When it comes to film festivals, Syracuse, New York is where the fun is! Sundance may have the insiders, Miami the great weather, Cannes the flash and New York the prestige, but Syracuse has the buzz of the B’s…as in the B-Movie Film Festival, to be held August 26 and 27.
Syracuse’s unlikely designation as the B-Movie capital is because of the dedicated work of Ron Bonk, founder and president of Sub Rosa Studios, the B-Movie.com web site ( [ www.b-movie.com ] ) and the upcoming festival which features B-Movies from around the world. A talented B-Movie filmmaker himself (with the creepy psychodrama “The Vicious Sweet” and the upcoming “Strawberry Estates” to his directing credit), Bonk is keeping alive the B-Movie tradition which stretches back to the Golden Era of B’s (the 1930s-50s) when Poverty Row studios like Monogram, PRC, Mascot and Republic, American International and the B-units of the top studios ground out hundreds of no-budget quickies–and often created classics like “Cat People,” “Detour” and “Leopard Man” and launched careers of megastars like John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Jack Nicholson. Today’s B-Movies are primarily shot-on-video productions that go straight into home video release since few theaters exhibit videofilms.
However, the tight nature of the video retail industry prevents many smaller films from getting shelf space and promotional input to generate strong rental and sales. Thanks to the Internet and B-Movie.com, these films have a wider range of visibility and can reach a global audience looking for low-budget fun on video. Ron Bonk recently spoke to Film Threat about his work in the production and distribution of today’s B-Movies.
[ Tell us a little about your website and the goals it is trying to accomplish. ] ^ Well, the web site was first designed as a place to promote and sell the movies we were making. But right away we started adding movies from other filmmakers. As the site grew and traffic increased, we started getting more and more submissions to be added to the site. ^
[ How did the filmmakers become interested in the site? ] ^ All of these filmmakers had been reading about the Net and wanted on, but there weren’t many alternatives available to them. And for awhile we were the only company on the web promoting and marketing movies made at this level. So through us they had a chance to reach customers who never would have heard about their movies. ^
We also wanted to educate the “average” movie fan about these movies – to show them what they were missing, so we started carrying articles and interviews on these filmmakers. This way, if someone came along who never heard the title of the movie and knew nothing about it, they could get the “inside” scoop through these articles.
[ How did this information help the filmmakers promoted there? ] ^ It helped sales – especially on films that were less marketable – those with limited artwork, those that lacked the usually saleable elements (like a name star, nudity, action, gore). We have always tried to treat the filmmakers with a respect that they couldn’t get elsewhere – we approached them with the attitude that these were productions on the same respect level as Hollywood movies, even if they didn’t equal a 1/100 of their production costs. ^
[ Several of the films you release have been shot on video. How do you feel this format limits or helps the creative process when making independent films? ] ^ Actually, I think the number of shot on videos have dipped below the number of films now – regardless, we like to support the shot-on-video movies. There can be some really, really rough stuff made on this format, and more often than not filmmakers seem to use it as an excuse to be sloppy with the movies they make – they think they can cut corners on lighting, acting and sound. But still, shot-on-video movies produce some of the most experimental, cutting edge and provacative work out there. Much of this work is still hurt because of bad sound or video, but it still has allowed someone to tell a story or tackle a topic that they otherwise would have never had the budget to do so. ^
I guess that is one of the key benefits – the cheap price. Now anyone can make a movie with video around. All I can tell the filmmakers is just because it is shot on video it doesn’t mean it can’t resemble a film movie in every other aspect. I tried to show that with my last movie, The Vicious Sweet – and succeeded by and large. You work so hard on the script for your movie – so don’t shortchange and be lazy when you are actually shooting it! Take the time to do it right and it will pay off! I personally enjoy video and now digital because I use it as a testing ground for ideas and as a format to continue to polish my own movie-making skills.
[ How do you think the advent of DVD will affect independent films? ] ^ I think it will help the independents, at least at first. Retailers are pretty hot for DVD right now. If the independents can get their movie on DVD relatively soon, then they might be able to take advantage of a market high in demand for product. In a few years it’ll be like video – and the market will be flooded with everything possible. I think this is a good time for some smaller subs to establish relationships with major retailers and video store chains as well – relationships that they can hopefully keep a foothold in when the market reaches the level of saturation VHS is at now. ^
[ Tell us about the B-Movie Film Festival. ] ^ As I mentioned earlier, we have always tried to treat B-Movies, cult movies and independent movies with a respect that was usually reserved specifically for “A” movies. I’ve always wished someone would create an “Academy Awards” type ceremony for the low-budget movies – the films and videos that get ignored by Hollywood. So this was our answer. We have awards for Best B-Movie, Best B-Movie Director, Best B-Movie Actor,etc. It’s a lot of fun and the filmmakers really appreciate the honors. They really take it serious. I could tell by the response from them that they basically felt the same way I did. Anyway, the ceremony is over two days, and we show the nominees for Best B-movie, Best B-Movie short and a show reel of all nominations. ^
We bring in a few B-Movie celebrities (this year, besides the filmmakers, we have Roxanne Michæls coming in) and we set things up so everyone (filmmakers and fans) can sit around and network and chat and laugh in a casual atmosphere. We also help lure in local folks by showing some production work from our own company. The fest is relatively small and simple right now, but we are still in a testing phase with it. Gradually we want to make it quite the event in Syracuse – on par with Sundance or Telluride. And the response has been great. We really think is will become the festival of choice for cult movies, B-Movies, and the ultra low-budget independent movies in the years to come.
