Interview: FrightFest Festival founder Alan Jones

FrightFest Presents

The 15th Film4 Frightfest on 22/08/2014 at The VUE West End, London.  Persons pictured:  Alan Jones. Picture by Julie Edwards
 Alan Jones. Picture by Julie Edwards

Mark Bartlett at Close-Up Film interviewed FrightFest Festival founder Alan Jones, who has just launched the new FrightFest Presents distribution label to VOD. The initial six titles (AAAAH!, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB, SAND, AFTERDEATH, SOME KIND OF HATE and ESTRANGED) are on on itunes now and have been carefully created to appeal to horror aficionados.
Mark: First I wanted to thank you for putting on a great FrightFest. I think I got to see more films this year than I ever got to see at any of the previous ones I’ve been to. I though the line-up was really strong.
Alan: Good
Mark: The timing’s really good actually, because I’ve just finished watching AFTERDEATH just now, and…
Alan: What’d you think?
Mark: Erm, it has really, really giant ideas. It’s gone to a place in the last ten minutes where the stakes are really really huge. And there’s a minute or two left to go and I’m not sure how it’s going to end. Really, really big ideas for such a low budget.
Alan: Yeah I really liked it. We liked it because we thought for the budget, it looked great. And the acting was good, and the ideas were terrific. I just love the whole idea of them being sort of fantasy versions of themselves. You know what I mean? I thought that was such a nice, a neat way of putting that across. I thought that was really well done. I like those guys a lot. The AFTERDEATH people were really amazing. As soon as we offered, we asked if we could have the movie for our FrightFest Presents label. You know, they didn’t have to think about it too long, they just said yeah. People have really gone for it. They’ve been our supporters as much as we’ve supported them so I’m really pleased.
Mark: Are you involved with any of the films at their inception at the label, or are they just coming to you fully formed?
Alan: No, none of them at all. That might change of course. Literally, my only meddling in that area, is sometimes I go on location for these films. I actually report on them for various outlets. I often say ‘Ooh, this looks good, can you make sure FrightFest sees it first?’ so we can show it, they always say yes. but that’s actually my only involvement in it.
Mark: So, you’ve been doing FrightFest for a number of years now.
Alan: Sixteen!
Mark: What’s prompted you and your partner to start the label now?
Alan: It’s an idea we’ve had, and it’s kind of stuttered over a couple of years. We have had a few false starts on this. ICON distribution have been one of our strongest supporters since we began. Since the year 2000 when we started FrightFest they’ve always given us movies if they can. They always came to us and said ‘we’ve got this movie,
Would you like it?’ We’ve gone ‘Yes!’, they’ve really understood everything we’ve done. I’ve known everyone in the company all the way through the time. That’s rare too actually because personnel changes so much. But y’know, I love that the people involved with us at the moment have been there forever. And so we’ve got to know them while they’ve got to know us. What they basically identified was the fact that we know our stuff. We know what films work for an audience, and for a niche audience specifically. None of the films we’re dealing with on FrightFest presents could be considered mainstream. I think it’s going to be, I think it’s always going to have a cult audience. But that’s the audience we want. If one breaks out that’s fantastic. The Stephen Oram movie might ‘Aaaah!’. That’s picking up a lot of heat from a lot of people. People are really enjoying that because it’s so different, and so unusual. And so that’s the reason. Prior to FrightFest we were submitted something like 200 feature films and we do go through them. Sometimes people don’t believe me when I say that but we actually do. I don’t know how other festivals deal with it we we watch them all, all the way through. We don’t fast-forward, because you never know, something might happen halfway that changes everything. The six films we chose for FrightFest presents came about because of that selection process. We would go to ICON and say, ‘take a look at this, what do you think?’, and they would invariably come back and say ‘wow, this isn’t the sort of film we would ever deal with’, because they’re looking for things that are a bit more mainstream, y’know like IT FOLLOWS and THE GUEST, you know the type of films ICON release like THE TRANSPORTER… Those types of films. But they realised that we know our stuff when it comes to the quirky arena. As a result of that they trust us to do it. I think we’ve come up with six great titles with a wider appeal than even we expected them to have.
Mark: Well that was going to be one of my next questions, about the sheer amount of content you have to sift through. After sixteen years you must have seen hundreds, thousands of horror movies at this point? How are you able to stay so energised about the genre at this point? I’m sure it’d be nice if someone could curate for yourself sometimes?
Alan: I’ve always loved it, I’ve loved horror ever since I was a child. I’m lucky to have made this my profession and I don’t ever want to denigrate that. I know the position I’m in is a good one, and I’d never, ever abuse that position. I actually think it’s really important, and for me that’s why FrightFest works because I’m a fan as much as the rest of you. I would never want any dividing line between us and the audience. That’s not what it’s about for me, as much as I can I’m in the audience. That’s how you get to find out what people want to see and what’s going on. The film-makers appreciate that as well. As much as we’re supporting film-makers, they’re supporting us by allowing us to show their excellent work. If we can give something else back and say ‘Hey, we’ve got this new label. Would you consider being on it?’ I think it’s a whole new way of delivering product to your audience, I don’t like calling it product at all but that’s the way some distributors speak. If anything goes really well on the VOD platform, then we’ll release it as a physical item. I think AAAAH! will go that way definitely. I think that’s going to be popular and the one people will watch again and again.
