The formula appears deceptively simple: think of a title, usually bastardised from a Hollywood blockbuster, hire a cast, shoot a movie in 12 days and release it on DVD within two months.
It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but that's been the surprisingly successful modus operandi of the Los Angeles-based production company The Asylum.
Embodying the shoot-it-fast-and-cheap ethos of Roger Corman and Sam Arkoff, The Asylum co-founders David Rimawi and David Michael Latt claim most of their movies break even within three months.
Entirely unapologetic about ripping off the titles of numerous Hollywood hits, these D.I.Y. filmmakers have produced such “mockbusters” as Transmorphers (pictured) and the sequel Transmorphers: Fall of Man, 18-Year-Old Virgin, The Day the Earth Stopped, Alan Quartermaine and the Temple of Skulls, The Da Vinci Treasure and Snakes on a Train. They pump out an average of one movie per month; almost all are available in Oz on DVD.
Founded as a distributor 13 years ago, the company branched into production in 2004, shooting direct-to-video genre titles before its executives stumbled on the idea of riding on the backs of popular Hollywood films. The first was the Latt-directed H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, which, like Steven Spielberg's epic, dealt with an alien invasion, with C. Thomas Howell rather than Tom Cruise as the hero.
How do they decide which titles, to, ah, trade off? “We look at the genre, our perception of the box office, and how we feel it will be received in the general marketplace, but primarily it's dictated by our buyers,” Latt told Moviefile. “We'll talk to Blockbuster, Hollywood [Video] and all our international buyers, and say 'Hey, is this an idea that you want us to pursue?' So we'll ask them, and they'll give us a directive, and we'll look at the numbers, and we'll say, 'Yes, we want to do a robot movie,' or a giant creature movie, or whatever it is. “
Jack Perez, who directed Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, which The Asylum launched in the US this month, explains, “They give you a title, a poster, a cast, and a formula, and then we shoot it in 12 days. We go from the idea of the movie to release date in less than two months.”
That movie features former 1980s pop star Debbie Gibson and her rumoured boyfriend, B-grade movie veteran Lorenzo Lamas; the trailer shows Mega Shark taking a fatal bite out of a passenger jet and chewing a hole in the Golden Gate Bridge, while Giant Octopus swats fighter jets out of the sky.
Latt is quick to dismiss any suggestions of plagiarism, claiming his company's practices are no worse than the major film studios' habit of stealing ideas from each other. “They're subtle,” he says of the Hollywood conglomerates. “We're a bit more audacious and obnoxious about it.”