Over the past year or so a new shining light has appeared on the UK DVD market in the form of Hard Gore DVD. Here SGM's Al Sex Gore chats with Hard Gore's General Manager Andrew Kirkham about the label and their releases…Andrew Kirkham - Hard Gore Hero
SGM: Although folk will now be familiar these days with you in your role as General Manager of the 'Hard Gore' line, you have quite an impressive pedigree in your CV within the home entertainment industry with your work in acquisition and video production (with titles like 'Human Traffic', 'Asoka' and 'Last Orders') with companies like Virgin, Braveworld and the much-missed Palace (ah the good old days!) How did you fall into the industry and what advice would you give to readers interested in such a career?
AK: Thank you for the kind words about my "career", which started well over 20 years ago in this industry.
I came into the industry via sales, having been a graphic designer for years. I needed a job - had an interest in films and so thought I would try out this new fangled industry - video. Although sales was my foot in the door - selling Anime titles such as "Space Cruiser Yamamoto" when this sort of thing was not cool - I always wanted to be in production. So over the years I learnt all I could and took whatever opportunities I could to further this aim. A lot of the time I bullshitted people into taking a risk on me, and then had to learn fast to do what I said I could. But over time I learnt how to film, edit, write, produce etc.
Finally a format came in to being - DVD - where I could put all my "skills" together. Nearly 600 titles later as a producer, and more recently in association with my brother running our own DVD production company, I am still going strong.
So to sum up - if you want to get in to this industry it is tough but you can get there if you are determined, will do anything to get your hands dirty and further your goals.
SGM: Not many people may know this but 'Hard Gore' Managing Director Carey Budnick comes from quite an illustrious track record in the home entertainment industry also - working in the 1970's with stalwarts K-Tel (who older readers will remember with some light-hearted affection) before founding horror video fan favourites VTC and later the similarly popular Metrodome Video label. So how did you meet up with Carey and what were the early 'mission' thoughts behind the 'Hard Gore' line?
AK: I had known Carey in passing for some years before I went to work with him many years ago in the first incarnation of Screen Entertainment - the parent company for the Hard Gore brand. Over the years we did many projects together, until he sold the company when it became Metrodome Video. Some years later when we met up again I was between jobs - as you can be with regular monotony in this industry - and the time was just right for us to work together again. He gave me the necessary push and guidance for me to go out on my own. Out of this came a great working relationship where I help him with aspects of running his company, whilst pursuing my own company goals.
The "mission" (how I hate these marketing terms) for the company was a simple one. To make money whilst working in a field that we enjoyed. Joking aside we also wanted to make the best product we could within the limited means available to us.
SGM: With 'Hard Gore' UK horror fans have a very welcome return to the sort of home video indulgences they haven't had since the days before the VRA (Video Recordings Act) came into place. Were you concerned that the market would still be there for a profitable commitment to the genre? (a concern often voiced by some other UK DVD companies).
AK: Yes and No. With the earlier success of "I Spit on Your Grave" (truncated version) Carey was aware that there still existed a marketplace. As to the profitability of such a venture it is down to tight management of funds, budgets and keeping the staffing very low.
SGM: It has been obvious since the late James Ferman retired from his throne of power at the BBFC (British Film Censors) that the new board (after reviewing their policies) are taking a more relaxed and mature approach to censorship. But it does still make for some concerns with various horror releases, on one hand (and most surprisingly) Lucio Fulci's 'Cat In The Brain' was passed welcomingly uncut (even though Tartan had previously had it rejected) but on the other hand your flagship release 'I Spit On Your Grave' is still to this day a troublesome title with the censors. How has this impacted on 'Hard Gore' and does it affect your decisions with licensing potential titles?
AK: Funnily enough we quite enjoy trying to find films that will push the boundaries. The change in policies at the BBFC has made things easier on one hand, but on another it has made it harder to second guess them. I have worked on titles going through the BBFC for at least 15 years - previously I could work out what would need to be cut, but know am sometimes at a loss as to what constitutes what level of certification. But hey, that is the fun of dealing with such things.
SGM: SGM's readers believe that recent changes in BBFC policies whilst very much welcomed are still not satisfactory enough (more so in comparison to the more relaxed policies within other Western countries where a film like 'I Spit On Your Grave' is freely available fully uncut). Readers would like to see the BBFC take on an 'advisory' role rather than a censorship one (perhaps even the return of the X rating for uncut material). How do you see things going (or would like to see happen) both personally and with the company's product in mind?
AK: Interesting point. In recent years the BBFC has adopted a more advisory role, and most issues they have raised with us have been linked to various laws of the land rather than their "rules". I think probably things will get more relaxed unless an unforeseen issue makes the process reverse.
SGM: Some 'Hard Gore' releases (such as the excellent uncut release of Fulci's 'Cat In The Brain') are understandably generating great interest from genre fans outside of the UK. Does the import market make for a consideration with releases (perhaps hence the use of 'region all' production) and are there plans for expanding the 'Hard Gore' line into the US market?
AK: I cannot say too much at the moment, but we are looking in to this possibility. On the PR side of things magazines in America, Sweden and Australia are already covering us.
SGM: There has been much debate and interest over the release of 'Nightmares In A Damaged Brain' with many noting that this was a lengthier but bewilderingly differing cut of the film. Can you clear up once and for all the story behind this particular release? (Was the print pre-cut or was this the original master source copy delivered etc) Also, with this being one of your earlier releases is there any chance that the film will be revisited for the special edition treatment similar to 'I Spit On Your Grave'?
