Currently in pre-production on a special effects intensive short featuring talents from Harry Potter and new Tom Hiddleston movie High-Rise, Mark J. Blackman and Roxanne “Roxy” Holman are the co-founders of Joker’s Pack Productions and they invited me to their home in South London for a chat about movie making. You can hear our beer and pizza fuelled conversation in the podcast below or just read about it in the following post, the choice is yours.

Established on 12/12/12 Joker’s Pack Productions is the professional moniker of writer/director Mark and producer Roxy, a pair of passionate film fans with ambitious plans for their company. I’ve been a fan of their dark and slightly twisted take on the world for a while now but started our interview by asking them what they think makes them unique? “Joker’s pack is about not being afraid of doing things that little bit more controversial,” Roxy dives straight in, “(we’re) a bit darker, more challenging, more controversial. Black comedies, thrillers, that’s the sort of thing that appeals to us.” Mark continues, “We just happen to be attracted to slightly more damaged characters, or characters going through a damaging experience or damaging other people. That’s where conflict comes from.”

The first film Mark and Roxy created together in 2012 was called Facial, an original written by Mark following a period of working with other writers whom Roxy claims weren’t dark enough for him. Mark describes it as a “non-linear relationship thriller”, which is very much his milieu. It was a huge learning experience for both of them and both admit that they would tackle it very differently today. Given his time again Mark would spend more time workshopping with the cast and creating, what he calls, text animatics that include dialogue and shots, which he pins to a timeline to pre-edit the film and play with the narrative, a staple of his process today. Roxy modestly says she’d change everything!

Despite their prototypical British aversion to talking themselves up the film is a taught and tawdry thriller about a man who finds footage of his girlfriend on a porn site and how he, and she, deal with it. It packs a heavy emotional punch for a short and demonstrates Mark’s signature dark take on themes of relationships and love. The film sold to distributor Shorts International and is now available to buy and download from iTunes here: bit.ly/1cMtjOi.  See the trailer below.

Despite neither of them attending traditional film school Mark and Roxy mention throughout the interview several worrying film school clichés about being “dark” and “challenging” so I ask them what they mean by this and how they manage to avoid putting those clichés in their films. “People talk about being dark but a lot of the time they’re not really”, says Roxy, citing the fact that Facial is about a man coming on his girlfriend’s face as an example of what they mean by dark and challenging content (she thinks that might actually have alienated audiences and even festival programmers). I summarise their stance as the willingness to be actually controversial rather than making the pretence of being controversial whilst producing critic-baiting festival fodder. Roxy agrees but says it’s not deliberate, that their darkness emanates naturally from the stories they tell, not the other way around. Mark insists his films are essentially about love and makes the point that you never actually see a “facial” in Facial, it’s all implied. He adds, “people say love makes the world go round but, for me, I’m interested in whether a lack of love makes the world stop”.

It’s worth noting that Joker’s Pack is a commercial concern but they don’t yet make a substantial income from their own films. In the meantime they produce corporate, commercial and educational content but are still happy to be making their living as filmmakers. They also make music videos, sometimes with a budget, usually without. In those cases, if they are inspired by the artist or song they may take it on and use whatever money they are given to pay their crew. Both Mark and Roxy take great pride in the fact that they pay all their crews full rates for client work and never less than minimum wage for personal or artistic work. They are determined to maintain their practice of fair pay having been on the other side of the fence.

Mark’s first job was shooting for a topless news channel, which sounds like a (wet) dream but he describes it as “slimy, grotty, nasty…not nice people”. He had to do it because his other job was as a runner for a more respectable production company which paid him nothing for nine months. Although he disagreed with the company’s approach he needed a foot in the door and kept his eyes and ears peeled for any opportunity to advance. When someone “fucked up” a promo he made sure he was there to step in and fix it, which started his career in earnest. To this day when an opportunity excites him he’ll find a way to do it such as the Flutes video (below) which, in the absence of any budget, meant they had to improvise, shooting everything themselves with no permits and only Roxy’s rain coat to keep the camera dry!

So, how do they raise funds for their personal work? The first stop is their own bank accounts, ploughing the profits from their client work into artistic projects, “What else would you do with your money if you’re a filmmaker?” asks Roxy. Do you foresee a time when you make money out of your own films, I ask, and if so how does that work? Mark rubs his ample beard thoughtfully, “I think so yes, the scale of our films is getting bigger, we have a slate of projects, each acts as a proof of concept for the next whilst also being it’s own piece of entertainment.” Roxy joins in with an emphatic, “definitely, yes”, though she admits it’s a different landscape now in terms of funding and distribution and she, like everyone, is trying to navigate that landscape. One of her biggest concerns is that the ease of digital production has had a negative impact on development and that too many films and other types of content are made before they’re ready. Roxy has a long term outlook and a keen eye on her audience, she wants her’s and Mark’s work to be seen not just made and, as a child of the 80s, she wants it to be in cinemas but says that doesn’t preclude them from working with VOD platforms too.

As the interview draws to a close Mark, Roxy and I begin discussing their next project, Neon, which I am involved in as both an investor and consultant. It’s a short with big ambitions and is a strategic move for Joker’s Pack, enabling them to demonstrate their capability in action/thriller territory and with special effects. Currently in pre-production it is scheduled to shoot in January 2016 with a release due later in the year. To find out more about Neon download the press release here, and to stay abreast of everything Joker’s Pack are up to check out the links below.

(And links to my two favourite shorts from Joker’s Pack, the allegorical Wax and the psychological Skin.)

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Written by Neal Moore

Co-Founder & Content Director at award-winning content agency Click2View. Filmmaker and blogger at Moore's Lore Media.

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