MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

New York Times Anatomy of a Scene: How Jason Statham Proves to Be a Strong Swimmer in ‘The Meg’

Director Jon Turteltaub narrates a sequence on the water with Statham going up against one very big shark. 



In “Anatomy of a Scene,” we ask directors to reveal the secrets that go into making key scenes in their movies. See new episodes in the series each Friday. You can also watch our collection of more than 150 videos on YouTube and subscribe to our YouTube channel. 

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” The director Jon Turteltaub borrows this line from “Finding Nemo” and gives it to Jason Statham for a tense scene in the giant-shark thriller “The Meg.” It’s one of a few surprising moments in this sequence, narrated by Mr. Turteltaub. 

For a moment when Mr. Statham bobs in and out of the water looking for the menacing Megalodon of the title, Mr. Turteltaub was inspired by GoPro footage on YouTube of divers doing the same in shark-filled waters. This wild sequence is a mixture of footage shot on location, in water tanks and on a soundstage, then blended using digital effects. “It’s a lot,” Mr. Turteltaub says. 

Read more
 

Jason Statham and Li Bingbing's shark tale thriller is going to be a solid hit even with its $130m budget.

With 'The Meg,' Jason Statham Succeeded Where Dwayne Johnson, Matt Damon And Vin Diesel Failed



As of this writing, The Meg has earned around $6.05 million on Tuesday, rising a solid 33% from Monday and bringing its five-day total to $56m. At a glance, we're probably looking at a first-week gross of over/under $65m, with the hopes that the surprisingly solid opening weekend and decent audience buzz will allow it to join Mission: Impossible - Fallout as the summer closer. Amusingly, the chief competition this weekend is Crazy Rich Asians, which is also a Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. release. No matter, unless it collapses here and abroad, Jason Statham and Li Bingbing's shark tale thriller is going to be a solid hit even with its $130m budget. And in that sense, it may be the first modern case of a big-budget live-action Hollywood/China co-production that was a success on both coasts.

No, it's not remotely the first big Hollywood movie that has been successful in China and North America. But in terms of movies that were, for all intents and purposes Chinese productions with a major Hollywood distributor, The Meg is in rare territory. Yes, Paramount/Viacom Inc.'s xXx: Return of Xander Cage was tailored to the Chinese marketplace. But the Vin Diesel action sequel cost just $85 million and flopped in North America. It earned most of its $346m global cume outside of America. Legendary and Universal twice tried this gambit and twice struck out. Warcraft was expected to hit big in China, and it did, for a week. The film was incredibly frontloaded and earned $90m in the first 48 hours and yet just $223m overall in China. But it made less than $50m in North America and its $165m budget (plus marketing) rendered even its $433m global cume something of a wash.

They tried again in late 2016/early 2017 with Zhan Yimou's The Great Wall. The Matt Damon action fantasy, wrongly tagged pre-release as a whitewashed/white savior story in the states (it was exactly the opposite, using its white guy hero to tell an "East >> West" melodrama), earned a decent $170 million in China when it opened in December of 2016. But it stumbled elsewhere, including just $45m in North America when it opened here in February of 2017. Doing well enough in China isn't good enough when A) the movie cost $150m and B) it only performed-to-expectations in China. I like the movie, but it was an example of studios targeting American and Chinese audiences and pleasing neither marketplace.

Ditto Pacific Rim: Uprising which earned $100 million+ in China but bombed almost everywhere else, including a $59m gross in North America. And, relatively speaking, ditto with Dwayne Johnson's Skyscraper which earned less in North America than The First Purge and did merely okay outside of China. So with a $125m gross and mediocre reviews/buzz, even a $98m total in China can't make it into a massive win. It's a minor disappointment, as opposed to a disaster, but it's another example of a movie tailored to China (it takes place in Shanghai and features many Chinese supporting characters) not breaking out on both sides of the isle.

In general, I have argued that the movies that score big in North America and China are often distinctly American movies (Ready Player One, Zootopia, etc.) or franchises that have gained a foothold in China (the MCU, Fast and Furious, not Star Wars, etc.). To the extent that Chinese audiences are flocking to the likes of non-fantasies like Dying to Survive and arguably "foreign"  films like Coco and Dangal, it doesn't do much good to have a big movie that feels aggressively pandering to the Chinese marketplace. In a world where Operation Red Sea and Detective Chinatown 2 can top $500 million in China alone, the audience doesn't need to embrace pandering Hollywood biggies for big-scale cinematic thrills.
MORE FROM FORBES
UNICEF USA BrandVoice
For Central American Migrant Children Far From Home, Art Lessons Offer Hope
Civic Nation BrandVoice
How Tennessee Is Proving FAFSA Completion Leads To A College-Going Culture
Grads of Life BrandVoice
Not In Our Digital House

Ironically, the one prior example of a successful co-production was STX's The Foreigner. Martin Campbell's Jackie Chan/Pierce Brosnan action thriller, about a man pursuing the IRA terrorists who killed his daughter, was cheap enough (around $35 million) that a mere $35m domestic total, combined with its $81m Chinese gross (not bad for a bleak and action-light R-rated thriller) made it a big hit for STX and Wanda Pictures (among others).  If the movie had cost $150m, a $145m global cume would have been a disaster. And since The Meg did in-fact cost between $130m and $178m (depending on who you ask), it matters that it isn't just (pending post-debut legs) a hit in China.

The film was financed by the likes of Warner Bros. and Maeday Pictures. WB and friends get 40% of the Chinese box office instead of the normal 25%. The film was sold as "Jason Statham versus a giant dino-shark" in North America. It also had a Chinese co-lead (Li Bingbing) and takes place in and around China. The closest thing the movie has to a villain is Rainn Wilson's tech zillionaire, so you don't have to play the "You think the Chinese company is evil but it turns out they really aren't!" game that felled Uprising and Skyscraper. And like a number of big Chinese productions (think Renny Harlin's Jackie Chan/Johnny Knoxville action comedy), The Meg was helmed by a guy (Jon Turteltaub) who was a big-deal big-movie Hollywood director in the 1990's or 2000's.

And, yeah, the Chinese/Hollywood co-production opened with $50.3 million in China and $45.3m in North America, a massive domestic overperformance. There are plenty of good reasons why this mega-budget shark thriller isn't relying on China to save its butt. It may have been sold in a wink-wink Snakes on a Plane fashion, but it offered enough "Don't worry, this is a real movie and not a camp fest" appeal to make sure folks didn't think they were being asked to fork over money for a knowingly bad flick. And it capitalized both on the public's appetite for shark thrillers and a general fondness toward Jason Statham that doesn't necessarily extend to his smaller, R-rated action movies. But no matter the reason, the fact remains that, barring a post-debut plunge here and abroad, The Meg may be the first of its kind. It's a Chinese/Hollywood big-budget production that is a hit on both coasts.

