Hammer Films CEO Simon Oakes Discusses the Future of Horror Including LET ME IN, THE RESIDENT, LADY IN BLACK, More

     March 13, 2010

Hammer Films CEO Simon Oakes  (2).jpgNew Hammer Films CEO Simon Oakes recently sat down to chat about the rebirth of classic Horror House Hammer Films with a few online sites.  Oakes talked Hammer’s upcoming slate: Let Me In, the remake of critically acclaimed Let the Right One InThe Resident, with a star studded cast including Christopher Lee, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hillary Swanks;  and Lady In Black based on the classic English novel of the same name.  Highlights include discussing what American audiences can expect from Let Me In versus Let the Right One In, why Hammer WON’T be making films that glorify torture, and what the return of Christopher Lee to Hammer (in The Resident) means to Oakes personally.  For fans of the genre who long to see it return to what it once was, Oakes offers exciting news, views, and insights into the future of Hammer.  It’s a fantastic extended interview that’s definitely worth a read.

To read the full transcript of the interview hit the link.

Question: Did you feel like the public at large is not familiar with Let the Right One In, and that’s why it needed to be remade in an English-language version?

let_the_right_one_in_movie_poster.jpgSimon Oakes: That’s a very good question, and the right one to ask. We saw [Let the Right One In] very early; I’m English, I’m European, and I see a lot of pictures coming out of Scandinavia, France and Germany as you can imagine. So we saw it very, very early on and we thought it was astonishing because it was a love story – Stand By Me meets The Exorcist – and we thought it was just special and wonderful. We never in a million years could have guessed it would get the critical acclaim that it did, particularly in the United Kingdom, where it was actually a hit movie. It did great grosses. But at the same time, the reality is only 22-23 percent of its entire box office in the U.S. came from one theater. I was always of the view that this was a beautiful story, I knew the original book, which was a lot harder as you guys would know, a lot more risqué if you like, more controversial. But the story was so great, so beautiful, that it should be seen by a bigger audience. So I was always saying to myself, people in Manhattan have seen it, guys like you [genre journalists/fans] because it’s in your wheelhouse, in New York, in Chicago, in Chelsea, in Notting Hill, in London… but no one in Glasgow or Edinburgh or Bristol or Idaho or Pittsburgh have seen this film. It’s a story that needs to be seen by a wider audience. Then it came down to [the question], how do you achieve that? By paying homage to the original. Number one, get a very sensitive, smart director – we got it in Matt [Reeves]. Frankly, not to muck about the basic tenets of the story, which is important. More than anything else, stay true to the imagery and mystique and the mythology of the original, and set it in the right time as well, not update it in terms of its timing. Set it in that ’79-’81 era, whenever it was…

So it’s still going to have the Rubik’s cube?

Oakes: Yes, exactly! The Rubik’s cube, which is great. And then, find kids who can stand up to and, I hate to say it, be as good as or better than the wonderful children that were in the original. And, you know, we did do that. It’s quite interesting; had we not done that, it would have been a very difficult thing. Could two kids pull it off with the sort of knowingness that those two children had, that sort of quiet knowingness that Oskar and Abby [Eli] had? Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee are absolutely amazing.

It was interesting that you found a counterpoint in the Southwest setting in the U.S. to the desolate landscape in the first film. But then, as you mentioned, there’s a quietness in the two leads; one thing that’s intriguing about Chloe is that she seems to be a different take, because she’s known for the screen persona she generates for being a little [bold]…

let_me_in_movie_poster_01.jpgOakes: Not when you see her in the film. If you think about her in Kick-Ass, of course you’d think that quite naturally. But she has the same stillness, the same quietness, the same control. When it comes to the setting, the outskirts of Stockholm, we thought about that town from nowhere; do you remember the scene in E.T. when suddenly this quiet environment has been shattered, when the government guys come in their suits and suddenly this small little house has got this huge white tunnel they’re all coming in? It’s the juxtaposition of the strangeness of that and the very ordinariness of the home environment that the kids lived in. We wanted to create the same idea, that within this very ordinary Southwest situation, extraordinary things are happening. This girl, this vampire, comes into this world and affects a kid and his daily life and relationship with his peers, or his bullies. We tried to find what that match would be; rather than just setting it in some snowy environment somewhere, we’ll try and place it in that juxtaposition.

