONTRACTED is nothing near the success the SAW franchise is.

At the end of the day, the sequel is what it is... They made their film and I made mine. But it would be easier to digest if I was a director for hire and not the originator of the idea.

As a young filmmaker back in Arkansas with dreams of making a movie that would be in theaters or creating a "franchise", I would have loved to know that there was a sequel in theaters to a film I created... But now that there actually is, it's not the feeling, or the scenario surrounding it that I hoped it would be. In fact, the premiere of the film happened last night and I didn't even get an invite, not that I even wanted one... But how unceremoniously CONTRACTED was taken from me and how swiftly I was excluded from its continuation is enough to knock some of the sparkle off the idea of being a "working filmmaker". 

So let this be a lesson to you filmmakers out there that are excited to make your films and work with your friends... Always protect your integrity and stand up for what you believe is fair. At the end of the day it may be all you have.

Best Wishes To You All,
-Eric England

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Getting The Girl: Part I

FINALLY.

 I've been excited to sit down and chronicle the last few months of my life in this blog for quite some time. But as is the case with most things, finding the free moments in my life is difficult. Especially when we're talking about digging through the files in my brain to remember what's happened. And if I do happen to have the time, usually I just want to veg out and relax. Or be social with the people I've been putting off for months. It's a rigorous cycle of lots of work and little play... But it's my life and I'm in love with it. It's the life I chose and it's finally paying off.

Last post was about how I was starting over. It was time to readjust some things in my life. CONTRACTED came out and was a smashing success. I signed with a new agent. I started fielding offers to write and direct new films (If my mind serves me correctly, I had 8 new and most importantly REAL offers within the first 6ish months of the new year -- that was a new experience for me). 
My junior year in high school.

I was ready to get back on the horse. But A LOT happened after I typed "Publish" on that last article... A LOT. 

Picking up from April, it had been roughly a year and a half since shooting CONTRACTED and I needed to get back behind the camera. I was jonesing. But I knew I had to be careful. You've probably heard me say this before but Hollywood is a lot like high school. Your momentum and popularity are just as important as the films you make. So I couldn't just put my name on anything and go shoot it.

THE SIRENS ultimately hit a couple of bumps in the financing and we decided to push the film. I began revisiting other projects, whether they were my own or ones being offered to me. It took a while of digging through crap to try and find gold until I finally started doing what I should have done in the first place... Trust my gut.

That began when I decided to start working with my new manager, Marc Manus.

Manus had been in my life for quite some time. We met a couple of years back when I connected with his client TJ Cimfel (ridiculously talented writer and incredible human being) - who recently wrote part of V/H/S: VIRAL and his upcoming film SHUT IN (more on that one in a second). TJ wrote a screenplay called BENEATH (retitled to HELLBENT) and I fell in love with it. Over the years of trying to get that produced, we all kept in touch and I even suggested a few clients and made some connections to Manus when I could. He graciously did the same and we got along famously. We met for the first time, in person, at FEARTASTIC in Palm Springs:


Nov 2013. From Left to Right: Bradley Sullivan (Director of I DIDN'T COME HERE TO DIE), ADAM SCHINDLER (Director of SHUT IN), Marc Manus (Manager of the two hooligans next to him), Hillbilly from Arkansas, John Pata (Director of DEAD WEIGHT) and Adrian Garcia Bogliano (Director of LATE PHASES/HERE COMES THE DEVIL)

While in Arkansas (April-May 2014), several things happened: CONTRACTED came out on DVD. SIRENS cooled off. I was approached about directing 4 potential new films and I was moving across the country... Again. Except I was already living in LA. This time, it was my girlfriend.

In the midst of all of this, my buddy Eric Fleischman (lovely person and extremely talented storyteller/producer) reached out to me about doing a movie together as well. I instantly told him about a screenplay TJ had written called SHUT IN. It was an amazing script I had sent to producers in the past and had even gotten it optioned. I really wanted to make this movie. More importantly, I wanted to work with TJ. SHUT IN was contained. It was unique. It was awesome. Everything I was looking for in a next film. Fleischman read it and loved it and we were off to the races. We reached out to Manus about getting the rights to the screenplay and everything seemed like it could be smooth sailing. But I forgot one of the first rules in the book surrounding making movies...


NOTHING EVER GOES THE WAY YOU PLAN.

