I sit here tonight sleepless and restless after an amazing day or what should feel like one. Great day at the shop on Internatinal Video Store Day and winning an award for our latest short film filmed at the videostore. To see our work on the big screen is always a thing of beauty. To have it laughed at, enjoyed, and embraced is even better. I do not enjoy seeing myself there but since my two directors no longer live in the city I promised I would be there. Hey, good thing I was. Even won an award.
The videostore journey has been a crazy one from the start. 14 years plus and no money made. No personal relationships that last. But in the end I still love what I do and would be useless to this world in any other way. But the one thing no one could have ever prepared me for was back in 2012 I would meet some “young”filmmakers from town that would add an insane element to the shop that would give it a greater love than even I could imagine.
What started off as a simply “let’s film something cool to introduce our latest DEDfest guest” turned into shooting a series of short flims based out of the video store that lasted way longer than any of us involved ever thought. I met Cody Kennedy and Tim Rutherford as these two young aspiring friends and flimmakers that simply kept submitting the best short films to our monthly DEDfest screenings. It was my partner in crime, Derek Clayton, that brought my attention to them at first. Watching their insane shorts was a breath of movie nerd fresh air and something I wish I could have done back in the 90s when the dream was to make film, not to rent it out. But here we were and somehow both parties wanted to make the most out of it. For me it was a way to live out my younger years as a wanna be fimmaker and actor and I’m sure for the boys it was their way of knowing what ever we filmed would be screened in atleast one theater infront of a crowd once a month. A win win for each of us.
These guys dubbed their indie company the “House Of Heathens” which was also the name of their house they lived in which also had my future and long time co-star and fictional store employee Josh Lenner. For the first while we simply did shorts in my shop based off movies DEDFEST would be screening. Whether it was a spoof of Battle Royal, Army Of Darkness, or THEY LIVE the boys’ creativity was always up to the task to come up with something fun. Knowing I was no filmmaker but knew my movies because I was the old man on set I would try contribute with ideas and play a more insane version of myself as each episode went on. What I could not match in filmmaking talent I figure I could in just being old, angry, and a videostore guy.
Late in 2012 we finally got to the point where we had to come up with something original if we kept wanting to film the shorts in the shop. As we were showing more and more new films at the theater we could not make parodies of them. This brought the idea of what life working in a videostore would be like in the age of Netflix and downloading. Cue the insane idea of having myself, along with co worker Josh, having to do battle with the evil Streaming corporation led be the villain “Ned Flix” and his goons trying to kill my store literally and the odd monster running through the shop to make matters worse. A vibe was taking place in these shorts and groove of B Movie stupidity was forming in the best way possible.
One night we decided to finally kill off the charcters of Kevin and Josh in their videostore hijinx thinking this would be the end. There would be no better way then a Christmas episode narrated by our new friend and guest of DEDfest Adam Brooks from the canadian film troup know as Astron 6. The fine people that gave us Father’s Day, Manborg, The Editor, The Void, and Divorced Dad. Little did we know that the short “Twas The Night Of Tree Beast” would become a fan favourite of internet shot film goodness which would lead to the question what are you guys doing next? So much for the end.
So in 2013 the team was fully assmebled. We had Tim, Cody, Josh, myself, and added a proper lighting man Jesse Nash, a great DOP Brandon Boucher, DEDfest partners Derek Clayton and Matt Novak, and new customers Sean Roberts and Sonny Rossi. What we filmed over that fateful week in the spring of 2013 would be our love letter to an era long gone. The videostore. Or in our case…the last videostore.
Now as always when filming in my shop my stress was to the max. What most might not understand that watch our films is even though I love what we do and it’s always amazing in the end I worry about the store itself. I still have a business to run and seeing things moved, broken, crashed, sprayed with blood and ooze, and simply being over taken by a giant TV VHS monster is a lot to worry about when tryinbg to open up the next day for real customers. But somehow the guys and booze always calmed me down. Infact the more we destroyed the shop the more the crew would clean it and fix it up better than it even was before we filmed. So the short got made and more importantly picked up at for FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL as a midnight screening infront of a retro viewing of SAMURAI COP. Needless to say we were excited and that night the theater was packed!
And there we were. Watching our latest silly little videostore short “The Last Videostore” in a theater on the other side of the country infront of a packed genre loving crowd. No one knew who we were. If they liked it it would be because they actually liked it, not because they were our friends. And thankfully they did like it. That week was magic. Hanging at a major film fest and being told what we did meant something. It is hard to describe what that means but to myself along with the guys it was everything. The bills would never be paid, real life still had to be done to keep everything going, but for that moment it was pure delight. Our stupid filming had made people laugh and smile. The rest of the week during the film fest I was known as “Videostore guy” to random strangers and that was okay with me.
