When I was scanning the shelves in the video store two summers ago I was shocked to see that Transformers had made it to DVD so fast. It had come out in theaters like two days before, yet there it... ohhhh, shit. That's not Transformers. That's Transmorphers. Months passed, and more kept popping up. The Da Vinci Treasure. The Day The Earth Stopped. Snakes on a Train. The Terminators. AVH: Alien vs. Hunter. Sunday School Musical. Every big-ticket movie that comes out gets scooped by some fuckers who rush out a straight-to-DVD Weird Al version first.
Those fuckers are The Asylum, a Burbank-based production company, and they churn out knockoff movies faster than you churn out hilarious Facebook statuses. We recently called up their co-founder and head of production, David Latt, to find out how the hell this racket got up and running, and whether or not it's really run by a poorly designed showbiz robot.
Vice: They’ve called a lot of your films “mockbusters”…
David Latt: I want names – who’s saying that? That’s crazy.
Yeah, they say you make mock blockbusters.
Well, yeah... “mockbusters.” You know, I’ve made about 100 films, and I’d say only about 30 of them are mockbusters, but they’re the most outrageous and audacious and obnoxious and crazy so people kind of gravitate towards those. You know, everyone feels like they’re the bully and they gotta pick on the weak little kid, and that’s the mockbusters – they’re the weak little kid.
When did you start making them?
To understand that is to understand the company. We’re a cash-flow company – we’re not funded by oil tycoons and dot-com cash, we’re funded by films going out to the marketplace, doing well, and funding the next film. Each film has to do well at the marketplace. So we’re whores, first and foremost, in that we definitely want to get the most bang for our buck. I hope we’re artists, but when it comes down to it, we’re addicts – we want to make more movies. That’s the rock that we’re pushing up the hill. The bottom line is that once we find that something is doing better, we gravitate towards that, and exploit the hell out of it until it dies a very painful death.
OK, but when did you start making them?
The company’s been around for about 12 years, and we started out doing arthouse films, releasing around six to ten a month, and we did hundreds of them, did it for years, and really, we made about 13 dollars, and the filmmakers made even less. No one wants to see arthouse films, and we gradually moved away from them. By the end, a film that we released to critical acclaim in black-and-white with floating heads over a landscape with a sunset, we'd market it so it would have the same girl in a bikini, with guns, and explosions, and a car flipping behind her and with a new title. We kind of realized that genre is a much better selling tool. We also started heavy relationships with Hollywood Video and Blockbuster, and they dictated what we should make, and they wanted horror films, and we ended up doing a lot of horror films. We couldn’t compete with Lion’s Gate at the time, and the video chains wanted very specific horror films, so we just made them to order on a monthly basis, and those numbers did very well, and everyone was happy.
Then we got greedy. We had this project we were going to make called HG Wells' War of the Worlds, but the studios were going to make it. We were going to cancel it when Blockbuster said, “Whoa, whoa – you have what?” We didn’t know why they were so crazy about it, but we did it, and it was the first time one of our films had ever charted in the video business. So we did it again with King of the Lost World when King Kong came out, and those numbers did really well as well.
We slowly kind of put more than our feet in the water – we went in ankle deep, then knee deep, then ass deep, and pretty soon we were sunk, because the numbers for what the New York Post deemed “mockbusters” did very well for us – better than the horror films. At the same time, Blockbuster and Hollywood didn’t want us to make horror films anymore. So doors opened and closed for us, and that’s how mockbusters happened, and quite frankly, right now we’re not doing a lot of those – you probably heard of us through Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, and that’s not a mockbuster of anything! We also started a religious label, Faith Films, and those religious films do very well, sometimes better than the mockbusters. There’s a lot more opportunities out there than just mockbusters – I’m not saying it’s a dead genre, but we might have killed it already, and moved on to something else, another opportunity to make more films and destroy the fabric of society. That’s the real goal here, and I think it’s really reflected in the daily emails we get about how we should probably die, and that if we can’t figure it out they can help us with that.
Any particular hate mail that stands out?
