KE: Now, I'm going to have to back track a bit, because you brought up a lot of things that I want to talk about. You just mentioned that the experience you often get at the movies is somewhat lacking. And from the looks of it, from the ways that you publicize these events and keep the location of the screenings secret, you seem as interested in creating a cinematic experience as you are in simply presenting the films themselves.
SC: Oh, absolutely
KE: So what would you say that your screenings provide that Scotiabank Theatre doesn't? How would you describe the experience you're giving the audience versus just going to your local theatre?
SC: Well, there were five kids in my family and my parents would take us to the drive-in in our station wagon. They'd bring pillows and blankets. We didn't have a lot of dough so we'd buy popcorn but we'd bring our own cans of pop. My favourite place to watch the movie was on the hood or on the roof, you know, under the stars. The whole concept of unstructured cinematic viewing experience doesn't exist anymore. I mean, you could get up and walk around, you could stand up at the front and watch the movie. The cinematic viewing experience now is very regimented. You walk in, you buy your ticket, you get your snacks, and you go sit down, and all the chairs are the same. The only real choice you get is how far away you sit from the screen or how close you sit. And I understand that, because that's the nature of the mass-marketed film experience. You need to control it and appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
When I first moved to Toronto, I used to go to the Rio on Yonge St. and they'd show five movies for four bucks. And they always showed a horror, an action, a crime, a nudie film with all the sex cut out, and then probably another horror or else a kung fu film. There was barely anyone there during the day so you could lay down on the seats, put your feet up over the front seats. You could sleep - I'd watch the first few films, sleep through the next couple, then get up and watch the last film. With the Trash Palace, all those things come into play - not the sleeping, but I have 6X9 gym mats in the front that you can lay down on. Behind that are movie seats I just purchased, the ones with wooden arms. So if you want that experience, you can have that experience. If you want to seat in the folding chairs, you can have that experience. One person is allowed to lay in the hammock, so you can have that experience. You can stand in the back with me. There are all these experiences that you can have - there's not just one. And you have choices. I'll say, 'this is the feature, but what shorts do you want to watch before?' And I tell people after the movie, 'you're welcome to stick around to watch some more films'. And usually half of the audience says sure and we keep watching shorts until they've had enough of the experience or until I've had enough and I want to go out for a drink. It's about an experience, that's for damn sure, and I think people like that.
And there's room to talk during these movies, as long as you're quiet - there are conversations. People talk at the screen. That's what people used to do at the movies. People used to yell at the screen. If there was something going on in an exploitation film, people would yell, 'kill 'em! Kill 'em!' I remember that. People don't do that anymore. Now it's all about being silent and not bothering anyone else. I'm not saying that all theatres should be loud. But there's a sense of entitlement now - you pay your 13 bucks to see your movie and you expect peace and quiet.
There used to be a choice in cheaper films. Back in the day, there were different types of films being made for different types of audiences. So you had these kinds of films made for drive-ins, and these kinds of films made for the inner city, and you had these kinds of films made for the middle class, and these kinds of films made for the upper class. Now everything is the same - everyone can see everything. And everyone has to be quiet. Well, I kind of like how it used to be, how the upper class wouldn't go see a car crash film - the inner city would. And the inner city would react to a car crash film the way you should react - you'd yell at the screen. Now it's all the same, it's all been homogenized.
Now, I won't show a film if only one person comes. But if three people come, that's enough for a screening. And I think people appreciate the fact that this guy is forcing them to buy a ticket and on the ticket is the address where the movie is being shown - there are people that appreciate that.
KE: You mentioned going to the drive-ins with your parents as a kid, and going to the Rio as an adult, and those experiences refining your sense of what a movie-going experience should be. And looking over your flyers at Suspect Video and your website, it seems that most of the films are coming out of those eras - the era of the drive-in and the era of the grindhouse. So why do you focus on films from this era? Is it an attempt to recreate a sense of that era....
SC: No, it's not.
KE: ...or do you feel that films that are being produced today, such as the one you made, can't really compete with the ones that were made decades ago?
SC: No. My answer is going to be brutally honest. I'm married. I have a house, a mortgage to pay, car payments, a studio that I rent, a lot of things to pay for. I cannot justify spending hundreds of dollars on a print. The Trash Palace will never make me money. I'm not doing it for money - I'm doing it because I need to do it. I'm a collector and I'm fascinated by this stuff. The reason I have the particular films that I have is because people that sell them think that they're shit so they sell them cheap. That's my first rule: don't spend a lot of money.
