'Your Video Store Shelf' Podcast Delves into the Cult of the Bad

I'm always on the lookout for information about low budget movies. Since I still plan to start shooting my microbudget monstrosity next summer, I can only learn from those who have done it before, even if their 'low' budgets are far more than I will ever hope to spend. Learning from others could not only teach me, but save me a few bucks along the way.

That's when I found out Bill Cunningham was getting interviewed by one Gregory Conley from the direct-to-video blog, Your Video Store Shelf. Greg does regular podcasts with filmmakers in this arena, interviewing them about current films and past experiences. It's a great podcast, full of anecdotes and information about an industry that makes money, despite the typical ridicule it receives.

These are the movies with no theatrical release that smother your local Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. They are the knock-offs, the rip-offs, and the cash-ins. They look similar to recent films out in the theater, complete with familiar sounding names and cloned box art. For every Transformers there is a Transmorphers. Even if the films are dissimilar, you wouldn't know it by looking at the box.

Many of these are sold to foreign markets, looking for copies of American fare. Some feature big name actors, but most are B-listers looking for a paycheck. Sometimes they sport decent budgets, but more often than not, you are looking at a million dollars or less. When shot on digital video, they move into microbudget land--our land.

The bottom line is that most of these "movies" are just terrible. From what I gather from Greg's interviews, they are cranked out on insane deadlines under less-than-perfect conditions, with many being tailored (often at the script stage) to a specific buyer's wants. One director was (thankfully) bothered by the fact that one purchaser for Blockbuster wanted to see kids getting killed, so that's what the distributor provided. Yikes.

Besides the little tricks of the trade that are mentioned (like blood filled condoms fired from a shotgun instead of using squibs), the obvious fact is that even bad content makes money. The video store shelves are lined with lots and lots of crap. Why can't we make equally bad material and make a living? Why can't we make good material and make a living? Why can't the web be our 'video store shelf'?

For an eye-opening listen, check out some of Greg's podcasts. His most recent one is with director Leigh Scott (Transmorphers), and is a good interview. Scott is one guy who wants to eventually get out of the dreck market and be a real filmmaker. I wish the best of luck to him. And to us.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for the plug Scott. Good luck with your film. Allow me to offer a couple pieces of advice

1) Take lots and lots of high-quality photos of things that are actually in the movie.

2) In many ways audio is more important than video. Lionsgate DTV films may suck quite often, but very few of them have poor audio quality.

3) As you said in a previous post, film festivals are jokes.

Thanks again.
Cunningham said…
Festivals are wankfests for the director. They rarely end in a sale. In fact, most features are sold prior to the festival.

D2DVD movies are made under grueling conditions and it is through the sheer drive and talent of the creative team (above the line and below) that they come out as good as they do. After all, anyone can do it if they have the time and money. It takes a genius to do it for near nothing.
Scott Eggleston said…
Greg, I am a very strong advocate for competent audio. Nothing makes you look like an amateur faster than crappy sound.

Bill, I think festivals can be fun for the filmmakers, but I agree that it's a lottery for someone hoping to sell their film. I'd rather make money on my movie so I can keep making them, rather than have the "prestige" of being shown at a festival. Guess where I'm funneling my energy?

While I do believe in a working on a schedule, that D2DVD market sounds nightmarish. I think all that stress (coupled with the stress you feel anyway making a film) would be too much for my ape's brain.
Cunningham said…
To be fair, sometime's a grueling schedule is "liberating" as you tend to make gut instinct decisions from the id rather than from the rational.

But yes, it's not for the faint of heart.