I got my favorite email today – everything was spelled wrong but the [subject] was “get a fucking clue.”and it then went on this ramble for a page and a half about how he’s a better filmmaker than we are and that we should die, and it ends with, “I hope you fucking die.” What’s hard is that I have to call my dad and tell him to stop sending me these goddamn emails.
Har. How long does the average Asylum film take to make?
We do pre-production for about three weeks, we shoot for two weeks on average, and we do post for about eight weeks. So from the beginning of our storyboard conference to when we put it on the shelves is about four months.
So a lot of them turn a profit then? How profitable is all of this?
Well, I still drive a minivan.
Automatic doors or manual?
Automatic. It’s pretty sweet. It even has a DVD player in it. Anyways, I’m gonna say something that’s gonna sound really sexy and exciting: our films have never lost money. We’re a studio, we have distribution deals everywhere, we know how much people are going to pay for them, we budget a film for what people are going to pay us for. That said, our margins aren’t huge. All the money we get goes to the next film. It’s a matter of the economics of it, so that we can continue destroying the earth one film at a time.
Hey, you’re employing people in a recession.
Oh, we don’t pay anybody.
Well, how do the non-mockbusters like Supercroc or Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus stack up against the mockbusters in terms of success?
Sometimes better, sometimes not. Mega Shark was a different phenomenon altogether – we had no prediction of how it would do. That’s a film I fought from day one – it came from our Japanese partners, going [slight Japanese accent] “we want you to make Giant Octopus and, uh, Giant Shark.” Our partner bought on to it, I didn’t – I hated the title, I hated the script – well, it was a good script, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. The dailies came back, I loved the dailies, but I was talking to the director, and I said, “Jack, no one is going to get this. It’s so straight-faced, there’s no winking to the audience, they’re not going to understand the kitschiness of it.” And he just said, “Don’t worry, don’t worry, they’ll get it.” I said, “You’re going to look like the biggest idiot filmmaker, while you’re brilliant,” – I think he’s brilliant – “and I’m ruining your career.” And in the end, I still didn’t get it – that’s how smart I am.
It’s got a giant shark taking a bite out of the Golden Gate bridge – what’s not to get?
You know, I’ve made so many of these movies, that one just seems like the others, and I didn’t realize the lightning we had in a bottle, but everyone else seemed to. The good news is, I’m a very weak individual, and listen to others, and work very well off of guilt, and the film was made and marketed the way it was – I didn’t like the campaign. [laughs] There’s nothing I liked about the film. And yet it’s one of my favorites. I enjoyed it – I just didn’t think anyone else would.
Would you at all compare your company to what Friedberg and Selzer do?
I don’t even know who they are.
They made Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie and that stuff. They're a bunch of spoofers.
Oh – I’m a sucker for those films. I’m the guy watching them. I get into hotels, and yes I’ll watch the porn, but what catches my eye are not the Academy Award-winning films but the lowbrow comedies. But compared to them? We’re nothing compared to them. They’re out there, they’re doing it. I think we should have awed respect for them.
I don't think anyone's going to respect Meet the Spartans willingly.
I think those films do well in the box office. Unfortunately, they just can’t really match what the trailer promises. You just think it’s going to be the funniest fucking thing you’ve ever seen, and there’s probably going to be about four or five really strong laughs, but the rest is just, “Oh my god.” To me, that’s OK. They can’t all be The 18 Year Old Virgin or Sex Pot.
Oh yeah--forgot about those. Any personal projects or ideas you haven’t made but really want to?
I’m so in the hole of making movies on a day-to-day basis – it takes 20 hours out of my day – that it’s difficult to figure out what that pet project is. I definitely have scripts I wrote in college thinking I was going to be the next auteur filmmaker, and have these really boring dramas that would never see the light of day, but I’m not sad about that. I’m gonna be much sadder if I can’t make my genre film tomorrow.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I hope people see Megafault so that SciFi will order more movies. It’s the first film I’ve directed since HG Wells' War of the Worlds. It’s a grown-up movie, and I’m very proud of it, and I just want people to see it.