The VHS format has come back in a big way in the last few years with an almost phoenix-style resurrection coming in no small part from the fans of the medium who wanted to keep it alive. Now with documentaries like Adjust Your Tracking (you can find an interview with creator Dan Kinem here) and Rewind This covering what it means to be a collector, it appears that the video cassette format has pretty much been covered. Not quite. Though these new documentaries cover more the love of collecting, the fans and the VHS medium, we have yet to see a documentary that covers the history of the video cassette, its distribution and the many avenues of history it covered in its 20 years as the number one home viewing format. Director Mike Malloy plans to change all that with his Kickstarter project Plastic Movies Rewound. It plans to cover the birth of the home video market, the trials and tribulations distributors went through, the many video formats that came out and lots more. Below is a video of some of the footage Mike has shot so far for his project and it is certainly impressive.
Grizzly Bomb was lucky enough to grab an interview with Mike on this and his other upcoming projects and we are happy to share that interview with you here.
Grizzly Bomb: With Adjust Your Tracking and Rewind This both covering the VHS genre, what do you feel your film will offer that is different from those two documentaries?
[box_light]Mike Malloy: I’m glad that Rewind This got the marquee-value interviewees because that left me more free to chase the great stories I wanted to capture, regardless of whether they came from “names” or not. Also, I didn’t want to interview someone just because they have a movie website and can pontificate on the importance of the home-video era. That’s not enough. I want to include people who were actually part of the story. Adjust Your Tracking looks great, but it’s a documentary about VHS collecting, so that’s not the same scope.[/box_light]
GB: What made you decide to make a documentary on the history of video formats? Where you a big fan of the medium whilst growing up?
[box_light]MM: I’ve almost always had filmmaker friends who were older than me. And in the early 2000s, I started hearing all these great stories about these low-budget filmmakers’ experiences during the ’80s. It quickly became evident to me that this was a period where nobody really knew what was going on and where the rules were just made up as they went along. It was a lawless frontier of the entertainment industry, and that’s what attracted me to the subject.
Naturally, as a former ’80s kid, I have nostalgia for the era. But this isn’t going to be a puff piece, and I want any nostalgia to come out in the design and style, not in the actual content.[/box_light]
GB: Now aside from Leonard Nimoy with a horrific moustache, the most horrific thing I saw in this video for Plastic Movies Rewound was how shockingly poor the staff on the movies were treated by the distributors. What was the most shocking thing you heard about in your interviews and did you find it shocking to see how mistreated they were?
[box_light]MM: Sadly, none of it is that shocking as I’ve been involved, myself, in the sales of a couple films now. You just never see money on a royalty deal, unless your film really, really sells and the distributor is really, really scrupled. That said, it was probably even easier to rip a filmmaker off in the ’80s, as everything was more chaotic, with the business model for home video still taking form. What’s inspiring is how these filmmakers I interviewed fought back with creativity; stealing their master back, shaming the distributor on national TV, self-distributing by driving around the country in an RV for six months… that sort of thing.[/box_light]
GB: I love the way this documentary is going to be broken down, with different sections covering different parts of the industry and some awesome ’80s inspired visuals and soundtrack to go with it. What I especially loved was the boom of the VHS era and the sheer amount of shops that opened during this era. Did you have a favorite rental store while growing up?
[box_light]MM: Yeah, my favorite video store was Troy Home Video, which shared a space with a laundry. And the several rows of horror videos were nearest the laundry, where the dryers gave off noticeable warmth. And each row of horror – they weren’t alphabetical – got more shocking and extreme as you got closer to the laundry side. So as the rows felt warmer and warmer, and the horror videos got more and more transgressive and mean-spirited, you felt as if you descending into deeper rungs of Hell.[/box_light]
GB: The interviews in this are incredible. Growing up in the VHS boom I thought I had heard pretty much everything about VHS but the stories your interviewees were telling are fantastic. How did you get so many talented people on board with this project and what was one of your favorite interview stories while filming?
[box_light]MM: Again, I had been talking to some of these people for years. With others, I had only heard about their intriguing stories in some random place and I was lucky enough to track them down. For instance, Gerry Cook (and his RV trip across America to sell his Only A Buck video) I had known about through a 1990 doc called The Heck With Hollywood. And Gerry Cook was nowhere to be found on the internet, except for a couple videos he uploaded to YouTube. Fortunately, his daughter checked the inbox on that YouTube account, and we connected. And then I’m very thankful to Louis Justin for introducing me to filmmakers Glen Coburn and Donald Farmer.[/box_light]
GB: The style of the documentary seems very linear with each section carefully constructed to fit in with the era, almost forming a time line of the rise and fall of the video cassette format. Is this how you original planned the documentary to go or is this something that just happened organically while filming the scenes?
[box_light]MM: The first two episodes will certainly chronicle the rise of videocassettes and how they changed both the culture and the entertainment industry, often in ways we don’t usually contemplate. The middle three episodes will be the most fun to me, getting into the weird little corners and side alleys of the phenomenon. Talking about all the obscure, failed video formats. Talking about all the ways – now long forgotten – that people rented videos besides just from video stores. Stuff like that. The final episode, “The Future of Physical Media” will close out the ’80s video boom, cover recent developments like the VHS revival and then speculate as to where we go from here.[/box_light]
GB: The chapter covering film viewing formats was quite an eye opener for me. There was some incredible looking, yet poorly conceived systems that came out in that time. From watching your video my favorite has to be the Cartrivision, which just looked a stunning piece of kit! Did you have a soft spot for any format in particular and what was one format that made you scratch you head thinking “why the heck did they make this”!
[box_light]MM: I’m a rooter for the underdog, so I have a soft spot for them all! I feel bad that most all of our interviewees – with the exception of one – enjoyed beating up on RCA’s video discs. Hopefully, that one interviewee feels glad he’s in the doc, so at least there’s someone there, defending his favorite format…[/box_light]
GB: You manage to cover pretty much every aspect of this industry in this movie. How difficult was it to obtain all this information and how long has this project been in the works for?
[box_light]MM: I started writing about the ’80s video boom for movie magazines around 2003, and here in 2013, I’m still amassing research materials. This project is far from done.[/box_light]
GB: Was there any aspect of the industry you did not cover for whatever reason (film restrains, time, lack of information, etc) or was there anything you would have liked to have put in which just did not work with the style of the documentary?
[box_light]MM: I still hope to say everything I want to say in the doc. The only bummer so far is certain interviewees that haven’t come through, some of which even said “yes” first before eventually becoming a “no.”[/box_light]
GB: After Plastic Movies Rewound is finished what other works do you have in the pipeline and do you have anything you would like to add that I have not covered in this interview?
[box_light]MM: I’m also developing the third and final official Django film with Franco Nero, Django Lives. And then I have two more documentaries I’m burning to do. Here’s hoping there’s not so much competition on those subjects by the time I get around to them, because my thorough approach to doc-making is already difficult enough when I’m the only one tackling the subject![/box_light]
If you like what you have heard there is still chance to help fund Mike’s documentary through his KickStarter project here or check out his Facebook page here. Not only can you help get this fantastic historical documentary made you can also receive plenty of freebies including signed DVDs and a VHS copy of the documentary once its finished. It will be great to see this project completed so we can finally get a complete breakdown of one of the most important times in the history of home entertainment.