If you like what you're reading, follow @ScottMendelson on Twitter

Read more

The Meg shocks box office analysts with a huge opening weekend




The Meg, a movie about a ginormous shark menacing Jason Statham and a bunch of scientists in the deep ocean, has wildly outperformed box office expectations, raking $44 million domestically and another $97 million overseas, according to Box Office Mojo, to give Warner Bros. a surprise hit late in the summer moviegoing season.

The monster movie is the week’s biggest grossing flick in North America, surpassing the third weekend of Mission Impossible — Fallout, the sixth installation of Paramount’s popcorn-movie franchise. That now stands at $161 million (estimated) domestically.

The Meg is Warner Bros.’ best weekend debut of the year, even over bigger-name and bigger-publicized films like Ready Player One and Ocean’s 8, both of which took in $41 million in their March and June openings, respectively.

Mission: Impossible held the top slot at the box office from its July 27 premiere date until Aug. 9, with The Meg taking over from its Aug. 10 debut to now.


Read more

Why Should You Read James Joyce’s Ulysses?: A New TED-ED Animation Makes the Case



Modernism puffs out its chest with pride for having fostered many creative works that shocked and titillated their first mass audiences. James Joyce’s Ulysses ranks quite highly upon that list. The novel’s initial reputation as highbrow smut seems at odds with Sam Slote’s characterization of it in the TED-Ed video above as “both a literary masterpiece and one of the hardest works of literature to read.” But it can be all those things and more. Inside the dense experimental epic is a charmingly detailed travelogue of Dublin, a theological treatise on heresy, a series of Freudian jokes with the kinds of sophomoric punchlines “stately, plump Buck Mulligan” would appreciate….



The Meg Opens Wider in RealD 3D Theatres, Friday!

“Everything comes to life in RealD 3D. It really is a completely different experience.” 

– Director, ~Jon Turteltaub 

Witness the largest prehistoric shark in history. 


INTERVIEW: Li Bingbing battles massive shark in new Hollywood movie The Meg



After battling zombies and giant robots in Hollywood blockbusters like Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) and Transformers: Age Of Extinction (2014), Chinese actress Li Bingbing, 45, now takes on a 75-foot-long shark known as the Megalodon alongside English actor Jason Statham in The Meg.

The sci-fi action thriller directed by Jon Turteltaub.

When a deep-sea submersible that is part of an international undersea observation programme is attacked by a creature and lies disabled at the bottom of the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, a former deep-sea rescue diver (Statham) joins forces with the daughter (Li) of a visionary Chinese oceanographer to save the trapped crew.

What attracted you to The Meg?

It was a total challenge for me. It challenged my mind, my body and my fears...And I love the adrenaline rush. But the real reason is that I got the chance to pilot a glider for the first time.
The title creature is a mammoth prehistoric shark that threatens the crew aboard an oceanic research vessel.

How do you feel about sharks?

Sharks have lived on Earth over 500 million years. Before beginning work on The Meg, I thought that sharks ate humans. But I learnt that sharks eat only invertebrates and fish.

What kind of training did you do for the film?

I did a lot of research on shark habits. I also trained in scuba diving.

What was it like being in the water - or underwater - for such a long time?

Performing underwater wasn't easy. Sometimes, I had to hold my breath for a long time, which was hard. During a scene... I was wearing diving equipment inside a very small shark cage. The shark was attacking the cage and the cage kept moving. I almost ran out of oxygen. I was exhausted when I got out of the water.

What was it like working opposite Jason Statham?

Working with Jason was amazing and a lot of fun... Jason is very different from the characters he plays. When he smiled, I thought "Oh, he has the nicest teeth!" because I had never seen Jason smile in his films.

Later, I told him that I am not a native English speaker, so I needed to rehearse many times before we filmed our scenes. He was so sweet and supportive, and kept saying there was no way he could have done this film in Chinese.



Read more

'The Meg' Director "Set Out to Make the Second Best Shark Movie of All Time"

 
Turteltaub was photographed July 25 in his Malibu home office.

 

Ahead of his first international co-production, set to hit theaters Aug. 10, Jon Turteltaub talks tackling the marine predator genre, working with China and why Jerry Bruckheimer said "undersea movies are boring and don't work."

Director Jon Turteltaub knew he was gonna need a bigger shark. After all, if you're going to tackle the genre these days, you'd better bring something new to the table, since the undersea apex predator has been reimagined in countless forms, from flying sharks to robot sharks and, yes, even zombie sharks.

So, for his waterborne action thriller The Meg, the 54-year-old director, whose career has bounced between smaller fare like 1993's Cool Runnings and 
big-budget studio spectacles like 
the National Treasure franchise, decided the best course of 
action was to go big — really big. Arriving in theaters Aug. 10 from Warner Bros., The Meg pits action star Jason Statham against a giant prehistoric shark called a megalodon. Lured to the project by producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Turteltaub finished principal photography in December 2016, with the film's hefty budget (studio insiders say $130 million, but sources peg it as high as $150 million) ensuring that the 90-foot-long beast didn't look, as he puts it, "really stupid."

The Meg also marks Turteltaub's first international co-production; the movie was co-financed and co-produced by Gravity Pictures, the film studio of entertainment conglomerate China Media Capital, which recently raised $1.5 billion. "A strong, healthy Chinese film industry is going to teach us more about China than CNN is," says the L.A. native. Set against the thematically appropriate backdrop of the Pacific, Turteltaub sat down with THR at the Malibu home he shares with his wife, producer and philanthropist Amy Eldon, and their three children, to discuss the anxieties of making a big-budget studio movie and the advice from Jerry Bruckheimer that he didn't heed.

A note from President Barack Obama to Turteltaub’s sons Jack, now 10, and Daniel, now 8. He also has a daughter, Arabella, 3.
Eric Ryan Anderson
A note from President Barack Obama to Turteltaub’s sons Jack, now 10, and Daniel, now 8. He also has a daughter, Arabella, 3.

Turteltaub and Eldon at their wedding. Eldon is co-founder of the nonprofit Creative Visions Foundation.
Eric Ryan Anderson
Turteltaub and Eldon at their wedding. Eldon is co-founder of the nonprofit Creative Visions Foundation.
How do you make a modern shark movie in Hollywood?
I get asked the shark-movie question a lot. I'm not totally sure there is such a thing as a "shark movie." After Jaws, the shark movie became a thing, but it also became a pretty pointless thing compared to Jaws. So how do you exploit what Jaws got everyone interested in, knowing you'll never be that good? I remember when I was making Cool Runnings and someone saw an early cut and they said, "It's pretty good." And I said, "What do you mean pretty good? Isn't it awesome?" — as a joke. And they said, "Well, it's not like you set out to make the greatest movie ever." And I realized, yes, actually, I did. Every director on every movie sets out to make the greatest movie of all time. And along the way, you have realizations that that's not going to happen and you're just trying to make the best movie you can. I probably wanted to be a moviemaker because of Jaws, so truthfully, I set out to make the second best shark movie of all time. And I hope we did it.

