UPDATE: 5/30/18: Hunter College gave me a little write-up for my participation in the 38th annual Telly Awards here!
VHS Massacre, a feature length documentary that I directed with Ken Powell about the decline of physical media picked up a Silver Telly Award in the Non-broadcast (under $700 a minute) category and a bronze in both the Documentary and Entertainment Non-broadcast categories. It’s so cool that New York Cinema Productions which really just consists of me at this point can hang in there with the likes of PBS, HBO, National Geographic and so on. Watch the film on Amazon Prime , iTunes, GooglePlay or on Blu-ray!
When I was younger and working at CBS I had heard about he Telly Awards but back then in the late 1990’s it was more exclusively for broadcast and that meant that this type of award was not particularly accessible for an independent filmmaker. At CBS and NBC we all knew about the Regional Emmy and the Telly Awards. For many of us it was something to aspire to. In 2007 I was working for Black20 Studios (that was eventually sold to FOX). They specialized in internet videos featuring some impressive young performers and filmmakers like Amy Schumer, Eric Andre, Aubrey Plaza. I was camera operator on a show directed by Mike Aransky of IGN fame. That show net_work ended up getting a Broadband, Daytime Emmy nomination through (of all places) Myspace. The Daytime Emmy’s, probably in response to awards shows like the Webbys, wanted to adapt to the changing times. So what does this have to do with VHS Massacre? Well recently the Tellys have added additional categories that open up the show more to non-broadcast and streaming content. So the Tellys like others awards has changed with the times.
When I made VHS Massacre for Troma Studios, it really was a love letter to Troma, Lloyd Kaufman and the gang for altering how I saw cinema. They had a powerful combination of comedy, horror and the grotesque. It opened my mind to the idea that you could blend genres, you could be unrestricted by censors and you could still make a solid point. The Toxic Avenger could easily been seen as an environmental film for instance. So the idea that making a film about Troma, B-movies and the video store era could win awards was not in my head. I just believed in idea and wanted to make it. So these Telly Awards mean a lot to me. Thanks to everyone involved including Producer and Composer Timothy Kulig, Ken Powell, Stephanie Perez and the rest of the gang! Long live Troma!
So I’ve been working on my MFA at Hunter and I had to make some short docs for class. They center around my friend Jonathan Alexandratos author of Articulating the Action Figure. I found his book to be fascinating. When you re-create the human image and then sell it, it says a lot about the society we live in. So there is a certain responsibility in the design and manufacturing of certain toys. I posted all three shorts on the New York Cinema Drive-in on YouTube. I hope you dig them, please feel free to share them around if you into the whole toy collecting thing.
Some cool news! My documentary VHS Massacre (Co-directed by Ken Powell) is now available on iTunes! This is great news because the only other film I have on there is London Betty. It’s interesting to me how certain film make it to certain formats. Land of College Prophets (a weird little film I did) made it onto Netflix before Netflix was cool. Now they don’t seem to be buying Independent content but Amazon Prime does and in result VHS Massacre in on there too! Certain distributors will package films together and license them to companies. Filmrise worked with Troma and then worked with Prime as opposed to Netflix. I would image at some point Amazon Prime will be “too cool for school” and no longer buy Independent films.
Getting your film distributed by a company or studio is the equivalent in my opinion of getting a book deal. So you could self publish and there is nothing wrong with that but I was always proud to compete in the professional market with a distributor. Similarly you could make a film and put it on YouTube or Vimeo but for me still seems like a place a feature film might end up when film gets older or stops making money. In many cases people tune into YouTube for certain personalities, ERB, Joe Rogan. Others tune in to watch Ted Talks or people play videos games. There are all sorts of amazing things on YouTube but as of yet, I still don’t think it’s exactly the right venue for new feature films.
I remember over a decade ago I create a trailer mashup called PG 300 or Cake Town as people called it. It has over 10 million view now. Meanwhile one of my earliest 16mm feature films that played at the Pioneer Theater in New York fifteen years ago Everything Moves Alonehas but a few hundred. I think my point is that the views don’t always reflect the true value of a film or video. A video could make a company 80 grand on YouTube but it can still be garbage.
VHS Massacre got a great review this month from Gross Movie Reviews! They called it a “Great documentary!” In this cynical internet environment, when trashing films is the cool thing to do, I’m amazed when any small film get s good review! So thanks guys! Also I’ve been posting about an episode a month on New York Cinema Radio. This month I interview Chris Ferry about his new book-narration gig Stuck in the Stone Age. Chris is part of the comedy troop Story Pirates and this is their first book. So check out New York Cinema Radio!
