Courtney Solomon is the CEO of After Dark Films, a “mini-major” that has begun producing a host of unique and original movies (the majority of which are being released in Australia over the next couple of months). In this exclusive interview with Clint Morris, Solomon discusses his beginnings as a filmmaker (his directorial debut was 2000′s “Dungeons & Dragons”), his business model for the After Dark Films – and the product being released via the label (including “Husk”, “Seconds Apart” and “51″), and the perpetual appeal of Jean-Claude Van Damme.
You’re being compared to Roger Corman in the notes here, sir…
Oh no. Wow. [laughter] Actually, I like Roger. What a sweet guy, though, right?
You know, you’re looking at what this guy did, though, and how many careers he started at the end of the day, I mean, one thing that we do that I would consider is the comparison there, for sure, is that I like the fact the we do the same thing for young filmmakers and we always have and even when we were acquiring the films, we gave their films a theatrical shot which gave them a shot to get seen and potentially move on to other things for studios and bigger companies. So I mean, I like that just being a filmmaker myself and having had to struggle through my own films, I know what it’s like. So that’s a good thing you do. I mean, you know, in an industry where not necessarily a lot of people do a lot of good things for other people, it doesn’t hurt. It can’t be that bad a thing. Karmically, it should be okay. [laughter]
But at the same time your films, I don’t see, belonging to that B category that Corman’s do…
No. I don’t think so. I mean, they… I… We’re trying to make a higher quality film for sure . I am doing it as a business for sure, but maybe not as much of a business that he was doing it. He was sort of running a factory. I’ve done some research on him. You know, it was before my time but, he just kept pushing them through. And he had these studios in different places and there was a formula and he didn’t care… I mean, I could’ve written you the script right now here in the next hour and Roger would be like “Great, go make it!”.
But let’s get to you. I know you started out directing, right?
Yeah I did. I’m a filmmaker in the first place. I just went on this road for like five years on purpose. Right now, I’m a producer, obviously. But I mean, I’ve been certainly, quietly directing in the background of some of these things. And then I’m working very closely with filmmakers because obviously, being a filmmaker, it’s easier to have a shorthand with them because you actually understand what they’re doing, maybe more so than most producers do. It’s not just that I got the rights and that I came up with the money, handle the distribution, and set them off to go make the film. I don’t work like that. I mean, I’m helping… Yeah, I’m very hands-on. I mean I’ve directed second unit on so many of our films; I would just direct for them because I was there and they would be, like, thrilled. I just want the film to be as better that it can be because it’s my film as the producer. It’s my company’s film.
That’s right. It’s got your name on it.
Yeah. And I want their film to be as good as it can be. And a lot of times it’s simply about how to speak with the actors, to get the most out of them which doesn’t require numerous takes. I was trained by some pretty tough ones while I was a young filmmaker which made me that much better at it.
Some of the films, like Re-Kill, I worked extremely closely on. I continue to work extremely closely on that film. So that one, it’s a lot of work. And one of the action films that we’re about to start, I’ll co-direct that, and I’ll actually take credit for it.
On some of these other things, no matter how much work I might have done, in that capacity, I brought the filmmakers on to make their films. I’m just helping as a producer even if there might be a mere line of certain points. I don’t look at it like that. I’m not trying to take their thunder. Who cares?
Okay. So let’s speak about you, the director, first. “Dungeons and Dragons”, that was your first?
That was my first, yeah.
Your first film. And then you did “An American Haunting,” is that the follow-up?
And then you kind of made the transition to producing. Why? more control over the productions themselves? Getting more of a say at the table?
I always produce my first films as well. I produced “An American Haunting” and I produced “Dungeons and Dragons.”
Oh, okay. Then explain how you came to wear the producer hat more…
I was always a producer. I’ve always been within control of my own destiny, so that’s not the issue. I mean I think what I did was Lions Gate gave me an offer to sort of be like a… horror guy of Lions Gate via my own autonomous company. And so it was a good opportunity to learn how that side of the business worked as well, which I thought, helped me in the future with my own films and understanding everything; not just how to be a filmmaker. Because most filmmakers just understand the filmmaking and then they freak out when they’re handed over to marketing people at the studios. And they don’t really understand how to communicate and gear that in the right direction to get back interest of their own films. Through doing this, I certainly have a very good understanding of that. And kept all of… Everything sharp. It wasn’t like, “Was that good at all? You were asking them.” No. I mean, I’ve made more films than I ever would have made just as a director in the last five years. I’ve done 14 films in the last 17 months. Which is just extreme. But I mean, you know… So, no it’s really good that way. I enjoy it.