Can you talk about the provocative elements of the original and what adjustments you had to make in adapting it for this version?

Oakes: Without being so pretentious in English, for a start. But frankly not that much, to be honest with you. If you call it a faithful remake, I think that’s true to say that’s what it is. It’s not a reimagining; the same beats [are there], maybe the scares are a little bit more scary. We haven’t been able to ramp that up quite a lot, obviously, for budgetary reasons. We’ve played a little bit with some of the chronology, without giving too much away. Fundamentally, that’s what. High production values. Tomas Alfredson did a phenomenal job; I have actually no idea what his budget was in Sweden, but I can imagine what it was, so go figure. [We had a] longer shooting period, more coverage, more effects.

Was there ever any thought to put back in some of the more challenging elements of the book?

Oakes: I think I know what you mean, and absolutely not. I think in the book, it’s very disturbing, the implications, and I think they should be left I the book, which is astonishing. John Ajvide Lindqvist is an amazing writer. I don’t know if you’ve read Handling the Undead, which is the book following this; he’s an original thinker. But I don’t think it actually lends anything to the movie. In fact, it detracts from it. I mean, I think there are implications and suggestions [in the film]; the famous line, “Will you go steady with me?” “I’m not a girl.” Well, that could mean a million things. What does she mean? Does she mean she’s not a girl, she’s a vampire? Does it mean she’s not a girl, she was a girl? Or was a boy? I think you leave ambiguity there. I think also, you don’t talk down and spoon feed the audience that is going to see this movie. You, in a sense, are the bellwether for fanboys and so forth and you’ve had a lot of inbound on this film. And I think to start with, a lot of people were sort of quite negative about this happening because they love the movie so much. Gradually, as Matt came onboard, and Kodi and Chloe, people started to move towards the middle and saying, you know what, this is good, this is great, let’s see what happens, let’s reserve judgment until we see the final product. I think that’s what’s happening now. There’s a bigger audience out there as well who will never see the picture anyway. So I’m not too worried about that.

What made Matt Reeves the right director for Let Me In?

matt_reeves_image.jpgOakes: Sometimes in the process of making movies and producing and financing movies, you can get what we call in England, “our knickers in a twist” by having 17 options and going round in circles, going back to the person you thought should do it first. We immediately fell in love with Matt and his take; he loved the original, so we felt that he was going to honor it, which is very important. Secondly, I think there’s something, and I don’t know if he’d like me saying this, quite autobiographical of his own life in the life of Owen, in some respect – where he came from, and his background and so forth. That was important. We didn’t go out to get multiple takes from people, because this movie did not need a “take,” if you know what I mean. It needed someone to say, I love this film, I want to remake this film now, and I want it to be seen by a bigger audience. And I know how I’m going to do it. I have a feel for the material. He’s astonishing. He has a fantastic intellect, a great imagination.

His pedigree, obviously because of Cloverfield, has that sort of found footage aesthetic. Was this an opportunity for him, or for you guys to give him a chance to do something different? Or do you find that the movie has an aesthetically-similar approach?

Oakes: It’s a very different aesthetic. At the end of the day, you could make this movie and never use the word “vampire.” You could say this is a love story between two kids. I think an understanding of genre helps, because there are obviously some big set piece/genre moments in it. You know that he’s got the chops to do it. But really, I think it’s because he’s a storyteller, he knows how to tell a story. If you think of Cloverfield and you think of the technical difficulty in mainstaining the focus of story in a film like that, the way he shot it, that was brilliant – to be able to do that, to keep us there, to keep us watching and engaged. I think one of Matt’s great qualities is that he’s a genuinely great storyteller.

