CREATOR OWNED AND OPERATED SINCE 2006
My production company, Torture Chamber Productions will celebrate our fifth year anniversary on February 24, 2011. It’s been five years since we first got together and chose to go the independent route. So many things have happened over those years and we’ve changed so much but the dream has always been consistent, put out genre media that is creator owned and operated, and never spend our own money. Let me take you on this adventure on how we came to be and how we got to where we are now.
During my senior of college I met my creative soulmate, Ryan Amendt. He and I were in the thesis film class together and one day he entered wearing a black Metallica shirt. We began speaking because we were the only 2 metal heads attending Cal State Fullerton. To my surprised the committee chose my short horror script as one of the films to be made. It was a no-brainer for me to choose Ryan to be the director since directing was his lifelong dream and he knew more about film technique than anyone I’ve ever met.
I needed a banner to make the film under. For years I had played around with different names but I needed something that would immediately tell you what genre I specialized in. I wanted something so as soon as you heard it you’d never forget it. So I came up with Torture Chamber Productions and the name just stuck since every time I said it to someone, I’d see the same exact wily smile appear across their face.
Clark Jones had already been my editor getting my short horror stories published in horror magazines. Clark had a wealth of experience running these types of companies since he was a bookseller and publisher in the eighties. It also helped that he had an MBA in business as well.
So I went to the courthouse in Santa Ana and set everything up. I advertised the business in the O.C. Register and opened accounts with Capital One and Farmers and Merchants Bank. I had the late Frank Nguyen set up the website and had business cards made. Torture Chamber Productions was official.
THE FIRST FILM
A paramount rule that we all agreed to employ is that we would never use our own money to produce films. Since we already had funding from Cal State Fullerton we were set and ready to shoot. Ryan and our crew shot the entire grueling week of production for our first film – The Perfect Girl.
We sent it to festivals after we premiered the film at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. We made massive copies and gave them away at Comic Con and The Weekend of Horrors. Even though the film wasn’t the greatest piece of cinematic work it acted like a business card and told people that we knew how to raise money and deliver a product. It opened up the doors to legendary filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro and Mick Garris who we still go to for support and advice to this day.
Years after we made the film it won the horror section at the Knights of Shorts Film Festival 2009.
FILMMAKERS AND FREELANCERS
I graduated college that year and immediately worked on professional sets as a freelancer. At the end of the day, I would pass my card around to everyone on every set I worked on. The name of my company stuck to all of their memories and if you were to mention it to them now, they’d still give that sly smile and immediately remember Victor Phan.
Whenever my team wasn’t freelancing for the studios, we’d develop our own intellectual properties. Clark and I continued doing what we did best and wrote stories for print and get them published. I came up with the idea of creating short horror comic books and getting them published as of a way of reaching more audiences.
We assembled two teams to work simultaneously. The first team was composed of my girlfriend at the time, Julie Nguyen, and myself. The second team was writer Joseph Carlos Perez and our unbelievably talented artist from New York – Joe Guido. Both teams produced short comic books that were used to further promote what we were doing in Fullerton.
The promotion worked. People began coming to us with their scripts all ready to shoot. What they needed were people who could raise money and provide crew. Fortunately for them, that was our bread and butter.
From 2007-2009 we produced the following films in conjunction with other filmmakers: Blind Society, Final Warning, Trigger, and Self-Destruct. People liked the way we handled business and word spread getting all of us more work individually as freelancers on other productions.
Everything was going well until the economy tanked in 2008. Our initial strategy of coproducing other peoples’ intellectual properties, raising the money and providing crew, no longer worked. We had plenty of projects we wanted to get off of the ground but it was impossible since no one wanted to invest anymore. The only way we could make films is if we self-financed, and that wasn’t an OPTION.
2009 rolled around and we lost everything. We couldn’t get freelance work because we didn’t have any new materials to put out there to act as business cards. The only money I could get coming in was from doing background work on the NBC show Community. Clark and I lost our home. We considered closing all of our business accounts and parting ways for good. Clark moved back to La Mirada, Ryan moved back to Brea, and I moved to Pasadena.
TRIPLE THREAT COMES FULL CIRCLE
Living in Pasadena and being so far from my hometown of Fullerton was my lowest moment. Everything just seemed to be falling apart, but I couldn’t give up. I used being in LA County as an advantaged and I networked more than I ever did before. I called everyone I knew in LA and met up with all of them for lunch. I went to every screening and film festival I knew of in Hollywood since it was only 20 minutes away from me. It worked!
I was hired by Josh Cohen to illustrate comic book pages for his show ASST the Webseries. Josh is an all around great guy and if everyone in Hollywood was like him, we’d actually be the filmmaking utopia we advertise to the rest of the world we are. Josh was so impressed by my artwork that he actually invited me to a party for cast and crew at his place in Park La Brea. That’s completely unheard of!
From that moment on I knew where I wanted to go with my company. I had been playing around with the idea for years but it took meeting a guy like Josh to make me commit to implementing it. I met up with Clark and Ryan and pitched my idea to them.
I told them the problem with relying on filmmaking is that it costs too much and takes too long, so we’re not making money any time we’re actively looking for investors. Let’s focus our business around something that costs us nothing to make, something we can deliver immediately and then invoice. I said there’s never going to be a shortage of people wanting to get their films made who can’t afford to shoot them. What we should do is adapt their screenplays into comic books for them to use to shop around to producers or production companies.
The guys immediately agreed. This was the perfect strategy because it satisfied all of our criteria: costs us nothing, can be done immediately, and it’s a quickly invoiced product. It also stuck to our original vision of putting out genre media that was creator owned and operated.
We assembled our teams. Joe and I would both illustrate and ink, Ryan would color, and Clark would do lettering and product management. We contacted our resident tech genius Robert Abe (hot as wasabi) to update our site and implement what were going for. He delivered spectacularly. We contacted all of our friends in the print and horror world and they advertised for us.
So that leads us to where we are today. Things are looking up. Clark does an average of 30 quotes a day for filmmakers like you who want their visions realized but can’t get the $80 million to shoot a film in today’s post-conglomerate industry.
What’s the Torture Chamber Productions difference? We are a fully functioning triple threat: we do writing for print, we produce films, and we produce comics, all with the same intellectual property, all in house. If that wasn’t impressive enough you can check the copyrights to the products we produce and you’ll see that all of the intellectual properties are owned by their respective authors and not by us. We do things the way we think they should be done and have been doing it for 5 years now and hope to do so for many more.
I don’t know about you but ‘creator owned and operated,’ I like the sound of that.
Torture Chamber Productions Celebrating 5th Year Anniversary
February 15, 2011