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Source: AJ Pics

‘Police Academy’

Independent production company Cult Screenings UK lands at this year’s AFM with the latest in its string of documentaries centring on landmark pop culture movies. The 1980s US comedy franchise Police Academy is the latest to get the Cult Screenings UK treatment, with sales and distribution banner Unannounced — headed by former The Works Film Group CEO Laurence Gornall — touting the documentary to buyers.

A four-part series, What An Institution! The Story Of Police Academy employs the Cult Screenings UK team’s tried-and-tested documentary method of weaving together interviews with cast and crew and talking heads, ploughing personal archives and behind-the-scenes footage to offer audiences an in-depth story of the film (or films) and its makers. Featuring interviews with more than 40 members of the cast and crew including Steve Guttenberg, GW Bailey, Lance Kinsey and Michael Winslow, What An Institution! explores how the Police Academy movies became a comedy genre mainstay of the 1980s and early 1990s, spawning six sequels, a cartoon series, live-action television series, comic books, live stunt shows and a line of action figures.

“As the director of this project, I’m proud to have been the driving force behind unravelling the hilarious tapestry of the Police Academy franchise,” says Gary Smart, one of the three founders of Cult Screenings UK, alongside Adam Evans and Christopher Griffiths. “We’ve unearthed the untold stories and the laughter that defined an entire era of comedy. This journey has been a true labour of love.”

Smart says the majority of interviews for What An Institution! were filmed prior to the pandemic; the last one, with a VFX crew member, was secured in October this year. The project has been in edit for 18 months and it is a happy coincidence that 2024 marks the 40th anniversary of the original film’s release.

Definitive storytelling


Source: Orion Pictures


The latest documentary from Cult Screenings UK builds on the company’s growing profile. This summer saw RoboDoc: The Creation Of Robo­Cop — billed as the definitive documentary on Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 sci-fi Robo­Cop — reach the number-one slot for physical format sales on Amazon in both the US and the UK. Directed by Eastwood Allen and Chris­topher Griffiths (Pennywise: The Story Of It), and produced by Smart, the four-part limited series documentary has fresh interviews with Ver­hoeven, plus actors from the original film including Peter Weller and Nancy Allen and writers Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. Spanning nearly five hours, it is a ‘making of’ format on steroids.

In 2022, Cult Screenings UK hit the number-one spot in Amazon’s US documentary sales chart with Pennywise: The Story Of It, the company’s in-depth documentary on the 1990 miniseries adaptation Stephen King’s horror novel It. The doc premiered at Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival in 2021, again featuring fresh and archive interviews with cast and crew including Tim Curry, Seth Green and Emily Perkins, along with scholars of King’s work and even a professional clown.

Co-directed by John Campopiano (Unearthed & Untold: The Path To Pet Sematary) and Griffiths, Pennywisewas snapped up for the US at Mipcom 2021 by Cinedigm (renamed Cineverse earlier this year), headed by Chris McGurk, formerly of MGM, Universal and Disney.

“The cornerstone of our content acquisition strategy is serving dedicated fan audiences across our enthusiast channels,” says McGurk. “In some instances, we have taken this approach even further — embracing fan demand to lead the content acquisitions themselves.

“We saw this with the breakout success of [Cineverse’s] Terrifier 2, and are seeing it again with Penny­wise: The Story Of It and Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares — fan-led, professionally made documentaries made by our partners at Cult Screenings UK and Unannounced Film Company.”

This year Cineverse scared up North American rights to Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story, Cult Screenings UK’s documentary on veteran horror star Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare On Elm Street). McGurk’s Cine­verse deployed an exclusive theatrical run for the documentary before rolling it out on Bloody Disgusting’s streaming service ScreamBox in late spring, tied to Englund’s 76th birthday on June 6, 2023. Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares topped Amazon’s US documentary charts as well as the ScreamBox streaming chart.

Exploring archives

Cult Screenings UK’s early documentaries include Leviathan: The Story Of Hellraiser And Hellbound: Hellraiser II and You’re So Cool, Brewster! The Story Of Fright Night. “The materials are given to us by the people that worked on the films and footage and materials are included through the fair-use documentary rules,” Smart says.

“We are very careful how we use clips. The general consensus is we have to go for legal ourselves to make sure we’re legally using them. They have to be narrative and they have to be contextual, you couldn’t make a documentary just showing loads of clips for the sake of it.

“When you develop a reputation, which hopefully we have, people want to come on board and people open up their archives,” he adds.

It has been blood, sweat and tears for Smart and his Birmingham-based team — all of whom still have full-time jobs outside the film business — to turn their genre passion into a viable business. When they first started out, they would use Kickstarter campaigns and their own money to seed the early documentaries, reinvesting any income into the next project.

“Our problem is we’ve never had a business model. But as the projects get bigger and more all-consuming, we are getting there,” Smart says.

The next stage will be for Cult Screenings UK to have capital from worldwide pre-sales to fund the making of their next project. “We’ve been working with ScreamBox,” Smart says. The company’s commitment to sell physical units and streaming documentaries appealed to the Cult Screenings UK team. “We’re hoping the next project will be funded upfront exclusively to a distributor as opposed to trying to sell it across multiple platforms around the globe.”

Aside from its documentary output, Cult Screenings UK has also produced five retrospective books on some of cinema’s most iconic films, including 245 Trioxin: The Story Of The Return Of The Living Dead, Beware The Moon: The Story Of An American Werewolf In London and The Story Of The Lost Boys.

In 2020, Cult Screenings UK unleashed graphic novel Don Calfa’s The Revenge Of The Living Dead and also produced the independent horror-­comedy original IP series Dark Ditties Presents, currently available on Prime Video. “Distributors and broadcasters respond well to these documentaries because they resonate with the film fan in all of us that got us into the business in the first place,” Gornall suggests.

There’s no better place than AFM to realise Cult’s ambitions.