Courtney Solomon is a man who lives and breathes horror movies. While his directing features Dungeons and Dragons and An American Haunting didn’t set the box office on fire, he would find more success through his horror brand After Dark Films which began as a distributor of horror movies and made a name with through its annual film festival After Dark Horror Fest which is now in its 5th year.
Now comes After Dark Originals, a new branch of After Dark Films where in conjunction with Lionsgate Films and the Syfy channel, 8 original films will be released upon the masses to remind what true, original horror is in a world where remakes and sequels run rampant.
In Sydney to promote the opening of After Dark Originals Australia, a jet lagged yet spirited Solomon talked to Matt’s Movie Reviews about all things horror.
After Dark Films formed back in 2006. Before that you were writing and directing movies. What was the initial spark that led you to create your own independent movie studio and release these films?
I was always independent with the films I made, and after I made An American Haunting it did well in the United States and around the world and people liked the film for the most part. Then Lionsgate came to me and they were big into horror back then, and they said “Would you like to continue on doing this?” But more on a company wise basis and doing more films and sort of not an official arms of Lionsgate doing horror, but essentially that was what they were saying.
So I thought it was actually a good opportunity to meet a lot of filmmakers and learn how it works on the studio side, because as a filmmaker you always hear complaints from yourself and other filmmakers about how they market your films and what are these people doing, and is there evil inside those studios? You probably heard a lot of these stories, so after putting your heart and soul into making a film then you hand the baby and some marketing person has no idea what the baby means and it becomes a mess.
So I thought that maybe I could learn something more and it would be fun to do. So that’s how it started and we started by buying 8 films a year and putting it into a film festival and giving films that wouldn’t otherwise get a theatrical release a chance to hit the theatres, even albeit on a limited basis. We made like an event for horror fans where they would go on the weekend, watch all 8 films, we encourage them to dress in costumes, we do Q & A’s at certain number of theatres, so it was fun, you know?
So we did that for 4 years with 32 filmmakers, 32 different films but we didn’t make any of those, so I guess I kinda got bored. So I said “Ok. We met some good people, tonnes of scripts are coming to us, let’s now make After Dark Originals.” Let’s make these 8 films and try to do better.
Well those 8 films are now coming out in Australia over the next couple of months.
Coming down under! (Laughs)
What I want to know is what do you look for in a film that you would want to put the After Dark brand on? What are your criteria?
Well I don’t have specific criteria. I’m a little looser, you know? Most studios have boxes to check. We don’t work that way. We’re really looking for good material, unique material, something that we haven’t seen, that’s a little off the wall from filmmakers who have come from a good place, maybe done a good short. A lot of people look at that.
But it starts with something a little bit different and then it’s down to characters and story, first and foremost. Then from there whether the horror element is within there, how can we have fun with what I call the “palate of the movies.”
So it starts with the same place any film should start, which are the story and the characters. If that’s not solid it’s not worth it, and we’ve seen 300-500…I’m using that range because I don’t know the exact number of scripts, to get to the selection of 8.
"Most studios have boxes to check. We don’t work that way. We’re really looking for good material, unique material, something that we haven’t seen, that’s a little off the wall from filmmakers who have come from a good place." - Courtney Solomon
After Dark Originals is exactly that: original. There are no remakes, no sequels and this is a genre where remakes and sequels really do well and thrive. Has it always been a mission statement for your brand to make sure that it is original films, originals stories being out forward?
Yeah. I mean when we did the acquisitions film before we used to do one international film every year from different countries every single time. For instance that was something we did with our brand, and actually what we started doing with our second year of Originals is having some international filmmakers in there to.
If there was one film that was great and the audience loved it and they were like “make a sequel”, then we might make a sequel. I’m not saying it’s something we’d definitely wouldn’t do, but generally speaking our mandate is to make 8 original films that you’ve never seen before and not do what everybody else is doing, which is regurgitate things that have already been done for the hope of making “x” amount of dollars. It’s not that we don’t want to make money, it’s just that we also want to have some sort of credibility.
The thing I find about horror films is they seem to come in phases. There was the zombie movie for a while, then you had the vampire movie, now we seem to be in the midst of this demonic possession kind of thing that is happening. As a horror fan and someone who is in the industry, what do you foresee as the next thing that could be happening in horror films?
Ghost stories and supernatural thrillers. I can tell you that pretty much for sure. Because you just have to look for what hasn’t been the thing that’s been over saturated recently.
Actually you just went through it: vampires with Twilight and everything before it, fine. Zombie movies, there good and we even made one with Re-Kill but did something unique and something different, we hope. But World War Z is being out into production right now and will come out next year, and that’s gonna be a huge zombie movie and there might be some imitators after that.