Felicity was about young people in love, and Cloverfield was a thriller. Combining that with the thrills that will reveal using these two.

Oakes:  I guess I have to say truthfully, subliminally he must have tipped the boxes in my head and my colleagues. You know, but to be honest, we didn’t think about it in such a drilled out and rational way. I think he understands the audience for the movie and that sort of thing. I think he has a sort of a natural, understanding of what an audience would expect from this film and how to make it accessible to a wider audience.

What is the audience that you are going for?

Oakes:  As big as possible, I think. The fan boy base. The people that you guys interact with on a daily and weekly basis, they will all come and see this movie. They will all come with preconceptions – some good, some bad. Those that are there, anyway. I

think this will be an R-rated picture. I’m thinking it’s a pretty young demographic, but we are only at the beginning stage of our marketing, because part of it is marketing it as a love story, a redemptive love story.

Is there a chance that it might be done PG13 maybe?

Hammer Films CEO Simon Oakes  (1).jpgOakes:  I don’t know. I mean, we are literally in the first week of post. There are some different rules in the states. The thing about you guys, clearly, is that you’re on the World Wide Web In this room right now. It’s amazing that they would give Kick Ass a 12. It is unbelievable, where we have a 12-year-old girl using the C-word and cutting people’s heads off. How did that happen? Well, that’s England for you. I think in this country it slightly more difficult to get the rating that you would like to get, but we’ll get there.

When you guys were shooting the action violence and intense stuff, was Matt sort of free to do whatever he wanted or how choreographed was it?

Oakes:  He could do what he wanted. I think it is a mistake to sort of manufacturer the scares and stuff. I think the story lends itself to the right type of action in the right type of scares. We have a picture that we are making this year called The Woman in Black, which is a famous novella, and then a play. It’s been on forever. Jane Goldman is writing it for us, who did Kick Ass and so forth. And when you are dealing with someone like that, which is sort of a classic ghost story, and you’re dealing with the supernatural in a sense, you can sort of get away with more. You can get a better rating for your movie, because there is the suspension of disbelief. When you are dealing with a story like this, which although it is a vampire story, in part, It is so realistic there such a super realism about it. Then you are always going to have a problem with the rating because it just crosses the boundary. If that makes sense to you guys.

How would you say that Let Me In factors into the spirit that you want real……… hard to understand the question.

Oakes:  I think I have talked to some of you guys before about this. When I bought Hammer, this venerable British studio, which sort of invented the modern horror film in a way. And then got taken over by the urban myth films of the 70s like the Exorcist and the Omen, etc. I thought to myself okay, we’re going to reboot this baby. And we’re going to make it sort of relevant now for a modern audience. But what we’re going to do is we’re going to take the traits that the Hammer was famous for. So that things like what we call the ‘walking dead’ or the vampire lore. In fact, the mini-Hitchcocks that it made between ’58 and ’63 like The Nanny, and the Scream of Fear, The Fanatic, etc., etc. So find a natural link a DNA link between what Hammer did before. And what Hammer will do now. I know your direct question is on Let Me In but… on the state of The Resident, for example: That’s part of that mini- Hitchcock [legacy]. A  psychological thriller, elevated horror we call it. In fact, with Hammer you have noticed I don’t call it “Hammer Horror”, I just call it Hammer. So it gives a, the breath to sort of do stuff that maybe we couldn’t do otherwise. And then The Woman in Black would be like The Walking Dead and The Mummy and all of that stuff that you can see in the book. I’m sure you have all read the book. Let Me In is a modern take on vampire lore to be honest with you. The idea of a vampire living within the context of an urban environment, and just being there as opposed to the vampire stories of the 60s and 70s, where there was more of a mythological quality to it, obviously, like Dracula. So that was our thinking behind it and as we go on and do more pictures. I mean, we have a film called The Quiet Ones, which is about a group of scientists in the 70s, based in Cambridge. Do you remember that picture of Bill Gates with all the really crazy-brilliant people behind him, all with beards and he’s there going, ‘I don’t know’, and that sort of incredibly iconic photograph of him with Al and all the guys. Imagine that group of people in Cambridge in the early 70s and they’re brilliant and they’re supposed to be working on DNA and working on computers and they said: ‘we’re not going to do this anymore were going to create a poltergeist.’ That’s what we are going to do. Because we are so god damn clever, we are going to do something that no one else has ever done before, and that fits into another part of Hammer’s sort of supernatural sci-fi history through Quatermass and all of those sort of films.