As I was digitally location scouting and planning on cast, crew, etc to shoot a movie in a couple of months, I was informed that the financier didn't obtain the rights to the screenplay. When asked where they were now?

IT WAS SOLD.

"Excuse me?" 

"Manus sold it to the producers of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D and INSIDIOUS



....................................................................

Speechless. We were outbid. To Manus' credit, he did the best thing for his client (which wasn't me at the time) and I found out the person to direct the film was also a client of his. A great guy, in fact, Adam Schindler (co-writer/producer of DELIVERY) would be making his directorial debut with it. Ironically, I had just seen Adam at the LITTLE ROCK HORROR PICTURE SHOW just weeks earlier in Arkansas. Hollywood is small like that. 

I was back at square one. I was a little upset. But I understood. I decided to focus my attention on the move. My agent and (former) manager were ready for me to get to LA. I had been gone, planning to make SIRENS, and just stayed in Arkansas for roughly two months. The next couple of months flew by quickly. It was Summer. We traveled. We moved (twice, in fact, because we didn't like the first place we got together in LA). We traveled some more. Lots of travel.

Upon finally planting new roots in LA, I started to take meetings. I started to seriously look for the next thing. The heavens smiled upon me when my old manager called to tell me a screenplay had just been sent to him and they were interested in hearing my thoughts on it. 

"Great, what is it?", I asked.

"It's a dark comedy. It's edgy. Kind of romantic. There's a star attached. It's her passion project." 

Fuck yes. All things I wanted to hear. Send it over!

"...They start shooting in five weeks."

"HUH?"

"Well, I think their director dropped and they need a replacement. Someone read the script and saw that the main story had to do with sex and they said 'you need to call Eric England, he's the 'sex guy'". 

Great. That's my reputation. Could be worse, I guess.


I mulled it over for a few days. Could I jump on a new film that fast? Especially one I didn't write? With a new crew that's not my own? Would they let me tweak things? Would I HAVE TIME to tweak things? I finally decided to read the script and was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed a lot of what I read and the things I wanted to change would be minimal. I could do this... I said let's take the meeting. This would be my "rebound bang". You know, like when you have your heart broken and you go fill that gaping flesh wound with a one-night (or several night), drunken romp in the sack? This would be that for me, cinematically speaking. But what did I say just a few moments earlier?
NOTHING EVER GOES THE WAY YOU PLAN.

"Actually... They don't want to take the meeting."

I was dumbfounded. "What?! Why not?!"

"Well, they watched CONTRACTED and don't think you can handle the humor of their film..."

It was as simple as that. They put me in a box. Hollywood does that. In fact, they WANT that. People want to know what you do so they can keep tabs on you. If you do something different, they feel like they can't pin you down. They can't "brand" you. But that IS my brand! I'm versatile! I can do different things! I WANT to do different things. At least, I don't want to make movies like the ones I already have before. That's all I ask!

That was the end of it. I never got a response. Only that they didn't think I could handle the humor. I didn't get a meeting. I didn't get to talk with them about my ideas. They hired a director and began filming just as they said they would. From the looks of the social media presence, the film is going well. I'm happy for them :)

This is the film.
After that, I decided it was time to get to work for myself. I needed a representative (manager) that would fight for me. This film had slipped through my fingers like Leo drifting away into the ocean at the end of TITANIC. I needed someone that was gonna make room for me on that fucking piece of wood! Especially if that piece of wood was going to be outside the horror genre. I needed a fighter. So I parted ways with my previous manager and started the hunt. 

Mark, my agent at Gersh, was extremely helpful and supportive. He set me up with some incredible managers and I threw some names into the hat as well. I took meeting after meeting and looked at client lists... This was a very important decision for me. 

In June, Eric Fleischman (who, thankfully, is a workaholic like myself) got to work on his next film after SHUT IN fell through and invited me to the set. That film is called RECOVERY. I met with him and the other producers and they mentioned that they'd like to make a film with me. Whatever I wanted.

"What are you looking to do?", they asked.

Probably the scariest question that can be asked to a young writer/director. What DO I want to do? Should I do something new? Should I stick with what I know?! After the SHUT IN incident and THE ESCORT, I didn't want to do something I didn't write. I wanted something I KNEW I would own the rights to. Something I KNEW would happen. I wanted to write something specifically for them and make this something new and exciting. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to try something I hadn't done before. I told them I didn't want to do something people expected from me... They asked "What do you have?"

