Recently I was introduced to the Rocky Horror newsgroup. What
an exciting place. I am surprised that I had never been directed
to it before. Yes, I've been informed about it, but since my focus
was always more on Shock Treatment, instead of Rocky, I always said "One
day I'll check it out." I'm really glad I did.
Looking up the keyword there "Shock Treatment", it was interesting to hear all the comments and questions fans had about Shock Treatment. Interesting enough, there were several posts about "Why isn't it on DVD?" and "Is it true there are no more 35mm prints available?" "Can 20th Century Fox Reprint more 35mm film prints to show at theaters?" and "Will petitions help get it to DVD?" Even I responded to some of these questions but still some people were confused or still not satisfied. So I decided to do some investigation to find out the answers. What you're about to read is the result of my search.
Both Shock Treatment and it's predecessor The Rocky Horror Picture Show had a limited budget of approximately 1 million dollars to make each film. While TRHPS took a mere 8 weeks to film, ST lasted only 6 weeks. These time frame windows are for actual filming production only, and do not include post production (i.e. editing, sound, etc), marketing, promotion, distribution or process to 35mm print.
LET'S LOOK AT THE TWO FILMS INDIVIDUALLY:
TRHPS was filmed for 1.2 million dollars. It has made, to date, almost 140 million dollars in the USA alone. As you can tell, it has very much made a profit from it's million dollar budget. (NOTE: These dollar figures are for theater showings only and does not reflect sales of video, dvd, etc) When released, it bombed, but became a quick hit after it was re-released at midnight showings, thanks to the cult fan following, displaying entertainment through shadowcasts, costumes, preshows, prop-throwing, and line-shouting. It basically became a huge party inside a movie auditorium, over hundreds of theaters across the country in the '80s. By the time of the millineum change, the number of movie theaters had dropped significantly, even though Fox (specifically Lou Adler) continues to promote it via conventions, re-releases on video and DVD, reprinting the 35mm films, doll promotions, stage productions, television showings, etc. In fact, one fan suggests that as long as Lou Adler is alive, making lots of money off of it, Rocky Horror will continue to survive. In 2003, the amount of theaters showing Rocky Horror is few in comparison to its hay-day in the '80s. Does this mean that one day, Rocky Horror will be only a memory or a legend? It's quite possible...at least, as long as Lou Adler is alive.
ST is an entirely different story. It was filmed for only a million dollars. It has made, to date, only 100 thousand dollars from it's theatrical showings. No profit has been made yet. Not even near. A good reason is because there are few (if any) 35mm prints left for theaters to show it. Most of the prints have been destroyed over the years. When released, it was a bomb, and was quickly shelved. It only started showing up in theaters again when Rocky Horror conventions and Halloween "Double Features" started asking for it. Fans wanted to try to bring it to life. Efforts for audience participation came along, and each year gets better. Unfortunately, by this point, most of the prints had vanished, making efforts and goals of success more difficult. Another reason why it has a difficult time is because most people don't know about it. It would appear that the only people to know about it are Rocky Horror fans...and several of them are informed of it late in the game. And MOST Rocky Horror fans are turned off to Shock Treatment on their first viewing from video tape. MOST Shock Treatment fans, such as myself, began to enjoy it after more than one viewings of the movie on video, appreciating the songs first, then the film itself.
INFORMATION ABOUT 35mm PRINTS:
For those who don't even know what a 35mm print is, it's the movie format played at theaters. It's the "movie reel" in the projector that flashes the film onto the auditoriums large screen. Once the 35mm film is on a reel, it is connected to the projector and fed through the projector lens, where it comes out and connects to an empty reel. As the movie plays the original reel empties and the empty reel fills up with 35mm film that has already been seen. It moves in one direction only (so don't even think about asking the projectionists to "rewind" the film because you were late...)
The 35mm film (on reel) is NOT the original. The original is a NEGATIVE that was made from the director's film. The director shoots the film, makes the negative, and then FROM the negative, 35mm film prints are made. This can be VERY expensive, depending on how many prints will need to be made (based on how many theaters want it). Imagine if 2000 theaters wanted a new print, at about 1500 dollars PER PRINT. That's a lot of money to invest, especially if the movie ends up FAILING.
