A cultural journalist with work experience in film industry and TV. The creator of Internet radio shows for geeks. A walking pop culture encyclopedia… The list goes on. Meet Josh Hadley, with whom we talked about B movies, their definition, state and making process, the mentality of American viewers – and more.
Michal Puczynski, film.org.pl: Let’s start with your impressive background. You’re a writer published in Hustler, you were in sound department and worked as a production assistant on a couple of movies, you worked at a TV station, you had your late night B-movie show, you have your internet radio shows What The Fuck?!, Radiodrome and Lost in the Static, a weekly column Sanity is Razor Thin… Am I missing something?
Josh Hadley: I have been printed in Hustler but also in magazines such as Cashers du Cinemart, Grindhouse Purgatory, Paracinema and Shadowland. I also have a monthly column in Scene magazine („The Shadows Of Pop Culture”).
I have worked on a few movies, only two of which were released; Feed The Fish where I was simply a production assistant and Project: Solitude(released as „Project Solitude: Buried Alive” which kind of spoils the ending of the film) and I was in the sound dept on that. I worked for a decade in TV news at various places and I ran the assignment desk for 2 of those years. I had my own late night „horror host” show called It Came From Beyond Midnight which was really awful but people seemed to like it so what do I know…
I host and produce the internet radio shows Lost In The Static, RadioDrome, What The Fuck!!?? and Hart Attack plus a few others for 1201 Beyond that I simply produced for others and do not appear on. Sanity Is Razor Thin has been suspended for a short time due to various issues but I am attempting to get them collected into a book (with extras).
And with all of that… I make no money whatsoever… I truly have chosen the perfect profession (sigh).
Generally speaking, you’re a walking popculture encyclopedia.
I like to think of myself as a warehouse of useless knowledge to which I am the sole interested party.
You seem to have a special place in your heart for the kind of movies that „normal” viewers wouldn’t even look at. Not too ambitious or well made movies. B-movies… or, well, even „worse”.
The mainstream is, by definition, MAINSTREAM and therefore it is conformity, and frankly banal conformity at that, hence why I was always drawn to the odd side of film. I also disagree on them not being ambitious or well made, sure, some are slapdash garbage but many filmmakers made the best film they could with the resources they had available. To me, it means more when a film is not good and they had limited everything to make it contrast that with a big budget movie flowing with unlimited funds, access to everything that one could need to make a film and crap is still the result. Low budget films, I believe, have MORE ambition than studio time fillers because lets face it, not having what you need forces you to be creative whereas being able to do anything and everything ends up being lazy.
I also have an issue with the term „B Movie”… not counting Grindhouse there are no „B” films anymore, there have not been any since the 70’s and it is a label that carries with it a stigma both undeserved and unearned.
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, B movie is „a movie that costs little money to make and that is usually not considered to be very good”. How would you define „B movie”? Is it a… type of movies? A genre?
I find the term B movie to be misapplied (ironically by people that never lived in an era where real B movies existed). A B movie would be when a double bill had an A movie and a B movie, traditionally this was when a studio would put a real effort into the A movie and then throw together some cheap crap as an extra your way to entice you into giving up the ticket money; two movies for the price of one.
This is no longer the case, outside of rare exceptions such as Grindhouse they don’t do double features anymore and hence there is no B movie. The term as it is misapplied today is meant to signify lower qualify product when in fact all it exposes is the ignorance of those who don’t really understand the term nor ever did. Roger Corman gets angry when he is called „King Of The B’s” as his film was always the A picture on a double bill and he is still called this today with no regard for the proper use of the term.
I think what people mean when they use the term B movie is a lower budget (quality) film that is not good enough to go toe to toe with mainstream fare and they use a cheap shortcut term out of cultural laziness. I hear people call Asylum films B movies all the time… oh really? What double bill did that play on and what was the A feature then? I just can’t stand shortcuts pushing ignorance.