But there’s two genres that stick out on your resume. One, as we know, is the modern-day horror film; the other would be the action film – and the action films with the blokey A-listers like Van Damme and Stallone. You worked on ”Universal Soldier : Regeneration”, which was terrific by the way…
Yeah. Yeah. And you know that we have just shot Universal Soldier 4?
Yeah. The “New Dimension” right?
Yeah. And it’s 3D.
Great. Is that going to be theatrical? Or…
We don’t know yet. But the movie turned out really, really well–it’s in post-production right now–the movie turned out really, really well. It’s really, really cool.
And John [Hyams] made some use of the 3D camera like you’ve never seen before. He didn’t use it the way that we’re traditionally used to seeing it. He used it as if he was just shooting his film in the same style that John shoots 2D. The 3D is just all around you in places you wouldn’t even imagine the 3D to be. And it turned out great. Yeah. So I am feeling it might turn out theatrical because I think people will be really surprised by the movie.
You’re not only helping bring back original horror, you’re bringing back these action icons like Van Damme.
Van Damme’s in this one too. Dolph [Lundgren] too. Speaking of, Im on my way to Bulgaria right now to do this other film, and Jean Claude’s there. You know Bruce Willis just left. Sly is there.
Yeah, the Expendables; they’re still shooting. So they’re all there right now. Dolph is there. Chuck Norris is there. Statham’s there.
I just did a film with Sly [Stallone].
”Bullet in the Head?”
Yeah. I read the script when it was “Head Shot”. Good read.l It changed much since then?
Yeah. A lot better. Joel [Silver] made it better.
When Joel came on board, it kind of… it ramped up a notch in terms of… It’s a bigger film.
Yeah. Well, he had Walter [Hill] and then, you know, Joel and Walter have worked together before, and Joel and Sly have worked together before and Joel is obviously a genius. And so, he really
Good to see these reach macho-men action movies making a comeback. And especially with The Expendables, you’ve got Van Damme back on the big screen.
Apparently, Jean-Claude is really, really good too. He’s like his best shape in years, like he looks great. Everybody’s talking about it in Bulgaria. They’re just telling everyone he looks great. Yeah.
Are you on board this as a producer, too!?
On Expendables 2? No, I have nothing to do with it. I’m doing a different movie there and it’s all just happening in the same place because these guys stay in the same hotel because there’s only one hotel there, so we all stay in the same place.
Okay. What are you heading now there for?
A movie. A different movie, one of our action movies with Joel Silver. But Van Damme is in one of our action movies, Dragon Eyes. Jean Claude is starring. We’re doing Dragon Eyes 2 with him right after I do this movie in December.
I see. So he’s the star of Dragon Eyes 2? Thought he only had a small role in those filmns?
He’s in them with Cung Le. JC has an even bigger part in Dragon Eyes 2. Yeah. He’s basically in 50%, 60% of the movie [Dragon Eyes 2]. Yeah.
Obviously you’re not just the horror guy. You’re…
We branched into action. We had the same concept for the originals with action. It’s After Dark Action. So, that’s five movies instead of eight. But otherwise, that’s the reason. We’ve made the first five already and four in post production and one of them is completed. And we’re now starting the second series of production on the action movies just like the second series of production on the horror movies.
Okay. Do you chose films that you are necessarily interested in yourself. I mean, does it have to have spark your interest? Or do you play to the market?
We don’t play to the market. Obviously, there’s a market. But…we’re the biggest producer of horror movies in the United States and therefore probably the world. So every horror script comes our way. There’s nothing… No matter how big it is, even if it’s bigger that what we usually do. Because everybody knows if we want to do a $40 million film like Bullet to the Head, we can. But it’s just not something we do every day.
You know it’s not our business model. So every horror movie comes in. We probably see 300 horror scripts a year and then, we take eight. And on the action movies, we moved into it. So now, every action script comes there. And there’s way more action scripts than there are horror scripts.
Your company, when you’re coming up with the business model for the After Dark releases, what was the original plan? Festival then DVD release platform for each?
Right, but we have an established brand, with having done the acquisition festivals for four years. So what we get on US DVD and Digital and you have Sci-Fi as TV partners and IFD as second window partners, so we have… And then tax credits, we have a big percentage of those budgets covered before we ever saw them in international territory.