Werewolf movies don’t work, so those are off the list. And as you said, the demonic movies people seem to like those, but they keep getting done. So what hasn’t been done recently? You see any good ghost stories recently?
Not recently, no. Do you see After Dark Films tapping into that potential market?
We are working on two of them, yeah. But those are always personally my favourites. I mean An American Haunting is essentially a poltergeist story, so I like a good ghost story and if it can be based on true events then I am even more excited about it, because I think that scares people even more if they can go “Wow! Something actually happened there? You mean this actually happened?” It makes it scarier. It resonates further with people.
Let’s talk a little about that. My favourite horror movie is The Exorcist.
Well let’s go back further. What was the film that really sparked your interest in horror when you were a kid?
The Exorcist was the first movie I ever saw. I saw it when I was 5.
I watched it when I was 5 too and I didn’t watch it again until I was 18.
(Laughs) I think I saw it again when I was like 14 or 15. But then I saw The Omen like a year later. Then I saw Halloween what, 3 years later? And The Shining somewhere around there and those were the movies that really influenced me.
Then I saw the first Nightmare on Elm Street, so when I saw the remake of that I wanted to cry, if I can be honest. (Laughs) But that being said, those were the films that shaped me. I mean a lot of people have asked me this question, and with The Exorcist I just remember when she came down there…I remember so many things, like when the Apollo astronauts are playing the piano and she pees on the floor and says “You’re going to die up there”…it was one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen in a movie. It was a fantastic movie.
What is your take on Australian horror?
Well, I’m learning a lot about it in two days honestly. I mean, I know the Wolf Creek’s, we put out a movie called Dying Breed, so I’m familiar with some of it and seen some Australian movies. But I had no idea that you had this whole movement, I really didn’t. But it’s fascinating to me and I was actually looking to do, as I said to you, maybe a couple of international filmmakers in the next year series of originals and so people here have tweaked my interest.
So I’ve literally got now 10 or 12 movies that everybody is recommending to me, coming to me to look at. Maybe we might do one of those as an American remake or just work with the filmmakers and do something completely new. So you have to ask me that question after I’m informed, to be fair. (Laughs).
"It was actually a good opportunity to meet a lot of filmmakers and learn how it works on the studio side, because as a filmmaker you always hear complaints from yourself and other filmmakers about... is there evil inside those studios?" - Courtney Solomon
The cool thing about horror is that they are very innovative in the way they bring the movie to the masses, going back to the ‘80s with the video nasties and so on. A thing that an Australian horror film did called The Tunnel, they used Rapidshare to have people legally download there movie and spread it that way. Can you foresee After Dark going through that type of distribution model in the future?
Maybe. You know we do the festival because it is fun. It’s like a Rocky Horror event. It’s for hard-core fans, and we don’t want to stop doing that but it’s a 3 day weekend thing, it was always a loss. It’s not like we’re trying to open the movie and make back our money in the opening weekend like other movies. We’re doing that for the fans, we’re doing that for the filmmakers. It’s a fun event.
But our real film model now is that we’re trying to movie it into digital and put our brand on the internet and make it accessible for everybody at a low cost, but to hopefully a bigger audience. That’s the way of the future, is the way I see it. If it’s an event film you are going to see like Avatar or even something like Transformers 3 or any of these massive event movies, people will want to go see them in the movie theatres. They are huge event films.
But horror movies, you know…it’s great to see at the movie theatre, but you can watch it on your screen at home, in your home theatre, on your iPad…there are so many different ways and you don’t have to watch it in the movie theatre. So I think that’s absolutely the way the future is going, and that is actually where we are gearing ourselves. We could be able to put out a movie a month, to be able to come to the After Dark site or iTunes or wherever it is and get a movie a month. Plus have the library with specials and that sort of thing. So people can enjoy the movies, and we like that. Also make it accessible, and in this world hopefully cheaper for everybody.
Horror films come with it some controversy. Recently in Australia we had A Serbian Film, which was banned here.
I heard that. I’ve seen the film.
Likewise. Do you think there should be a limit in the way violence is depicted in films?
I’m gonna give you my opinion on it. For me, no. I really think that if somebody turns it on and somebody is upset by it, then turn it off. You have the right to do that, you have the ability to do that. If somebody wants to watch it and it’s something that they like, and then let them watch it.
Then there are people that go into theories like “they are going to emulate it”. Well those people were sick to begin with, in my opinion. I mean who is going to really do that, because after all it is just a movie. So I mean, sure we should all be responsible and each to their own, but when you are making films it is an art form and again, you don’t have to watch it.
That is just my personal opinion, but I mean I am not saying people have their opinions. If they feel passionate about it, you know God be with them. But personally, no.