Director Steve Rash: The Straight2DVD Interview – Part Two
In part two of our exclusive interview with director Steve Rash (read part one), helmer of such straight-to-DVD fare as American Pie Presents Band Camp, Bring It On: All or Nothing, Bring It On: In It to Win It, and Road Trip: Beer Pong as well as theatrical releases like Can’t Buy Me Love, Under the Rainbow, and The Buddy Holly Story, we get into the nitty gritty of direct-to-video fiilmmaking and the future of the industry.
Straight2DVD: What have been some of the personal highlights of your career?
Rash: Sitting in the fifth row at the 51st Academy Awards, between Jane Fonda and Gregory Peck, with my film [The Buddy Holly Story] nominated for three Oscars. I actually believed for a few minutes that I belonged.
Sitting in the balcony of the Cineplex Odeon Leicester Square between Paul McCartney and Keith Moon watching the European premier of my film. Keith irritated me throughout the screening, getting up every ten minutes to visit the loo. (He died later that same night.)
After a concert, I overheard thirty-something female Hollywood executives talking about their favorite movies. When one mentioned Can’t Buy Me Love, I watched another sophisticated grownup morph into herself at 15 and giggle, “He went from like, totally geek to like, totally sheik!” And then with tears in her eyes, “That movie changed my life. I was never embarrassed again about being unpopular.”
Straight2DVD: Do you usually know when you start shooting that a film has been slotted for a direct-to-video release? Does that factor into your decision to shoot the film?
Rash: Yes, in fact the deal memo and DGA Basic Contract provides much different work rules. A successful DVD original can be more lucrative than small features, which are never profitable beyond the initial fee. Feature film deals often provide profit sharing which includes home video. But corporate “profits” are taxed, so prudent accounting practices and distribution arrangements strive to minimize “profits” (and thus, minimize profit sharing.) I have seen no profits at all from several of my successful feature films.
On the other hand, I have been fortunate to make a few straight to DVD films that sold millions of copies. Home video deals typically provide no profit sharing, but rather, unit sales bonuses that are subject to fewer accounting “variables” (and thus, actually pay.) I’ve made more money from some DVD productions than from some theatrical features.
Is “Feature Film Director” more prestigious than “Home Video Director?” Yes, but prestige doesn’t pay the mortgage. Besides, some of my lowly “straight to video” productions have been more fun than some “big time features.” I like them all. Mostly.
Straight2DVD: How is working on a straight to DVD film any different than working on a film getting a theatrical release? Or is it?
Rash: Work rules are different for virtually every department. Pay scales are lower than anything other than low-budget or TV projects. Technically, you know you won’t be doing film-out, so you can shoot 3-perf film, or HD without a Digital Intermediate, plus you know the viewer will not likely be sitting in a dark theater, so you adjust contrast accordingly.
Straight2DVD: Do you have to make different aesthetic decisions if you know that your film isn’t going to be on a big screen?
Rash: Yes, theatrical and home displays have required fundamentally different visual products, up to now. Wide shots are not effective in the living room, unless the viewer is sitting very close to the TV. Dark scenes get washed-out by the ambient light in most viewing situations. As displays get larger and more people create home theater environments, the differences shrink. Then will be the real problem: which audience do you shoot for?
Straight2DVD: You’ve done two Bring It Ons, the first American Pie direct-to-video sequel, and now a Road Trip direct-to-video sequel. Do you think you’re being typecast?
Rash: Few grownup films get made anymore; the 21st Century Global Marketplace requires minimal language to dub or subtitle. Hollywood has essentially returned to silent movies: VISUAL SPECTACLE with music and sound effects added later. If you want actors talking, you have to make your money within the English-speaking world. The only sizable domestic movie-going demographic is under twenty-five years old. I like character and dialogue, so I make movies for young people today. Thank God I love teens!
Straight2DVD: How has the industry, both theatrical and home video, changed over the years?
Rash: Twenty years ago, 60% of theatrical box-office was domestic. Now it’s 30%, and dialogue has been relegated to the fringes.
Ten years ago, DVD was exploding; then people filled their movie shelves and stopped buying so many and are satisfied to rent movies or go online.
Tomorrow will be Blu-ray for high quality and digital delivery for everything else, but it’s not clear yet who will own the digital pipe, or the content.
Straight2DVD: Where do you see the industry going?
Rash: For the remainder of this decade, Personal Visual Devices will be a fad like the Walkman was; then people will relegate them to the same relative importance as the iPod of today, and rediscover that they want to actually SEE an image. Simultaneously large displays will become affordable, so home theaters will become the norm.
Straight2DVD: As a kid, I must have seen Under the Rainbow about 20 times on cable. Tell me about directing that film.
Rash: UTR was a disaster by almost any measure. SAG went on strike the day before production. The studio chose not to exercise force majeure, since it would be a “short strike.” Ninety days later, when the strike was settled, we were $4M over budget and had not rolled a foot of film. Because of the delay, we lost our Emerald City set, which was the last exterior built on the old Fox Backlot and had to be destroyed to make way for the construction of Century Plaza housing developments. That million-dollar set was rebuilt at the Columbia Ranch. An actor died of a heart attack during production, requiring extensive reshoots. The script was rewritten almost nightly. Because of the 20% Prime interest rate and the pre-production delays, I had 19 days to edit, instead of 60. The movie was released the same day as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Superman [II]. The entire process was so disappointing, I left the business for almost five years. A silver lining was the opportunity to meet and work with the Little People, who were professional, talented, and fun. My wife, Maggie, was the 2nd AD who staged the background action with the Wizard of Oz “midgets”. Their work is one redeeming quality of the film, along with Joe Renzetti’s music score, which I believe is among the top ten scores of all time.
Straight2DVD: What are you working on now?
Rash: I am finishing the screenplay of another teen movie with my daughter, Stephanie, and developing several projects: a lacrosse movie, an Adult Christian movie, a political/social comedy and a documentary about the last pop festival.