I’m curious to know about Christopher Lee in The Resident. I think that’s fantastic, [but] was just a cameo or if he actually doing a role and acting?

Oakes:  It’s a cameo. Chris plays Max’s father, which is played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and it’s funny actually – when we were looking at the cast list, I was saying, we’ve got to get Christopher to be in the first Hammer picture in 37 years or whatever. 35 years or something like that. He’s called August, and it’s a small part, but it’s not stunt casting. It’s a proper part. He plays Max’s grandfather, he lives in the building in the apartment with him, and it’s great… actually I don’t want to give it away, but the reveal when you first see him is fantastic. People are going to go crazy, particularly in England. He got knighted actually, when he was on set. He was knighted, and it was announced to the English press eight hours beforehand, and he was in the states. So he was asleep, then when he woke up he had champagne and chocolates and he was like, what’s going on here? Are they trying to pay me less? And we all knew, because we were eight hours ahead… and it was fantastic.

You have with Chris, obviously this huge audience across the globe, especially in the UK and then with Hillary [Swank] an American actress. Is there a consideration of moving back and forth between both camps? Because of The Resident you’ve done that? And then Let Me In is American and then of course Lady in Black is English. Is there sort of a one for you, one for you, mentality?

Oakes:  No, honestly, there is not. For example; I’m very interested in making a film about Edgar Allan Poe, and the material – it is genuinely the material. Frankly, the story came to us as a spec and with Antti Jokinen directing, who is a Fin and me being a Brit and then we shoot the film in America, which is set in New York. New York is the best setting you could possibly want for a thriller like that that is very contained, and I think for our point of view, we wanted to put a marker down of how serious we were about what we are trying to do in rebooting Hammer. Getting a double Oscar-winning actress to be in a thriller like this. And there is a history you know, Bette Davis was in The Nanny, Joan Fontaine… There’s been a history of big American what they call the Hammer heroines. Raquel Welch, Ursula Andress. I think also it’s a global business, guys, you know that better than anybody. We just make the pictures where the pictures should be made. I would like to make more films in the UK and Europe. Obviously, I would like to do that. But we’ll only do it when the stories are right.

How much of the focus is there going to be on remaking old Hammer titles?

Hammer Films CEO Simon Oakes  (2).jpgOakes:  Almost none at all. In the sense that we would never remake; we might reimagine. One of the first questions that I was asked when we bought the company was are you going to remake all of those old Hammer films? Why would you do that? Because in a sense, they almost were of their time, and they sort of, almost became old-fashioned as they came up to the end of that period of time when they were making those pictures. Because of the same time Dracula A.D. was being made, The Omen was being made, and think about that difference in terms of style and what I talk about, the urban myth movies. But there were some amazing characters in here that we want to reimagine like Quatermass. Like Kronos. We’re going to do Kronos, a sort of what would he be like today? What would he look like today? Because the great thing about him of course is that he is a vampire, but not a vampire. He has all the traits of a vampire, he never ages, but he’s not a vampire. So there are so many things that you can do with that. So we have some characters in here that we are going to sort of reboot. And those are two of them. And then we’ve got a couple of other titles like The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires that we are working on; a reimagining of that. But a straight remake, no. Mind you that we are always open to ideas, because what we always find there are always people who know more about this than I do, going, have you thought about this?

The one that I would like to see is Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.

Oakes:  Why, funny you should say that. My lips are sealed.

