AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE ASYLUM!
It seems that every generation has a movie studio that’s low on budget and high on imagination. In the 50s it was American International Films, then New World, Cannon Films and now it’s The Asylum.
It might surprise you to learn that The Asylum has been around since the early 90s. They didn’t receive public attention until 2007, when they invented the genre affectionately known as the Mockbuster. Mockbusters are low budget versions of big Hollywood films that have similar titles, and are released direct-to-DVD a few days before their counterparts theatrical release.
They stumbled upon this genre almost by accident, when they produced an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Words the same year as the Steven Spielberg version. For that reason, The Asylum knew there would be interest in their adaptation, they just didn’t know how much. Blockbuster ordered 100,000 copies. This was seven to eight times what they would typically order for one of their films.
Also, it should be noted that ‘piggybacking’ is a common practice. Let’s say for example Hollywood makes a big budget ‘juvenile delinquent’ film. This will create or renew an interest in the ‘juvenile delinquent’ genre. So it only makes sense that smaller studios will come in and capitalise on the public’s interest. It started in 1950 when George Pal’s, high-profile film, Destination Moon ran into production issues which delayed its release. Lippert Pictures saw an opportunity to exploit this and when into production of Rocketship X-M, a similarly themed movie. Lippert Pictures got Rocketship X-M into cinemas a full 25 days before Destination Moon. Thus taking full advantage of the public’s interest.
Once The Asylum knew they were onto something, they reconsidered their business model. Instead of making films, hoping they would find an audience, they took a more direct approach. They asked buyers directly what they wanted, how much and when, and they made it. It’s not a hard concept to understand. Yet, it seems like a lot of smaller studios prefer making films that might not have an audience, or make its money back.
What they did do differently was be absurdly obvious with their intentions. In the past, filmmakers tried to be subtle about ‘piggybacking’. For example, Roger Corman made Carnotaurus to piggyback off Jurassic Park; if left up to The Asylum it would have been named Jurassic Valley, or Jurassic Attack, something that would rule out all ambiguity.
It turns out that the Internet hates when movie studios try to be financially responsible, so they unleashed ‘Uwe Boll’ levels of hatred upon them. Instead of appreciating that they were giving opportunities, and for the most part, total creative freedom, to a new wave of writers and directors, they complained about the titles. A typical online comment would go like this “But Transmorphers sounds too much like Transformers. They’re just exploiting the Transformers franchise.” How dare they?!! Because we all know the Transformers franchise is a bastion of creativity, and not an expensive ad to sell action figures.
Things didn’t change until 2009 when they made a film so silly, it was impossible not to make even the biggest cynic smirk: Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. Whilst not a good film, it was so silly in concept that people had to watch it. They followed this up with Mega Piranha, 2010: Moby Dick, Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus, Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, 2-Headed Shark Attack and what would be their masterpiece Shaknado. And while I’m here, I might as well throw in a shameless plug. Sharknado is now available from Monsterbox.TV – Nuff said.
So instead of revisiting all their obvious movies I thought it would be fun to look at five genres you probably didn’t know they’ve dabbled in. In reality, they make all kinds of movies: westerns, kids films, musicals. Out of the 26 films they are planning to release in 2013, only 5 will be Mockbusters, and 3 absurd monster movies.
The Asylum makes Christian films under the banner of Faith Films. The Faith Films website reads: “Faith Films is a new production and distribution company dedicated to creating exciting films that honestly portray subjects, themes, and people of faith.” In reality, they’re generic films that have a vague sprinkle of Christianity on top, but not enough alienate a secular audience.
The two films of note are Sunday School Musical and Countdown: Jerusalem. According to producer, Paul Bales, Sunday School Musical was created after attending a seminar on marketing films to a Christian audience. The host suggested that a perfect movie would be a Christian version of High School Musical. It wasn’t, it barely made a profit. I’m sure the film, the host, was envisioning was very different: name actors, a reasonable budget and actual Christian content. That’s not to say that Sunday School Musical is a bad film, it just isn’t Christian enough to appeal to Christians and has a name that alienates everyone else.
Countdown: Jerusalem, like most of their other “Christian” movies it’s a run-of-the-mill apocalypse film. It would be totally forgettable, if not for one scene, in which the terrorists blow up the Dome on the Rock, which is located on the most contested piece of land on the planet. The Dome on the Rock is an Islamic temple that is believed to be the place where the prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven, and also the spot where God called Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Some others believe that it might also be the place where Jesus was crucified and the Ark of the Covenant is buried. Regardless, I’m sure Christians and Muslims alike don’t want to see that area destroy, via bad CGI, in a cheap religionploitation film. Considering the recent controversy of the Innocence of Muslims, I’m amazed it wasn’t even a blip on anyone’s radar.
