Q&A: Jeff Nelson & Cliff McMillan talk Scream Factory!Movies/TV,News Jerry Smith
For nearly five years now, Cliff McMillan and Jeff Nelson have given horror fans a regular output of classic, contemporary and original horror films under the Scream Factory banner, the genre offshoot of the long-running Shout! Factory label. Whether it be a forgotten genre films like EVILSPEAK (1981) or an all-out horror lover’s wet dream in the form of HALLOWEEN: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION or NIGHTBREED: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT, a film that many fans never thought they’d ever see, McMillan and Nelson have really shown time and time again that they have genre fans’ desires at heart. With the recent Blu-ray releases of DREAMSCAPE (1984) and BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), we thought we’d have a chat with the duo regarding those titles, many others and the upcoming fifth anniversary of the label being created.
FANGORIA: It’s so good to talk to you, we’re all such huge, huge fans of everything you guys do and our readers are too. I mean, pretty much everyone is at this point.
JEFF NELSON: Well, thank you. We try hard. It’s hard to believe that next year we’ll be celebrating our five year anniversary. It’s kind of really cool, and Cliff and I are pretty fortunate.
FANGO: So let’s begin with BLACK CHRISTMAS and DREAMSCAPE since they’re freshly out there. What was it about those titles that made you guys really want to release the kind of definitive editions?
CLIFF MCMILLIAN: Well, I mean, we’re both big fans of the movie, and it did have a nice Blu-Ray release last year up in Canada. So we needed to top that, and the best way to do that was with a new transfer and new interviews. We were lucky enough to gain access to the negatives, so that’s resulted in the best this movie is ever going to look, unless J.J. Abrams decides to restore it frame by frame. [laughs] So, we did try to make it the definitive release by adding everything we could. That also makes it a little difficult to create new extras, because the extras cover about everything that’s ever been said on it, and we were able to secure two new interviews. There’s just so much great content there so, it’s very exciting to put together.
NELSON: I will add that Cliff and our team had been trying to get this title for a couple years.
MCMILLIAN: Yeah, the rights had been all over the place. Luckily, the guy that we got RABID from also had just recently been able to secure it, so that’s how we got it.
NELSON: When we knew we were getting this for sure, it was one of those “Wow, okay. Here’s one of the most classic horror films. Definitely one of the most classic slasher films.” With all of the releases of it out there, it was sort of like “Okay, well, we’re up to the challenge.” We’ve put out so many releases that people said we couldn’t do before like NIGHTBREED or THE EXORCIST III or the HALLOWEEN Collection with Anchor Bay. We were ready for the challenge and I think we did great.
We hope this will be the last definitive release of BLACK CHRISTMAS and we wanted to do it justice. It’s a great film and as Cliff said earlier, we’re both super fans of the film, and to have it be packaged nice with new art, new features, a great looking new transfer; I think that we’ve done it justice. The orders were really great and we’re really happy to see that.
FANGO: Fans online are very vocal. Do you ever find that some fans don’t realize what obstacles you guys have to work with? When it comes to the director’s cut of EXORCIST III, you had to work with VHS dailies!
NELSON: I’ll throw in my two cents because I see the fans and their reactions every day because I run the social media, and I’m pretty much privy to all of our customer service emails. We try to be really transparent with our fans through interviews over the years. We make it look easy at the end of the day when you get that Blu-Ray disc in your hand, but there are lot of hurdles that we have to jump over.
There are costs; Cliff can speak about years of dealing with ratty elements or compromised audio or even talent that doesn’t want to talk about it or just difficult talent in general. Some people complain, “Oh you’re too expensive,” but trust me: if you knew how much it was to make these extras… THE EXORCIST III and NIGHTBREED are great examples. Thousands of dollars went into them. BLACK CHRISTMAS, the restoration for that took thousands of dollars and a lot of time went into it.
So we do this as a labor of love. Cliff and I absolutely love what we’re doing, but people seem to forget that we are also business and we have to profit. That’s how we stay afloat. That’s how we have stayed afloat for last five years. And I will also add that not all of our titles are NIGHTBREED or an EXORCIST III or a HALLOWEEN title. We have the smaller stuff; we have the obscure stuff that people want that we like to rescue and put out to the market for the first time in some cases. But some of those barely make a profit, so there’s a lot of things that we would like to have people understand. But we also understand that they don’t understand all the behind the scenes stuff.
