Filmmaker Phil Escott talks about launching Cardiff-based physical media company Fractured Visions, starting with the release of Silent Action.
Subscription service wise, the big three in the UK are probably Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus. Then there’s NowTV, which has subscription packages for movies, television, kids TV and sport. For genre movie fans, there’s Shudder and the newly launched Arrow Player. There’s also BFI Player and Mubi if you’re fancy. Then there are Prime channels, which you can add to your Amazon Prime subscription. There’s also Britbox. My wife subscribes to Discovery + for the ghost hunting programs.
I know that there are more, too. There are more subscription streaming services than the average person could reasonably be expected to keep track of. Beyond that, there are digital rentals, premium digital rentals and digital purchases (that can disappear).
As a result, whenever we sit down in front of our television, we’re faced with a sprawling catalogue of choices. It only makes sense, then, that number of people buying physical media has shrunk.
Today, I’m talking to filmmaker Phil Escott about his new physical media company Fractured Visions. Having worked with companies like Arrow and Second Sight on bonus material for their Blu-ray releases of cult films, Escott is launching his own Cardiff-based label, starting with the release of Silent Action.
I start with the question that hangs over the entire venture. Why have you started a company selling discs as people are moving over to streaming?
“It’s a pretty dumb decision when you think about it,” he tells me with a laugh.
“I’m a physical media guy through and through,” Escott explains. “I grew up in the VHS and the DVD era and I learnt so much about filmmaking and films I love through this format. And I appreciate the numbers are coming way down as everyone moves to streaming and I understand why, but I do know there is a market out there still for physical media and so it’s catering to that demographic and bringing new films to them. So Silent Action was one example that missed DVD and Blu ray thus far.”
“It seemed like a good statement to prove to these guys that there are still films out there that haven’t been discovered as yet.”
Of course, we’re big on physical media ourselves. Fans of cult and genre films have been spoiled recently by impressive special editions of movies like David Cronenberg’s Crash and George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead. As larger distributors move away from bonus features and commentary tracks for big releases, cult and classic titles are receiving far more reverential treatment.
Fractured Visions is launching with a packed edition of Sergio Martino’s Silent Action, a rough and tumble Italian cop thriller from the 70s, complete with that-was-actually-dangerous-wasn’t-it? car chases and suave men rocking turtleneck shirts and concealed pistols.
“I’m actually a huge fan of Sergio Martino,” Escott says. “Prior to Fractured Vision, my day job was helping other labels produce DVDs and Blu-rays, so it was a case where I knew Sergio personally as well as admiring his films. This is the one gem in his filmography that I just couldn’t understand hadn’t seen the light of day. It was a no brainer for me in that sense, because I know Sergio has a decent following and to introduce that following to a new film in his filmography just seems like the only logical way to go. It was just lucky for me the rights were available.”
Sergio Martino is an Italian filmmaker who came to prominence in the 1970s. Renowned for giallo slashers Torso and The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh and Eurocrime thriller The Violent Professionals, fans will often come to Martino as the next logical step after Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. This writer will also extend a recommendation for Martino’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have The Key and The Suspicious Death Of A Minor.
And Escott’s favourite Martino?
“It’s always quite controversial, but mines The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail. I know, heresy for the Torso and Mrs Wardh fans,” he says with a laugh. “That’s the film that’s always gotten me and it’s the one I revisit the most.”
“This is the one where they’ve got a very hokey explosion of a plane in the beginning, which is laughable but I love it. It’s one of those films where it takes you on trips, it starts off in London, and Greece. It feels like you’re on holiday, watching those films.”
Martino, of course, is a cult figure rather than part of the mainstream. In the case of Silent Action, it’s also a crime thriller rather than a horror. Referred to as Poliziateschi in Italian (in English they tend to be referred to as Eurocrime films, which is what we called them throughout the interview due to my botched pronunciation), this was a movement of films that tends to sit alongside giallo movies and after spaghetti westerns.
It’s here that Fractured Visions makes its case for physical media over streaming. Included in the package is the documentary Years Of Lead (also the title of an upcoming Eurocrime boxset from Arrow), which serves to explain the events in Italy in the 70s that contextualise the Eurocrime genre. I’ve seen a few of them prior to watching Years Of Lead, but found this documentary incredibly helpful in understanding this nook of cinema.
“A lot of people tend to think they’re all Dirty Harry knockoffs, because there are a lot of those style in Eurocrime cannon. This was the perfect example to show that they’re not just a mean copper slapping the shit out of various bad guys, trying to bring down big crime organisations. So, yeah, this one tapped into more of the real-life stuff that was happening in Italy in the 70s. Which I know people may be familiar with, especially fans of Italian cinema. But for those who haven’t ventured outside of giallo and the 80s stuff, it may have passed them by. So when putting the package together, I really wanted to bring that contextual piece so they could understand what kind of era these films were made in.”
We move on to talk about the technical process of taking an old movie that perhaps hasn’t been considered particularly important and has been treated as such and releasing it in a format where the audio-visual elements will be expected to stand up to scrutiny. For this writer, this process is a mysterious one.
“It had to go to other people, that’s way beyond my knowledge base,” Escott tells me.
“So for the audio side of things we went with Bang Post Production, who are here in Cardiff. I’ve worked with them on my film, Cruel Summer. They did all the sound for that, so I took it to them. These guys do Gangs Of London, they do Doctor Who and Sherlock and all those things. Sound is their speciality, I knew if there’s anyone who’s going to clean up the audio and do a bang up job, it’s Bang!”
