Brad Sykes a man with many talents who has made many films, one being the highly entertaining film ‘HI-8:HORROR INDEPENDENT EIGHT‘ that we reviewed here.
We recently got a chance to interview him about his career, how the industry has changed and what is next for him.
For those that are unaware of your work, what would be the first film of yours you would recommend?
I would probably recommend my sci-fi/horror film PLAGUERS. It’s my biggest-budget film, has plenty of gory makeup effects and stars Steve Railsback. It was the third movie that my wife/producer Josephina and I made it through our company, Nightfall Pictures, and I’m proud of what we achieved with it. It played all over the world at various fests (some of which we were able to attend) and even won a few awards. It’s easy to find to rent or buy online. If you like 80’s horror/SF films like Lifeforce or Forbidden World, you will probably enjoy it.
Of my earlier films, I would recommend GOTH, which is a very dark, edgy, character-driven exploration of the Goth subculture. And, on a more obscure note, there’s MAD JACK, a Hitcher-style desert/road thriller I wrote and directed that didn’t get much of a release, but I consider one of my strongest films. I wish more people would have a chance to see it.
How has things changed on the indie film scene since you began film making?
I’ve been doing this for nearly twenty years now, and have seen a lot of MAJOR changes happen in both production and distribution over the last ten years in particular, many of them in rapid succession.
Obviously, camera technology has made leaps and bounds recently, and the same goes for editing systems, effects software, etc. Thanks to DSLRs and FCP, it’s cheaper than ever to make a fairly professional-looking movie if you know what you’re doing. But I think that’s always been the case – where there’s a will, there’s a way, and really determined and creative filmmakers will always find ways to get films made, whether on film, tape, or a chip.
The bigger shifts have been in distribution and how people watch or buy movies. When I started directing in the late nineties, it was still the era of Blockbuster and Tower Records. There was money to be made through rentals, sell through, and foreign sales, even if distributors made the majority of it. But even if you weren’t making much money, there was significant visibility in having your movie on the shelves of major chains across the country – and around the world, in many cases – that could lead to more work. For example, we received funding for CAMP BLOOD 2 based on the strong foreign sales from the first film, before it had even been released in the States.
The rise of Netflix and online rental services, then later on streaming, really changed everything – even though Netflix built their business on indie titles (like mine), once they put all the brick and mortar stores out of business, they quickly shifted their model to primarily studio titles and now, producing their own shows and movies. Whether this was their intent all along is debatable, but the reality is, it’s very hard to get your average indie/microbudget movie into Netflix or Redbox, which are the primary ways people rent movies. Streaming is a great way to get your movie into a lot of people’s homes, but no one seems to have figured out how to properly monetize it, and again, there are plenty of gatekeepers at places like Amazon, Itunes, etc. with reasons to reject your film. Self-distro sounds great on paper but the costs of authoring, printing, mailing, etc. often cancel out any profits, and can turn into a real headache for both the filmmaker, who’s already overtaxed. And the market penetration just isn’t there.
Recently, we had a lot of problems getting Hi-8 onto the major streaming platforms. Admittedly, the standard definition, analog nature of the project was a double-edged sword; what made it appealing to hardcore SOV and VHS fans worked against it when we presented it to Amazon, Itunes, etc. We finally got on Amazon instant video over a year after the initial VHS and DVD release. The movie also became available on Vimeo, and also came out on Blu-ray as a “made on demand” Amazon exclusive. I think that says a lot about how things are changing in the business. That’s one of the reasons the sequel, Hi-Death, is being shot in HD, to allow it to successfully compete in the marketplace and have a better chance of getting onto some of these platforms with fewer hassles.
Is there anybody on the indie film scene you have wanted to work with but just haven’t had the chance yet?
I have been lucky to work with a lot of very cool directors and actors over the years, many of whom I never expected to meet let alone work with. At the beginning of my career, I worked on several movies with both Jeff Burr and Brian Yuzna, and on my first feature SCREAM QUEEN I had the pleasure of directing Linnea Quigley. I also enjoyed working with Danielle Harris on a short film I produced called BURYING THE EX (which was later turned into a feature directed by Joe Dante). More recently, I really enjoyed directing Steve Railsback in PLAGUERS. It was a dream come true and one of my favorite experiences…I literally wrote the role for him and Josephina managed to track him down. He was not only a total pro, but a really giving person and fun to hang out with. Of course there are still plenty of actors and actresses out there I’d like to work with but it’s a long list and I don’t usually think of anyone in particular while writing though, so it would really depend on the project, and budget, of course.
