Spoofing the big film blockbusters

By Fiona Pryor
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, Cannes


A big Hollywood movie is nothing nowadays without a "mockbuster" - that is according to the owners of independent production company The Asylum.

Image caption, David Rimawi (l) and Paul Bales come to Cannes every year

The "mockbuster" is a film based on the story of a big blockbuster movie, which is cheaper, shorter and is usually released straight-to-DVD long before the original is anywhere close to coming out in the shops.

"Lets just say it's a compliment when you're 'mockbusted'," says David Rimawi, one of the partners of the Los Angeles firm.

"We're porn without the good parts," jokes Paul Bales, his partner of more than 20 years.

The businessmen have known each other since the age of eight and started making films together four years later when Bales was given a video camera for Christmas.

Some of the titles they are best known for include Transmorphers, which was based on Michael Bay's big budget movie Transformers, and The Da Vinci Treasure, which took its name from The Da Vinci Code, directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks.

If you have never seen one before, Bales himself says their stories can be "outrageous".

He adds: "Admittedly the concepts themselves are ridiculous, but they're played totally straight and I think that is one of the reasons why they work.

"It's very difficult to try to make a cult film and I think that if you try to take it seriously then the whole concept plays itself out."

But, in the era when lawsuits are rife - particularly in the US - how does this small independent company avoid legal action?

"We have lots of cease and desist letters," laughs Rimawi.

"They are threatened lawsuits from some of the most serious studios that basically say 'stop doing this or we will destroy you'."

But as yet, the company has avoided the court room. Instead deals and "pay-offs are made behind closed doors", Rimawi says.

"We get down to the details, like what does the artwork look like, what font is used for the titles and we find a way to work together," he adds.

"It's not our intention at all to fool the audience, but we found that there is a market for satisfying the need to see a similar type of movie on the video platform."

Image caption, The Asylum made their own version of the blockbuster hit Transformers

The pair have come to the Cannes Film Festival - as they do every year - to meet with clients and agree future projects.

Rimawi points out that "if you're in the independent movie business then being at Cannes is essential".

And, so far, their fruitful visit has been worth all the jet lag and volcanic ash cloud worry.

An average cost of one of their movies is about $500,000 (£346,000), which is a fraction of the budget of a Hollywood movie.

So while big names are never attached to their projects, both insist A-list stars are not the appeal to this niche market.

"Some people don't go to the cinema," Bales says.

Genre movies

"If they're not going to go to the cinema, then they don't want to wait months for the video release of a film they want to see. They want to see something now.

"My belief is that if you're a fan of genre movies - if you like movies about giant transforming robots - you're going to want to see every movie there is about giant transforming robots.

"I don't think that we're tricking people into renting our movies, I think the people who say that don't give enough credit to the audience. I think people are smart enough to pick up a video box or look on the internet and see what the difference is, they just like our content."

He even reckons that sometimes their fans say their versions "are better" than the real thing.

"There are many fans of HG Wells' work who appreciated our War of the Worlds film more and felt that ours was truer than the Paramount version," he says.

Image caption, Their version of Sherlock Holmes featured dinosaurs and dragons

"Likewise, we released a movie called Sherlock Holmes at the end of last year and Warner Brothers put theirs out too. A lot of people said ours was better. They certainly said that ours was closer to the ideas of the original, even though ours has dinosaurs and dragons and robots in it."

Bales says they have become an "internet sensation" and last year at Cannes a deal was made which saw MTV premiere the trailer to their movie Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus.

"Within the first day something like two million people had downloaded the trailer," Bales says.

"It really took on a life of its own and was a big hit for us in the States. It did very well in the UK, Australia, Japan and we found out that it premiered in France on television on Christmas Day and was a gigantic hit, so it was our Christmas gift to France."

Both men are passionate about their jobs and insist that if Hollywood came knocking on their doors, neither of them would leave the company to work on more mainstream projects.

"Never, I would never leave," says Bales. "We're getting to do what we want to do. We make the films that we want to make and we decide when we come in, in the morning.

"None of us are rich, and we'd like the studios to know that, but we're making a living and most importantly we're doing what we love."