A genre is (literally) „a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.” In reality it is another term for category or classification. Now, sometimes this can get sticky such as what is the film Alien? Is it a Science Fiction film or a Horror film? It’s both so does that make a new genre? Sci-fi / Horror? And is that wholly different than Sci-fi and Horror as separate genres? Today the term genre has come to mean a far to broad spectrum ranging from anythin „geek” related to anything outside the narrowest definition of mainstream. That in itself has changed though, today the mainstream is what the outside was 10 years ago, so the term genre must also be redefined.
What drives you, and other fans, towards what people call B-movies?
That much is obvious; they are more entertaining than the cookie cutter claptrap of the studio system.
The low budget film scene relying on the Three B’s as Joe Bob Briggs put it; Blood, Breasts and Beasts, will always have an appeal that the mainstream will never appreciate. It has been proven time and again that you can make a film that is ABOUT something and has some meaning while still adhering to the Three B’s formula and that is why we flock to these films, they have a duality to them, you are watching a film about a monster on the loose killing teens with an allegory for AIDS playing out under the surface or how media consumption dilutes the emotional reactions to violence and injustice acting as a chaser to the viseral material at the forefront.
When a film attempts that type of allegory without the Three B’s formula it (typically) tends to get lost in pretension or obviousness. The studio system thinks it’s audience is made up of morons (and to a degree they are correct, otherwise explain to me how Transformers was a hit) and they dumb down the pictures to enforce this.
What many people fail to see in their lemming like adherence big dumb movies is that they are being insulted right to their face and they not only don’t get that but they are happy that they are being noticed at all. That is a sickening but very real place that studio films have found themselves, engaged in an active war with their own audience. When you are making a film „by committee” as the studio system does then you have to make the film more mainstream and can take fewer chances with it hence the banality I mentioned before. When you are making a film for a specific audience you can essentially narrowcast and with that you can cloak a message far easier into the fabric of what is, on the surface, simply an exploitation film.
Besides, where else would you see the batshit insanity that low budget films give us other than from low budget films? The studios would never allow something like the 1989 Dr. Caligari or even John Dies At The End to come out through them and when a film with the tendencies that set it apart from it’s competitors does come out from a major studio it is an oddity and rarely strikes a cord with the mainstream audience. Videodrome is an example of this, this was a film financed by the Canadian government and simply released by Universal which bombed with the mainstream audience and found new life with the oddballs that ‚got’ what it was trying to say. Videodrome is a prime example of a film with a powerful message that is disguised as a gore film.
Would you agree that B-movies (yes, I know…) got cynical lately? I mean, in the 70s, 80s and even through the most of the 90s those movies were sincere – their directors really tried. Nowadays Asylum and SyFy are in the spotlight and they make crap on purpose, and people watch it ironically, and that’s just… fake and insulting.
Lets be fair, there have always been insincere con artists that made a film simply to cash in on a trend, hell Roger Corman made a career out of it, but yes, it seems somehow more… crass how they do it today. Shark movies are hot, lets make a shark movie. Giant Robots are in at the moment, lets make one of those… screw not having the money to do it right, DO IT ANYWAY. That is not new but I do agree that the intention has changed quite dramatically.
In the past when a smaller movie failed at being something of quality it was rarely due to apathy and most often due to the constraints of outside forces (usually, but there were indeed cases of the „fuck it, no one will notice” attitude as well). When you make a „bad” movie intentionally it CAN work as in the case of Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes or Ted Newsom’s The Naked Monster but those were satires on „bad” movies so they was still done with the wit and intention of being a good „bad” movie… the crap churned out by the Asylum is nothing more than product and as a line worker do you care about the product you are making? No, you don’t and neither do they.
At least though with The Asylum they have a point they won’t dip below, you then have people like David DeCoteau who simply make product for the sake of making product. David DeCoteau has no limit that he will not dip below… In focus? No? Fuck it, I am not retaking that. Why get a boom mic when the shotgun mic on my $600 Wal-Mart camera gets the point across just fine. So you can see the PA’s hand at the edge of frame, I don’t have time to look at shots before editing, I have 4 movies to make this week. Looping? What is looping, lets just record the voice over from the speaker on my cell phone, it still works.