Take a film like 'House of Wax' with Vincent Price. That would be in the $400 range. 'Frankenstein's Daughter' I got for $60. Now, they're both from the same era - 'House of Wax' is '53, 'Frankenstein's Daughter' is '58. I think because Vincent Price was in it, it would have been seen as upper class or middle class. So, as a collector, you pay middle class prices. 'Frankenstein's Daughter' was a drive-in film. I'm not seeking out drive-in films - I'm looking for what is within my budget. The types of movies that I'm willing to spend my money in fall into the genre of the drive-in film. Because people think that they're crap, I get them for cheap. I can afford these films. The films that I can actually afford happen to fall into this genre. Others films, like the educational shorts, they're kind of different, they're more reasonably priced. I'm far more intrigued by a film I buy for $40, a film no one knows about, then I am by spend ing $400 on something everyone knows about. I'm far more intrigued by something like 'Force on Thunder Mountain', which has only two reviews on the internet. And I have the movie and the colours are gorgeous, man. And I wonder, 'why was this made? Who were they trying to sell this to?'
Like, 'Doll Squad'. It's basically 'Charlie's Angels' and the director Ted V. Mikels, his whole oeuvre is corpse grinders, zombie films with lots of lurid ad campaigns. There's not a whole lot of substance to the films. But his love for these films shines through and drives these shitty films. The upper class would find it incredibly boring. Other classes would find all sorts of things to love about it. It's not exactly about collecting drive-in films. It's because people think that they're crap that I get them for cheap.
The most recent film I got was 'Plague 1978' also known as 'The Gemini Stream'. Shot right here in Toronto. I'm fucking stoked. The director is living in California. I just got in touch with the writer's wife and told her i just purchased a copy of the move and she said, 'why?' And I just said, 'because I find it interesting that what other people consider to be trash, I consider to be awesome. I'm sure it's one of the first films your husband wrote. He may not be proud of it, but I'm proud of it. I can't wait to show it. And I hope he'll be my guest.'
Ted V. Mikels found out about the screening of 'Doll Squad'. Wasn't happy.
SC: Yeah. Which is interesting, because I purchased the print off of him six years ago for $128.
KE: Why wasn't he happy?
SC: Because he's not getting a cut. So I wrote him and said, 'I understand licensing fees are negotiable. May I begin negotiations? I have done four screenings. The first screening we had eleven people. The second screening we had six people. The third screening we twenty two people and the fourth screening we had seven people. That's an average of nine people a screening. Your film was a 'free to get in, pay to get out' feature. The cost to get out was $2. Using the average attendance rate, that's 2X9, that's $18. That's my offer.' I gave you the blunt version - the one I sent him was much nicer. I ended it by saying, 'sir, some things are done for love, not money. Kind regards, Stacey Case, projectionist, Trash Palace.' I sent that this past Sunday. I checked my email that night and he had written back. And I just mailed him a bank draft for $18.
KE: He wanted the $18?
SC: Yeah, and I completely respect him for wanting the $18. I've got a receipt for the bank draft and it says, 'Ted V. Mikels, $18'. And I keep all this stuff because I'm working on a fanzine called 'Trash Palace' and it's going to be all this stuff thats going on. Compiling reviews - my snack bar guy is writing a column, my MC is writing a column, Im writing stuff. And I'll just have a really cool fanzine. And if I really put my mind to it, it would be a dope book about this theatre. However, there are more shows to come. I want to have 26 shows, one every other Friday.
But I was very proud, and when he wrote to me, I wrote him back and said, 'look, I'm one of you guys, I'm a film maker too, I'm not just a collector. Here's my IMDB page, read the reviews. They're just like your reviews, bro.' He hasn't written back yet. But he will. I think I blew his mind.
You know, it's all about being classy about bad movies. They deserve good posters.
KE: Yeah, the posters are beautiful. Such obvious care went into designing them. Now, you say you're not just a collector...
SC: But I am a collector. But the type of collecting that I do is different. Everyone is a collector, really. My wife collects Wonder Woman stuff. I don't know, maybe there's something empowering about it. I guess I find what I collect to be empowering. Plus, I like having stuff.
Look, when I just moved here from Vancouver, I just had these shorts and my fucking leather jacket. I had nothing. I stayed in hostels and shit. That's how I know about the Rio - I used to pay four bucks to sleep in the Rio. I'm not a pack rat. I can give shit up.