Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Straight from the Mogul's Mouth: D2DVD Film School pt. 2

Samuel Z. Arkoff was the producer / distributor of over 503 movies in his career including many that have become "classics" of genre cinema: I Was A Teenage Werewolf, The Amityville Horror, Dressed to Kill, The Wild Angels and X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, Blacula, Coffy, The Beach Party movies among others. In the 1950's his company, American International Pictures (A.I.P.) has been credited with saving the theatrical movie business when he and his partner Jim Nicholson started making films intended for a teenage audience - the audience that wanted to get out on the weekend and away from the family television.

Arkoff and Nicholson took the idea of marketing a movie before it was made, and made it a mantra for all low budget producers - after all, why make a movie if no one wants to see it? Better to find out what the audience wants then fulfill their deepest desires. A.I.P. was notorious for commissioning artwork, titles and film campaigns - preselling the rights to the pictures - THEN making the movie. Through this method, A.I.P. was in profit before one frame of film was shot.

Unfortunately Mr. Arkoff is no longer with us, but he has left behind a legacy from which we all can learn. In a 1998 interview taken from the Producer's Guild of America magazine, here is an abridged version of --



Action them til they're dizzy. Don't stop. It must be in your screenplay and in your director's head. Employ only film editors who are as movement-crazy as you are. Kid's love action...and they''ll go back...and will tell their peers, inferiors, and superiors what's good.


Revolutionary scenes get talked of. Use some new photographic devices...editing techniques...locales...smells...stunts or something. Make 'em so the sheer experience of seeing them is unique. New language, new juxtapositions, new shocks, new relationships, new attire, new oncepts...new, new, new. Revolve situations, relationships, hell, even the camera if it will get your movie talked about.


Kill colorfully and often. Young audiences... like to experience death. Vicariously, of course. But then all storytelling is experiencing something that happens to someone else and you come out alive.
You should be sure to kill and do so in bizarre ways so your audience will get their money's worth, and so they will tell others...Without death or the glamourous threats of it, I would never have been able to make the highest grossing independently-produced, independently-released film of all time, The Amityville Horror.


Orate! Tell the world about your picture! Talk about it but more important...get people talking about it. Best way is through publicity. As my old buddy Jack Warner used to say, "The movie good enough to sell itself has not yet been produced!"


Fantasy is what audiences spend money for. Give them fantastic adventures. Entertain them by rushing them into worlds you dreamed up for them. Avoid the prosaic and commonplace. When they're in those fantastic environments, keep everything moving ultra-fast. Action will help suspend disbelief.


Fornicating is the answer to an exhibitor's dreams. You can't get an ingredient in most movies that draws better than sex. Of course, you have to use it wisely...You gotta have taste. Foreplay is as important in dramaturgy as in bed. But avoid too much visual sex. It is embarassing and if it goes on too long it puts audiences to sleep. Arouse but don't offend!

So there you have it Pulperverse. Straight from the mouth of a man who changed the way we view movies, we sell movies, we make movies. You'll note that I've highlighted certain things in red. I will be discussing these in later posts.

(This article was originally written by Julian Meyers)


Grubber said...

Seriously, reading those points........The Matrix really stuck in my head for an example of this "formula".

Thanks for those, I can't argue against any of those for a big summer movie success. There will be exceptions, but on the whole they seem to follow that pattern.


Cunningham said...

It's not just theatrical success - it's success period. The lessons learned by A.I.P. in the fifties are applicable across the entire spectrum of theatrical and DVD today.

Aric Blue said...

I'd heard good things about Arkoffs book, "Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants: From the Man Who Brought You I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Music Beach Party"--so I ordered one from Amazon.

Still waiting though...

Cunningham said...

A Good investment...

Christopher Sharpe said...

Brilliant stuff. This information helped me with an important editing decision. Sometimes procrastination via web surfing pays off.

Grubber said...

Absolutely Bill, it was just the movie that stuck in my head, that on first thought, "fitted" the model.

Thanks again for that.

JD said...

An awesome read, as always.

JimMiller said...

Great post. Thanks.

Curt Purcell said...

Words of wisdom! Thanks for that, Bill!

John Donald Carlucci said...

Nuts, I'm trying to figure out what Carlucci stands for.


Cunningham said...

why don't you try JDC first and work from there?

John Donald Carlucci said...


Yea! Thanks Bill


writergurl said...

In this genre, what about the whole "it's gotta have a theme" thing? Does it apply? Alex Epstien doesn't think it's used in thrillers or horror. Is he wrong?

Cunningham said...

Themes arise out of characters and situations. That goes for all genres of film and literature.