When you as a filmmaker don’t care, then how can the audience care and if the audience does not care then what does that say about film in general? If you are making nothing more than product, then how can you expect that product to be treated as anything greater? David DeCoteau gets offended when people say he does not care any longer and yet when you watch his movies it becomes crystal clear that he gave up some time ago. That is the major shift that happened in film, this attitude of laziness, as much as streaming and the internet have opened up film to a new audience the shift has also had the effect (intentional or not) of deflating the „value” of a film.
The Internet deflated the value of movies…?
When you had to search out a film, when you had to wait a year for it to appear on any channel, when you did not have access to tens of thousands of films at a button press the experience of watching the film meant more. Today, films are just time killers, something to have on in the background as you play a game or to fall asleep to. The majority of the modern audience does not have an appreciation of film the way previous generations did.
In the VHS era it was a big deal to be able to watch a film at your convenience and even then there was a limited amount to choose from, places such as Netflix having such massive libraries of movies in an instant removes much of the allure from the films themselves and greatly harms the ability of a filmmaker to make money from their creation as well. In the drive-in days a filmmaker could make a feature, „bicycle” it around and make 10 times the budget before finally selling the movie off to cable. In the VHS era it was even better as you had this new market that was hungry for product and smaller movies could make a profit on TV and video sales alone. This is no longer the case in the streaming era.
In the 90’s you could sell your movie (regardless of budget) to HBO for a good 20 grand… with Netflix they will give you 2-3 grand for a film and why has this price dropped so harshly? Because they have so many other people that are competing for that same slot that drives the price down and with an audience that gets off on a film the worse it is this also gives a great incentive for a laissez-faire attitude towards the final product. The audience has embraced this kind of movie making known as „So Bad It’s Good” which I will never endorse. This new audience loves movies that are inept and tepid simply because they are such and that brings the level of film making down even lower as a whole.
The Asylum seem to think of themselves as the new Cannon and yet they miss the mark by such a margin that I am not sure if it is delusion or simple grand denial that allows for their continued success. Making crap intentionally is not the same thing as making art and it turning out to be crap.
What, when and why has changed in smaller, independent movies since the glorious days of Scanner Cop, Halloween 3, Lifeforce and such? Why don’t we get the same great vibe from them as we did back then?
Part of the reason things have changed is addressed above, the market has changed as has the consumer and that has changed the very way these movies are produced. I may be a true cinema snob but I think that video looks like shit, and things shot on video look like shit, be it analog video or digital video, it looks like ass. Now, the news can have that look, it is meant to but for a fictional piece of cinema we are conditioned to see film with the grain involved and at the framerate we are used too, video is meant to portray „real life” (hence the news aspect) and when I see video I can’t, no matter how hard I try, see a movie, but a cheap attempt at pseudo-movies. You can’t even call something shot on video a film as it does not contain the very core of the term… FILM.
In the 70’s and 80’s the small films were still shot on FILM and that made them look as they should and as video started to encroach these movies still strove for that look with a process called „Film Look” which adds grain to video and slows down the frame rate to simulate the look of film. These days „Film Look” is rarely used on video productions as they just don’t care, the mindless will ingest it all the same. There is a lack of quality control on the one end and a lack of customer desire for that quality on the other. Each side feeds the other in an orgy of avarice and pathetic dissonance.
(That said, the caliber of movies moves with the times as does the formats, remember that of the 3 films you mentioned the latter two were both MAJOR theatrical releases both of which failed miserably at the box office making them not B-movies really.)
People both inside and outside of the industry itself seem to treat film as nothing more than a way to pass the time lest the „So bad it’s good” bullshit philosophy would not exist; how can you reward a film for not doing it’s job properly? If a film is bad, than it is bad and it should be treated as such, and to that I am referring to movies that are not made to evoke this „So bad it’s good” style, I mean films that were meant to be „good” films and failed miserably.