[ What else we can expect at this year’s festival? ] ^ Well, we have some excellent movies screening – I think the crowd will be blown away by this year’s picks. They are an incredible lot. We are also going to be showing a lot of shorts – as many as we can. We will also show some shorts, time permitting, from some of our own local productions and cable access show. And we’ll also be premiering our lastest movie, “Strawberry Estates,” so there will be plenty of neat things to watch. We have various members of different press organizations coming – everything from local newspapers to writers for B-Movie magazines, agents from movie web sites and even a Russian TV station crew. ^
Since the movies will be playing at The Westcott, a movie theater, and the shorts at The Planet 505 club across the street, there will be plenty of chances to watch the nominees but also mingle with fans and other filmmakers. Last year we had a lot of filmmakers attend and they really networked and got to know each other. It was a lot of fun. And given that the nighclub has a bar, while you’re telling Roxanne about all your theories on your favorite B-Movie, you can enjoy a drink or two!
[ What films and filmmakers should we be on the lookout for in the near future and why? ] ^ Eric Stanze – his movies are very raw, very powerful. He’s not afraid to attack any subject matter nor his afraid to try anything new and different with the camera. Ronnie Sortor – he just knows how to make a kick ass movie. He has fun scripts and a shooting style that keeps a movie rolling. Tim Ritter – some of the work from the middle of his career was hurt by bad production values and too many slasher-style scripts, but with his recent work on the “Dirty Cop No Donut” movies, I think he is starting to prove himself skilled at political and social satire. Those are three immediate filmmakers that come to mind. ^
[ You are also an independent filmmaker. Tell us about some of your projects and what you may be curently working on. ] ^ Right now, I have a movie 99% done called “Strawberry Estates.” It will debut at the fest on Sunday 8/27 and will be out on video in September (DVD soon after). I actually originally shot the movie back in January of 1997, but was unhappy with the original version. The story deals with a small group from a local college who are doing research on paranormal activity in a closed-down insane asylum nicknamed “Strawberry Estates.” They hire a videographer to photograph everything they see. After three days, the group disappears without a trace. The tapes are all that remains and all the authorities have to go by in determining what happened them.
[ Hmmm…sounds similar to “The Blair Witch Project”! ] ^ Yes, it is very much like “Blair Witch.” The thing is, I never heard of “Blair Witch” when I wrote the original script and made the original version. My idea came from a film book I had read (skimmed actually) that analyzed this movie from the 50’s (I think) that told the whole story from the lead actor’s POV. The only time you saw him was in mirrors and things like that. I was experimenting around with different ways of shooting movies and telling the stories, and thought “How could I update this concept?” And then I thought “video camera!” And that was it – there was never any plans for the movie to be anything but the raw footage from this expedition – all played like it was completely real. ^
“Strawberry Estates” is actually a part of a series of ideas about F.B.I. cases I have called “Red Files” – my own sort of X-Files. This film is just one story. I was going to market them in the backs of UFO magazines like they were bootlegs – stolen from F.B.I. headquarters and packaged in black boxes. I wanted people to pick this movie up and right away feel like they were suddenly treading into forbidden waters – they were going to see something they were never meant to see, they weren’t allowed to see. The problem with the original movie version was it was way too polished– the acting was too good, the lighting too good, the shots too well timed. No one was going to believe it was real. So I shelved it rather than ruin the idea. I had planned to reshoot it one day, but further on down the line. Then “Blair Witch” came out and I figured that I’d better do it now. If I waited any longer, I knew that the host of imitators that “Blair Witch” would spawn would drive that idea deep into the ground. Now the “St. Francisville Experiment” is coming out and it’s like they read my idea for “Strawberry Estates” on my site or in Fangoria (they covered it along with my last movie, “The Vicious Sweet,” in Oct. of 1997) because it sounds like the same exact idea – it’s in a haunted house, they have a ghost expert, a psychic, etc. So I guess I was right in thinking I’d better do it now.
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Posted on August 10, 2000 in Interviews by Brian Matherly
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