After a movie has it's RUN at theaters (the amount of time it plays initially), the 35mm prints are returned to the studios. Usually, a studio has a warehouse in various regions of the country for storage of 35mm prints. After a while, the storage gets full, and the OLDER titles must go. Where do they go? They are destroyed. Not that it would make much of a difference if they weren't destroyed: the longer a 35mm film print ages, the more brittle it becomes. The colors fade and the film gets damaged inside the projector. If a studio receives a print back that is damaged or faded, they often destroy them.
What happens to the original NEGATIVE? The studios would often store the negative (in case of future repressing of 35mm prints or transfers to video/DVD). However, several did not. And if the film was a disaster, and continued to be a disaster, then the negative would be destroyed. No need to hang on to anything that won't make money, and only takes up space.
ABOUT THE VIDEO/DVD RELEASES:
At first Rocky Horror went YEARS without it being released on video. Then in 1990, fans' prayers were answered. They forked out almost a hundred bucks each for the official first video release of TRHPS, to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the film. After that, the price went down and more and more video sales happened. Over time, various releases of it, both video and DVD were released, including widescreen versions (black bars on the top and bottom of screen that DO NOT remove any of the picture).
Shock Treatment, however, is a different story. It was released on video very soon after it's initial theatrical release and box office failure. It was released in pan-and-scan format (full screen/NOT widescreen) from the original negative at the time (1983). No one knows what happened to the negative since then. Most likely, it was destroyed due to it's unsuccessful run at the theaters. -- If there is no longer a negative, then all releases (present and future) are from the original TRANSFER to video...in other words, no widescreen. (Hopefully, one day, the negative will be found. That is, IF it wasn't destroyed). While video sales are only mediocre at best, it seems to score better overseas, where there have been more repressing of the video than anywhere else.
AND FINALLY, AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN FOSTER:
To find out some more specifics, I contacted John Foster, a theater manager who has a lot of inside information about 35mm distribution as well as studio information. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Shock Treatment Network: Why
is there only 1 or 2 prints left out there? What happened to all
the previously existing 35mm prints and why?
John Foster: The simple answer is that Fox has no need for prints of ST anymore. When a movie has a theatrical run, there are lots of prints. Today, the average movie has a run of anywhere from 1000 to 3000 prints made. As the movie fades away, the prints end up in regonal film depots and are stored for a time. Eventually most film prints are recycled or destroyed. Film prints are big, heavy, and take up a lot of space. There would be no point in saveing all 1000 copies of a film after it left theaters. Most companies keep a few copies in storage, for revival runs later, and dispose of the rest.
And let's face it, ST was not a hit. No one outside the Rocky community knows what it is. It made only $100,000 at the box office. Even in 1981 numbers, that's pretty bad. When we contacted Fox about booking ST along with Rocky, the guy at Fox had no idea about the movie himself.
Shock Treatment Network: Can't they just reprint some 35mm prints? How much would that cost and why or why not would it be cost effective?
John Foster: Films don't just get "reprinted." The cost of a new print is about $1500 - and that is even IF they still have the negative, which very well could have been lost long ago.
Shock Treatment Network: Someone
said that some "classic" films have been reprinted into 35mm print again.
Why not ST? (Even Rocky Horror has been reprinted over the recent
John Foster: Very few movies ever get reprinted, and that is usually for a special anniversary, like Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Laurence of Arabia, etc. ST doesn't exactly stack up to those movies. These are the kind of movies that can be shown on a relatively limited run and still attrack interest. As far as Rocky getting reprinted, I believe that was reprints, in time for it's anniversaries. And interest in Rocky at that time was very high. It was playing in over 1000 theaters in the '80s I think. Today, someone suggested it plays in about 150. Rocky Horror is barely on the radar anymore, compared to its glory years. And the Rocky prints out there are getting worn out.
Shock Treatment Network: Can't we petition them to make a new 35mm print? I mean, there's obviously a fan base (better late than never).
John Foster: No. Like I said. Only true classic movies get reprinted, and that's usually just so the studio can show off some great classic title it has in its library. Let me make this as clear as possible: Fox will NEVER reprint ST on 35mm.