So it’s a different model. And then we have obviously beyond the actual cost of doing it, getting it recouped and having it covered. Then we have a lot of library revenue thereafter that continues on. So our business model took a long time and a lot of investment to establish in the first place. But once it’s set, as long as you take care of it, it can work very well.
Now we’re taking the brand to international. So now, you got us launching in Australia, England, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Benelux, Mexico, all over the place. So it’s a good thing, it’s like McDonald’s, franchising.
What do you look for in the scripts?
Well, I mean obviously good scripts, good contents to start off with. But even though they’re horror movies, we look for good story and characters, first and foremost and then, worry about making horror movies. Like Cusp for example. Did you watch it?
Yeah. I enjoyed it.
I heard you liked “51” a lot?
I did, I did. Yeah. Bruce Boxleitner is an old favourite. I’ve been championing his return, you know. Outside of this ”Tron stuff”, for years…
He’s a nice guy.
Yeah, he’s a good actor too. He’s been in all of the SyFy movies for the last ten years and I think he’s being wasted. So it’s good to see him in decent fare again. So and in terms of casting, do you get a say in…
It’s completely my say. I mean the good thing about my model and my company is I don’t have to report to anybody. So everybody comes to me for the final approval. So that’s fun, and good. On one side you’re with Joel Silver, obviously we can start with him and everybody in his company. That’s a different story. But at the end of the day, it’s my call if I want it to be my call. Practically it never needs to work that way. Everybody works under the team effort and comes up with the right decisions which is hopefully the right thing to movie. It’s always dictated by the movie. The movie is the most important organism. And everything else, casts, directors, special effects, and your schedules, stunts, whatever is dictated by what best serves the movie as the whole. And that’s how I view everything. Not everybody does, but that’s how I view it.
I’ve had certain movies where there’s really good stars that, for some reason, got the script and wanted to be in the movie.. And they’re not the right person for the movie. No matter what if you put them in that movie, even though they’re great, it would hurt the rest of the movie. They just don’t belong. Maybe they’re too big. Maybe they’re just too established in one way. I don’t want to give any names but… like if I say no, we’ll have to do something else, you’re saying to yourself, “Am I crazy?” But it’s the wrong reason. Because it might be good for the sales of the movie but it’s not going to help the movie moving.
What’s your favourite of the ones you’ve done?
Well, of the horror ones, Re-kill. Probably because I’m doing so much for Re-kill, I’m jaded. But also seconds apart I really like a lot and I was really proud of that film. I’m also really proud of Husk, I like Husk a lot. Yeah, I think Husk is a good throwback to the 80s, Texas Chainsaw Massacre type film. And I think you look at it and you go “Wow, that was shot on just a million three!?”. And it’s a pretty good looking film for a million three. I mean, you could never know looking at the film. So I’m proud of that on many, many levels. A movie called Transit, which nobody has seen yet which I’m extremely proud of. I think it’s a really, really good film. I’m proud of everything we’ve done, but I mean, you have some favorites, yeah.
They’re all your babies.
Yeah. And I’m not saying that those are the best ones of the bunch, that’s my personal opinion.
Have you had anything that hasn’t turned out as well as you’ve liked that you’ve thought…
Yeah, you always have stuff. And I try if I can within like realistic budget requirements and economics to go and re-shoot and get them as good as they can be if they don’t turn out. So usually you only see that with big huge films with a ton of studio money behind it and maybe a Michael Bay behind it or a huge director–I’m using him as an example as a huge director–who can say “Yeah. I want to give you just three and a half weeks to research on Transformers 3″ and he can do it. So I try to do that as much as I can. But yeah, we have disappointments and problems all the time. I mean, so many movies, it’s ridiculous to think that you don’t.
I’m really happy that we can bring originals here to Oz. Because it looks like there’s a lot of excitement, it seems like people were starved to have horror here.
Oh, they have. We love a bit of ick here.
And the reason I decided to make the movies and no longer just buy them and put them out as in the US, like I used to do, it was so that I could bring them internationally. Because I had a lot of requests, why can’t we do this festival in Oz? Why can’t we do it in the UK or whatever? And we couldn’t because I never had those rights. So I bought the US but the film makers that already made their films by the time I got them, they’d already sold all those rights. So it’s impossible to organize it logistically because the rights were with different people, because the films, one film maker had nothing to do with another film maker. So the eight films we bought, who the hell knows who had the Australian rights on those eight films? It would have been eight different people probably.
Yes, I can imagine.
Yeah, so logistically, it didn’t work.