That's when I realized I completely just lied because I didn't own the rights to what I wanted to do, but I told them about it anyway... It was a story called GET THE GIRL.

GET THE GIRL was a movie idea that had been pitched to me by my buddy Graham Denman, a talented actor, director, musician, etc... He mentioned it to me shortly after CONTRACTED and I instantly fell in love with it. At the time, Graham really wanted to make it as a slasher film in the woods and he was planning on it being his directorial debut. Kind of a SCREAM meets CABIN IN THE WOODS type of film. Very smart. Very witty. The pitch stuck with me always. I could see the movie in my head. I kept adding my own stuff to it. The best part? I saw it as several different films. This idea could be taken in a ton of directions and if I was ever to do something like it -- it would have to be different from anything I've ever done.


The crazy man behind the idea for GET THE GIRL.
It came out instinctively when they asked. I didn't have time to react. The first thing I said was "GET THE GIRL". They looked at me like "what's that?" I had no idea. 

I had never pitched it to anyone else. Why would I? Graham wanted to direct it. I just fantasized about what I would do with that cool of an idea... I just knew the logline that Graham had pitched me: "Kid kidnaps the love of his life in order to 'save her life' and look like a hero. But when one of the fake kidnappers is accidentally killed, they're actually forced to fight for their lives... While he tries to not reveal that he set her up from the very beginning".

They loved it. They thought it was brilliant. I kept explaining to them how I wanted to do it like a really dark-comedy/crime-thriller. It would still be bloody. It would still be violent and thrilling. But it would be funny! That's something I haven't done in the feature world... Funny! I've been dying to do something funny! And especially after the situation with THE ESCORT, I had to prove to people I could do it.

I kept waiting for them to be put off by the fact that it wasn't a genre film, but they weren't. They loved it. I kept detailing films that I wanted the film to be like, tonally: FARGO. SCREAM. KISS KISS BANG BANG. TRUE ROMANCE. 

They had no idea what the movie was going to be like, they just knew I was excited about it... Hell, I was excited to see it! The movie I saw in my head was the kind of movie I'd always dreamed of making! And now, having a tad more confidence in my own abilities as a storyteller, thanks to CONTRACTED, I felt I could tackle this. GET THE GIRL would be weird... But somehow, it would work, I think. CONTRACTED was that strange moment where you realize your own brand of "weird" or your unique sense of humor makes other people laugh. I didn't have to be a closet weirdo anymore. I could just be me. People seemed to be into that. And being "me" meant stepping into new territory and making something different... AGAIN. Taking something familiar and doing it in a way we haven't seen before.

But as soon as I told them the idea, I said:

"We have to get Graham on board. It's his story."

It was his idea. It was his baby. I had no idea if he'd even let me have it and direct it! I just knew I had this incredible movie in my head and if I could make it, I would do anything I could to see it come to life!

The discussions started the next day. As I said, Eric moves fast -- as do I, which is why we work well together. Within days, we sat down to meet with Graham. The meeting went famously. Graham was ecstatic. I laid out a few small details of how I wanted to take the material in this different direction and everyone got excited. I had no idea if I could do it... I just knew I had this version in my head. Who knows if it was a full movie or just a trailer on repeat. Either way, we all walked away from that meeting shaking hands and saying "LET'S MAKE A MOVIE".


A couple of weeks later, I had decided on a manager. After weeks of meetings and calls, my agent and I decided Manus was the best fit for what I was trying to do. The deciding factor? Versatility. Marc told me everything I wanted to hear about where I wanted my career to go without any prompting from me. He loved my versatility. He wanted me to play in other genres and encouraged me to be weird and keep my unique voice. He WANTED me to be a writer/director and thinks I have something to say as a storyteller. That vote of confidence meant a lot and was the push I needed, combined with the support and reinforcement of those thoughts by my agent to tackle something new and exciting... To tackle something that I WROTE (something I was a little questionable on for a long time)... something like GET THE GIRL.

During the first initial "sit down" that I had at Gersh with "The Marx" as I call them (Marc Manus, my manager, and Mark Hartogsohn, my agent), we started to discuss what I should do next. I told them I think that GET THE GIRL was actually going to happen... I just needed to get the rights and bang out a screenplay I was happy with.

They looked at me with a blank stare of confusion... Then to each other. Then back to me.