MCMILLAN: I’m not sure if it’s a complete misconception but I think a lot people think that these elements are just sitting around and that you have easy access to them. That’s not quite the case. I think when we took on EXORCIST III, since we’d had such great luck with NIGHTBREED, we just thought we were going to go into the vault and it was all going to be sitting there on a pallet like it was for NIGHTBREED, and it wasn’t. The film had been thrown away over the years, or it’s either that or it’s on some pallet and it’s misidentified. So, yeah EXORCIST III was a lot of extra work , but we certainly would have rather not use VHS footage to put it back together, but it was that or just put out the same version that had been out before but adding extras.
We really wanted to put Mr Blatty’s original, intended version out there. I think the most surprising thing to me is how many people don’t like it! “Oh, it needs the exorcism at the end.” You know, his original version is really not a horror film; it’s more of a detective film and so I think that’s why it turns off some people but being that I had to sit through it so many times, I prefer that version. I know most of the fans don’t.
FANGO: I’m a huge fan of the novel LEGION, so for this writer, it was really cool to see that version. It’s just wonderful to be able to see it at all. Something I find to be refreshing about Scream Factory is that there are still films that a lot of people haven’t seen that you guys helped put in front of them for the first time. I had never seen YOU’LL LIKE MY MOTHER before you guys put it out and that’s quickly become one of my favorite movies now.
NELSON: Wow, that’s awesome. We need more people like you to buy it.
FANGO: Are there specific titles that maybe you didn’t expect to perform as well as they did, or maybe the other way around?
NELSON: Oh, yeah, definitely. We get that stuff all the time. We have lots of examples of that. We put out what we’ve announced, about 250 some odd titles, and we look at reports every month and see what kind of stuff works and doesn’t work. There will be titles, Cliff and I will have gut instincts on titles that , may do well, and sometimes over-perform to the point: I think DARK ANGEL, a/k/a I COME IN PEACE is a great example, THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, NINJA 3: THE DOMINATION, there have been those sort of kind of not the tried and true John Carpenter films or Wes Craven films. The more obscure ones that you’ve talked about like, ‘Wow, how did we do so many units of THE ISLAND?” It is kind of mind-boggling, but we’ve also had the other side, we put out some titles that people have requested and we’re like, “Oh, okay, where were you? You didn’t come to the table as much as we thought.”
MCMILLAN: I’d say there are definitely more titles that have performed not to our expectation, and you never know if that really has anything to do with the movie, or maybe the competition had other titles that month so that’s why it didn’t sell. And as Jeff said, sometimes we see titles do better than we were expecting them to over time because when we have a sale or a magazine writes about a title, people pick it up. So, that’s the most fulfilling thing is when you think you had a title do terrible, and you look two years later and go, “Oh my god, we actually did well with that!”
NELSON: I mean, I opened up my list because we have so many titles. SATURN 3 did quite well for us. It’s funny, we go back so far when looking at some of these titles, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE was slow coming out of the gate, but it actually did okay at the end of the day, which is why we’re putting out SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE 2 and 3. MOTEL HELL came in soft and then at the end of day it’s like, “Oh, this one actually did really well.” I mean, that’s a well-known movie! But you see the orders and it’s middle of the road.
It’s funny you mention YOU’LL LIKE MY MOTHER, I’m also a big fan of the film, I’m glad that we were able to put it out. It’s very old fashioned; they don’t make movies like that anymore. That hasn’t quite gotten to the sales level that we had hoped it would yet, but it’s funny that you mention it, other fans will take a look at something like that or a HELLHOLE, or DEADLY EYES or WHITE OF THE EYE or whatever ,and they’ll be fans and they’ll pass it on to their friends. We hope that the word of mouth on the movies that are really good, or the movies that are so bad that they’re good, will take off and before you know it, we’ve made our money back and then a profit.
FANGO: Are there any directors whose work you would like to do in the future if it opened up to being possible?
