Q & A with Simon Horrocks, Third Contact Director

Happy New Year everyone!

The year 2014 is the year of the horse which means that many people will be working hard and creating new projects this year.  No exception to this is Simon Horrocks, who is not only a director; he is also a cameraman, composer, cinematographer, editor and screenwriter.  He may also be a makeup artist and gourmet chef, but I didn’t see that in the imbd credits of his new film.

We met on twitter on December 31, 2013, as he was busy spreading word his Indiegogo campaign to bring his film, “Third Contact” to CanadaThird Contact received its World Premiere at the Internationale Hofer Filmtage on 25 October, 2012 in Hof and was a successful Kickstarter campaign with 435 backers for a London BFI IMAX event.

3C screenshot 1

Hi Simon, thanks for taking the time to do this quick Q & A with me.  I watched the trailer for your Indiegogo campaign and was quite intrigued as I used to work in a mental hospital and love dark films.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to create this movie after years as a professional composer?  You did some work on short films; did they serve as a catalyst for you to start working on your own film project?

I was a professional composer, writing music for TV shows such as Oprah and NBC sport, BBC daytime shows, plus the occasional Playstation game. My main passion was filmmaking. I’d wanted to be a director since before I knew what it meant. So I’d also been writing a lot, selling and optioning a few screenplays, but none of them made it into production.

I’d also been involved in a few shorts. When I fell on hard times as a composer, I had to get a ‘day job’ for the first time in 20 years, working in a cinema. But this gave me the opportunity to decide I was ready to write and direct my first feature film.

Often bad things that happen to us can be used as an opportunity to change ourselves. I took that opportunity.

In regards to your Third Contact, can you tell us a bit about the plot and themes?  

The film is about a psychotherapist who has lost faith in the world, but when disaster strikes, he uses it as an opportunity to rejuvenate himself and embarks on an obsessive investigation into the mysterious deaths of two patients.

Although the film is part scifi, exploring philosophical implications of ideas in quantum physics, its also a love story and a story about madness, depression, obsession, regret, loss. So I believe we can all connect with these themes.

The interesting things is, although it might be considered an ‘arthouse’ film, I’ve found people who don’t normally watch those kind of films get something from Third Contact that they weren’t expecting.

How was this story inspired?  Did it take long to write?

It was inspired from what one critic described as a ‘goldmine of ideas’. I had already worked on a script back in 2006-7 using the idea of quantum suicide. So I approached the subject again, but in a different way. I wrote the first draft in about a month or so, then had my filmmaker friend, Verity (who I met working at the cinema), read the script and give me notes.

I wanted Verity to help because she is a very unique and talented filmmaker, who I knew would be sympathetic to the work. I knew she wouldn’t impose any screenwriting rules, she would just assess it as a story. So after about 3 drafts and 6-7 month, I was ready to make the film.

When did you first learn about the idea of quantum suicide and why is this so intriguing?

I read an article about it around 2005, while I was looking into various quantum mechanics ideas. It had such a striking name, I had to find out more. The idea of subjective-immortality was very interesting, and I thought about this idea for a long time. It certainly changed the way I saw the universe and life in general.

I think a lot of current ‘scifi’ stories are basically future tech stories, which are old stories dressed up in fancy new clothes. Star wars and the current Star Trek films, for example, are basic action films with laser guns and spaceships.

I like my stories, and particularly scifi, to be thought-provoking. And subjective-immortality is certainly that. I could probably make films for the rest of my life on that one subject and never fully explore it.

How many people or countries have seen this film and are you happy with their reaction? 

While we were running the kickstarter, we realised we were now selling the film to the entire planet, as this was the way crowdfundng via the internet works. So we realised we couldn’t just focus on a UK premiere as the main attraction, it had to be a global premiere.

We decided to broadcast the film live over the internet, simultaneously with the film showing in the BFI IMAX, and hold the Q&A taking questions from the audience in the theatre and the online audience via a twitter feed we projected up onto the big screen.

The premiere was seen in 22 different countries by almost 1000 people, including the 300 or so in the theatre.

The reaction was amazing. Better than we ever dreamed of. So many people not only expressed their love for the film but returned days later to say the film had stayed with them.

Filmmaking is very expensive, how did you fund this movie and did you ever think about making it commercial via film festivals or selling the script?  Is script querying similar to novel querying, taking many years to find an agent?

Filmmaking doesn’t have to be expensive. The budget for Third Contact was £4000, which included the cost of buying the camera and the mic. Anyone can pick up a camera and make a feature film. But it will require a huge amount of effort, dedication and people putting their time in for the love of the project.

Someone came up to me after the IMAX premiere and told me I should make the film more commercial, if I wanted a career. I said – we just hired the biggest, most prestigious cinema in the UK and made a profit, outselling all the other shows on the night combined (we are talking films made for $100m +) – the film is commercial. He had to agree.

