His reviews made a splash not only in the Internet’s lower layers. The devastating critique of Star Wars prequels caught attention of Roger Ebert, Simon Pegg, Damon Lindelof* and Patton Oswalt. We talk with the creator of psychopathic reviewer Plinkett, the director of low-budget horror Feeding Frenzy, and co-host of review show Half in the Bag. Ladies and gentlemen – Mike Stoklasa, the founder of RedLetterMedia.
Michal Puczynski: There’s a difference between a critic and a reviewer, and while the Internet is full of reviewers, you stand out because you provide deep, thought-out criticism. On the other hand, you also make movies. Do you feel the burden of being film critics when you make your own stuff?
Mike Stoklasa: I did briefly feel that way, yes, but not so much anymore. The ironic thing was that we started filming a feature called Feeding Frenzy many months before I even made the Phantom Menace review. Feeding Frenzy was a movie we made for about 4k and shot in about about 7 days, with pick ups stretching out over the next 6 months or so. So essentially it was slapped together. Then the Phantom Menace review became popular, so we were worried people would hold Feeding Frenzy up in this different light.
But, while the movie was made super cheap, I think most people seem to find it enjoyable despite all the technical flaws and limitations. I or Jay have never claimed to be experts in anything, especially film making. We make mistakes just like anyone, but just generally love to talk about movies. We just do what we do because it’s fun and we enjoy doing it.
Another thing that makes you stand out is your unique sense of humor. Political corectness is a big deal now, but I wonder: do you care about that at all? Have you experienced any negative feedback regarding your dark humor?
We’ve gotten some negative feedback on our humor from time to time, yes. Darker, dryer humor is usually more offensive to some people and it’s almost always a gray area. Offensive jokes need to have a context to be funny though. Laughing at or making light of something offensive isn’t funny by itself, but you can incorporate offensive things into a joke with a context and it can work. Some people can’t see the difference though, and we’ve gotten an occasional email telling us we should or
shouldn’t do that.
Do you carefully script your shows, sometimes imposing self-censorship, or are your quips ad libbed and, you know, „anything goes” as long as it’s funny?
We do script the skit segments of our shows, but never the discussions. Most times we’ll adlib things in the skits as well. I think all of us know where the line is with what’s funny and what’s not. But everyone now and then we’re not sure. I hate the idea of self censoring because it might make someone uncomfortable.
Nowadays pretty much everyone can make a movie. This results in many ultra-low budget and ultra-poorly made films – but you seem to be concerned about quality. Do you script your films and shows with your budget in mind, or do you write down even the boldest ideas and then think how to get around limitations?
Feature films are, of course, different than the skit aspects of our review shows. Those are totally scripted around shooting on our sets and in a very limited and quick fashion. Feature films are different as they need to be a little more involved in scope. We do still have to have limitations even during the writing process though. Sometimes our imaginations can run wild with weird ideas that crop up and we’ve gotten into the habit of asking ourselves how can we shoot that, how can we get access to a location, can we find a good person to play this part, how much will this cost. etc. It’s kind of frustrating because there are a lot of limitations we’d like to overcome.
I do think the idea should come first and then you should figure out how to make it happen, but we’re just realists when it comes to shooting things. Jay and I have shot a lot of low budget stuff and we pretty much know how things will go down, what can work and what can’t.
Plinkett’s a success, Half in the Bag is a success, and Best of the Worst seems to be on the right track. But what about Game Station 2.0? It seemed like a really carefully prepared show with surprisingly elaborate production design – but you cancelled it after a couple of episodes. You obviously put a lot of effort into it, so… what happened?
Neither I or Jay are big into video games. The last video game system I owned was regular Nintendo. Gamestation 2.0 was an attempt to do a video game show and appeal to that audience. We put Rich in charge of coming up with show ideas since he’s the gamer, but all in all I don’t think he was motivated enough to take the show and really make it his own. It’s all for the best though, cause we’re swamped as it is!
A couple of weeks ago you posted a teaser for your next movie: Space Cop. It’s your second approach to film it. What went wrong the first time? How’s the production going now? And what exactly is Space Cop?
We are indeed activley shooting Space Cop. Essentially it’s a sci-fi comedy starring Rich Evans as a cop from the future. I used to make lots of schlock sci-fi shorts with Rich and it’s an attempt to capture some of that in a bigger, more epic feature film.
We attempted to make this movie many years ago and gave up after just one day of shooting! It was a production that was just plagued from the beginning. Actors didn’t show up, we lost locations, and I think the final nail in the coffin was when Rich had a horrible allegic reaction to a cat and his whole face swelled up. It was cold out and no one wanted to film the movie. Everything was miserable and we decided to cut our loses and move on. We did cut a trailer out of the footage from that day of shooting and since then it’s sort of become a running joke, so we decided to try it again. This time things are more planned out and we have more resources, but I’m sure it’ll end in a horrible disaster again.
RedLetterMedia.com is not a niche site anymore, but you’re not exactly mainstream yet. You’ve got three shows that look more and more professional, and you seem to be in a place from which you can go in many directions. What’s your goal now? To find a producer and get on TV? To develop further on your own?
We’ve always been independent and I’d probably want to stay that way for a while. There are a lot of advantages of doing things on your own (as well as disadvantages, of course). I wouldn’t balk at any kind of TV offer if one came along, but we’ve never really actively sought out a TV series or attempt to personally pitch anything we do.
I figure if someone from TV is looking for a show like ours, they’ll contact us or just steal it. I don’t really care. In a lot of ways TV is the past and entertainment on the Internet is the future. We love what we do at Red Letter Media, and I think we have a unique voice and sense of humor that people recognize, so we’ll always be making new things.
Thank you for your time.
*although he didn’t learn a thing.