NELSON: I know we’ve covered De Palma, we’ve had Craven, Cronenberg, Carpenter, Hooper. We’re fortunate that we got the big ones, and when I say the big ones, I mean the ones in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, when everybody was the masters of that time.
MCMILLAN: I’d love to have some Argento or more Italian titles.
NELSON: Ah yeah, that’s true. Argento, Fulci, and Hitchcock are classic but it’s hard as it’s also with a studio that’s a big property.
MCMILLAN: And also when you get into the ‘70s and things that like that, it makes our job that much harder because unfortunately people are no longer with us. That always makes those movies a lot harder to do. The more modern titles of the ‘80s or ‘90s or 2000s are certainly a little bit easier to create bonus features and do a new transfer. But when you’re looking at an older title, sometimes those film elements have disappeared over the years just as movies have gone from one company to another or one owner to another.
NELSON: We’ve had Raimi, we’ve had Eli Roth properties in there. Not anything that he directed though; they’ve always been “Eli Roth Presents” or whatever. We’ve did have two Rob Zombie films included in the HALLOWEEN Collection. We haven’t had a James Wan title, but we were close at one point. Argento and Fulci are very much associated with the classics of the time of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and it’s not likely that we would get that, but never say never.
FANGO: I really love that you have a partnership with IFC Midnight. You’ve been releasing a good amount of the films that they’ve acquired and I think that helps bring a different, a whole new audience into both Scream Factory and IFC Midnight. How has that been and are there any other indie studios that you would perhaps do a somewhat of a partnership with?
MCMILLAN: I think it is nice to have some of these more modern films and you do hope that somebody you know, learns more or wants to look into what Scream Factory is about if they end up seeing THE BABADOOK or one of the other titles and likewise the other way. I think it’s been a great relationship and they’re great to work with and THE BABADOOK was such a huge title for us and for IFC and we mean we have some other ones that are coming up that are exciting like THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE. As far as other people to do that with? I’m not sure if there is anybody. We’ll certainly keep looking.
FANGO: One thing that I really love that you guys have been doing a lot lately is branching out to try really interesting and new things. I mean, the original FENDER BENDER. That was such a breath of fresh air just as a film itself. Is that something that you’re kind of looking into continuing to do?
NELSON: With FENDER BENDER, we were so excited to do a first original production. In fact, Cliff and I are really proud that our brand got to the point that other people in our company were able look at it and say, “Let’s do an original film and put it under the Scream Factory brand.” And that’s really good and I’m glad that we started off with like a slasher film that was a little bit more of an ode, a retro homage to the slasher films of yesteryear. Its success is still being, talked about, discussed as far as what we would do in the future with other new original productions. Maybe co-financing other films. We also had a lot of contemporary films on IFC this year that we both did a lot, like BITE. Last year we had BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS, and before that COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES, where we put a little bit more oomph, energy and theatrical markets into it.
The horror market right now, contemporary wise, is a little on the saturated side, so we have to be selective as to what we are investing in. We’re a business and still need to make a profit. And so, we now have a good history of films and our brand is well known, we’re able to attract attention and interest from a lot of filmmakers.
MCMILLAN: I would definitely say that the IFC deal has brought a lot of other license holders to our door, who you know have seen what we’ve done with IFC and been able to get it into Wal-Mart and other places like that. So I think we’re getting a lot more submissions for new movies than we have in the last two years. Much, much better.
NELSON: And some are hits and some just aren’t. This year, we had a real big success with THE FUNHOUSE MASSACRE, which Cliff brought in. And that was an independent film, kind of came in and that’s a great example of a title that we had some expectations for, it did much better than we thought and it turned out to be a good movie too.
FANGO: I personally loved the Larry Fessenden Box Set just because HABIT is my favorite vampire movie of all time. How did that come about?
MCMILLAN: That’s sort of how the whole IFC thing started; somebody contacted me about Larry’s earlier films and wanting to do a box set. I love Larry’s movies, too; I remember seeing HABIT and WENDIGO when they first came out. I was excited about doing it and Larry is a super cool guy and fun to work with. So that’s how the whole IFC thing came to us. And I think it was the success and interest of us to want to put that out that made them decide to come to us for the distribution on the IFC Midnight line.