In all honesty there is also too much of the intentional „bad” films and by that I am speaking of a film that goes in trying to be „serious” knowing full well that the audience WANTS the FX to look awful, WANTS the acting to be stiff and lifeless and WANTS the dialog to be written by 8th grade dropouts and most of all WANTS the film to be as cliche as possible, as if that somehow elevates the film to a level it could not achieve had it been played straight.
Have mainstream movies also changed? And if so, is it a change for the better or worse?
Cannon had a business model of essentially „B Movies On A Budgets”, and part of the reason that didn’t work in the long run was two-fold… one that Cannon was really trying to buy credibility which never works and two that while they were more open about it but that has been the long running flow of mainstream Hollywood, even if they won’t admit it. Look at movies such as Star Wars or Jaws, those are exploitation movies through and through, just with large budgets, those are the KIND of films that would have been drive-in fodder a couple of years prior. So when Cannon tried this on a somewhat larger scale it was seen as new due to the blinders that both the studios and the mainstream audiences placed on themselves, neither party noticed what was always in front of them.
Universal does not see Jaws as an exploitation film, yet it is in every way. FOX does not see Alien as a haunted house movie that perhaps Corman would have put out, but it is, sure the production values are higher and there was more mainstream appeal but the studios have always looked to the underground of film as a place to kickstart them (the studios). In the 1980’s Paramount was outright ashamed that the Friday The 13th movies were consistently their largest earners at a time when Paramount was desperate to get a „prestige picture” out, which failed time and again to find their audience. They were perfectly happy to take the influx of funds from slashers but they just didn’t want to have to admit they did it, like paying a hooker for a blowjob, you want to cum but you don’t want anyone to know how it happened.
Exploitation films have long been the dirty little secret of the mainstream film world, those things they all rely on to shore up the studio all the while being let in the backdoor service entrance so no one respectable sees. That is changing to a degree. Look at the box office hits for the least 4 or 5 years and you will see that nearly all of them are what in the previous generation would have been either DTV (Direct To Video) or straight out exploitation films. Comic movies, Scifi movies, Horror movies… these are the films that have become complete mainstream where in the 90’s they would have been cast offs or relegated to the status of kids films.
Mainstream, while folding in exploitation more openly, still requires that the audience be treated like idiots though and so it is a give and take when it comes to the mainstream. There is also this strange occurrence that happens when the mainstream attempts to absorb the underground that makes the underground seem „cool” which makes both sides look bad. For instance, most of Tarantino’s fans only find out about many of the films he references due to him having done so, they go and check out Sonny Chiba movies and the like but is it not a tad insulting that if these same people had just stumbled onto The Street Fighter on late night TV they would have laughed at it, but because Tarantino likes it that somehow makes it cool?
That is how the mainstream waters down the underground, by attempting to integrate the two it only dilutes both. Mainstream film is meant for mainstream audiences and they are uncomfortable with anything new the same as underground film (my term but not a blanket term) does not fare well when being drug into the light where all of it’s imperfections can be exposed.
You’ve got some first hand insight to the movie making process. You worked, for example, on the set of Project Solitude, starring Eric Roberts, and that’s not exactly the best or most ambitious movie ever made. What was the attitude of the director and producers? Did they know what they were making? Did they care?
It’s really quite odd how some independent movies can be so alike (in the production) and yet so different. Project Solitude for example had a MUCH larger budget and larger crew than Feed The Fish (another film I worked on) and it also felt more lax and even sped up than it’s lower budget cousin.
Project Solitude was a fine movie in theory, it was meant to be the first part of a trilogy of films that each built on the last one, which sounds ambitious, but it was just a tired old story with no real twists whatsoever (Eric Roberts the killer? Never saw that coming).
Now, don’t mistake what I mean, the director of Project Solitude was no lazy shitbird just skating by, he and his Assistant Director and the Cinematographer (whom I did not like at all on a personal level but on a professional level was great at his job) were very focused on making as good of a film as they could. That said, there were many shortcuts made as the budget was dwindling and as the crew was getting PTSD from the extremely uncomfortable shoot (that will happen when you have a movie that is 90% exteriors in the Wisconsin woods in Dec and in the coldest winter in the history of the state).
