If you're not listening to the Killer POV podcast, you're missing the best conversations about horror -- ALL horror, from mainstream to mid-range to micro-budget indie -- this side of F Movie!'s own #ScaryMovieMonth. Hosted by Rob Galluzzo, Rebekah McKendry and Elric Kane, the show is enthusiastic and passionate about the genre while still being thoughtful and critical; there's none of the "it's good because it's horror" attitude that's so pervasive on a lot of other horror podcasts. Sometimes, the episodes have a theme (like "Sex in Horror" or "Regional Horror") and have guests -- filmmakers, actors, etc. -- to discuss that topic. Other episodes are full-length interviews; Episode 32 had two guys from Scream Factory on and it was a fascinating look at how titles are chosen, the issues surrounding licensing and acquisitions and all kinds of stuff you never knew you totally wanted to know. While I would hope that no one starts listening to their show instead of ours (I'm terribly insecure and lousy with abandonment issues), there's certainly room in the world for both.
This week's episode was an interview with Charles Band, the filmmaker and monster movie mogul who launched Empire Pictures in the '80s and then Full Moon Features in the '90s, which he still runs today. If you're a horror fan or grew up a video store kid, Band is something of a legend, responsible for everything from Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn to some of Stuart Gordon's best movies to the aforementioned Puppet Master series. He made Tim Thomerson a movie star and created his own universe full of monsters (most of them pint-size) who cross over and mash up together -- the low-budget VHS-era equivalent of the Universal monsters. He's also a shrewd businessman who has managed to carve out a career lasting four decades and knows the movie business inside and out.
listen to it. In the course of the nearly two-hour conversation, Band said something almost in passing that stuck with me in a big way:
"What is the value of a movie?"
He doesn't mean the artistic value in movies. Those of us visiting a movie website all know and understand that. Movies change and shape our lives in ways that nothing else can. This isn't going to be a piece on what film adds to our popular culture or how we movie fans live with them and love them every day. Obviously they have VALUE.
No, what Band was talking about was specifically the new model for distribution. It used to be that you would buy a ticket to a movie and say it was or wasn't "worth your 10 bucks." But theatrical exhibition is changing, and fewer and fewer films (especially those with a budget of less than $70 million) are actually getting a chance to play on movie screens. DVD and Blu-ray sales continue to plummet, no longer providing studios with any kind of reliable revenue. With physical media dying a quick, quick death and everything moving over to digital streaming, what monetary value can be attached to an individual movie? As Band says, when you can pay $8 a month and get access to literally THOUSANDS of movies, how much value can you assign to one film?
a column devoted to it every week), but who uses it as just one tool among many to watch movies. It is not the beginning and end of my movie consumption. I can see things I might not otherwise see, I can take a chance and watch a smaller movie I know nothing about and feel like I haven't "lost" anything. But like Hollywood Heath Holland has said before, I still like to own the movies I like. If I watch something on Netflix Instant and really love it, I'll pick up the Blu-ray. Not only is it a way of supporting movies I'm into, but also ensures that I'll be able to see that movie forever. I watched Drug War on Netflix a few months ago and loved it, so I bought it. Should I feel like watching it again a year from now, there's no guarantee that it will still be on Netflix. Having my own copy is the only way to go.
So I still buy movies. I still pay to see movies in a theater. I have never, ever pirated a movie and never will. I still assign a value to movies. Not everyone does. And it's looking more and more like before long, studios aren't really going to, either. Something has to change before movies go the way of the music business, which basically imploded because they failed to get behind and properly monetize digital sharing. What's a studio to do?
Maybe Charles Band has the answer. Last year, he launched Full Moon Streaming, a new subscriber service that offers members access to a large selection of the company's back catalog (as well as old Wizard titles, "Grindhouse" acquisitions and even family friendly titles under the "Moonbeam" label) as well as access to exclusive content and other cool stuff. Each title you click on brings you to a page where you can watch the film, watch the trailer (advisable before diving in to some of Full Moon's stuff), purchase the DVD or Blu-ray or even buy merchandise related to the movie. The service also gives new filmmakers a platform to have their movies distributed through a kind of "voting" system; if an independent movie brings in enough new subscribers, Full Moon will distribute the movie.