Shock Treatment Network: Ok,
fine. I got it. No more 35mm prints. Let's talk about
DVD. Why hasn't Fox made it on DVD yet?
John Foster: Fox is like any other studio. It has a huge library of titles going back seventy years or so. However, the only titles that realy generate interest are new releases, hit titles from the past decade or so, and classics. It costs money to produce a DVD. Even a bare bones disc costs a lot of cash to produce, and a movie is only put out if they think they can make money off it.
Fox probably has some kind of system where they've cataloged their old titles in terms of priority for DVD production. I have a VHS copy of ST that was printed by Fox in 1993, which is a good sign. That means they felt there was sufficient interest at the time to print up a new batch of videos. Yes that was ten years ago, but a movie repressed on video ten years ago has a much better chance of getting to DVD than a movie pressed once twenty years ago. ST has had multiple presses on VHS. It will eventually be released on DVD.
The best bet ST has is its popularity in other contries. I do know that in Austrailia it was more popular than in the US and has been printed on VHS in recent years. My guess is that when it comes out on DVD, it will be there. And once a DVD has come into existance, it will only be a matter of time before it makes it to the US.
Case in point: I'm a big fan of the movie Predator 2. It wasn't a big hit in 1990, but had several video pressings. It came out on DVD in other regions two or three years ago. Finally, it came out in the US a few months ago. Predator 2 was a Fox movie, and I would be willing to bet ST follows a similar patern.
Shock Treatment Network: Hmmm.
Well, there have been several online petitions to let Fox know that the
fans want it on DVD and would be willing to buy it. Why hasn't that
John Foster: An online petition is about as useful as writting Rupurt Murdock a letter handwritten in purple ink on Paramount Pictures stationary. Online petitions are a Fanboys only environment and have never acomplished anything significant. You can find online petitions for anything, most of it garbage. TV shows with a far greater fan base than ST have been canceled even with tremendouse online petition responses.
Shock Treatment Network: So...if
it's not cost effective, why can't a smaller independant company release
it on DVD?
John Foster: Well, Fox OWNS ST, so the only way a company like Anchor Bay, or Artisian, or Good Times Video could release it would be if they were to buy the rights to do so. This costs money. But that's not to say it couldn't happen. Cult hits like Evil Dead, Highlander, and Near Dark have been released by companies other than the one who made it. But those three titles have much more name recognition than ST. St really isn't a cult hit like those movies. ST is a cult hit within a cult hit.
Shock Treatment Network: Why isn't there a WIDESCREEN version on laserdisc? This probably means the (one day released) DVD of ST will be pan and scan (full screen) too. Is this because there are no more 35mm prints for a widescreen transfer? Or because it's too costly to digitally transfer to widescreen?
John Foster: The laserdisc
was probably produced at the same time as the first video run. Widescreen
at the time was not popular like it is today, so a lot of older titles
on laser are not widescreen. My gut feeling is that when ST hits
DVD, it will simply be transfered of the same old video transfer.
It costs a lot of money to make a new digital transfer, and like I said
before, this can only be done if they still have the original negative.
What few prints are left would be too damaged to make a transfer off of.
The Secret of NIMH is a very popular title within the MGM library, and is one of their most consistant sellers. Video sales of The Secret of NIMH have dwarfed those of ST - and yet, the DVD isn't widescreen. In fact, the NIMH DVD is based on the same video transer that was done in 1990. So the VHS, laserdisc, DVD, even VCD all look exaclty the same. Of course this is MGM, not Fox, but it is the most likely scenerio if you ask me.
Shock Treatment Network: One
last question. Is there anything we can do to help us get a DVD or
newly reprinted 35mm of ST?
John Foster: Yes - you can sit, wait patiently, and stop pestering Fox. Because that will accomplish just as much as anything else.
Seriously though, the only thing you can do is to buy DVDs, specifically cult movies and obscure titles. If you haven't bought Rocky on DVD, then do so. While you're at it, go get Near Dark, Army of Darkness, Tron, and any other cult movie you can think of. Because Fox will only release it if it sees interest in the market.