So yes, they cared, but like the filmmakers I alluded to earlier they did what they could with the resources they had, and really it’s not director Rustam Branaman’s fault the movie is… less than good. The script was pedestrian and a tad insulting and while Branaman is listed as a writer, it was really the baby of Tom Hillery… producer of such classics as Bikini Kitchen, Bikini Kitchen 2 and Bikini Kitchen 3.
Now, I am not trying to go with an Ed Wood analogy here but I know many people will make it if I don’t point this out… Ed Wood was famous for his „one take and print it” style of directing, sometimes getting 40 setups in a single day that way…
Well, on Project Solitude there were VERY few shots that had more than one take, it was rehearsed sure, but usually the one take that was rolled on was used. This led to a very fast production that if you remove the issues the winter cold and snow caused would have had the entire movie shot in 2 weeks which is a shockingly short time for a film like this. Due to this the tone on the set was tense most of the time and at the end the budget was run so low that many of the „non-essential” personal were let go and replaced with unpaid Interns/Production Assistants. Contrasted to Feed The Fish where the tone on the set was always jovial, always a tone of fun while still getting the shots and most of all a tone of „lets make a movie” compared to Project Solitude’s „LET’S MAKE A FUCKING MOVIE!!!!”.
Let’s talk about MPAA ratings. They seem to get weirder every year. On one hand MPAA seems strangely lenient towards torture porn, and on the other hand – more and more movies that’d get a PG-13 in the 80s and 90s are rated R and have to be watered down because of the younger audiences. What do you think about this tendency? Why does it exist and how does it impact the movies, their tone and reception?
My co-host on RadioDrome Cecil Trachenburg recently did something of an expose on this very phenomena which I will have to tread some of the same ground here. The ratings shift have no one real source but rather a conglomeration of causes stemming from Janet Jackson’s nipple ring being exposed on national television. That incident sent off a trigger effect through pop culture that is still being felt and one of the largest was that what the mainstream saw as „family safe” changed.
PG-13 used to be an actual middle ground between a film that is too harsh for a PG but not hard enough for an R and now PG-13 has, as Cecil very succinctly put it „Instead of pushing PG farther PG-13 pulled R back”. There is this myth that by making a movie (or cutting a movie) to be PG-13 that it „opens the film up to a wider audience” which is complete bullshit on every level. How did the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, the aforementioned Friday The 13th movies or the entire slasher boom of the early 80’s make their money? Did they cut the movies to PG in an effort to „get a wider audience”? No, the audience came to them, as a kid in the era before PG-13 existed we found ways to see the movies and the studios didn’t pander to us the way they do now, the audience will find a way. At one point New Line Cinema („The house that Freddy built”*) briefly considered making a PG-13 Nightmare on Elm Street movie, an idea which was almost immediately nixed as they figured teens always saw the movies before, why compromise the movies for an audience that is already watching them.
The R rating now has a somewhat literal Scarlett letter about it and so PG-13 is the new benchmark to hit with mainstream films it seem and that harms all of film in general as it homogenizes everything into a flaccid plane where every film must be palatable for every person. This greatly harms the very idea of film as it pushes the ideal that making and marketing a film is an opiate for the masses and not as an artistic endeavor.
Perhaps that is hopelessly idealistic of me but I feel a movie should be made as art first and as something to be mass consumed second. No movie should ever be made with a rating in mind, the movie should be made as it is made and the rating it is given being taken as is… but I know that not how this works nor how this CAN work given the vast amounts of money involved but that is how I feel.
Also, the very idea of a rating system is offensive to me on a personal level, who the fuck is this secret cabal that gets to decide what ART makes it to the people? The MPAA is a censorship organization, plain and simple, they see themselves as a kind of crusader for moderation but they are censors straight up. They will claim that since you don’t HAVE to submit to them or their whims that this exonerates them from being censors but it does not as they actively collude with the movie studios to make you reliant on them. If you don’t have a rating through them, you can’t advertise on TV, you can’t advertise in papers or on billboards and so if you want to make any money on your movie, you WILL submit to them. That is censorship.
