Gordon and the Whale has a video interview with Dolph Lundgren from last year’s Fantastic Fest about the latest Universal Soldier sequel which at the time was called A New Beginning, but is out now as Regeneration. Lundgren talks about his initial reluctance to return to the franchise and what excites him about this installment.
Brad Riddell has been writing screenplays since American Pie Presents Band Camp first introduced that franchise to straight-to-DVD. It was, in fact, his USC thesis script, Band Geek, that led to his writing that sequel. Since then, Riddell has penned Slap Shot II: The Junior League and Road Trip: Beer Pong, which recently won Best Comedy at the First Annual Straight-to-DVD Movie Awards. In this exclusive interview, Riddell holds forth on the state of the industry and the challenges of working in the direct-to-video market.
S2DVD: How did this all begin?
Riddell: I grew up in Northern Kentucky, my dad was a football coach and I played tuba in the marching band. At the University of Kentucky I entered as a finance major because I loved the movie Wall Street, but soon flunked finite math. Then, I saw Gross Anatomy, and that sent me toward medicine. Eventually, Dead Poet’s Society rocked my world and I realized I was meant to work in theater/film and tell stories, not just watch them. So from there, I pieced together an arts and writing degree, worked professionally in industrial video for five years, applied to graduate producing programs, got universally rejected for lacking “savvy” (as USC’s program once told me), got angry, wrote a script, applied to writing programs, and ultimately, still ended up at USC. My thesis script, Band Geek, went out to the town as a spec, no one bought it, but Universal saw promise in using pieces of it in an American Pie sequel, so I was brought on to write Band Camp.
S2DVD: When you start a project, do you typically know if it’s designated direct-to-video and, if so, does that affect the way you write?
Riddell: With Band Camp, before production, the studio was very high on the script and I was told they considered a theatrical release for it, but from the outset, it was always intended to be video. The rest of my projects have been video from the beginning. In terms of differences in writing, I’d like to let your readership know that everyone involved with these projects from the top down endeavors to make the best movie they possibly can. No one walks around set saying, “yeah, but this is straight to video…” We don’t lower our standards. We all know what makes a good movie and try to deliver that. The difference between a theatrical studio movie, or a well-funded indie, and what we do is…money and time. Marketing controls the whole business for us. They know how much money they feel a straight-to-vid movie can make, and that determines the budget, which often isn’t much compared to theatricals. So, we have to limit locations, limit cast, and find short cuts around expensive scenes, sets, and props. The script is always in flux based on added or subtracted cameo cast, and frankly, a lack of local talent in the locations where we’re shooting. Directors have to generally move at a faster pace than they normally would. It’s a very tight box we’re working inside, and the process is always fluid. The script is never locked. Plus, we have the demands of the franchise for us to meet. What people expect from a Road Trip or American Pie movie greatly influences the story development, and forces some creative compromises. While most theatrical movies encounter budget, creative and cast issues at some point, we ALWAYS do, and our constraints are much, much tighter. But no one I’ve worked with approaches the content creation or the filmmaking itself any different than they would a big-budget tent pole. We just have to be very creative in solving our story and production problems, because there’s not much money or time to throw at them.
S2DVD: Tell me about some of the changes you’ve noticed in the direct-to-video industry since you’ve been involved.
Riddell: Band Camp was a smashing success, and they are still making American Pie movies today. I think Book of Love is number seven, now. The studios wouldn’t continue making these films if they didn’t think they would be profitable. Someone is buying them. However, the profit margin has decreased in the ten years I’ve been working in the industry. People are no longer buying DVDs like they once did as everything has gone digital. No one knows who’s making what money on iTunes downloads. Road Trip 2 hit the the top ten on iTunes — but I have no idea what that means in terms of money. So the delivery format is changing, and how that will continue to evolve is murky.
Piracy is a big problem. Most movies are leaked to the internet now, but the calculus on straight to vid profits has gotten so tight, that the lost revenue from people who steal the movies is a big, big deal. I actually got involved with Paramount when Road Trip 2 was leaked, and waged a Facebook/Twitter/Blog war on pirates who were distributing the movie, and also those who admitted to having stolen it on their accounts. My efforts amounted to nothing but the venting of my own frustration, but piracy is a huge problem for studios and individual artists, alike.
The economy has changed, obviously, and people are using Netflix and Redbox to see our movies now as opposed to buying them. That can be attributed to lower discretionary funds in our bank accounts, the advent of digital distribution, but also maybe the content itself. Like I said, everyone does their best to make a great movie, but perhaps the perceived ownership value of our product has taken a hit, too. Combine those factors with a recession, and these are lean times for everyone.
S2DVD: Where do you think the direct-to-video industry is headed?