"What is GET THE GIRL?"

Holy shit. I never told them about it!



I instantly went into the pitch and about halfway through, I started to get nervous. I'm horrible at pitching. I'm extremely passionate and I see the film in my head, but I ramble... A lot. I go on tangents. But I tried to keep this concise. By the end of my one minute explosion of pitching GET THE GIRL, they looked to me and said "why did you not bring this to us?!"

Within moments, they gave it their blessing. They were nervous because my pitch was so scattered. Everyone was. But I assured them... "You'll understand when you read it!"

I HOPE.



TO BE CONTINUED...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Starting Over

Wow. It's been over a year since my last update. I just re-read the last entry to see what's different and how things have changed... 

It's crazy, the difference a year makes.
 
To be completely open and honest (which is why I have this online diary), last year was one of the roughest of my life. Financially, it was awful. Emotionally, it was draining. Professionally, it was daunting. I felt like I lost my spark. My passion. After the last blog entry, the summer came and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. 

I had started writing a film with a friend of mine that I was to direct at the end of the summer. I was focusing all of my attention on that, desperate to get my next film off the ground. CONTRACTED was preparing to play festivals, but nothing major was happening with it at the time. I was terrified that it was going to tank and I needed to get my next film going immediately in case it did... I was doing something that you should never do as an artist: 

I was forcing it.
   
I was trying to force something out of me and creatively, I was hitting a block everywhere I turned. I couldn't write. I couldn't come up with solutions. Like I said above, I was drained. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and do something I had never done before, but had always wanted to.. a music video. A purely visual exercise. Something to shake my brain loose and reboot my creative juices. I started searching around for bands looking to do a music video and stumbled across the incredibly eccentric group: 
THE WEEKEND PILOTS.

A comedy trio with a crazy unique style and a solid foundation of folks around them. When I heard their song and their idea, I instantly connected and had to do the video. It was unlike anything I had done before and it was comedy! Something I had always wanted to direct. These guys were great. Cool dudes, super talented, extremely driven and they had tons of energy. This is what we made together:



To say I had a blast is an understatement. Watch the video. There's no way you can make that and not have fun... But something still wasn't right with me. I still didn't have that spark. It was kind of like getting a bite when you need a meal. I started focusing my efforts on trying to get another feature going again. I needed to get back to my roots.

I locked myself away and started writing on a new script... For 10 days I pounded away. During this time, CONTRACTED had already sold to IFC and was awaiting a release date. It was exciting and fueling my passion to get behind the camera as soon as possible.

But once again, I hit a wall. 



I was forcing it again. Writing a story I wasn't really passionate about. Trying to make a film simply because I wanted to make a film. It was almost as if I needed to purge and just get it out of my system. I was terrified whatever I did next was going to be awful (probably fueled by the fear that I thought CONTRACTED was going to be awful). I couldn't get anyone to return my calls. No offers were coming in. No one wanted to make a movie with me. I had no representation at the moment (I had left my manager) and I couldn't write. Depression was setting in. 

As is with almost everything in life, there are ups and downs. In the midst of my major down, I tried to ride it out. My "up", so to speak, came when a DP friend of mine told me he was getting ready to shoot a comedy and the film just lost its Director. While sitting in front of him at a bar, being the incredible guy that he is, he e-mailed the producer and had me a meeting with the producer at 11am the next morning. The downside to this? It was about midnight, we were 2 drinks in and the meeting was over an hour away from where I lived.

Fuck it. I need this. My friend told me the script sucked, but the film was a much bigger budget than I had ever worked with and it was a COMEDY (!). I had been wanting to try something outside the horror genre and not to mention, I've been wanting to direct something I didn't write. Hell, I wanted to do anything at this point. 

I took the meeting and was offered the job on the spot. My DP was right -- the script sucked. It needed major work. A complete re-write if we're being honest. But I didn't care. I was willing to do the work. I was willing to bust my ass. This is what I needed!  

I had been offered a movie

Emergency pre-production started immediately. While I was re-writing the script and going to casting sessions with my casting director, sets were being built and the crew was being hired. It was full steam ahead and I couldn't have been happier. I was working again. I had a purpose. 