So you’re basically saying that your focus is more taking these characters [and repurposing them in different movies]?

Oakes: Repurposing them. Doing a new Quatermass movie. Doing a new Kronos movie. Not remaking the same film with its log line the same, but saying, what would the Kronos movie of 2011 look like? Or Quatermass of 2012. Maybe some of these characters should live in television as well. Particularly Quatermass, which I’m thinking about at the moment. What I love about Quatermass is that he was a government scientist and science is cool. Everyone is into science. So what would he be doing now?  In the original Quatermass that Nigel Kneale and Val Guest created, he was sort of like a classic character like a Bourne or a Bond, who have two masters if you like, both of which are trying to fuck with his head. One, are his masters, which in the case of Bond is the CIA, or MI6 in Bond’s case. And in the same token, the enemy – they’re fucking with him, and they end up being this person who was sort of alone and that’s what Quatermass was always like. He was always prescient. He was always ahead of his time. A lot of Tom Neil’s Kneale’s work was about the damaging of the environment. And he used the alien thing as a sort of metaphor for saying what we are doing to our planet. It’s quite interesting I mean, I met him shortly before he died and I’m friendly with his widow and it’s amazing. So there’s a lot of rich material in there that we can rethink, but the issues that he would be dealing with in 1957 compared to what they would be today, that’s the thing. That’s where we have to use our imagination.

Quatermass TV show would be a great alternative to the new Doctor Who, because there’s so much whimsy that to have something rooted…

Oakes: I want something as rooted in possible reality, exactly, and less whimsy, and more scares.

Do you control the entire Hammer library?

Oakes: What we do is control everything in the sense that we also have blocking rights, so in some cases we control titles entirely, and in some cases other people have distribution rights, of which we’re a beneficiary. But we don’t distribute ourselves, and in some cases we have co-ownership rights with studios. Because the company is so old, you can imagine, it made a picture in the ’50s, and that company it made the picture with got sold to that company and that company and then suddenly you find that you own a picture with Warner Brothers, Canal, and Fox. And that can happen. So I’ve taken a very practical view about it: if there’s a title we co-own with the studios, if we put a package together that is so compelling that there would be no reason why you wouldn’t say “let’s go make this,” then do so. But otherwise just let it lie – let it lie where it is and move on. So there are a few things like that.

Does that extend to the home video aspect of their library?

Oakes: No, various different companies have home video rights. Warner Brothers have some, Optimum have some in the UK, Canal Police have some, and we always encourage them to sort of get these out in box sets and so forth; we’re putting together right now, I don’t know if you saw the box set of the 21 classics, but we’re putting together new boxed sets in themes right now. What we’re doing is we’re pulling them from the various distributors, and for them we’re doing the work, it’s found money, but what it does is it gets the brand out there. I mean, one of the things I’m fascinated by in the space that you guys are in is 16, 17-year olds, 18-year olds, young kids in the US and they start to look at hammer and they go, “what’s this? No one told me about this. What’s this company?” Obviously some of the real fans will know about it, but a lot of people will never have heard of it. They’ll go, what’s that movie? What’s The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires? What’s Jekyll and Sister Hyde? What’s The Quatermass Experiment? And that’s really cool, I think. Because part of the thing is to with the movies we’re making, and we have got two big hammer films coming out this year in the US is how we maximize getting that message across that this is a great studio, a great brand that we’re rebuilding.

Any chance we might get Vampire Circus on DVD?

Oakes: I will let you know. We will get a copy for you.

You said Hammer will not make torture porn. Can you elaborate on that philosophy?

Oakes: Well, first of all, look, I saw the first Saw and thought it was great, and then it became a franchise and it’s become what it’s become. I’m very friendly with John and Lionsgate and all of that, but I just don’t think it’s what Hammer does. I don’t think it’s what Hammer ever did. I don’t think it’s within the genres that Hammer created, if you like, or was part of. So I don’t see what I call ‘gore-nography’ or torture porn or slasher pictures; I also don’t think it’s to be honest with you, my personal view is that it’s a footnote in the horror genre. To me, it’s a footnote. I think in 20, 30 years time it will be forgotten by comparison to other [subgenres]. It’s a broad genre, you know; it’s Polanski, it’s Hitchcock, it’s Kubrick, and onwards. So that’s just my personal view.