What is it like making a blockbuster that isn't based on a well-known IP?
These days it's scary. My job is to just make that movie, but I'm fully aware that in the marketplace, in spite of the public complaining that everything is 
a sequel or a superhero, they're not living up to their complaints with the tickets they buy. It does give you plausible deniability for your lack of success. (Laughs.)

What did you take away from making a Chinese co-production?
When you enter the film business, it doesn't take long to realize that once a film starts shooting, it is a train wreck that you cannot stop. In development and in postproduction, you can maybe get more involved [as a financier]. And they did. That's normal. [But] in this case, it's hard to anticipate the needs because you don't know what their cinematic sensibility is and you don't know what their system requirements are. There's a lot to be said, written and studied about the Hollywood-China relationship that's probably best done in a book and not by somebody about to release a movie.

How have you seen studio franchise filmmaking change since the '90s and 2000s?
I've been through eras where 
the studios want to make as many movies as possible and as few movies as possible, as expensive as they can be and as inexpensive as they can be. If you look at an action film from 25 years ago, there were two action scenes, right? Now they have two nonaction scenes. The audience just wants more and more and more. They want lots of cool shit. [But] if [audiences] don't give a shit about the people in the movie and the characters, then they don't go. It's awesome to watch Iron Man blow shit up, but you go to see Tony Stark be the smartest guy in the room. That said, if the effects in a Marvel movie stunk, people would be pissed. So they didn't get any cheaper. On every single movie, either the visual effects house is getting ripped off or the studio's getting ripped off. [That's why] we have these companies going into and out of business. We haven't figured out how to make that system fair and consistent.

This vintage elevator pointer hung outside his Disney office. “Everyone thought my door was the elevator and would stand there, waiting.”
Eric Ryan Anderson
This vintage elevator pointer hung outside his Disney office. “Everyone thought my door was the elevator and would stand there, waiting.”
What's the "cool shit" in The Meg?
Because it's a first movie, not a sequel, you can't just throw money at stuff. You've got to be smart and pick your spots. And our spot we picked was the shark. Jerry Bruckheimer always warned me and said, "Undersea movies are boring and don't work." Because everything is slow and it doesn't feel real. And I realized how right he was when I suddenly found myself making a Jason Statham action film without gunfights, without fistfights and without car chases. What's left? There was a lot of pressure on us to show the shark early and often because today's audiences want to see it a lot. Here was the other big challenge: When you have a giant version of an animal, it immediately can look stupid and weird and "movie fake." But you can tolerate a lot more when it has a face. King Kong is a brilliant movie character because you spend the whole movie fearing him and the last 10 minutes 
in love with him. You cannot fall in love with a shark face. They have no eyebrows, they don't smile or frown, their eyes — you can never see the two eyes at the same time. It's just the antithesis of what humans have affection for. And that limits you as a director. I want people to fear the Meg, but I don't want them to hate it.

What would a National 
Treasure movie look like in 
today's political climate?
It is amazing how many people in Washington assumed I was a Republican because the movie is patriotic. I think today the movie would do just as well and is even more needed. The National Treasure movies stay away from politics, but they stay true to political idealism. And it bugged me that conservatives thought that these are only conservative ideas. The ideas in National Treasure are all of us, neither conservative nor liberal.

Do you think there is room for 
a third National Treasure movie?
Every person I know wants to make National Treasure III, 
with the exception of the people who are in charge at Disney. 
They don't feel it needs to be made. But Jerry and Nic [Cage] and I — Jon Voight and Helen Mirren and everybody else — we're ready to go.


A note from <em>Last Vegas</em> star Michael Douglas. “When you get a compliment from someone you idolize, it will be your best compliment,” says Turteltaub.
Eric Ryan Anderson
A note from Last Vegas star Michael Douglas. “When you get a compliment from someone you idolize, it will be your best compliment,” says Turteltaub.
How do you think the Disney-Fox deal and other studio mergers will affect filmmakers?
Certainly the lack of variety of studios can easily make for a lack of variety of films. It's hard to say what's more significant, the fact that there aren't as many studios as there used to be, or the fact that one studio has six studios inside it. Disney's pulled these things together in a very smart way so that the people who are best at something focus on that thing. As a director, though, it might make the world a little cliquey. It gives you the advantage of being on the inside when you're on the inside, but it also puts you on the outside, and [it's] hard to break in. But I will say that with all the changes that have taken place over the years, it's hard to put your finger on anything that has made movies better or worse. Movies are either good or bad for their own reasons. Whether you're competing with TV, whether you're doing it with black and white or color, whether you're just making superheroes or just making romantic comedies, they find their way to suck all on their own.

Read more

The Long Journey from Book to Film for Steve Alten’s Shark Thriller Meg



“The Meg” © Warner Bros. 2018

Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel Jaws did more than frighten and fascinate a generation of swimmers. It also inspired a young Steve Alten to research stories about great white sharks and their ancestors.

Alten’s take on the mother of all great whites — a prehistoric shark called a megalodon — comes to the big screen next month in “The Meg,” an adaptation of his 1997 novel MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror. Directed by Jon Turteltaub (the “National Treasure” films), “The Meg” stars Jason Statham (“The Fate of the Furious”) as U.S. Navy diver Jonas Taylor, who encounters a megalodon weighing about twenty tons in the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. Ruby Rose (“John Wick: Chapter 2”) and Rainn Wilson (“Star Trek: Discovery”) costar.

The film’s advertising mixes plenty of teeth and the promise of terror with campy touches. Bobby Darin’s song “Beyond the Sea” plays in the trailer while swimmers and surfers flee. The posters feature taglines such as “Chomp on this” and “Pleased to eat you.”

For Alten, who turns fifty-fine in August, “The Meg” caps a long journey that began in the library when he was a Philadelphia teen, inspired by a love of Jaws. “I went straight to the library and checked out every true-life great white shark attack story,” he said in an interview earlier this year. “In the process, I came across little blurbs about megalodon, the prehistoric cousin of the great white, usually accompanied by a black-and-white photo of six scientists seated in a [megalodon] jaw.”

The megalodon grew to about 60 feet long and weighed up to 77 tons, according to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which displays a massive replica of its jaw. People have recovered fossilized megalodon teeth that are as big as their hands at Sharktooth Hill in California, the aquarium says.

No wonder the meg never left Alten’s mind. He earned a master’s degree in sports medicine from the University of Delaware and a doctorate of education at Temple University, but as a married father of five, he struggled to make ends meet. In 1995, he saw an article in TIME magazine about deep water hydrothermal vents in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific and wondered “if that big shark was still alive down there.”

Alten returned to the library to research his idea, then wrote three to four pages a day from about 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. About six months later, the manuscript of MEG was born.

