Is Indie DVD Dying?
Recently I was reading about the small video companies that could during the 80's VHS boom at Critical Condition and I also was reading an interview with Blue Underground founder and Maniac Cop director William Lustig in which he mentioned his desire to get away from distributing DVD's due to an apparent glut in the market currently. On top of that, due to getting my daily fix from various on-line sources, I've been keeping somewhat-but-not-quite-close tabs on the apparent "format war" between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. And this got me thinking in many different directions.
Firstly, who cares about the format war anyway? I've spent the last seven or more years gathering up quite an impressive collection of DVD's to replace my old, crappy videotapes. I remember when I popped my first disc into the player (which was Phantasm, in case you're wondering) how blown away I was by how much better it looked than the crappy tapes I'd been watching since childhood. I'm not about to buy another format after I've sunk what amounts to (probably) a year's worth of pay in my collection. I don't own a widescreen television and I still consider the definition on DVD to be just fine, thank you. We all remember the last format war (VHS vs. Beta) and what happened there - and, honestly, when you consider that the DVD format has only really been a household thing in the past three-to-five years it's silly of companies to expect people to change over so soon.
But the new formats aren't what I'm trying to get at here. I'm more concerned with the apparent "death" of independent DVD producers. It's companies like Blue Underground, Unearthed, Dark Sky, Synapse and Media Blasters who go out of their way to bring genre fans some of the more obscure, and sought after, titles around. Even upstarts like Code Red are delivering titles you'd never expect to hit disc (Don't Go In The Woods, anyone?). However, with so many titles vying for space on retail store shelves, most of these companies are finding most of their success on the internet, where shopping doesn't require you getting off your ass, heading to a store, and being told by some barely-eighteen ingrate little shit that "we're never getting that" (I speak from experience here, I've been told that many a time).
The question here though is, how many units do these companies have to sell to make it worthwhile for them to continue bringing us them? Obviously, there are costs involved in gathering together the extra features on a disc; be it a new documentary, interviews and a commentary track. All of these things cost time, money and (in some cases) research. I can imagine that for the lesser-known titles it can sometimes be a bitch to hunt down people who were involved in the project in order to make a new-fangled "retro look back" featurette.
Are a few hundred fans worth the effort? When does it become more of a case of damage to the companies' pocketbook taking precedent over the people who run the companies love of cinema? Imagine you had to run such a company are were about to unleash your lovingly restored, double-disc "special edition" of some lost cult flick (say, maybe, Night Of The Creeps, for example) out to the market. It would almost be like putting said release into an overcrowded public school where there's no guarantees that the title will even get noticed - or get bullied by the hundreds of other titles coming out that week.
An example of titles available from the various indie DVD labels out there.
The biggest example I've noticed of a once revered "fan oriented" company going more mainstream is Anchor Bay. Once my favourite company thanks to their clam-shelled Widescreen VHS releases, they got off to a good start in the digital age bringing a lot of those titles to DVD, but in the last few years (after being bought out by a bigger company), Anchor Bay seems more focussed on mediocre, original productions they've financed than actually trying to get a hold of more, fan favourite older titles. They once held the torch on this. Thank goodness Dark Sky seems to be picking up the slack.
On the flipside, an example of a company running the consumers good will into the ground would have to be Lionsgate. This is a company that has both pleased and pissed-off genre fans as they've brought up some decent original efforts (such as the Saw movies and Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects) only to also release way too many repackaged no-budget productions with catchy box art and a new, more marketable, title. It might be a case of too much output from Lionsgate helping (in a round-about way) to make retailers more hesitant to actually stock product from the lesser DVD labels.
As a fan, I obviously don't want to see things like smaller, genre oriented labels folding, but it's not implausible to consider that they will. There's only so many of us out there that'd snatch up a copy of Yor: Hunter From The Future on DVD. Most, regular, retail consumers are too busy buying up the latest Hollywood movie that's just been released to disc (most of the time having not seen it beforehand - which explains Ghost Rider's good sales) to even give the lesser-known titles a second glance. And with a ridiculous amount of direct-to-DVD sequels coming from Hollywood on top of that (it's all about name recognition people), is there really room out there for the independent B-movie DVD producer to survive? I guess we'll just have to play the "waiting game" and see... -Chris Hartley, 8/27/07