How do you balance Hammer’s pedigree of personal, character-driven stories with the spectacle of today’s horror?

Oakes: I think that movies find their own feet in a sense, and I think The Resident, for example, is a commercial psychological thriller. I think Let Me In is interesting, isn’t it, you, because I’ve said it’s Stand By Me meets The Exorcist – it’s got art house credentials but it’s got a commercial filmmaker at the helm, and it’s also got a great story. And I don’t want to speak for our US distributor, Overture, where I’ve just been this morning, but I think there will be a wide release, but it’s not going to be three and a half thousand screens. But nor is it necessarily going to be platformed either. I think it will be a film that will find its feet and I think there will be gradual platform release over time, but I don’t really know yet. I think it’s too early to say, but it’s story-driven as you say, like the Hammer films of old – character-driven, story driven. But with an extraordinary central premise at the heart of it, which is that she’s a vampire. And it’s a very touching story as well; do you remember when he says, what if they do this and what if they do that? She goes, well, then I’ll look after you. She tried to get him to really look after himself, and then he eventually says, but what if I can’t? and she says, well, if you can’t then I’ll look after you.

What about courting the Twilight audience? Are you going to be making movies for them or is it more of an adult focus?

The Twilight Saga New Moon movie poster The Cullens 1.jpgOakes: That’s a good question. I think there’s room for everybody in this genre. The thing about the Twilight thing, it came from a specific piece of work, which is the novels, and you can’t build your business plan on sort of the poster child for that demographic because no one saw that coming. That was a book that became a hit through word of mouth – you guys know all of the history of the book, obviously – and how it went to another studio and then another studio said we don’t want it anymore. Then, suddenly, it became what it became, and the internet actually was the thing that really built up the rumble about that, the book and the original film. So I think we are relatively opportunistic about that: if we had a story that we liked and it so happened that it hit that demo of the Twilight audience, we would do that. But I don’t consider Twilight a horror movie anyway, to be perfectly frank. Do you?

No, but we cover it and it’s covered on horror sites.

Oakes: Well, I think that it’s right that it is, because what it actually does do is by virtue of that that it’s not really a vampire movie as such, it allows people to see the levels of vampire mythology and so on and so forth that they can play with. But yeah, there are all sorts of different things. I mean, right now I’m looking for a zombie movie, which I might have found, a period zombie movie, actually. It’s really cool.

Is it based on a book?

Oakes: It’s a completely original idea, from a pitch. It’s completely original. And I mean to some extent, for example, The Quiet Ones is [about] these are students, these are 21-year-olds, it’s the Flatliners type of casting, these super-bright kids at Cambridge in 1970. At that age you could imagine casting five really good-looking kids, you would just have to be very clever. So yeah, you know – I’m not against it. It’s a great franchise.

Any web stuff planned?

Oakes: Um, what we’ve done is we’ve created this new part of our business called Exclusive Labs, and what it is, it’s a part of our business, which is focusing on creating content for digital platforms, and we’re working on a couple of ideas right now. I’d love to be able to tell you, and I will make a promise that when we announce two projects very shortly, I’ll make sure that you guys get it, along with our site first, because I think it should be disseminated in our environment before it goes into what I call the traditional press. And the reason I can’t is that I’ve got a partner who wouldn’t thank me if I said something right now. But very soon, we will; we’re all trying to find out what does it mean, a digital strategy. On digital there are two things; one is distribution and one is content creation. Digital distribution is a product of the things of like the windows, VOD, television. When do you go digital? How does it cannibalize your income streams and so forth, and that’s sort of interesting and boring in equal measure. And then there’s digital content creation, which is what I’m interested in and what we’re about. And I think we’re putting a lot of energy and investing in that space; I also think it’s a fantastic area to test-market some of the things you do, some of the storylines you do. Whether you call them webisodes or what we did with Beyond the Rave, you just get a sense of what people are interested in, and it’s a great way of creating a community as well. So I would say within the next four to six weeks, we’ll be making an announcement.