Alten, Ken Atchity, Joel McKuin
Following a guide about how to get published, he sent out about seventy query letters to literary agents. Only one, Ken Atchity at AEI, liked the manuscript, and connected Alten with an editor for a rewrite. Writing a book, Atchity told him, “is like preparing a fish to cook — you cut off the head and tail and start with the meat in the middle.”

The revision turned out to be fortuitous. Alten lost his job as a sales manager for a wholesale meat company, but MEG was published, even landing on the New York Times bestseller list.

Hollywood was interested, too, but changes in industry personnel among other issues meant a lot of stops and starts before the film finally came to fruition. In the meantime, Alten kept writing, producing six more books in the MEG series: The Trench, MEG: Primal Waters, MEG: Hell’s Aquarium, MEG: Origins, MEG: Nightstalkers, and MEG: Generations. His protagonist, Taylor, appears in all of them, sometimes with his older children — and the offspring of the prehistoric shark.

He’s also written about a dozen other books in the science- and speculative fiction genre, including Domain, Goliath, The Loch, The Omega Project, and Undisclosed. In addition, Alten launched Adopt-An-Author, a nationwide nonprofit program that provides books and materials for teachers to encourage reluctant teens to read.

Although some “MEGheads” (his loyal fan base) balked at images in the initial trailer — the shark not being albino, for instance — Alten is happy with the end result. He’s lived with Parkinson’s disease since 2006 and said in an open letter to fans online that he’s honored a studio wanted to buy his work. He’s also thankful to everyone over the years who has kept “this dream and career alive. …. what would I do without you?”




In honor of the film, MEG will be released in August as a graphic novel adapted by J.S. Earls and artist Mike S. Miller (The Hedge Knight, Injustice).

Read more


The Meg: Behind the Scenes





Head Wounds | Dennis Palumbo with Barry Kibrick



Acclaimed author and psychologist Dennis Palumbo discusses his latest book, Head Wounds. This is the fifth installment of the much-admired Daniel Rinaldi Mysteries. 
 
In our conversation Dennis gets his most personal and all will benefit from his insightful wisdom that transcends the fictional. 

For more Barry Kibrick go to: www.barrykibrick.com 
https://twitter.com/barrykibrick

Jason Statham Goes Deep About The Meg with Total Film!




With the summer movie season in full swing, The Meg is about to arrive with the aim of taking a chomp out of the competition. With a high-concept premise that can be most simply summed up as Jason Statham Vs a giant prehistoric shark (or “Jurassic Shark” as Statham himself puts it), it offers the promise of the kind of knowingly OTT blockbuster we see all too rarely these days.

Statham stars as Jonas Taylor, a diver who has had a previous run-in with the toothy beast of the title. The Meg – or Megalodon, to give it its full name – is a supersized shark that has emerged from the deep with an appetite, so it’s down to Jonas and crew to put a stop to the monster’s feeding frenzy.

You can take a look at Statham heading underwater in this exclusive image, courtesy of our sister publication Total Film magazine, which sees Jonas going below the surface with another crew member on the look out for the Meg.



Jason Statham goes underwater in The Meg

Directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure), The Meg is aiming to deliver suspenseful set pieces and monster-movie thrills, but it’s also going to have fun with the formula, while trying not to veer into Sharknado territory. “This is a much more legit, holy-crap-that’s-a-big-shark movie,” says the director. It’s based on really good science and really good filmmaking. We’re not making fun of shark movies, we’re celebrating them.

“It is, first and foremost, a big, scary, monster movie,” he adds. “But I kept saying, instead of running from the cliches, let’s lean into them. That helps with the humour. These characters will have seen Jaws… But that’s not the same as making a movie campy or satirical.”





As star Statham explains to TF, “It’s Jurassic Park meets Jaws. Everyone likes to say, ‘Jurassic Shark’. If you look at the poster, look at the creature, you know what you’re going to spend your money on. This is a film where people can sit down and get the popcorn out.”

For much more on The Meg and bunch more upcoming monster movies, you can pick up this month’s Total Film magazine, which hits shelves this Friday, July 27. Better yet, why not subscribe so that you never miss an issue?

That way, you’ll bag an exclusive, not-available-in-stores subscriber’s cover (as seen below), and My Favourite Magazines will deliver each new issue through your letterbox every month *and* save you money on the cover price. And if that’s not tempting enough, we’re currently running a promotion where new UK subscribers will get two Jurassic World Funko Pop! Vinyl figures when they sign up. What are you waiting for?


Read more


Molly Wood Interviews Steve Alten On Pittsburgh's NPR

So long as sharks are terrifying, there will be shark content
 

In 1975, "Jaws" became the first movie to gross over $100 million. Its success made it the first summer blockbuster. This summer's shark offering is "The Meg," a story about Carcharodon megalodon, the largest shark that ever lived. The movie is based on a novel written by Steve Alten, who saw "Jaws" when it came out and became obsessed with sharks. It turned out to be a lucrative obsession — sharks are a moneymaker. See: "Jaws." And also Shark Week, starting up again this weekend, which launched in 1988 and is arguably the Discovery Channel's most lucrative annual event. Plus, there's a sixth "Sharknado" movie coming on Syfy in August. Alten's written six books on the meg — the latest drops this week on his website — and he talked to Marketplace host Molly Wood about his relationship to the giant, extinct shark. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Molly Wood: So you have essentially made an entire career out of shark stuff, so to speak. What is it about sharks that captivated you? What's your personal connection to the Megalodon story?

Steve Alten: Well, it sort of started when I was 15 and saw "Jaws" in theaters. And that got me to read Peter Benchley's book, and then I started reading everything I could find on great whites, true-life attack stories ... and there was always a little blurb about Carcharocles megalodon, the prehistoric cousin of the great white. Well, flash ahead 20 years and I'm 35 years old, struggling to support a family of five, and I happened to pick up a Time magazine article in August of '95 that featured the Mariana Trench, [once] the deepest part [of] the ocean. And the article talked about hydrothermal vents and life at the bottom of the ocean. And I thought, "You know, this would be a pretty cool place for that shark that I read about when I was younger to be hanging out. I wonder if it would be scientifically feasible." So I went to the library and did some research — because there was no internet back then — and found out that it was feasible and that there was a big mystery about how these sharks disappeared. And I thought, "You know, I think I'm going to write the book."

Wood: Why do you think that shark material, you know, from "Jaws" to Shark Week, now likely to this franchise, why is it such a consistent moneymaker?

Alten: Well, I mean, people like to be scared in the movies. And sharks are scary creatures, and great whites are the scariest of them all. Except for the megalodon, the big great white. So I think this movie is going to up the ante on it. But if it's done well, then it can make for a movie that people want to see over and over again.

Wood: You mention the science aspect and that you did the research to see if it would actually be possible. Which, thank you for verifying my absolute worst fear: that the megalodon might be down there.