You have to remember, nobody knows anything. How many publishers turned down Harry Potter? Presumably, because they thought it wasn’t commercial. The idea that Harry Potter isn’t commercial is an absurdity to us now, but for how long did Rowling have to listen to that?

I don’t know anything about getting a novel published, but I did have a screenwriting agent in LA for about a year. From that experience, I realised I didn’t want to be anybody’s writer. I wanted to develop my own vision, and that could only happen outside the industry. The industry are too scared to take risks on anything. If they’re too scared to take a risk on Harry Potter, you know they are really incredibly conservative.

Either that, or its an elitist club, where everyone is doing each other favours. Which means that if you don’t have the right friends, or are not very good at making the right friends, you have no career.

Film festivals work exactly the same way; the major ones do, anyway. Its all about who you know and if you send your film in blindly with the submission fee, you are essentially paying for your own rejection letter. How many of the films which are programmed do you think paid the submission fee?

So, if you don’t have the right friends, be prepared to fight to get noticed. Give it everything, if you really believe in what you are doing. Ignore the naysayers.

What are the steps from script to actually finishing a film?  Did it take a long time?

It took roughly 3 years from writing the first word to finishing the final edit. The steps are long, partly because I was teaching myself how to do things as I went. I’d never shot a film before, so I had to learn how to use a camera. I’d never edited a film before, so I had to learn. Which means re-doing things again and again, to get it right.

We re-wrote the music score 3 or 4 times to get it right. This is very time-consuming.

Do you have any advice for budding film makers?  Would you recommend they try crowd funding?

You don’t need money to make a film. You do need money to promote a film and get it seen. Having said that, crowdfunding is there, and if you show you are committed, people will back you. Filmmaking is about your audience.

If you don’t have an audience, there’s no point making a film. Crowdfunding is a way to engage your audience and involve them in what you are doing. Its a fantastic opportunity to develop your filmmaking voice with your fans, who will be cheering on your risk-taking rather than throwing a wet towel over it, like the industry will.

Will your next film project be a dark story or something lighter? 

I don’t set out to make something dark. I write stories I’m inspired by and passionate about. I personally don’t enjoy ‘happy ending’ films, or films which try to force a positive message on you, because I think it’s a lie. Nothing ends neatly and ‘happily ever after’. Life is messy, complex, bittersweet.

The ‘heroes journey’ template which Hollywood, and supposedly ‘commercial’ cinema, follows slavishly is incredibly patronising to it’s audience. Its saying you are too stupid to deal with any complex reflection of reality, so its going to be simplified for you.

I personally believe its possible to reflect reality and entertain people without patronising them. Why do Shakespeare’s plays still hold up 400 years later? Why do Dickens’ stories still draw big audiences? Because they are gripping stories which reflect the complexity of life.

Back to Third Contact, can you give us a final pitch on how awesome it would be for the audience if they contribute to your campaign?  What are the goodies they receive?

We find ourselves in a position with Third Contact where audiences love the film, but the industry are refusing to take a risk with it. So we have developed a new way of showing this film in cinemas.

We are using our own ‘cinema on demand’ method, using the IndieGoGo.com platform. If you would like to see this film in one of the cinemas listed, you need to make it happen. If we don’t get enough seat reservations, by the events deadline, the show will not go ahead.

For the shows in Canada, you can pledge for a seat for $10. There are other options as well, such as a signed poster of a CD of the original score, or the official Third Contact t-shirt. You can add these for a little extra contribution, which will help us reach the target, so we can then go ahead and hire the cinemas.

If we don’t reach the target, IndieGoGo will refund you. But we hope it won’t come to that. By reserving your seat, you are helping independent cinema to develop its own voice, away from the risk-free industry.

If this works for us, other indie filmmakers will be able to follow us, so you will be reinvigorating cinema and encouraging filmmakers to come up with fresh ideas, by getting involved and supporting us.

Have a great New Year and may 2014 be the best year yet for Third Contact!  Please have a look at his link to his Indigogo campaigns happening all over the place for this film and hopefully it will be showing in a local theatre new you.  The links below are for his campaigns if you want to see something thought provoking!

January 30 – Cube Cinema, Bristol

February 12 – The Cinema Museum, London

February 18 – Ultimate Picture Palace in Oxford

February 22 – Central Kino in Berlin

February 24 – Rio Theatre, Vancouver, Canada

February 26 – Mayfair Theatre, Ottawa, Canada

February 28 – Carlton Cinema, Toronto, Canada

March 6 – Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle

March 7 – Late Show at The Sheffield Showroom

March 12 – The Forum, Norwich

Third Contact Poster (small)

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