Is the cache of familiarity working with existing properties more valuable than shopping around for purely original ideas? Or does it matter at all?

Oakes: I don’t think so. I think the thing is that if you get something like Hammer and then you get Let Me In, there’s a sort of ‘the power of three’ because you’ve got the brand and you’ve got the fans [of the original] film. But what I think Hammer does, it gives a chance to basically develop from the ground upwards if we can and it doesn’t mean that we have to just go and distribute product or go and remake things from their back catalogue or whatever. We can take something and… I mean, A Woman in Black, there’s an example of a novella that had never been made into a movie, it was a play running in London for 21 years and in 17 countries, but we could take it and broaden it right out. When you guys get to read the novella, which is only 150 pages long and I recommend it – it’s like this pastiche of an M.R. James novel – and then you see the movie, you’ll see how James sort of opened the whole thing up. In the case of the zombie picture, that is just a completely original concept and story and take off of a one-pager.

What do you think of the state of mainstream horror? What’s lacking?

Oakes: God, I hate questions like that. [Laughs.] My truthful answer to that is that I think it’s wrong for me to have or publicize a view about it. I mean I could comment on the ten films in the Oscar line-up this year, but who gives a damn what I think? That’s just a personal view. What I do know is what we will do and what we’re trying to do. What we’re trying to do is, as I said, reboot, recreate, kick-start the studio again. (It started in 1929.) Make movies in the U.K., make movies in the U.S., make movies wherever we need to make movies. We’ve got deep pockets for development. So we’re not just buying spec scripts or buying books, or buying finished or half-finished products. We can really start from the ground upwards. The genres are broad. In a sense, it’s almost like I know what I won’t do as opposed to what I will do. We will do a lot of stuff, and there are six to eight different broad tropes that we’d say, “Well, that would be okay for us.” The only thing on my watch that we won’t do is we won’t make slasher pictures. I think generally it’s healthy, I think people are thinking outside the box. I think there’s a lot of imagination and brilliance that goes into the genre. What’s also good is that, like many of these things – a light romantic comedy, everybody loves romantic comedy all the time; it doesn’t go like that, it’s not like that – horror, in the broadest sense, has good days and bad days. People like it sometimes and then it has a bad reputation. I think right now there’s a lot of very clever, very artistic people working in the genre. So I’m pretty cool with it.

Is the intended avoidance of torture porn and slasher films a board issue? Is it an issue of how much you show?

Oakes: No, it’s just my tastes, and the tastes of my colleagues to be honest with you. It’s not a moral position or anything like that, or a religious position. It’s just not my tastes. I also don’t think it’s right for Hammer. I call it “the aristocrat of horror” – there’s something rather grand about it in a sort of funny way, the quality of what we’re doing. We’re not making low-budget horror movies; we’re making mid to high-budget horror movies, in terms of the type of budget you’d expect for a horror film.

Mostly R-Rated?

Oakes: I think The Quiet Ones and The Woman in Black will get a 12 in the U.K. The Resident, I don’t know what that will get actually. Because the ratings system is slightly different here than it is in the U.K. and France. In Italy it’s really tough. You get a film that would normally get a 12, and it might even get an 18. We definitely are not driven by the ratings system. We’re driven by the stories.

Any directors or writers that you’re courting at the moment?

Oakes: Loads. We’ve got a big slate. As you know, the group is Exclusive Media Group, so we have a non-genre label as well. We have a Peter Weir movie, which is coming out later in the year. And we have a big lineup in Cannes of non-genre. With the Hammer world, you have the “real slate” and you have “the slate.” So we have about twenty projects, and we’re focused in at about four to five right now. But we’re looking all the time. We’re looking all the time. We’ve got a great team here, we’ve got a team in London. We get a lot more inbound here, specs here – the spec script world doesn’t really exist in Europe. It does here. But we take pitches. We buy scripts, we buy books. We buy scripts that are packaged. We’re hungry to do this.