Alten: Well, are you planning a trip to the Mariana Trench anytime soon?

Wood: It's going to come out! I already saw it in the trailer. So you mentioned the scientific aspect. A lot of criticism even of, for example, Shark Week and "Jaws" is that it's not always very scientifically based and ends up demonizing sharks. Do you worry about that? Or does this have an answer to that?

Alten: Well, if you read the books, you'll see that I'm very much into the ecology of the ocean and protecting sharks, and, in fact, in the book, they're trying to capture it, not trying to kill it. But, you know, back when Benchley wrote "Jaws," he got a lot of grief and felt horrible because sharks were being killed, you know, after "Jaws." I think we've woken up to the fact that sharks are an integral part of the ocean's ecology and health. And this ridiculous practice of killing these sharks for their fins to make soup, it's just got to stop. And I will assure you that no megalodons were hurt in the filming of this movie.


Read more  



Guest post: IRRATIONAL FEARS by Lee Lindauer


by Lee Lindauer. International action / math thriller. (May 2018)
After witnessing the horrifying murder of her friend Tom Haley, Mallory Lowe, a cautious university mathematics professor, must emerge from her cocoon to become the gutsy and unpredictable woman she’s always dreamed of being. Running on the guilt of a past family tragedy that she blames on herself, Mallory is determined to find Tom’s now-missing daughter.
Following the clues in a 300-year-old equation left by Tom, Mallory’s search propels her into the tangled threads of a ruthless corporate entity known as Möbius, bent on controlling the world’s most precious resource: fresh water. Mallory is propelled along a perilous journey from the southwest United States through the breathtaking landscape of Switzerland and into the inner workings of a massive hydroelectric dam in Turkey. She solves the riddle of the centuries old mathematics equation—only to discover something more ominous and deadly in the process.

Hard Math, Easy Read: Using a math-based plot to tell a great story

Guest post by Lee Lindauer

When I set out many years ago with the crazy idea to be a fiction writer, one of the first items on the agenda was to create a protagonist, one that was unique, multi-dimensional and complex. After my first novel, I realized my main protagonist was flat, a one-dimensional person I had a hard time fleshing out. What I needed was a protagonist that had a little bit of my interests and background. Having had a career in engineering, I decided to zero in on a protagonist who found math and science exciting. I settled on math. Mathematics is definitely an area that all engineers must experience during their college years. I then had an epiphany—this mathematician protagonist should be a woman—unique and complex—someone who goes against the perception that all math geeks are men. Thus the next three novels I wrote included Mallory Lowe, a tenured university mathematics professor. The third of these novels is titled IRRATIONAL FEARS, and can be found at Amazon.com.

Science in novels is not unique. Readers of ScienceThrillers.com will attest to that. What about mathematics? There have been several novels with mathematicians (crazy, brilliant, or both) written with themes centering on mathematical philosophies such as Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. The trouble with writing about math in novels is the misconception that the reader is not math-worthy—a reader who cringes when it comes to discussing mathematical concepts. These are people who hated math in school or feared it since it held an overbearing abstraction for them.

The key then was to write a math-centric novel that keeps the reader’s attention. Mathematical concepts must be written such that the layman should not be intimidated by them. This can be a tough chore, but one I believe can also be self-gratifying if the author can pull it off.

In IRRATIONAL FEARS, the plot revolves around a 300 year-old equation, THE BASEL PROBLEM, a very unique infinite series:

1 + 1/22 + 1/32 + 1/42 + 1/52 + 1/62 + … + 1/k2 + … = π2/6

The summation of reciprocals of squares on the left equals the odd π2/6 on the right. The more terms on the left that are added, the closer to the answer on the right—a subliminal relationship of inverse squares to circles. This is a fascinating problem in number theory, but the reader may ask, okay, I think I understand it, so what? Why is this important? No spoiler here. Read IRRATIONAL FEARS to find out why.

Let’s not forget—mathematics is the language of science. Let’s take for example, the constant e which equals 2.71828… Where does this seemingly non-descript number come from? In mathematical jargon, e =


In other words if n= 10, then e= 2.59374246… If n=1,000,000,000, then e = 2.71828183… As n approaches infinity, then e approaches a limit, that being the number e = 2.71828183… Why is e so important? Let’s talk finance. Bankers love e because it is the background of compound interest, and they love nothing more than charging you interest on a loan. In the scientific arena, e pops up in a variety of ways—determining population growth in humans, or in bacteria, in depletion of tuna fisheries, and so forth. And in physics e is used to calculate time frames of radioactive decay, in heat transfer phenomena, and shows up in all types of waves—light, sound, etc.

So when mathematical concepts pop up in fiction, don’t be intimidated. They are there to drive the plot. Don’t get hung up on equations and don’t get frustrated.  

A good writer will assure the reader will not feel pressured to understand each math concept. The unsuspecting reader will then have fun.
“A smashing debut, Irrational Fears is an action-packed, globetrotting adventure, and Lee Lindauer is the heir apparent to adventure thrillers.” —Anthony Franze, author of The Outsider 

 Irrational Fears weaves age-old mathematics and the world’s most essential resource with unique characters and unrelenting tension.”—Bob Mayer, NYT bestselling author


Support ScienceThrillers.com and the author by ordering Irrational Fears from amazon.com or  Barnes and Noble


About the Author:

Lee Lindauer has a BS in Architectural Engineering and a MS in Civil Engineering and was a principal of a consulting structural engineering firm he founded in Western Colorado. It is hard to say what got him into writing but after thirty-some years of consulting, he decided a new diversion would be welcome. Thus, the writing bug took over. In 2009, he retired. When he’s not punching a keyboard, he takes advantage of the amazing public spaces that the West has to offer (he is a Colorado native), from camping, rafting, hiking (try Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park), to lazily enjoying the sunset as it drapes the ragged peaks of the San Juan Mountains in various shades of crimson (beer in hand, of course).

‘The Meg’ – An outrageously fun, pulse-pounding thrill ride



Something very big is about to rise from the ocean’s unfathomable depths to seriously rock Warner Bros. Pictures’ new sci-fi action thriller “The Meg.”

That very big something is the titular creature – a 75-foot-long prehistoric shark – in “The Meg,” a pulse-pounding thrill ride and outrageously fun movie event that combines action and humor and pits action superstar Jason Statham in a head-to-head battle with a mammoth megalodon.

Large-scale action is familiar territory to director Jon Turteltaub, who previously helmed blockbuster adventures like “National Treasure” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

The Meg — or, to give it its full name, Carcharocles megalodon — was a species of shark that lived on seals, giant turtles and whales until its extinction around 2.6 million years ago. It was a true monster, so huge it would have made the great white in Steven Spielberg’s seminal summer movie “Jaws” look like a minnow. It certainly captured the imagination of author Steve Alten, who wrote a science-fiction novel that envisioned the return of such a creature to modern-day waters, published in July 1997 as Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror. It was a success, and five sequels followed.