You are currently hard at work on HI-DEATH the sequel to your 2013 film HI-8, what can you tell us about the film?
HI-DEATH is the sequel to Hi-8 that brings back some of the original filmmakers from the first film and some new directors as well. The entire film is being shot in High Definition this time, and the segments are longer and often go deeper and darker than the segments in Hi-8. The overall tone of HI-DEATH is darker, more disturbing, and more transgressive than the original, which occasionally went in a more humorous vein. I let all the filmmakers know this was our intent when we started, and I’m happy to say that they’ve delivered, in some cases going further than even I expected!
Who do you have lined up for this sequel?
There are five directors contributing segments to HI-DEATH. Tim Ritter, Todd Sheets, and I are returning from Hi-8, while Tony Catanese and Amanda Payton are new to the franchise. Tim is primarily known for his TRUTH OR DARE films, the latest of which, I DARED YOU, is almost finished. Todd also goes back to the early SOV years with films like the ZOMBIE BLOODBATH trilogy, and also recently wrote and directed HOUSE OF FORBIDDEN SECRETS. Tony made a film called SODOMANIAC and is also a very creative graphic artist who designed the posters for both Hi-8 and HI-DEATH, and Amanda has produced several of Todd Sheets’ recent films, along with recently directing the short film “The Crawler” for the anthology SLEEPLESS NIGHTS. So, we have a very cool team with a variety of sick little stories to tell.
How is HI-DEATH different to HI-8?
The biggest differences will be the hi-def shooting format and the longer running times. However, we are still preserving many of the “rules” from Hi-8, and focusing on minimal crew, location shooting, practical effects, to preserve the DIY, indie feel of Hi-8.
Is there any projects you have wanted to put in to production but due to unknown reasons you couldn’t make it possible?
I think every filmmaker who’s been doing this long enough has a few stories like that. Before producing Hi-8, Josephina and I wrote a script that was meant to be shot at a haunted attraction owned by a friend of ours. We had done scouting, started setting up auditions, etc. and were basically going into serious preproduction when one day we received a call saying the location (a series of underground tunnels that used to be a bank vault) had recently been condemned by the city as a fire hazard and the “haunt” (which had been in business for over ten years) was being dismantled immediately! Because the script was written around that specific location, we had to put everything on hold. It was disappointing, but we quickly decided to concentrate on Hi-8 and begin prep on our segments. It always helps to have a few irons in the fire so if one project doesn’t take off, you can move onto another. We may still revisit that haunt script someday, as with a minor rewrite it could be shot at a different location. No project is ever really “dead”, just dormant and waiting for the right circumstances to be revived.
Which of your own films have you been most proud of?
Along with the three I mentioned earlier, I’m also proud of Hi-8 and the first two films Josephina and I made through Nightfall, WITHIN THE WOODS (the third chapter of my CAMP BLOOD series) and MUTATION. WOODS was our first film together and we really tried to put production value on the screen with very little money (a lot of reviewers think we had more, but we didn’t, we just didn’t put it all in our pocket). MUTATION started as an “acting” vehicle for a pair of kickboxing champs and again, we gave it a big look for the budget, along with introducing the world to Katie Featherston a few years before her big break with Paranormal Activity!
Where can people go to view or purchase your films?
All of my films are available for sale on Amazon on DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming. I also have a limited number of copies of many of my titles for sale that can be signed and personalized upon request. Our company website is www.nightfall-pictures.com and I can be contacted there.
And finally, do you have any projects lined up after HI-DEATH that you can tell us about?
I said this before when I was finishing Hi-8, but I think after HI-DEATH I’m going to give the anthology format a rest for a while. It’s been fun – and challenging – putting these movies together and working with the other filmmakers. Hi-8 got a terrific reception, with over 20 festival screenings around the world and made a lot of “best of the year” lists, and we hope to repeat that with the sequel. But personally, I am looking toward writing and directing another feature next, and have a few ideas I am developing now. I try not to multitask too much though so right now most of my creative energies are going into completing HI-DEATH, which we expect to finish this summer.
Thank you for your time and best of luck with HI-DEATH.
Interview by Peter ‘Witchfinder‘ Hopkins