But no genre names that will ping the IMDB crowd?

Oakes: Well, you guys would be the first to know. The thing is, we’re in the situation where we didn’t want to be the emperor’s new clothes. We bought the company, we did Beyond the Rave. Then the announcement of doing The Resident and Let Me In. These films haven’t even come out yet. So we’re just slightly holding. I think there will be a lot of inbound. There’s already a lot of inbound by some really amazing talent, going, “Okay, you guys are really serious about this.” I think the other thing that’s great is that we’re one of the few [companies] in town that are well-financed. We can finance our own pictures. We put equity in, we do gap financing, we’ve got a phenomenal sales team led out of Europe. For example, Let Me In, as you know, has a domestic in place. But in other cases we can go ahead without the domestic in place. Because the days of having a domestic deal in place all the time, or a deal with the studios, are gone. The whole industry is going through a change at the moment. We acquired Newmarket recently, the great independent distributor, and we’re picking up pictures. At the moment, we just bought a film called Hesher, from Sundance. So in the fullness of time, we’ll know where we’ll be. I’ve been talking to my colleague Chris about this – that Newmarket may be releasing Hammer as a genre label in the US. That may well be where we go, finally, with this. Because a lot of the genre labels, like Dimension, are not around anymore. And as you know, the specialist divisions of the studios – the Paramount Vantages, the Warner Dependents, Picturehouse – they’ve all gone. So there’s a massive gap for distributing and bringing certain films to market.

Supposedly, Paramount is starting this micro-budget wing…

Oakes: Paramount Digital, yes. We are working on that.

So you have budgets at that range?

Oakes: We have some projects at that budget range, and we’re working with them. In fact, I may be going over there in a couple of hours time.

How can you make a project at that budget range – which I think is 200 K – with a studio involved?

Hammer Films CEO Simon Oakes  (1).jpgOakes: Well, first of all, I’m not entirely sure that is what the real minimum budget is. Nobody’s been told. It’s less about the budget and more about the model. What you do is you platform release it, you get advertisers in; you cover a lot of your downsides with sponsorship and advertising. That is the model. It’s an interesting model, given the fact that we’re working in an environment where advertisers aren’t advertising and budgets are being slashed, and so on and so forth. But it’s a great seeding ground for that. And they’ve had great success with it – obviously Kick-Ass. So a lot of these budgets are bounded around – “Well, they made this for this, and they made this for that.” Who knows?

You mentioned the Hammer heroine earlier. Next to the Bond girl, that was sort of a defining sex symbol of the 1960s. There was a certain look they had…

Oakes: Hammer Glamour?

Yes, the buxom woman in the nightgown. Have you guys thought about that, reintroducing a certain sex symbol?

Oakes: Yes is the answer, but you’ve got to do it carefully, because if you don’t it becomes pastiche. But one of the things I’m doing – I’m doing a Hammer publishing venture, which would be creating new stories and short novels, branded Hammer, with a major publisher. We’re doing Hammer Theater of Horror, where we’re doing live theater, where we actually can create that repertory group of actors and actresses like Hammer did in the ’50s and ’60s. But you can’t do that in the movies anymore, basically because the agents get in the way of that. And the actors would love it frankly. But like Steppenwolf, as a repertory thing, we’re going to do that with theater. We’re going to create new, frightening theater – “horror theater,” if you like – and original stories. That creates more IP for us to do our day job, which is make movies. So we’re doing a lot of brand extensions around Hammer to create new things. So to your question, I think we can do that to some extent through the theater side. And if we do have a story that lends itself to have what we call a Hammer heroine we would do so, but we wouldn’t just put a girl in a nightie – and the rest [laughs] – just for the sake of it.

Latest News