Instrumental in getting “The Meg” made into an event motion picture was producer Belle Avery, who after reading the novel instantly thought: “This is a great popcorn movie. People like to go see monster movies, but if those monsters are real creatures that actually existed, I think you’re much more ahead of the game, because people want to go and see what they looked like.”

Deciding what the Meg looked like was not quite as straightforward as you might imagine. “One school of thought was to make it look like a 75-foot-long great white,” says Turteltaub. “Because when you look at a great white, an audience instantly goes, ‘Uh oh!’ And a 75-foot ‘Uh oh!’ is pretty scary. But, I wanted to create a shark that was a little less developed, a little less perfect, a little uglier and more specific to what life might have been like deep in the ocean three million years ago.”

The novel theorized that megalodons could have survived extinction by moving to the warmer, high-pressure depths of ocean-floor ravines like the Mariana Trench. And in this movie, it is in such an abyss that the terrifying Meg is discovered by a high-tech Chinese deep-sea exploration operation named Zhang Oceanic, overseen by Li Bingbing’s character, Suyin. It won’t be long before the Meg finds its way back up to the surface waters, which are now filled with a tasty new snack: humanity.

For Turteltaub, the appeal was to sink his teeth into “an entire movie genre I’d never worked in. I get to play in a whole new sandbox, so to speak, with a whole bunch of different movie rules. I like the pure fun of it. And I also like the challenge of making a Jason Statham action movie with no car chases, no fist fights or guns,” he adds with a laugh.

“Jerry Bruckheimer warned me about making undersea movies,” says Turteltaub, referring to his producer on the “National Treasure” movies and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” who had plenty experience of his own filming on water with the “Pirates of The Caribbean” movies. “As soon as you go underwater, everything moves very slowly and is not conducive to action. I’ve had Jerry’s voice in my head the whole time, ready to say, ‘I told you so’. So, we had to work out how to keep things exciting with that challenge. And the way to do that was to mix up what’s underwater and what isn’t, while also building on the element of surprise and playing on what you can’t see. At any moment something really, really scary can happen. And that keeps the audience on edge.”

Diving into Philippine cinemas nationwide August 8, The Meg will be released in 2D, 3D and 4D in select theaters, as well as in IMAX, Dolby Cinema, and other large premium formats. The film is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Entertainment Company.

About “The Meg”

In the film, a deep-sea submersible—part of an international undersea observation program—has been attacked by a massive creature, previously thought to be extinct, and now lies disabled at the bottom of the deepest trench in the Pacific…with its crew trapped inside. With time running out, expert deep sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is recruited by a visionary Chinese oceanographer (Winston Chao), against the wishes of his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing), to save the crew—and the ocean itself—from this unstoppable threat: a pre-historic 75-foot-long shark known as the Megalodon. What no one could have imagined is that, years before, Taylor had encountered this same terrifying creature. Now, teamed with Suyin, he must confront his fears and risk his own life to save everyone trapped below…bringing him face to face once more with the greatest and largest predator of all time.

Rounding out the international main cast of “The Meg” are Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Robert Taylor, Sophia Shuya Cai, Masi Oka and Cliff Curtis.


Read more


The Last Five Great Video Stores in Los Angeles



My journey to find the last great video store began at Cinefile Video in West Los Angeles. Even in LA, finding video stores in 2018 is harder than one might imagine — a number of stores like Video West and the last remaining Blockbusters have closed in the six years since I moved here, and information on what’s still open and functional isn’t always the best. But I’d visited Cinefile before, and was eager to check it out again.

In terms of curation, Cinefile can’t be beat. They have the most interesting director’s section I’ve ever seen — filmmakers like Martha Coolidge, Alan Rudolph, Bill Gunn, Ida Lupino, and Ed Wood are given an equal spotlight within. By presenting viewers with a director’s entire oeuvre, Cinefile makes it easy for renters to find their own personal entry point into a particular filmography. And Cinefile’s uniquely curated sections — Nunsplotation, Holiday Horror, Private Dicks, Southern Discomfort, and Cannibals were just a few of offerings the day I was there — help customers explore even the most niche genres.

Cinefile also highlights subgenres like made-for-TV movies, filmed plays, and musical documentaries that would get overlooked by lesser video stores. This is also precisely the kind of material that never makes it to streaming — Cinefile’s dedication to showcasing this work is not only exciting from a customer’s point of view, but essential from a preservationist’s.
An endcap section at Cinefile

I was the only person in Cinefile the Thursday I visited them, and it was tough not to get a little disheartened by the lack of traffic in the store. But, when I visited a few months later, after 11PM on a Friday night, the store was bustling with activity, patrons eager to check out titles before a long weekend. Cinefile showcases some fantastic memorabilia within the store too — velvet paintings, tchotchkes, and rare promo images line the walls, adding to the ambiance of a visit.

For buyers, a hearty stock of DVDs were on sale for 50% off, and VHS tapes were selling for a quarter. Cinefile’s signature auteur-directors-as-metal-bands shirts were also well-stocked alongside tote bags featuring filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Jim Jarmusch. Cinefile is an excellent option for film fans on LA’s west side — yearly, monthly, and pay-as-you go memberships are available to best suit your personal rental needs.

Cinefile Video,
11280 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90025. Sunday-Thursday, 11AM-11PM, Friday-Saturday, 11AM-12AM. $5 pay as you go rentals; $30 monthly membership for four rentals at a time; $330 yearly membership — all memberships come with perks like 10% off American Cinematheque memberships.
Vidéothèque

For my second visit, I headed east to Vidéothèque. Immediately, I was struck by how vital Vidéothèque felt among a strip of other small businesses — it’s clearly a community hub for South Pasadena. Like Cinefile, Vidéothèque is all about exquisite curation: the impeccable but not at all sterile store makes browsing new releases and pre-code films feel equally essential.

Vidéothèque impressed me with their extensive sections for international TV and harder-to-find American shows (like THE WONDER YEARS with the original music intact) as well as a massive music doc section that emphasized rare girl punk bootlegs, Mingus performances, and classical concerts with the same level of enthusiasm.

With some groovy shoegaze playing while I browsed, I hung out while a dozen or so customers came through the store on a Sunday afternoon. A father extolled the virtues of Ray Harryhausen to his middle-school son (who just wanted to rent SHIN GODZILLA again) while I perused Vidéothèque’s excellent avant-garde and experimental section. Documentaries were sorted by director and by subject — especially helpful for those seeking materials for research purposes.