And we kept going. Next up would be the entry for ABC’s Of Death Part 2. The horror anthology would always leave a letter open for random filmmakers to see if they could make the best entry. That movie gave us the letter M to work with so naturally we figured another videostore short was in order. This one would involve me, a god like VHS golden tape, ninjas, and magnetic robo-warrior, and over the top gore and silly one liners from the worst 90s B-movies ever. All of this would add up to “M IS FOR MAGNETIC TAPE”. To this day it is our most watched Youtube short film. We did not win the spot on the movie all though I heard we were close. But close enough that we did make the VOD release of ABCs OF DEATH 2.5 which was the best of the oh so close but not quite there entries. Honestly, for us Edmonton videostore nerds, it was good enough.
After this we figured let’s just make the feature film of the last videostore while we can. I’ll keep this part short because it’s still tough to talk about it. We could never all quite agree on the overall script and direction of the story. The money was tight. A fake videostore was built which took a good chunk of the cash. And what we ended up with was 22 minutes of an unfinished movie about the last videostore, magic, a crazy outside world, monsters, slime, and destiny. Maybe one day that story will be finally told. Maybe.
Next up would the biggest project us videostore nerds would tackle as a group. A 5 Part webseries thanks to Telus and Storyhive called STRAIGHT TO VIDEO: A B MOVIE ODESSEY. Filmed on a rushed schedule working around everyone’s real jobs and life this was a challenge. A plot that basically was QUANTUM LEAP meets THE LOBBY DVD SHOP had to be finished on time, on budget, and rated PG! That, to me, was the toughest part. How the hell would we tell the story of B movies which generally involved nudity, swearing, gore, violence, and overall bad behaviour in a PG format?! Well once again Tim and Cody came through and gave StoryHive what they needed. So much so that we won an Alberta AMPIA award for best webseries that year. I was working at the bar the night the boys won it but as always better them than me there. They are the true heros as always I say.
So time moved on. The group known as House Of Heathens were breaking up and beginning to do there own thing slowly but surely. Jobs were being offered to some. Others just needed to move away. I figured this was it and life goes on. But then one day Tim and Cody tell me we should film a commerical for the actual videostore to help business. A great idea as my shop could always use the extra advertisement online and what better way than to have my filmmaker buddies whip up something fast, fun, and creative that we could get online ASAP to let people in Edmonton know there is still a videostore in town. Sadly though when it comes to Tim and Cody filming in that damn underground basement movie store they tend to make magic. The kind of magic you simply can not just drop online when you are done.
No. There would be no getting it on the internet ASAP to help the shop because the boys made it too good and figured the film festival circuit was calling. Now I was kinda choked because I had bills to pay and a shop to run but damn if they were not right. A year later we got the news that it was accepted to the biggest genre fest in North America…SXSW In Austin, Texas. Insane I thought. A short gag commerical from Edmonton, Canada playing there?!?! Amazing. Since then it’s has played and continues to play in parts of the world I will probably never see.
People always ask me if I’m bothered that I can never attend the places the short films have played over the years. Honestly no. I’m not much of the travelling type and simply knowing that my oddly shaped face has been on big screens in parts of the world I could not even point out on a map is good enough for me.
But I guess I’m writing this random article this morning to stress that one of the great things we never think about when it comes to film or making things are the friendships you create and hopefully keep the rest of your lives. Tonight the short won an award in town and I was there because Tim, Cody, and Josh now live in Vancouver continuing their creative journey. People, including themselves, always ask me when I’m going. Well, I can’t. I have a videostore, The Last Videostore in Edmonton. It must keep going. It must keep me with a meaning and purpose. But if the crew ever wanted to finally get that feauture film done once and for all you might have to forgive me when you try and rent movies and the sign on the door says…”CLOSED FOR 2 MONTHS. BUSY MAKING VIDEOSTORE FILM HISTORY”.
I owe so mucn to so many people in the last 14 years of my store. Friends, family, loved ones. But for the last 7 years, in that videostore with cameras rolling, I owe so much love to my family known as the House Of Heathens from turning the shop from just another indie business on Whyte Ave to “Is the the place you guys filmed that thing I saw England, Montreal, Italy, New York, Austin, Oakland, San Francisco, ect…film festival?”. It’s pretty cool saying “Ya man, ya it is. Welcome To The Lobby DVD Shop. What movie can I help you find?”
So when I put up our latest award from the Edmonton International Short Film Festival in the shop after opening I will be thinking “Thank you Tim, Cody, Jesse, Josh, Brandon, Sonni, Sean, Richard, Derek, Matt, Brian, Angela, Danger, and everyone else that is the House Of Heathens”. I, along with the videostore love you all and wish you nothing but the greatest success as we all move on in life and our craft. I’ll be hanging tight hopefully recommending flicks to the young and old around.
But one final thought. If we ever get that chance to finally tell the tale of The Last Video Store we will make it as heartfelt, silly, over the top, and action packed with analog tape as we possibly can. And that’s a promise.
As always, thanks for reading this late night thought and as always I’ll see you at the videostore soon enough good friends. Cheers!