The Asylum makes their bread and butter from special effects based movies. They love making generic dinosaur movies, I tells ya. To give their visual effects team more time to work on bigger projects they churn out, good old-fashioned skin flicks! In the words of veteran director, Fred Olen Ray, “Nudity is the cheapest production value.” They’re cheap to make and easy to sell.
To their credit, these films are surprisingly original… No, original feels like the wrong word… They’re the first people to make films that have surprisingly obvious concepts. Such as The 18 Year Old Virgin . This film turns the sex comedy on its head, by having a girl trying to lose her virginity. She isn’t waiting for “the one”, but at the same time, she doesn’t want to lose it to a drunken frat boy. Easier said than done! Milf is your typical American Pie knock off, but instead of teen girls the movie has, statistically, the horniest women on earth – Middle aged women! Celebrity Sex Tape is about a group of college students who get invited to a party in the Hollywood Hills. One of them sleeps with a washed-up starlet, while his friend films it. It goes viral and her agent, and his heavies, demand half a million dollars in compensation. What are they going to do? Their solution: make more sex tapes! And finally, Bikini Spring Break – It’s Spring Breakers with Robert Revenge of the Nerds Carradean.
About a year ago, The Asylum put out a call-out for Urban/ Latino action and comedy scripts. We’re now seeing the result of it with the Cleaver Family Reunion and Barrio Brawler. While I haven’t seen Cleaver Family Reunion, the trailer looks like every family reunion movie ever made, urban or otherwise. While Barrio Brawler plays out like every other fight film ever made. That isn’t a bad thing as it’s done well, but at the same time, it’s the type of film you instantly forget the moment it finishes. You might be able to tell that I have very little interest in this genre; It’s not silly enough for my tastes. Let’s move on.
Yep, Lifetime Original films. Before I lose all the hardcore horror fans, let me plead my case: Lifetime Original films are amazing. They’re made for conservative, stay-at-home mothers… Bored, lonely, sex depraved, stay-at-home mothers. While not graphic in nature they’re filled with subtle depravity, sex and violence.
Like all manufactured films, they play out exactly the same. The main character is ALWAYS a well-meaning mother who’s trying to raise her kids and make ends meet. One of two things always happens: she meets a man who destroys her life, or her rebellious daughter gets into trouble. Regardless, men are always presented as being evil or totally useless. From there the daughter will either lose her virginity, kill someone, or become an addict, or the mother falls in love. The conclusion involves the mother either having to bail herself, or her daughter out of trouble. The mother waves around a gun and the evil man dies. The end! The daughter learns that her mother knows everything and she should have listened to her in the first place. I’m sure you can work out the plot for their ‘boyfriend from hell’ film, Born Bad.
They’ve also delved into the lesser known, Christmas-Puppy genre, with Santa’s little Yelpers. This genre has exploded with over 6 movies being released last December!
The only other film worth mentioning is Love at the Christmas Table. This film involves Danica McKellar, who was Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years, playing a teenage girl; well, for at least one flashback anyway. There is something very comforting knowing that there is still enough love for the character of Winnie Copper that Danica McKellar, despite approaching 40, can still be cast as a teenage girl.
No kidding. How many do you think they’ve distributed? One…. two…? Close. Add a few zeros. They’re distributed around 150 of them. The Asylum was founded to distribute award winning, Arthouse films. Seriously! They started out as an artist driven studio that was all about the films. It turns out that Art doesn’t sell. I have to confess, while I have seen nearly everything they’ve produced since 2005, I haven’t seen a single one of their art films. My good friend IMDB tells me they distributed Bellyfruit, which is about teen pregnancy. It was adapted from a stage play which was developed from the stories of the women from Ramona High School and the Pacoima Young Mothers writing program… and you know what? I’m glad I haven’t seen any of these films. Give me badly animated CGI dragons any day!
The Asylum has had a long history. It went from being a company that totally revolved around the artist, to one that chased trends and made the artist an arbitrary part of the process. Now they’re in a very odd position. Are they now the one creating the trends? Are they now the makers of pop culture? Have they, in a strange way come full circle? Will history remember Sharknado with the same affection as I was a Teenage Werewolf? – I’m not sure. Only time will tell. What I do know is that The Aslyum will keep cranking out films, because, for better or worse, that’s what they love to do!