“The audio went to them and they made it sound so crisp and clean. Because when we had it was a just crackling, popping mess of a track. Now obviously, that’s not there any longer.”
“Then for the colour side of things, as it was just a muddy brown mess when we received it, the Dogs of Annwn boys were able to go in and somehow draw colour out of that mess. Somehow, I don’t know how they do it. Thank god they are at our doorstep because otherwise, we may have had to send it off to a bigger place in London, which again, would have been more costly than keeping it in Cardiff. So I got a bit lucky in that regard.”
It was that picture restoration, Escott explains, that provided the biggest challenge of the release.
“The Italian licensor sent us over a scan of the film, but it wasn’t in the best shape. I don’t have the resources of some of the bigger boutique labels to have done the scan myself. So when we got it in it was just this mess, essentially. We tried to clean it up the best we could and that has taken the most time and energy of the whole process.”
Of course, even the smallest, least complicated process can lead to sizeable headaches. In the case of Silent Action, an unexpected issue ended up delaying the release by two weeks at fairly short notice. It’s one of those things that you perhaps wouldn’t consider from the outside.
“The printing company messed up in a big way. They sent out all the units without the booklet. I don’t know how they managed that. So obviously we had to send them back so they could insert the booklets. So that’s gonna take another week or two. So yes, that was unforeseen and very unwelcome.”
With the release of Silent Action imminent, Fractured Vision will be able to turn its attention to future releases. While Escott is a filmmaker himself (he directed 2016 horror Cruel Summer), he tells us that he intends to keep his own movies separate from those released by the label (with the exception of an upcoming documentary on found footage movies). Rather, Fractured Visions will be a place to celebrate and draw attention towards underseen genre movies.
Next up, then, is Free Hand For A Tough Cop.
“So that is an Umberto Lenzi film. And again, it’s another variation on the Eurocrime genre. This one is a little lighter, it’s a bit more comedic, which is a risk because, you know, regional comedy never does well outside of the region it’s designed for. But this is one film where the comedy is, it’s gentle, it’s funny, because it’s universal comedy.”
It’s another underseen one, too.
“No UK release and I don’t think it’s ever had a UK release to be honest. I found it on imports. So it’s another film that’s just flown under the radar so long. It’s a case of why. A, it’s a good film, and B, it’s by a filmmaker that’s really well loved and a filmography that has been really well mined by this point in time.”
Following that will be a bit of a change of pace.
“The next film after that, we’ve not announced as yet but to give you a bit of gos, it’s a modern film, actually. It’s a Colombian horror film called Luz: The Flower Of Evil, which is very much a throwback to Jodorowsky. Very cerebral, very existential. It’s a modern folk horror, it played at Sitges and in the Glasgow Film Festival last year. Shudder have bought it but the physical rights were available. It’s a beautiful film.”
“It’s breaking with the old Italian films for a minute and trying to bring something new to audiences as the collector’s market, as mentioned, has been saturated with older movies. So I’m wondering how a modern film will cater to the collector’s market, to see if they’re willing to give a new film the chance they would an older film show. It’s gonna be a test, but hopefully it’s a successful one and we can bring more modern films to the market in good editions, give them the treatment that the old ones get. Because modern films, these things just get chucked on a streaming platform and then lost.”
We suspect there might be something to this idea. After all, we note that Second Sight recently released a deluxe version of Anna And The Apocalypse (a Film Stories favourite that took the cover spot on our very first print magazine). We’re thrilled to find out that it was Escott that produced the bonus content for that release. However, he sees the release of Luz as a different prospect.
“That film obviously had a bit of a cult following going in, this one, Luz, is a bit under the radar and foreign language. Everyone always says don’t go modern foreign language! Don’t do it! No one will buy it! But the collector’s market that I believe are out there, they’re the ones who are into foreign horror, as they are classical horror films. Just trying to test the waters in that regard to see if a modern film does get the reception of a classic film that no one has yet offered, but are willing to give a go because it’s by Sergio Martino.”
“I guess I’m hoping on a bit of brand respectability in the sense that they like Silent Action, they may like Free Hand For A Tough Cop and because it’s Umberto Lenzi people give it a shot; this company’s got pretty decent taste, I’ll give this one a go. And then more importantly, hopefully they like it.”
There’s a lot of talk of testing, of having a go to see what works. For a small, new company, this seems like a bold, risky approach. Escott seems calm. He’s managed his risks, he’s got his numbers worked out and, most importantly, he’s confident that the release is worth it.
“My model is based on limited runs. So, the sell through of the 3000s units, that will recoup all of the investment that has gone into it and put me into profit. It’s trying to find that fine line between giving the package the bells and whistles, not destroying myself financially at the same time, but also making sure it’s enough to warrant a price tag so the customers aren’t feeling ripped off.”
“It’s a fine, fine line to try and manage. This one, as it was the first title I did want to go all out, just as a statement. Just show that I am serious about giving these films the respect and a position that people will hopefully enjoy. So it’s more of an experience for them, hopefully. “
“They’ll have the soundtrack, they’ll have the booklet, they’ll have all these extras. About three hours’ worth of extras. It’s not just going to be, watch the film for an hour and a half and then go about your life. You can come back to it another day and find out a bit more about the making the film or about what was happening in Italy at the time. Sit down with the soundtrack, read the booklet and have a coffee. It’s more than just the film.”
Silent Action is on Blu-ray 12 April from Fractured Visions
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