I even wore a jelly backpack to the production office!
About a week into pre-production, I had re-written the screenplay from page 1 and turned it into something we could be proud of. My casting director had sent out the original pages to talent agents around town and every agency said "what the hell is this shit?!". When I turned over the new draft, he received calls from agents thanking him for such "great material" (their words, not mine), saying they would gladly send this to their clients. "This is a film they would WANT their clients to be in", he said. I was proud. For the first time in a long time, I was happy. I was in my element. I as working. I was creating. I felt worthy of something again. Even though that's bad and I shouldn't base my worth on others opinions (it's hard, I know)... I was happy.

That's when things got bad...

The producer was having a tough time deciding which teenage heartthrob he wanted to star in the film, which made the people writing the checks nervous to spend more money without a "star". My casting director and I were being realistic with the talent selections based on our budget, but the producer wasn't. With less than three weeks til shooting, we needed a cast and we needed it soon. We saw every Twilight kid and TV star you can imagine, but the shoot date was pushed.. and then pushed again. I was tagging along with the film as CONTRACTED was picking up steam. It had been invited to SITGES and I was invited to attend the premiere. The problem?

The premiere conflicted with my shoot dates. 

I told the producer I needed a few days to break the schedule so I could attend. He obliged and I thought things would be fine from there... But nothing is ever fine in Hollywood, nor that easy. The producer gave me an ultimatum after he talked to the investor. Either leave the film and go to Sitges or stay on the film and miss the trip.

Since the film had pushed twice already and I had no confidence in it being shot on time, I bowed out of the film. Sets were being built, they were using my script (which I hadn't been fully paid for yet) and were hiring my crew members. It was a tough call, but I knew I had made the right decision. 

(Side note: That film hired another director and was ultimately never shot.)

Leaving behind the Comedy, I was able to fulfill a promise to a dear friend and collaborator, Brad Douglas (whom I met on ROADSIDE). Earlier in the year, I had been asked to write a short screenplay called THE SETTLING by Brad for him to produce and he had also asked me to direct. I told him I would if my schedule allowed, which at that time it wasn't because of the Comedy Feature. Once that freed up, I was able to go to Oregon, where Brad lived, and shoot the short... 

That would be the turning point to my 2013 and one of the best experiences of my life.

Upon arrival, I fell head over heels in love with the state of Oregon and the people I was with. We were shooting all day and partying all night. Sharing stories, bonding, drinking, dancing -- it was incredible. 


The shoot was one of the best I've ever had the pleasure of being on and being behind the camera again, telling a story was exactly what I needed. I was in my element. I was at peace. It was beautiful beyond belief and after day two I was informed that Brad had secured financing to make my next feature, THE SIRENS...


Upon wrapping THE SETTLING, I was on my way to Spain for the World Famous SITGES Film Festival. Not only was it massive accomplishment for myself as a filmmaker, and a huge honor, but it was my first time leaving the Unite States. I had a goal for myself: that I wouldn't leave the country for the first time unless it was to shoot a movie or show a movie. 

Mission accomplished. I couldn't have been more excited.

The moment I set foot in the hotel in Spain (the main theater was also in this hotel), I was bombarded by dozens of local movie goers, seeking autographs and pictures. It was one of the most bizarre and falttering experiences of my life. I hadn't even set my bag down yet.


The next few days were filled with press interviews, parties, screening, drinking, lots of laughs, fun and memories made with incredible filmmakers and friends, including Joe Begos (ALMOST HUMAN), Zack Parker and Kristina Klebe (PROXY), Victor Garcia (GALLOWS HILL) E-Kan Soong and Katie Stegeman (CONTRACTED). Eli Roth even kinda blew me off when I went to say "Hi" in the green room before his premiere of THE GREEN INFERNO!

Regardless, Sitges is a beautiful place, filled with amazing people and lots of energy. The entire town transformed into a mecca for genre films. Fans from all over the world came to this place just to see these movies. I was terrified that no one would want to see CONTRACTED, unsure of how big our "presence" was since we were just a little film that didn't have a lot of buzz going into this screening. 

Boy, was I wrong...

My view, introducing the film
Roughly 600 people showed up to experience our little film. There was a line around the theater, clogging the narrow streets of the main village. I was drinking like a sailor to calm my nerves. This was the first time I had seen the film with a real audience... Not to mention, it was a foreign audience. "Would they get the jokes", I thought? "What if something doesn't translate"? "What if the subtitles say the wrong thing"? Every worse case scenario was going through my mind, but something happened during the film... 

They started cheering... And... Clapping... They started cringing and yelling! 