Mark: Welllll, I’ve got my personal opinions on that Alan. Having seen all six films I have to say I really really loved AFTERDEATH, SAND, and particularly NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB.
Alan: Well, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB… I don’t know whether you’ve seen my intro or not but I just get so enthused about it. The Director Kyle Rankin is an old friend. Not that it would matter, if his film was terrible I would have told him trust me! But I loved this one, I thought it was so funny, so moving.
Mark: Yeah, I thought it was really charming, kind of like THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SMIDT in a lot of ways. The lead actress Maria Thayer was very funny, as was the whole cast… And I just love Ray Wise.
Alan: Yeah, I agree with you wholeheartedly. The last twenty minutes I thought were so lovely, it kind of leaves you out of breath. I just really loved it, and was really happy when Kyle told us we could have it. Yeah I really want that to break out because it’s got really wide appeal with a lot of audiences. I know it’s got horror elements, but it’s got a lot of heart and soul with it too. I’m really pleased about that one. What did you think about SAND?
Mark: SAND I just found to be fully enjoyable, I expected a creature feature and it delivered on that. But there was a twist on the concept and I just felt it was a really great execution of a simple idea.
Alan: It really was. To take a beach, and have that be the enclosed space you’re working in, I just thought it was really well done. It was the first film we thought would work for the label and it was the first film we acquired.
Mark: I saw SOME KIND OF HATE at FrightFest and really enjoyed that too. What I especially liked was that it was trying to bring back the pop icon status of the Horror baddie in (antagonist) Moira. What I’ve been looking for, for some time is a return to the larger than life characters like Freddy Kruger and Jason Vorhees. I really felt it was trying to honour that.
Alan: Yeah, true. It was the director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s intention to do that but in a more French, extreme way. I often see him at festivals and we talk about this all the time, he’s a massive fan of MARTYRS, INSIDE, FRONTIERS and stuff like that.
Mark: Me too!
Alan: He was trying to give that sort of edge to the movie and I think he succeeded. I think it’s really great. We were quite worried about that film, in that the BBFC would look at what it’s about, self-harm… I don’t know if you remember but SOUL-MATE had a bit of trouble because of that. When they passed it we were delighted of course. I’m happy you liked it because it’s one of my particular favourites. I’d like to see it continue. Adam’s doing about 300 different movies at the moment but I’d like to see him return to that character. It’s done very very well in America.
Mark: You must be delighted with how AAAAH! is doing? Lots of people are talking about it.
Alan: It’s just so different isn’t it? People either really love it or hate it. We’ve been road showing it in various places on Friday nights and some people are coming out saying ‘God, that was dreadful!’ while others found it completely fantastic, it’s that divisive. And that’s not a bad thing because it makes people talk about it. It’s great if you go into it knowing nothing. When I first saw it I didn’t know what was going on for the first ten minutes, until of course you lock into the film and go ‘Oh, I understand’. I’m really happy with it.
Mark: What kind of films scared you as child? Do you still have a sphere of influences that effects what type of film you want to see now? Are you still chasing you feeling you had when you were younger when you were more easily frightened?
Alan: Well, that’s what every horror fan’s after isn’t it? I was lucky in that the first horror film I saw in the cinema when I was old enough was Mario Bava’s BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, and of course when I look back, I can see that set everything I’ve done since in stone. It was Italian, the fact that I wrote the Dario Argento book, my love of baroque, a bit of violence, slashers… It’s all there! I’m happy to say with no regrets that everything stems from that. And I realised pretty soon afterwards that not all horror was going to shock you to death like that one. Y’know the ropey stuff comes along as well, but you can gauge it. Classics like PSYCHO, TEXAS CHAINSAW, THE EXORCIST, HALLOWEEN… The last film that really did get to me was MARTYRS. I was such a major supporter of the film at the time because I thought ‘My God! I’ve never seen anything like this!’. That’s the sort of thing I was looking for. Have you seen BONE TOMAHAWK?
Mark: No, not yet but I’m excited for it. Is it the Kurt Russell one?
Alan: Yes. That one really did shock me in a way that I haven’t been shocked, you’ll see what I mean when you see it. It’s the first time in a long time when I’ve turned to the person next to me and said ‘that was really something wasn’t it?’.
Mark: I’ve watched WE ARE STILL HERE a few times in recent weeks and that really did it for me.
Alan: Yeah that’s a really great movie. Director Ted Geoghegan is a really savvy guy and really knows his stuff. He’s really contoured that movie exactly how he wanted it. That’s a great one! What did you think of ESTRANGED?
Mark: I enjoyed it, I’ll confess to not liking it as much as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB, SAND or SOME KIND OF HATE
Alan: That’s ok! You can see in our first six titles for FrightFest presents that we’ve chosen something for everything no matter where your taste in horror lies. We didn’t initially plan in that way, but we realised we had a sci-fi movie, a zom-rom-com, a creature feature, a supernatural slasher. We couldn’t have planed it better.