Riddell: I have a sense that studios are being more cautious with what they develop and greenlight. It seems that only well-established franchises with longevity and proven worth are going forward at this point, and that the development of brand new offshoots for video franchises is undertaken with serious trepidation. That mirrors the theatrical market, too, of course, where spec or original material is nearly impossible to sell. The studios are only interested in stories with an existing and proven audience. My own instinct, and I have no hard data or insider information to back this up, is that niches will grow on video — movies will be targeted to specific markets, such as the lacrosse movie I’m currently working on for independent producers. I think, down the road, independent movies that struggle to find distribution will find their way to the internet market (replacing DVD) with increasing ease — the question is, can they be profitable or even recover their costs that way?
Studios are making fewer movies for theatrical, and banking on big franchise-able fare to carry their slates. But these are the kind of movies that get theatrical sequels, and not DVD — until the end of a long run. There aren’t those moderately successful, middle-range breakout movies that have minor cast members who can be extended to DVD sequels, which is a staple of this corner of the business. Less product up top, means fewer options down below.
S2DVD: What are you working on now?
Riddell: Right now, I’m preparing a spec script for the market, despite the impossible odds, and doing a rewrite assignment on an independent lacrosse movie which is exciting and a lot of fun. I’m also co-producing a script I wrote, and like everyone else, looking for funding and cast to get that project over the hump. And, to be honest, I’m considering writing a book. Because even though fewer and fewer people read these days, it seems like the only way to get your movie made is to first write the book!
The Film Yap has an interview with Shoot First and Pray You Live director Lance Doty about how to shoot a Western on a budget. Film stars Jeff Hephner as a man who gets sidetracked by a gang of outlaws en route to avenge his dying father. Doty talks about casting James Russo (Open Range) and comedian Jim Gaffigan and hiring Bill Plympton to create an animated sequence for the film.
ideas Revolutionary has an audio interview with Ryan Mains, director, producer, and co-writer with David Brigden of Of Golf and God, a romcom in which a down-and-out pizza delivery guy (Kristian Ayre) gets over his ex-girlfriend with the help of a “foul-mouthed, over-sexed ‘buddy God’” (Michael Teigen) with whom he plays golf. The interview (mp3) goes into detail about the production of the film, which Mains self-financed for $15,000.
The film is available on VOD for the rest of the month from most cable providers (full list) and is being released on DVD by Echelon Studios (date TBA).
You can check out the trailer here.
Time Out Hong Kong has an interview with Antony Szeto, the director of Wushu, a coming-of-age martial arts flick centered on the eponymous fighting style. The interview chronicles Szeto’s journey from stuntman to director with a little Jet Li and Jackie Chan (who executive produces) thrown in. There’s also some speculation about what the next Hong Kong action star might bring to the table, and the answer surprised me. Check out the interview.
Wushu comes out tomorrow.
Urb.com has video interviews with the star, writer/director, and producer of breakdance flick B-Girl, in which a dancer (Lady Jules) relocates from Brooklyn to Los Angeles following a devastating attack. Jules, writer/director Emily Dell, and producer Elizabeth Dell sat down for a Q&A after the film’s New York screening. Urb also has interviews with Jules and Emily Dell at the afterparty. B-Girl launches next Tuesday.
DVD Talk appears to be one of the first out of the gate with a (mostly positive) review of Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassin’s Ball. Their man Ian Jane calls it “good, mindless fun” in the vein of the original.
Meanwhile, Reel Cleveland has an interview with the film’s director, P.J. Pesce, in which he goes into the origins of his involvement, getting soused with Joe Carnahan, and the challenges of casting for straight-to-DVD:
“The difficulty is that direct-to-DVD movies are this ghetto. People look down on them. Agents will have actors who flat out don’t do them. The Directors Guild refuses to hold them up for any awards. If it were a cable movie, it would have a separate category. We’re the red-headed step child. Though they’ve made so much money, they help to support the studios. It’s unfair.”
Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassin’s Ball drops tomorrow.
About 14 minutes into the December 2007 edition of the Slice of SciFi podcast, there’s an interview with Walter Koenig (pre-Anton Yelchin Chekov) and Sky Conway, writer/co-star/exec. producer and producer, respectively, of InAlienable, which arrives on DVD on January 26th.
The sci-fi drama deals with a scientist (Richard Hatch) impregnated with an alien being with a little courtroom drama thrown in when the gub’mint comes to take his baby. The cast includes a member of TNG as well as TOS (any trivia hounds want to debate if that’s ever happened before shy of Generations?) in Marina Sirtis. Alan Ruck and Erick Avari are up in here, too.
The No Greater Love Web site has several behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and crew of this faith-based romance in the video section. Anthony Tyler Quinn stars as a man whose life gets turned upside down when his long lost wife (Danielle Bisutti) suddenly reappears ten years after abandoning him and their son (Aaron Sanders). Film drops January 19th.