...And by the end of the film, they presented us with an amazing standing ovation...

I was overwhelmed with emotion. Words simply can't describe the feeling I had. I wish I could bottle it and open it to revisit whenever I'm in doubt. At that moment, everything I had ever endured was worth it. I thought for sure, it couldn't get any better than this...


Sitges started the whirlwind tour of showing CONTRACTED at festivals across the World. The next stop was Chicago for a brief night of showing the film, doing a Q&A, seeing friends, eating great food and drinking a whole lot of alcohol. It was a blast. Chicago is a fond memory on my timeline known as life. I can't wait to spend more than 24 hours there sometime ;)


After Chicago, I was off to Mexico for the PENUMBRA FILM FESTIVAL to show the film in Monterrey. Once again, I had no idea what to expect. Another country I had never been to. A culture I was unfamiliar with, not to mention, a language I didn't speak. I was excited because this was to be the longest stay of my trips. I was to be in Mexico for almost a week. So it was either going to be a fulfilling experience or an excruciatingly long trip. Thankfully, Mexico is one of the fondest memories I have.

I was delighted to hear that I would be sharing the experience with fellow director and Arkansas Film Festival alum, Chad Crawford Kinkle - director of JUG FACE. So at least I wouldn't be alone on this journey. Upon arriving in Mexico, before leaving the airport, I was presented with a bottle of tequila. I knew this adventure was going to be interesting...


The hotel we were staying in had an open bar and the tour guide bought us alcohol to drink while we were riding around, touring the city... Mexicans love to drink. I dug it. Not only was this a film festival, but Adrian and Carlos, the founders of the festival, are hardcore genre fans and proud citizens of their city (not to mention, Adrian has a badass VHS collection!). We got an exclusive look at what the city has to offer, the food and the culture. At times, we almost forgot we were there to show our films! It was so unique and exciting. Chad and I are pretty big wrestling fans from back in the day and wrestling is HUGE in Mexico, so we got to see a wrestling match, meet some actual wrestlers and see films about the culture. We toured museums, took a tour of the canals and even hiked to a waterfall! Not something you expect on a trip to a film festival -- but that's exactly how this experience was... Unlike any other!


The locals loved the festival and were true genre fans. Everyone was so passionate, it was infectious. I fell in love with the people and the place. Adrian and Carlos are incredible people and I hope to be visiting Monterrey for many years to come. :)


Oh yeah, CONTRACTED took home two awards for 
BEST FILM and MOST EXTREME FILM!


Coming home from Mexico was bittersweet. Partially because I knew it meant my tour was coming to an end. I had been to two different countries and four different places that I had never been in less than a month. It was insane, traveling around the world, but somehow, it felt normal. This was my life. It was the life I wanted. The life I had been working for. Subconsciously, I was embracing it and powering through. 

The next stop was Palm Springs. This was a particularly special film festival because it was programmed by my friend and incredibly talented filmmaker, Bradley Sullivan. He directed the awesome indie film I DIDN'T COME HERE TO DIE and helped me make the very first TRICK OR TREATER short film. He's an all around great guy and I was honored to be part of his festival. 

They set us up at this swanky Hard Rock Hotel in Palm Springs and had a killer line-up that included DEAD WEIGHT, DELIVERY and HERE COMES THE DEVIL... None of which I had seen, but was extremely excited to! The filmmakers were some of the sweetest people I've ever met. Some of the nicest guys in the business and truly talented artists. We all bonded well, drank and geeked out over each others films... The way it should be!

From Left to Right: Bradley Sullivan, Adam Schindler (Writer/Producer of Delivery: The Beast Within), Marc Manus (Manager and Co-Producer of Delivery), Myself, John Pata (Director of Dead Weight) and Adrian Bogliano (Director of Here Comes The Devil)
The screening of CONTRACTED was a particularly nerve-wracking one because a lot of the people involved with the film made the drive from LA to Palm Springs to see the film. So this would be their first experience with it. By this time, the new poster had been released and the film was starting to pick up buzz due to the reviews coming out of the festivals. 

The release was looming.


After the last festival, which I now realize was actually Penumbra, in Mexico - (but I'm too lazy to rearrange the stories - that's how much of a blur my life was) - there was a bit of a lull in the excitement. But it wasn't another depression. It was a stillness. 

Like the calm before the storm.