Vidéothèque’s focus on international titles is quite impressive — thirty-year old VHS tapes were stacked alongside new Blu Rays, providing access to films that aren’t available on DVD or Blu Ray in the US. I also really appreciated how diverse Vidéothèque’s children’s section was, with documentaries and foreign films presented to children alongside Pokémon and THE LITTLE MERMAID — Vidéothèque understands that children become voracious watchers as adults if they’re shown a wide array of films as kids.
The Cult section at Vidéothèque

While the dual sorting of American films by both director and actor (depending on the genre and title) might feel confusing to some, I enjoyed being able to peruse filmographies of actors like Barbara Stanwyck and Sidney Poitier alongside directors like Allison Anders and Sam Fuller. It’s just so much easier to fall in love with an actor or director when their entire filmography is laid out in front of you, not just a few random titles.

Vidéothèque also sells vinyl, t-shirts, buttons, and new and used DVDs, further bolstering their role as an important gathering place for South Pasadena. Even after one visit, I could tell fostering and nurturing a sense of community was one of Vidéothèque’s core values — the store is an essential hub for film lovers on the east side.

Vidéothèque,
1020 Mission Street, South Pasadena, CA, 91030. 11AM-11PM weekly (10AM on Saturdays.) All rentals $4.50, with option to pre-purchase rentals in packages for a discounted rate.

The next two stores I visited most reminded me of the Blockbusters and Hollywood Videos of my childhood: Star Video in Van Nuys and Odyssey Video in North Hollywood. These stores are catered towards the more casual viewer — lots of new releases and popular catalogue titles.
Star Video

Star Video felt almost exactly like a Blockbuster to me: new releases lined the outer edge of the store, with older titles sorted by genre in the middle. While there wasn’t any curation to speak of, Star Video does feature some very deep genre sections, particularly for late 90s/early 2000s titles — some sections were so full that titles were stacked on top of each other.

Star’s most impressive racks include a massive selection of thrillers, and a funky children’s section with titles like MAD HOT BALLROOM and THE LEGEND OF NATTY GANN. They’re also the only store I visited that’s still renting video games — that market has been squashed by Gamefly, so Star Video is meeting an important need for those who would prefer to rent in-person.

I was the only person in Star Video on a Sunday afternoon, but if I lived closer, I’d be stopping in for new release titles on Blu Ray since they’re just $2.50 each — catalogue titles rent for only a dollar.
Odyssey Video

Odyssey Video gave me some intense 1997 vibes — in absolutely the best way. VHS tapes were shelved alongside DVDs, and I noticed a lot of forgotten 90s cable classics like THAT NIGHT, SHAG! and THERE GOES MY BABY were still renting at the store. I was most struck by some of the rare children’s titles at Odyssey, like compilations that never made it to DVD from ANIMANIACS, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, and THE SIMPSONS.

Like Star, there’s no curation at Odyssey outside of genre, but the store featured an extensive martial arts section (with titles from the 1970s still available on VHS) and a deep musicals rack, including some out-of-print compilations from major studios.

And, while almost every store I visited had an adult section, Odyssey’s behind-the-curtain titles are truly something to behold: they take up almost half the store, with a smattering big-box pornos from the 1980s still available to rent. Odyssey felt like a store out of time and space, but that’s not a bad thing: a visit there feels like a voyage back in time. And the prices reflect the retro vibe of the store as well — most of Odyssey’s extensive VHS collection rents for just $.99 a movie.

Star Video, 13644 Vanowen, Van Nuys, CA, 91405. 10AM-11PM daily. $2.50 for new release rentals, $1 for catalogue titles.

Odyssey Video, 4810 Vineland Avenue, North Hollywood, CA, 91601. 10AM-12AM daily. $1.99 for rentals, $.99 certain days of the week.
Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee

I found what I was looking for when I visited Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee in North Hollywood.

I figured I was in good hands when I saw “Mount Rushmonster” painted on the outside of the nondescript building, but once I walked in and saw the one-sheets, movie magazines, scripts, and laserdiscs for sale, I knew I’d found the video store I’d been searching for — the vibe was just right.

Eddie Brandt’s rental floor houses 80,000 VHS tapes — twenty times the number of films now streaming on Netflix. While there, I slipped into that glorious zen state only a concentrated browse can provide — I could’ve easily posted up there for the rest of the day. Eddie Brandt’s has countless rare and out-of-print titles I’d never laid eyes on before like early commercials compilations, classic Western and detective serials, multi-part television documentaries, and so much more.

The scope of Eddie Brandt’s rental catalogue cannot be understated: only the VHS tapes are out on display, but the store also rents over 20,000 DVDs and Blu Rays, including the newest releases, available to scan via their catalogue. Titles at Eddie Brandt’s are alphabetized, but with a catalogue of that size, one opts for simplicity over curation— and don’t worry, the clerks behind the counter and your fellow customers will be happy to recommend things once you start talking about the kind of movies you like.

While I was browsing, I struck up a conversation with Tony Nittoli, who was working the counter, and two patrons — one an older gentlemen in a WWII veteran hat; the other a young metalhead carrying his chihuahua. I told them I was working on a piece about video stores, and all three of them were eager to tell me about Eddie Brandt’s history.

Nittoli mentioned that Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino are still customers — not at all surprising given that Anderson and Tarantino are some of the most film-literate directors working today. The older gentleman (a patron of many years who asked not to be named in this piece) told me that most of the major studios keep contracts with Eddie Brandt’s, as it still provides the easiest pathway to find very old and obscure titles from their own catalogues. The four of us chatted about how much we all missed this exact moment of the video store experience: just shooting the shit on a Friday afternoon, talking about movies without a care about anything happening outside the store’s VHS-packed walls.
The Westerns section at Eddie Brandt’s

I had such a great afternoon at Eddie Brandt’s that I went back a few Saturdays later — Nittoli remembered me and asked how my piece turned out. He also insisted I take a donut from the open box on the counter — all patrons were cajoled into taking one before leaving, adding to the family feel of the store.

Both times I visited Eddie Brandt’s, there were multiple groups browsing, and conversation flowed between customers and counter staff — everything from to why THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG had been checked out for so long to where to find obscure skateboarding videos to why studio movies were so bad in the 1980s.

And, I was able to find four movies — LITTLE DARLINGS, DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE, LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, and PLAY IT AS LAYS — that will never make it to DVD (thanks to, you guessed it, music licensing issues) on VHS in Eddie Brandt’s collection, a thrilling moment for me after being on the hunt for many years. I talked to Nittoli about needing a VCR again after discovering all Eddie Brandt’s offered me, and he mentioned how much harder they’d been to come by in the last few years. Nittoli said that he’d noticed an uptick in customers asking about VCRs as they began to realize how many titles weren’t (and would never be) available on streaming or DVD/Blu Ray.

Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee is the most impressive video store I’ve ever visited — I’m scouring Goodwills for a working VCR so I can start a membership in earnest. In addition to their massive one-of-a-kind catalogue, the warm, welcoming atmosphere at the store made me feel like a member of their community after only two visits.