I recently created a micro-doc entitled Artifactthat explores the strange overlap between action figures and religious statuettes. I believe it went well so I may working on a another project this year. The jury is out on whether this will be feature length or not. I always tend to lean that way because it is typically a more valuable property that can be formerly distributed on venues like Amazon Prime, Netflix and such. There is something to be said for creating a short film and entering the film festival circuit. For one thing, the entry fees are cheaper, secondly some film festivals like to play more shorts than features and I can understand why. For instance I entered some festivals last week and I’m already a semi-finalist at the San Mauro Film Festival in Italy. Playing a feature film is a much larger commitment for a festival because typically their time is limited. In most cases they are paying for the venue or they are doing it as a hobby. Making a short version could be a great way to test the waters. I’m planing to do a lot of experimenting this year by entering different awards shows, contests and film festivals. I have always been fascinated by what a person can do without a manager, producers rep or P.R. company. Finding the cracks in the system is interesting to me. As a matter of fact I’ve entered the Telly’s and Webby Awards with two different projects. So I’m excited to see if I can win!
What I can’t stand to admit is that the entertainment business is in fact a BUSINESS. Although I’ve had producers reps and distributors throughout my career I don’t believe I’ve made a ton of money for anyone in particular with my own films. I’ve made the films that I wanted to make and I’ve helped friends create them as well but the days of a low-budget movies killing at the box-office are incredibly rare. The films of Neil Breen or Tommy Wisaeu come to mind. So the point is, that if you can’t make a studio a lot of money with a film, it may be hard to move up the ladder. Collectively I’ve spent years at places like CBS, NBC, Fisher Price, IGN, College Humor using my creative energy to make their content and I was good at it, I made them money but I was also left creatively exhausted with little energy for my own stuff. So it took a while to actually work with a film studio on a feature film and a series (VHS Massacre, Monster Kill) and that studio was Troma Entertainment. They let me do what I wanted but again I seriously don’t think those projects will make them any money. I’m incredible proud of working with Troma. Some people wouldn’t be but they are the longest running Independent film studio in history, even longer running than Roger Corman’s current company. So again, a personal victory but not much of a path to something else.
The web seems to have devolved into a place where trashing a film is the only way to talk about it. So I sometimes wonder if it’s even a good move to make another film, of course that’s never stopped me in the past. So on the fringes of American independent cinema many of the films are passion projects with people like me vying for recognition in the artist community and there is great value in that but little money and we can’t seem to help tearing each other down.
VHS Massacre makes the top list of most popular Documentaries featuring sci-fi subjects on IMDB! Also updates on Mark of the Beast and some new great VHS Massacre Movie reviews. TES director of such films as the Amazon Prime documentary VHS Massacre, Troma’s Monster Kill Original Series, Mark of the Beast, tells us what he’s up to. Tom has been called a top underground filmmaker in the U.S. and is known among other things for his work on the Emmy Nominated Hulu web series net_work.
I attended the premiere of Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 2 at the Museum of Moving Image this weekend. I was a teacher/extra somewhere in that film. Twas a great time! Being a part of any film directed by Lloyd Kaufman is a real honor. I really loved going to the premiere because it made me feel like I had a connection to the film industry and to the films I grew up with. Lloyd Kaufman, George Romero and Ridley Scott are some of my favorite directors of all time which is why when I heard the news that Romero had passed it knocked the wind out of me. George was truly an Independent filmmaker who’s films were more subversive than most remember.
I recorded my Filmmaker Diary #3 before the news of George Romero came in. Not two weeks ago I sent a package out to George Romero. It was a fan letter from me stating how much his films have effected my life. Dawn of the Dead is the greatest horror film ever made and I just wanted to thank him for making it. I was hoping to get his autograph and I included a few of my films Mark of the Beast and VHS Massacre. I thought to myself even if he just looks at the covers of the films it would be meaningful to me. The thing is, Dawn of the Dead is a lot like Blade Runner to me (Blade Runner being the best Sci-fi movie ever made). They came out with a director’s cut of both films during the VHS era. Everyone knows that cool art work with the gas mask on the side of DOD director’s cut.
I bought both films it and started watching them. I’m not sure I loved Dawn of the Dead right away but much like Blade Runner I kept coming back to both films over and over. I think that even though my knowledge of filmmaking with limited as a teenager I could detect the quality and profoundness in both films. Dawn of the Dead was an apocalyptic future and Blade Runner was dystopian. The relationship between Peter and Roger in Dead was a wonderful thing and I found it touching somehow. Whether it was when Peter had to kill Roger in DOD or when Deckard watched Roy Batty die on the roof in Blade Runner they both effected me deeply. In Dawn the zombies roaming the mall represented consumerism out of control, where as in Blade Runner the companies controlled so much of society that people or replicants actually became a product.
Romero always pushed boundaries right from the beginning by having a strong African American lead in Night of the Living Dead in 1968 but he didn’t sugar coat things and when the main character is shot in the end, it ends up being a commentary on injustice of American society toward a minority population. This happens again in Dawn of the Dead when innocent people are killed in the projects in the beginning of the film with no accountability. He was pushing boundaries under the guise of a horror film but much like Blade Runner we know they were both great dramas of about the nature of life, equality of life and how people are sometimes worse than monsters or machines. Thanks for everything George!