IFC began to send out the film for reviews and theaters were booking the film to play... I had to geek out several times over the fact that my film was actually going to be in theaters... 

The reviews out of the gate were very positive. With every film I make, I'm fully aware that it won't please everyone and in fact, I prepare for it to divide audiences. That's just the type of films I make. People either love them or hate them. But I wasn't expecting the response it got from the places it did...


The LA Times, the NY Times and even Howard Stern were giving CONTRACTED a thumbs up... People all across the country were talking about this weird little STD film. On iTunes, it debuted in the top 5 and sat there for a couple of weeks. IFC told us they were extremely happy with the response and somewhat surprised that it was doing so well. No one was more surprised than me.


The night of the premiere was probably one of the three best nights of my life. Hundreds of people gathered to sell out the Downtown Independent theater in LA to see CONTRACTED for the first time. They laughed, they cringed, they screamed, they gasped. It was a night I'll never forget and I'm eternally thankful for every one that showed up.

During the showing, a young man no more than sixteen came up to me while in the lobby grabbing a drink and told me how much he was loving the film and how he was going to tell his friends. I'll never forget that moment and how it revealed to me the "word of mouth" power CONTRACTED was about to have.

The day after the premiere of CONTRACTED, I was asked to go to lunch by an agent at THE GERSH AGENCY. He had been tracking the film and was put in touch by a mutual friend we had. I was talking to several other agents at the time and wasn't sure what was going to happen. I've had bad luck with reps in the past in all facets of interaction. I've been told to "fuck off" by more agents than I care to admit. But this agent met with me on his day off, the day after my film premiered and was genuinely enthusiastic about my career and where I was headed. After lunch, we shook hands and agreed to be in touch about potentially working together in the next week or so. I had no idea if I'd ever hear from him again. I thought for sure this weekend was going to be the peak of the excitement.

The next day I was on my way to Oregon to begin scouting locations and writing my next feature film, THE SIRENS.

At the time, THE SIRENS hadn't been announced yet. It was still in the infant stages of being made and we were quietly at work on making it a reality. I locked myself away in my bedroom and began to write... Or try to write...


Completely worn out from the whirlwind travel, the excitement of the release and the constant distractions of reviews, celebrations and everything else -- writing was the last thing on my mind. In fact, it was in Oregon, with Brad (a major Howard Stern fan) that I was awoken to the celebration of he and Robin Quivers talking about CONTRACTED on the air! We were in utter shock and disbelief. This was happening. People were talking about the film. MY FILM! Howard Fucking Stern, no less! I think we had alcohol for breakfast that day. It was that cool.

About a week later, I received a call from Gersh. They wanted to represent me. I remember the sensation in my body -- the tingling. I didn't know what this would mean, but I knew it was a step in the right direction. Every young filmmaker wants that Hollywood agent to hold the door open and allow them into the castle... I was hoping this was my first step toward that. I instantly agreed and told my manager that I didn't want to meet with any other agents. 

I had found the one I wanted.


Over the next few weeks, the first thing we did was focus on "what's next". Everyone in Hollywood is all about "what's next"... And I honestly had no idea. I knew I was writing THE SIRENS and about 40 pages deep into my first draft. But I wanted to know what THEY HAD. That's the idea, right? Someone comes on board and brings you potential projects? Hollywood has all these films just waiting for someone to write or direct? Not exactly. 

We had tons of meetings lined up. A lot of people wanted to meet me. It was weird. I've spent the last few years sending blind e-mails to studios, companies, execs, producers and now -- all those very same people want to meet with ME. The people who told me I "wasn't ready" or my movie "wasn't good enough", now were wanting to meet with me. Contracted had everything to do with it, I understood -- but in my mind, CONTRACTED was in no way a "hit". It didn't open in 1,500 screens. It didn't make $40M at the box office. It didn't premiere at a major film festival like TIFF, SXSW or Sundance... What was the deal?

Well, apparently people were talking about it...


I was getting calls from all kinds of people: producers, agents, creative execs, crew members, etc. saying that someone they knew was talking about CONTRACTED. One of the first meetings I took was at a company on the Disney lot and the executive told me "you're part of pop culture now -- everyone is talking about this 'CONTRACTED' movie!". I was floored. Seriously? She even brought in another exec from the office because he was such a fan. He sat in on the entire meeting, even though he was in the TV department and not part of this meeting. We geeked out over movies and had a blast.

