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In Praise of Direct-to-Video

17 Mar, 2008 By: Stephanie Prange

I spent a weekend at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, a town that's as close as it gets to Los Angeles in a red state. My relatives like to call it The Third Coast, and I couldn't agree more — and yet … there's a certain maverick spirit to the event that many other film festivals have lost. As anyone who is a Texan will tell you (and I am one), there's a stubborn independent streak in the state. After all, in the same city is the French Legation building (an embassy from the time when Texas was its own country).

Yes, Texas goes its own way on many things, and the film festival isn't like others, either. It's a venue where a truly offbeat film can be accepted. And it could prove a nice launching pad for a direct-to-video breakout film. Warner Home Video's DTV “Raw Feed” label premiered Otis, a very black comedy about a sadsack serial killer, at the festival this year.

The groundwork has certainly been laid. Over the past two years virtually every major studio has launched either a DTV label or initiative. And while in the old days the DTV business got a bad rap as the place where films that couldn't make it theatrically go to die, we're seeing some truly great DTV titles that are finding their audiences at the local video store.

The timing certainly is right. Much of the catalog product has already been released on DVD, and the Blu-ray Disc business has yet to take off. Meanwhile the studios are cutting back on theatrical release slates (for instance, Warner Bros. is absorbing New Line Cinema due to a smaller lineup).

It's an environment in which something really quirky and different may break out on DTV. It may be Otis. It may be some other title. But the home entertainment business is hungry for good product, and those creative voices that can fill that void will find a willing audience in the DTV arena.

Flame Ventures' Tony Krantz, who is working with Warner, The Weinstein Co., MTV and MGM on DTV projects, said others are “idiots” not to capitalize on the DTV market. “They are not getting it,” he said.

The actors on the Otis production also praised the freedom and quality of work. DTV is a chance for some actors to rack up that directing credit they crave. Who can forget Roger Corman and what he did for directors such as Ron Howard?

If I'm any judge, the stars seem to be aligning for another Corman to foster young talent.

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