And the sensual experience of visiting the store — the pleasant library musk of dust and cardboard, the murmur of a mystery movie on an old TV mixing with customer chatter, the feel of well-worn, embossed letters on a shaggy shell case — kept me engaged throughout both of my visits. I felt so much more invested in the films I was looking at — holding them in my hands made the stakes of choosing something feel so much higher than when on streaming.

In addition to one of the most impressive rental catalogues in North America, the store also houses twenty-two tons of promotional photos, film stills, posters, and other movie memorabilia — and you can browse their entire catalogue online.

Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee is an essential haven for cinema’s true believers, and should be preserved and protected at all costs. Next time you’re in the Valley, stop by, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee, 5006 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood, CA. 1–6PM Tuesday-Friday, 10AM-6PM Saturdays. One-time membership fee of $15, all rentals $3.

 
Read more

In Search of the Last Great Video Store


A few months back, I had a very specific movie craving — I wanted to watch FRESH HORSES, a 1988 romantic drama most notable for reteaming Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy after PRETTY IN PINK. It was a grey, chilly day in LA, and I was feeling nostalgic for spring in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio — FRESH HORSES was shot there. I was hoping I could capture some of the misty, late March vibes the movie evokes so well, and in doing so, take a cinematic field trip back home for a few hours.

So, I did what I usually do when looking for a movie in the year 2018: googled “FRESH HORSES streaming.” No results, not even for rental. So, I moved on to less legal methods, beginning with YouTube. After that failed, I pulled a maneuver I’ve been using for a decade: googling multiple variations of “watch FRESH HORSES online.” Even then, the best version of the movie I could find was a Polish dub.

FRESH HORSES isn’t a great movie, but that’s besides the point. Ben Stiller and Viggo Mortensen star alongside Ringwald and McCarthy, and the movie is only thirty years old — it should be available online with a few clicks. I definitely would’ve paid a few bucks to rent it via Amazon or Vudu, but those options weren’t available to me.

Why was it so difficult to stream or rent a thirty-year old movie with four major stars?

I remembered the last time I’d watched FRESH HORSES: I’d rented it from my local Blockbuster in Sharonville, Ohio as a teenager. Had there still been a Blockbuster (or any other video store) in my neighborhood, I would’ve jumped in the car, rented the movie, and been home in an hour. Instead, I had to settle for buying FRESH HORSES in a six-movie collection off of Amazon, which would come three days later.

But by then, the amorphous melancholy that inspired me to watch the movie in the first place had passed. Because I couldn’t access FRESH HORSES, I felt like I couldn’t fully process the restless nostalgia that spring always brings for me.

We all have our own FRESH HORSES: movies that transport us back to a specific location, time, and mood that only exists otherwise in the haziness of our own memories. When we can’t access these kinds of movies, it feels as if an essential pathway that connects us to our pasts — and our past selves — is lost too.

I think about the problems of how we watch movies now and “dead media” every day — and I have a house full of vinyl, VHS tapes, and Nintendo 64 games to prove it. I’ve been blessed (and cursed) by the collector gene — part of my drive to collect stems from an aesthetic appreciation, but there’s another more practical reason for my collecting too.

Whether it’s a twenty-five year old cassette of a WOXY radio broadcast or a permanently out-of-print Stephen King collection, I hold onto these physical objects because I know one day they just won’t be available elsewhere. Given the extremely fickle nature of online availability, I’m the rare person who’s doubled-down on physical media in the last few years: I sleep better at night knowing that my out-of-print DVD of GAS FOOD LODGING is tucked away on a shelf.

I’ve skipped out on a number of disc releases for films like POSSESSION (1981) and LADIES AND GENTLEMEN THE FABULOUS STAINS in the last few years, and those editions now go for around fifty bucks each. Sure, I can rent STAINS or buy it for the cloud, but who can say how long those options will remain available to me? And POSSESSION isn’t currently available anywhere to stream or buy online — it can be rented from MUBI, but for how long?

We all like to assume that the movies and television shows we love will be available with a click whenever we want them — one can now buy an Amazon button for Doritos, after all — but the stability of what media is available online (and how long it stays there) is quite tenuous. “You are not in control of what you have access to — you are picking from a small library that’s always rotating,” says Maggie Mackay, Board Chair and Executive Director of Vidiots.
Streaming Killed the (Chain) Video Store

    “Once a video store owns a title, they have it for years, regardless of if it goes out of print or if the film’s rights holder goes out of business or sells their catalogue to another studio or service.” — Eric Allen Hatch

At the company’s peak in 2004, there were 9,000 Blockbusters operating in North America — today, only three remain open in Alaska. When Movie Gallery began to see a slump in sales in 2007, they were operating more than 4,500 locations in North America (including Hollywood Video, which they acquired in 2005 after an attempt at a hostile takeover from Blockbuster.) Movie Gallery filed for bankruptcy in 2010 — like Blockbuster, only three independently franchised locations remain open in Arkansas.

Rentrak estimates that 19,000 video stores were open across America during the industry’s peak. In December 2017, 24/7 Wall St. reported that 86% of the 15,300 video stores that were open in 2007 had closed, and the industry had lost more than 89% of its workforce, making video tape and disc rental the “top dying industry” in America.

Global chains like Rogers Plus, Video Ezy ,and Xtra-vision have folded as well, though Video Ezy still operates rental kiosks like Redbox. Only a few international chains — Le SuperClub Videotron in Canada, Culture Convenience Club in Japan, Civic Video in New Zealand and Australia — remain open.

Over five billion rentals have come through 40,000 Redbox kiosks since the company’s launch in 2002 — they now control 51% of the physical rental market in the US. But even the biggest Redbox machine only holds around 600 discs, covering up to 200 titles — no match for even a tiny video store.


...The idea that beloved, superlative films like CASABLANCA and CITIZEN KANE can only be accessed with a subscription to an arthouse/classic focused streaming service is quite frankly insane. THE GODFATHER trilogy is now available on Netflix, but that’s only been the case since January of 2018. Even something as ubiquitous as STAR WARS is only available in its first, unedited iteration as a VHS box set from 1995 — and the original trilogy isn’t currently streaming anywhere.

And of course, most major streaming platforms are deep into the original content game. Netflix has released 25 original films and added 7.4 million new subscribers thus far in 2018 — that’s as many releases as the six major studios combined. They plan to release 80 films by the end of the year. The focus on new content creation over the preservation of and access to catalogue titles for most streaming services is quite clear.

...How will we create new movie lovers when we’ve taken away one of the easiest entry points to learning about and loving film? When so few classic films are available to stream? When no one offers them a guide of how to understand cinema’s history? How do we assure that most films, even something like FRESH HORSES, are available to anyone who wants to watch them? What happens to Hollywood history when films aren’t being protected, preserved, and well-presented as we jump to each new technological platform?

These questions keep me up at night, and keep me worried about what the future of home-viewing (and the next generation of film fans) looks like.

So for me, there’s only one solution: we have to go in search of the last great video store.




Read more