The numbers on the private link to the film that my agent had to send out were going up and up. Executives were "favoriting" the link to send to other people and colleagues. Random e-mails were coming in from companies, directly to me, saying they had seen my film or it was referred to them and they loved it. They wanted to meet with me.

Projects were being sent to me to consider. The first film I was offered was a film about a possessed Sex Doll (I'm not kidding). There was a screenplay in place that I wasn't happy with and I was offered to re-write and direct. I entertained the film for a couple of weeks, but ultimately turned it down to focus on THE SIRENS. I could barely write one film at the moment, let alone two.

This began the trend of taking focus away from the script I really wanted to make to entertain the idea of jumping on something already moving. A lot of those films revolved around sex or body horror... Imagine that.

The grass is always greener, right?

My agent and I would discuss projects and he would encourage me to decline. I was flabbergasted. DECLINE?! I needed money. I wanted to work. But now, there was a bigger picture. A career to look out for. A future. A brand. "An Eric England Film". It was all becoming real. The stories I had heard from my friends.

All through January, I was pushing hard for certain projects and ultimately losing out, or declining. Remakes, sequels, adaptations, found footage films, you name it. I was looking at the material and either meeting on it or being turned down. It was an odd process, but educational and very humbling. I wasn't getting anything going. I was either pushing projects to shoot when they weren't ready or the execs didn't think I was right for the film. The one thing it made me realize, which I already knew, was that Hollywood moved slow. My agent moved fast, which I really liked, but your agent can only push the project so far. Past that point, it's a loose end... And I wasn't a fan.

Thankfully, I had a brief stop in my home state of Arkansas to show CONTRACTED at the brand new Ron Robinson theater in Little Rock. I even got to bring Najarra along :)


The biggest distraction I had at the time was a remake that I really wanted, but ultimately came in second place on. That was a rough one. I was in the running for months. I had meetings, I made pitches, I took calls. I loved the material. I loved the producers, but ultimately, there were other heads at the table that had more power. That's just part of the process. But I pushed hard for that one and got damn close. Can't be too sad about that.

Picking myself up, I focused on the films I could control. The ones I could push forward on MYSELF. It was time to get proactive. That's what's always worked for me in the past. I FINISHED the screenplay for THE SIRENS and told the producers I was ready to go into production when they were. While they assembled the financing, I started to look for something to keep myself busy. I started pursuing some side projects for Southern Fried Films to produce for new/young directors, I started reading new material for myself to potentially direct and started writing my first "represented" screenplays that my agent would take out to studios.


Writing for "fun" was something that was new to me. I've always written because the film was going to get made. There was money there and we needed a script. But now, it's to put into the system... That's been an interesting hurdle to get over.

In March, something crept up out of nowhere: CONTRACTED came out on DVD and Netflix. Having experience with MADISON COUNTY, I was prepared for the wave of exposure that Netflix brings, but I was not prepared for the massive response that it would garner. I'm sure Netflix is much more popular now than it was 2 years ago, but the response to CONTRACTED on Netflix has been staggering to say the least.

Fan art, comments, blogs, vlogs, re-enactments, people with T-shirts, it's insane.


I actively interact on Twitter (@eric_england) and I'm constantly blown away by the amount of people that are talking about CONTRACTED on the internet. It's truly reached all corners of the Earth and it's finding some of the most incredible people along the way. I've gained new friends, made some "celebrity" connections and I've even had new movie offers from producers who have seen the film. It's really opened my eyes to the power of the small screen.

As for now... We're almost to May and I still haven't made my next movie. As someone who went from making 3 films in 3 years to not making a movie for almost 2, it's been tough. But I'm learning now that it takes time to make great films. With each film, I'm striving to do better and break new ground. I can't rush like I used to. I have to be more selective with my films and want to make them work for the audiences as much as they do for myself, no matter how bad I want to work. 

I understand that the bar has been raised and I'm beginning a new chapter in my life... And my career. I have to do things differently and most importantly, better. And I'm excited for that challenge. And I remember where I was before this challenge was presented to me.

In a lot of ways, it's like starting over. Each film is like living a new life. You dream up the idea, you give birth to it and then you release it into the World. It's no longer yours. It's everyone else's. So it's time to start a new life and this is the beginning of mine. Life after CONTRACTED. 

I'm excited to see where this one goes.