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.
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!|
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.