You have worked on a couple of 3D movies. What’s your take on 3D? I mean, people obviously are… Hollywood’s its worst enemy I guess in terms of 3D at the moment…
No, no, they’re their worst enemy in terms of saturating things all the time and 3D is just another example of it. They took something that people were excited about, and that works for technology today, and wherever the world is technologically speaking and then saturated it to the point that people are losing faith in it, the audience I mean. I mean look, for Avatar, fantastic thing, right? For certain event films, fantastic thing. Like this movie I’m going to do, I’m not doing it in 3D because I can. But the movie I’m going to do in Bulgaria, it is a movie where it’s shot, the exterior’s stuff from the perspective of 18 cameras on the outside of a car. And the car is constantly moving through obstacles, like a videogame, the entire movie. And so I thought to myself now this movie would lend itself to 3D. Because imagine, smashing into cars, around things, getting so close, I mean it’d be like awesome. So certain movies, I think, creatively automatically lend themselves to that format. But Hollywood is, now they’re just taking movies that weren’t 3D, they’re putting in the 3D in after the fact, which never looks near as good, and I think they’re just hurting it for a lot of people.
Because I spoke to Joe Dante about the whole… And of course he’s one of the first guys to get on the 3D bandwagon. “The Hole” was well shot and in 3D and couldn’t get a distributor. I mean here it’s pretty much direct to DVD…
And people wouldn’t touch it. And then suddenly they all wanted it and it will start to go the same way.
Filmmakers need to remember to use it sparingly; it has to compliment a story.
It has to make sense. The same thing I said before, it’s all about the film. If it works for the film. If you were doing a drama why would you want to make it 3D? So you could see the mouths move? I mean, why?
What’s next for you?
One of the action movies. Yeah, the first of the second series. The same time we’re shooting a Leprechaun movie ["St Patrick's Day Leprechaun"] for SyFy in Baton Rouge. And then we have another horror movie this year and then the Van Damme Dragon Eyes 2 movie, and then the rest of the horror movies and the rest of the action movies next year.
What about combining, doing a mesh, doing a Van Damme horror?
It’s an idea [Laughs]
Yeah, it’s an idea. It’s amazing how much success you’ve had.
Well, Thank you. Hopefully, we’ll keep having it. Keep making better films. Re-Kill looks like it’s going to have a wider launch, so hopefully that will do some good stuff for us. I think the audience is really going to love that film. It’s like an audience pleaser, it’s fun.
Could I just ask, what do you think about video on demand? Just because I know at the moment…
It’s the future. I mean digital and video on demand and pay-per-view is the future, and streaming. It ultimately takes out DVD. It’s becomes accessible for a much wider audience, so anybody can watch any movie, any way they want, whenever they want, in whatever format they want. Because they can just hook it up. So I think… And they can carry it with them. Like a portable DVD collection.
The window is really shrinking though, even for theatrical…
Yeah, that’s right. I mean I don’t mind… We do our theatrical launch on purpose, because it is part of our format and it is the event that we create and it’s something that we want to do. But it’s unnecessary financially speaking, its actually a loss leader. For us we want to grow in digital space, because our movies belong there. Now if you want to go see an Avatar, a Harry Potter, or Transformers 3 that’s a theatrical event film. You want to see that in movie theaters, you want the sound around you, you want the big screen, it belongs there. You’re going to see a horror movie, you can watch it on this, you can watch it on your iPad, or just on your TV. So that is the future, 100%. And the models are all changing as a result of it, and the windows and the forms of distribution are all changing. I think in the future, at least for us, we’d like to be a place where you know the After Dark brand, you can go onto iTunes–for the sake of argument–you can go onto the After Dark brand there and we’ll put a new release out for you every month, so you can get a new movie every single month and we’ll have our whole library there so you can get all of these other horror movies and you know that’s a place I can go on the internet for horror. Say I’m with my girlfriend and we want to watch a horror movie. There’s 70 of them there, and I can pick one or a new one and just watch it. It’s inexpensive and it’s instant.
Only to Rent: W/c Sept 26 | Buy on DVD: W/c Oct 10
Only to Rent: W/c Oct 3 | Buy on DVD: W/c Oct 17
Only to Rent: W/c Oct 10 | Buy on DVD: W/c Oct 24
Scream of the Banshee
Only to Rent: W/c Oct 17 | Buy on DVD: W/c Oct 31
Only to Rent: W/c Oct 24 | Buy on DVD: W/c Nov 7
Only to Rent: W/c Oct 31 | Buy on DVD: W/c Nov 14
Only to Rent: W/c Nov 7 | Buy on DVD: W/c Nov 21