*also the name of a documentary movie about the importance of the Elm Street series to New Line Cinema.
Nowadays it’s easier to make a movie and it’s easier to publish it, but the result is a flood of movies, mostly bad ones, and one just can’t follow them all. So, to sum it up, how do you perceive all those changes that the „B-cinema” is submitted to? How does it affect the aspiring low-budget movie makers, and where does it lead to?
Low budget cinema used to be a place where real movies were made… where any nutball idea could be put on the screen in a fashion resembling quality, that is no longer the case. In reality what I am about to say is blasphemy to any artist but I will say it anyway…
If you can’t do it right then DON’T DO IT. If your movie REQUIRES a budget of some sustainability then don’t just make it for the sake of making it. Why half ass it? You want to make a space epic that requires sets, models, effects, makeup and lighting but all you have is $10,000 and access to a junkyard… you can’t make the movie you want to make so to attempt a $100,000 movie on a $10,000 budget only cheats everyone involved, you and the audience.
Creating inferior art for the sake of creating art makes no sense. I see all of these low budget guys that were around in the heyday and they always, without fail, give the advice to not let budget stand in the way of your dreams, make the movie you can for what you can… this pisses me off as it is a bullshit ideal where a level of quality plays no part. Movies are art and art has built in requirements such as resources… would you tell a painter that if they can’t afford paints and canvass to just use their feces and a cardboard box? It’s still their art, right? No, it’s now a piece of shit on a pizza box. You would tell them to find the things they need to do the work justice or put off the art until they could bring it out as conceived. I can’t stand it when I see filmmakers of talent toiling away making shit, with garbage equipment just for the sake of „making something”.
But technology is so cheap and accesible nowadays. CGI, for instance.
CGI is one of the tools that has allowed people to make films on smaller budgets but it also has forced them to compromise on quality. Unless it’s done correctly CGI looks like shit and lets face it, 80% of the time it is not done right. CGI and the ease at which it makes things possible has fooled directors into thinking „close enough” is a standard they can accept. There were always bad practicals, don’t misunderstand, but CGI seemed to have force feed an entire generation of both filmmakers and film goers the lie that it’s okay as long as you tried. That Sabertooth Tiger looks like something out an N64 game and does not mesh with the live action at all… but we get the idea of what you meant and you tried so it’s good enough.
No, it’s not good enough. That sells the entire craft of filmmaking into a purgatory that it can never recover. Shit factories such as The Asylum have brainwashed an entire generation into thinking that crap for crap is what should be strived for. There has also been a strange defacing of how much work it takes to make something good. I saw a video recently of a kid, maybe 18 years old, bitching that Ray Harryhausen movies looked like shit and „I could make better and more convincing FX on my laptop”. They youth of today have no appreciation of the past and they think that since they grew up with CGI and HD that anything less is beneath them. That is the true film arrogance, that since it’s easier today that it is better… I don’t think that films of the past were better just because they were older… but I can appreciate the fact that in 1966 it was impossible to make a seamless matte and I can see they DID do the best they could… today when you make a shitty matte there is no excuse.
The field itself has also changed so greatly that even the term „low budget” has been affected. Back in the 80’s a film with a $100,000 budget could great released in theaters, look good and have „name” actors in it… today that simply can not happen. Today 5 MILLION dollars for a movie is considered a „low budget” film. Everything has changed, mostly in the negative sense. In an era where Paul Schrader and Terry Gilliam can’t get a film released and Charles Band is shooting movies in his office disguised as a dorm room you can not deny that film as an artform is in decline. Places such as Netflix have opened up film to a new audience but it also has cheapened and demeaned film to the point where nothing matters anymore. There are still films that are getting made that defy this, so make no mistake, cinema is not dead, it just has shed it’s skin and moves differently now.
I may be a cinema snob, I may be a cranky old shit that only views film through nostalgia goggles but I see only darkness on the horizon.
Thank you for your answers.
You can find Josh at his website www.1201beyond.com. If you like what you read, do yourself a favour and listen to Josh’s shows: Radiodrome and Lost in the Static.