AK: Unfortunately this film was released before my time. My understanding is that the version released was from the master provided by the production company. Sadly, I am afraid we will not be revisiting this title, as it did not sell well enough to warrant the expenditure.
SGM: With the recent remastering and re-release for a 'special edition' of 'I Spit On Your Grave' it is obvious that a lot of time and effort was put into minimising censoring of the films resubmission the BBFC with reframing etc (the finished product still packs an unnerving punch). How laborious was the process of working the film to try make it more complete and have you had any feedback from director Meir Zarchi on the finished product?
AK: It was very laborious, and took a year to complete. As you know I had to use a variety of "tricks" in the rape scenes to try and keep the integrity of the soundtrack, whilst keeping the on screen imagery within the confines set by the law. I used everything from slow-mo to digital reframing to achieve this. However, where there was not enough image in frame to be able to reframe I had to make cuts. All of this reworking had to have both the approval of the director Meir Zarchi and the BBFC. Oh what fun I had. The BBFC then insisted on a further 41 seconds of cuts after viewing my "cut".
Once this cut was approved I then had to edit the soundtracks to fit - all 5 of them - 5.1,Dolby Stereo, Mono, 2 commentaries. The commentaries had to be edited in such a way that I did not lose anything important, plus make everything fall in the right place. They then had to be mixed into the Dolby Stereo. Once again these all had to be approved by Meir Zarchi. The soundtrack issue was made more complicated by the fact that everything I was supplied was at NTSC frame rates so had to be retimed and pitched in the editing process. Editing 5.1 soundtracks are not usually done and having done one I can see why. You have to edit using the waveform of each track whilst keeping it synched and edited in unison. Whoops getting boring now - sorry.
SGM: The 'Hard Gore' cannibal line (Cannibal Terror, Last Cannibal World, Deep River Savages etc) must have been an obvious concern with licensing and submission to the BBFC but have fared surprisingly well with censorship in mind (in fact some corners perhaps understandably don't mind the editing of the unwelcome animal carnage). Did you feel that licensing these titles in particular was a gamble and were you (like fans) surprised by the leniency from the Board? Wasn't there some confusion over the requested edits needed for one of these films?
AK: Any licensed title is a gamble in this field, and yes I was surprised by some of the leniency. There was a slight confusion over the cuts for Last Cannibal World as we received an early draft of the cuts list for this film. We then cut the film to match, put in the resubmission and accepted the granted certificate. At this point we were told that the cuts list had we had adhered to had been reduced. So we decided to recut the film to reduce the cuts in line with the new cuts list. This version was then submitted, certificated and released. We were only talking a few seconds here and there but decided that the fan base should have as complete a version as possible, although this decision did cost us quite a bit of money.
SGM: With the recent release of 'Faces Of Death' (another excellent special edition that fared well with the censors only receiving minor trims to two brief scenes for animal cruelty) you have shown that you are not afraid to take on previously troublesome titles in the UK market. Has this been a popular release with mainstream sales and can we expect more pre-VRA (so called) 'Video Nasties' coming our way from 'Hard Gore'? ('Anthropophagus' perchance?)
AK: Yes we are always looking for titles of this sort that we can release, and hopefully more unreleased pre-VRA titles will appear from us. As I said before we like to stretch the boundaries of the BBFC.
SGM: I know that you done some great deals licensing some rare Italian shockers from Gruppo Minerva ('Aenigma', 'Red Monks' etc), are there any plans for some more vintage Italian shockers coming our way?
AK: Yes, but I cannot tell you what they are as we are still working on getting the catalogue stable enough to release these on a regular basis.
SGM: It's good to see that 'Hard Gore' are not only concentrating on genre golden oldies but also investing in new independent fare ('Dead Creatures', 'Demonium', 'Butchered' etc), do you see this as being a long term plan for 'Hard Gore' and what upcoming filmmakers should we be keeping an eye out for?
AK: Yes we are constantly looking for new talent, and hope to showcase more of this on the label. However, for a small label it is difficult to break new talent, as it is an expensive process. We are always open to suggestions - down to your knowledgeable readers.
SGM: Many readers were interested (and very thankful) to note you had licensed/released a far superior presentation of 'Turkey Shoot' - previously issued by the often maligned VIPCO (under the title 'Blood Camp Thatcher'), a company whose previously sterling home video track record was tarnished with their lack of investment in product come the DVD age. Is there any consideration being made to revisiting some of the other titles handled by VIPCO? (a 'Hard Gore' anamorphic special edition of the classic 'Zombie Flesh Eaters' would be greeted with cheers of joy!)
AK: We would love to have this title on our books, but it is currently still owned by VIPCO. You never know what the future might bring as titles appear back on the film sales agents lists.
SGM: Finally, what are the long term plans for 'Hard Gore' and what can we expect for future genre DVD releases?
AK: World domination.
SGM: Thanks for taking time out to talk to us and I'm sure all SGM's readers wish the team at 'Hard Gore' the best of luck with the welcome line of genre releases, keep up the excellent work!
For more details on the Hard Gore line visit the official website by clicking here. Special thanks to Andrew Kirkham and Carey Budnick - the hard working Hard Gore team.