NELSON: I want to reinforce that too, and Cliff said it a couple times. If the Larry Fessenden collection and those discussions didn’t happen, we would not have had all of these great movies like THE BABADOOK, WYRMWOOD, THE HOLLOW, and BASKIN. You may say, “Hey, why would you do a collection on Larry Fessenden? He’s relatively unknown.” Well yeah, because of that and look what the domino effect is. We’re pretty proud of that.
MCMILLAN: Oh, now I remember what it was. Well we picked up BENEATH with our deal through Chiller. That’s what started it. Larry wanted to do a set, and then he talked to IFC and said, “You should talk to Shout Factory. They’re interested in doing my earlier works.”
FANGO: One thing that a lot of fans just absolute love about your brand is how much effort goes into giving special feature junkies the absolute best that you can offer. Was that always important to you to give people that extra attention?
NELSON: I would say yes, and Cliff would probably agree.
MCMILLAN: Yeah, I mean I’m a person that loves special features myself so it was most definitely our intention to do that I think. Me, and Jeff can add to this too, in the last year or two I think the fans have felt it’s even more important that the film look its best or sound its best and so I think we’ve not gotten rid of extra features but we’ve evened out our spend on titles to put more money into transfers and audio and still be able to bring a great package of extra features but so many fans have said that they feel the transfer is the most important thing. And I understand that. So it was definitely something that we wanted to focus on more recently.
NELSON: I would say that from the very beginning, the moment you put ‘Collector’s Edition,’ means going out to actors that we can pretty much ensure are not going to say anything but we try anyways. A lot of times, we’ve been very fortunate and we’ve come away with talent that we were just like, “Wow, I can’t believe this person talked about this movie. This is great.” I think Dennis Quaid on DREAMSCAPE was a great example, a recent example of that. But yes, in the last couple of years, for sure, especially when we’re going into titles that have been out on Blu-ray before, you do need to give more than just a new piece of artwork and maybe one interview or so.
If a film has been out on Blu ray before, chances are we will go and we will do a new transfer of the film. We’ve been very fortunate: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, CHILD’S PLAY, etc. You come away with some really high remarks and great regards for it, and that is important. In today’s environment, when it comes to home video and media and how people consume their movies, the physical home media is pretty much the collector’s market at this point. People want things to look and sound good as best as they can because there’s a big uncertainty as to what’s that next chapter is for older films on home video. Is it all streaming? Is it UHD? Is it another thing that hasn’t been invented yet? Who knows. A lot of people will think this feels like it might be the last time to see things on physical and I think that is when people get a bit more passionate about it because they want it look its best, sound as good, and have the special features.
FANGO: You also did the CARRIE prom event this year, which is something fans don’t normally expect from the company. Is that something you’d really like to continue, doing kind of things that are outside of the box here and there?
NELSON: That is a really good question, and thank you for bringing that up. The CARRIE Prom where we partnered with the non-profit cancer support group weSPARK, which Nancy Allen is the executive director of. I want to say it’s a once in a lifetime experience, and it was a one in a lifetime experience. It’s very hard to organically put cancer support and a horror film together in the same sentence and have it feel organic and not feel clunky. We’re so busy, as you can tell from our slate of titles, that sometimes we don’t necessarily have the time to explore these opportunities, so they sometimes either fall in our laps or discussion happen, like when we did deluxe editions on our site, where you get a different piece of artwork, or you get a custom made Chucky doll. These are all things that happen with other people in our company who bring a lot of idea too.
I think we’re open to it. One of the great things about Shout Factory in general, not just Scream Factory, is how much experimentation is going on, with not just the films but our TV shows. Sometimes we’ll try some things and they’ll work, sometimes they don’t, but the company is very open minded when it comes to trying out new things and also being open to this may be a different way to promote the title. So when the CARRIE fundraiser thing came up, I thought, “Hey, I’m reaching a whole lot of people that might not normally have known about our release.” Of course, that results in sales, but it also is a feel good thing because we raised almost $25,000 for charity. That’s amazing, and that’s for a great cause too. We’re really proud of doing that. I want to be able to do things like that in future, but I will say that the CARRIE event was a lot of work. Let’s just put it that way; it took a lot out of me.