Asylum Article

 

“Better a good name than a good movie”

 

These movies don’t make it to the theatres (they go straight to DVD), their titles are a bit too similar to some of Hollywood biggest blockbusters (i.e., Transformers) and they are ultra low-budget. Make yourself familiar with the “Mockbusters”, the people behind, and of course, the Israeli connection.

 

Warrior renegade earthlings fight for freedom and survival against a herd of murderous metallic cyborgs, equipped with glowing red bionic eye, who turned against the very humans they were designed to serve. Sounds familiar? Well, we’re not referring to the newest of the “Terminator” movie franchise that just made it to Israel, but “The Terminators” – an ultra low-budget made by “The Asylum”, featuring mediocre and unknown cast, cheap visual effects and long and ridiculous dialogues that made it straight to DVD just in time to bank on its Hollywood high-profile “brother” theatrical release.

 

“The Terminators” isn’t alone: “Snakes on a Train”, “The Da Vinci Treasure”, “Transmorphers” & “Alien Vs. Hunter” to name a few – are all just a fraction of the Asylum incredible cinematic output in the last four years alone.

 

In the US these films earned the derogatory title “Mockbusters” - films that do not make it to the theatres, sporting titles nearly identical to their Hollywood blockbuster counterparts, with the intent of exploiting and riding along their high-profile marketing campaign. Most often, they score.

 

Because of that War

 

Just like any success story, the Mockbusters, or at least their more modern transformation, were born out of shear accident. Believe it or not, but The Asylum started as a distributor of European quality art films on DVD.

“We found out pretty quickly that it ain’t profitable”, says David Latt, one of The Asylum founders and one whose name is signed on 14 scripts and who is responsible for the production of 70 movies in the last decade “Nobody wants to watch art films. They all say they do, and in reality there’s no market”.

 

The company, founded in California during the mid 90s by Latt and associates, tried a new direction and began distributing low budget horror flicks. At some point they decided to go beyond distribution and get into production. From there, the road to the birth of the Mockbusters was inevitable.

 

“We had a deal with Blockbuster, who were selling the films we made”, recalls Latt. During one meeting at 05, we told them about our treatment idea for “World of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells, but we quickly shelved it once we learned that Steven Spielberg is about to release his own version. Blockbuster, on the contrary, got fairly interested and talked us into doing it anyway. “War of the Worlds” turned out to be our greatest hit to that date.”

 

“We went for a second trial: we released a film about a huge gorilla called “King of the Lost World” on DVD right when Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” came out theatrically. Sales were at all times high, and once again – we changed our business model. Right at this point we got the nickname “The Mockbusters Kings” in a New York Post article.”

 

Both successful attempts became the company new direction, and during the four years that followed, nearly every major studio blockbuster received a mockbuster parasite. That’s when “Allan Quatermain” (a la “Indiana Jones”), “100,000 BC” (the comparable of “10,000 BC”, “The Day the Earth Stopped” (after “The Day the Earth Stood Still”) and many more were born.

 

How do you choose which films to “mockbuster”?

 

“It’s not an exact science. It has a lot to do with requests we get from our buyers. We submit our ideas to them, and according to their current needs, we choose which film to go after. The goal is to keep our clients happy, so yes, it has something to do whether we think the film will make it or not, but they have the final say”

 

Is there a direct link between the success of the original film to the mockbuster? In example, “Snakes on a Train” wasn’t as successful as “The Transmorphers”

 

“In fact, it is. As strange as it seems, it does turn out to be a direct relation between the success of the film to its mockbuster. In contrast to the studios, it plays to our advantage the fact we work with super low budgets ($250-700K a film), so we almost always in profit. But yeah, when the blockbuster does well – the mockbuster does as well, and when it doesn’t, so goes the mockbuster”

 

So “The Terminators” is a box office failure?

 

““The Terminators” did well, but not as much as we hoped. We were fairly surprised that “Terminator: Salvation” didn’t really make it in the theatres, and it does reflect on our films, which is far from being a hit”

 

The Israeli Connection

 

The company success led to its expansion into other markets. Today, along these films, they also produce films for the Sci-Fi channel, as well as for the Christian-religious market. One of which, “Countdown: Jerusalem”, an apocalyptic film loaded with religious symbolism, was shot here in Israel. “It was last October, just before the chaos in Gaza began”, tells Latt. “In retrospect it was somewhat scary, but the experience was quite amazing, and this film in my opinion is one of our best ever”.

 

“That was a crazy experience” tells Israeli actor Yair Lehman, who was part of the shoot. “I showed up to take part in an American film and found myself in the middle of a pretty campy production that seems like student film at best. It was a Christian-apocalyptic film which an over-the-top plot”

 

“I played an Israeli with an Arabic name, “Hanifa”. I found out only hours before the shoot, when given the script. I asked what’s the deal with the name and they responded: ‘what do you mean? It’s an Israeli name.’ I told them that this is an extremely rare name, but they have already shot a sequence in LA, where the character name was mentioned, and it was literally impossible to change.”

 

“I got a copy of the film and it was hilarious. There’s a scene where you’re supposed to see the road from the airport to Jerusalem, but it was pretty obvious it was shot in the Palestinian territories, featuring soldiers and barricades in every corner, giving you the idea Jerusalem is some sort of a refugee camp. At the end of the day I’d be more than happy to work with them again, only next time I hope they’ll take me to Hollywood.”

 

All for the Viewers

 

With all humor involved, not everyone is happy with the mockbusters phenomena. The web is filled with complaints of customers who wanted the original film, only to found out they rented the cheap version. The studios don’t quite know how to deal with the issue at hand, and revert to an occasional un-materialized lawsuit threat. Certainly, for a small production company like Asylum, this work method is like oxygen.

 

“I don’t know that we’ll do mockbusters forever” says Latt. “Over the thirteen years of our existence, we made horror flicks, distributed art films, and yeah, we made mockbusters. We’re a small company and go for what works. It works for us and we get to try various genres. But I don’t see it as stealing from the studios – we’re trying to present our own unique content. The name thing is strictly promotional, at the end of the day all we want is for people to watch our films”

 

 

Reader comments:

 

1. I watched 100 million BC, unbelievably horrendous

I don’t get why make such shitty films

It’s like peanut cookies in Passover – who touches that garbage when you have much better stuff out there?

 

 2. Great article

I did come across these films online, and of course after checking on imdb I realized it was an amateur film trying to ride the success of Hollywood blockbusters. Me, as a 70s “trash” fan, must admit that even that is too much for me. LOL

It seems pretty lame just from the trailers

I won’t say I don’t like well-made big-budget pictures – as long as it’s pure fun

 

3. Unbelievable

Snakes on a Train is a terrible imitation trying to trick innocent people who wanted to watch the real movie

I thought they’re just trying to steal money, but after seeing the poster, I just blew. Somebody needs to sue them and that’s it.

 

4. How the hell did you forget “I Am Omega”?

This is by far the worst imitation I ever saw. It’s an imitation of “I Am Legend” with Will Smith.

 

5. I once downloaded the War of the Worlds mockbuster

It was downright horrible!!! Visual effects I can do better at home, unknown cast and ridiculous acting.

Didn’t know this was an entire genre… thanks for the warning

 

6. That explains everything

This American stupidity explains how Obama was elected as president