The streaming service puts Full Moon into its own self-contained bubble (which is the direction the company has been heading for years anyway; hence the crossover "universe"), but it allows a direct connection to the fanbase that's diluted with bigger services like Netflix where Full Moon titles are competing with thousands of other movies. Full Moon fans can now pay into the system in order to keep new product in the pipeline. Writer/director Joe Swanberg attempted something similar a couple years ago, where fans could "subscribe" and receive DVD copies of his next four movies (which, knowing Swanberg, probably took less than a year to release) and some other extra stuff. The subscriptions were basically being used to finance the movies. It's Kickstarter without a lot of the rules and benchmarks: you pay your money to subscribe to Full Moon Streaming, and Full Moon gets to keep making movies. That you get access to the back catalog is kind of like value added.
I wrote a little about my history with Band and Full Moon a few years ago when I attended the Full Moon Roadshow in Chicago, so I won't repeat myself here. As someone who sought out and devoured genre stuff in the '80s, I still have affection for a lot of the Empire and early Full Moon stuff. The movies made in Band's heyday were inventive and crazy in a really fun way. I have less patience for the more recent stuff, made when the budgets started to get cut and the tail started wagging the dog.
That tail wagging is something else Band mentions during the interview, which I want to call out as being cynical but is probably just practical. He points out that "the movies aren't what they are by accident," referring specifically to the number of titles that focus on puppets, dolls and toys; in addition to the Puppet Master series, Full Moon has films and franchises like Demonic Toys, Ginderdead Man, Ragdoll, Evil Bong, Devil Dolls, Blood Dolls, Dangerous Worry Dolls and Doll Graveyard -- basically, anything that's small and can be turned into a toy or a collectible. The merchandising of their movies (and there's nothing Band won't merchandise) is a big part of what keeps Full Moon afloat. So now the studio is in a situation where they have to merchandise to keep making movies, but have to make movies that are able to be further merchandised. It has become a closed loop. Is this the future of movie making?
Obviously, this isn't going to translate directly outside of Full Moon -- not exactly, anyway. Yes, blockbusters will continue to have huge marketing tie-ins and sell toys, even if they're licensing them out to toy companies and not selling them directly the way Band does. But studios (even the big ones) are going to need to find new revenue streams as physical media dries up, whether it's more third-party product placement (just look at The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) or something more akin to what Band is doing, where after watching a movie on your computer (theaters are dead in this scenario) you can click a link and buy that sweater you liked that Jennifer Lawrence was wearing.
And that's just for the back catalog. The studio has already (theoretically) made their money on those titles. What about going forward? Let's say Paramount starts their streaming service a year from now and is no longer producing DVDs or Blu-rays or whatever (this is a BIG hypothetical for the sake of argument). When Star Trek 3 comes out, does it just get added to the pile already available on streaming? So now your $20 a month gets you the brand new Star Trek movie AND Paramount's entire library? What is the value of Star Trek 3?
That's probably a bad example, because Paramount is going to be fine. If nothing else, at least they have a library with which they could start a whole streaming service (luckily, so does Charles Band). What about smaller studios or, even worse, independents? The best a low-budget indie movie can hope for nowadays is that they get added to Netflix, because maybe then people will at least see it. But they're essentially just one little pebble being added to the giant Netflix blob as it rolls downhill. How does anyone make any money with that business model? What is the value of a movie?
I signed up for Full Moon Streaming (a six month subscription is only $35 and you get three free Blu-rays, so it pays for itself), partly because I'll get to revisit a bunch of their old stuff but MOSTLY because it's the kind of venture I want to support. It may not catch on. It may not create any impact on the business. But it's an interesting idea and a neat experiment and I want to be a part of it. Maybe I'll write a column as I work my way through the catalog; maybe I'll just watch stuff for fun for a change. I'm not sure yet. (Would anyone even have any interest in such a thing? Let me know.) Mostly I just felt like by signing up, I was sending a message to Charles Band -- and to anyone who might follow his example -- that alternative methods of distribution can work. That ingenuity should be rewarded.
That even in the post-DVD era, all movies -- even ones about killer cookies and evil bongs -- have value.