Why Makeflix?

Posted by J.R. Bookwalter on

I never wanted to be a distributor. It was only after experiencing frustration with the way my early films were marketed that I decided to take matters into my own hands. The first ill-fated attempt was in late 1987 with the original BASIC HOW-TO HALLOWEEN MAKEUPS tape produced mere weeks before the end of October, which sold rather poorly.

Two years later, after seeing how few Akron-area video stores picked up ROBOT NINJA and SKINNED ALIVE from Cinema Home Video, I decided to take matters into my own hands and become a wholesaler for the label. Despite strong initial sales, that also proved to be a short-lived exercise in frustration.

Then came Tempe Video, which launched in 1991 with a reboot (and follow-up volume) of the BASIC HOW-TO HALLOWEEN MAKEUPS special interest tape created four years earlier. The next 17 years were an often bumpy ride, with a few modest successes and a whole string of failures racked up across countless VHS and DVD releases. Although Tempe recently closed its doors, in truth the end came in 2008, once trustworthy supporters like Netflix decided to discard indie labels in favor of wooing Hollywood on their way to dominating online streaming.

In 1991, the home video market was a very different landscape than it is today. VHS tapes didn't need UPC barcodes, there was no Amazon.com, and most consumers were content to rent, rather than own, videocassettes. Largely shunned by mainstream wholesalers, there was a decent living to be made selling to "boiler room" wholesalers, who would buy tapes by the case, pay UPS C.O.D. (cash on delivery), and make money putting your product onto the shelves of mom-and-pop video stores from coast to coast. On the flip side, we'd also make a few bucks selling direct to collectors through mail order, back in the days before the internet connected everyone to everything ever made.

Those were the salad days, and damn, I sure do miss them! With the arrival of DVD in 1997, things got better and worse at the same time. On the plus side, movies could look and sound better than ever, supplemented by as many commentaries, behind-the-scenes, and other extras as we could pack on a disc. The market also opened its doors to smaller labels — if only just a crack.

On the downside, manufacturing was a killer. Unlike VHS where you could duplicate a few hundred tapes at a time, DVD required stamping discs by the thousands. In the heyday of Tempe DVD, a single-layer disc required a minimum run of at least 2,000 discs, while the more spacious dual-layer DVD-9 could only be done if you were willing to press 3,000 at once. That was all well and good if you had a popular title, but many of the no-budget indies I was distributing were lucky to even sell 1,000 units over time.

Eventually, I found creative ways to get rid of those extra discs. To save on storage space, I'd only package up the first 1,000 units, keeping the rest as bulk disc spindles. Many bulk discs wound up being repurposed for multi-disc reissues with new artwork, packaged under lurid titles like EYE FOR TERROR, NIGHT CREATURES, and QUEER FEAR. But even this scheme wasn't enough, and to this day I'm still sitting on thousands of discs and artwork without cases.

Retail distribution is also a pain in the ass. Today, it's impossible to get your product into online retailers without using a middleman, who generally takes 30 percent of the already meager wholesale price, offers little in the way of sales support, and takes forever to pay. You can deal directly with Amazon, but they're not particularly fair to little guys like myself. Do you realize that for every disc Tempe sold through Amazon, the House of Bezos kept a whopping 55 percent? Although I'll continue selling packaged discs through Amazon, I've had to increase retail prices there, effective April 1 — after Amazon takes their generous slice of the pie, there just isn't enough profit on catalog titles to keep prices low any longer.

After 33 years chasing the holy grail of retail shelves only to be repeatedly burned in the process, late last year I made the decision to bury Tempe Video in a shallow grave. The old distribution model clearly wasn't working anymore, and I had largely relegated the business to part-time status a decade earlier anyway. During that time, studios like Warner Brothers and Sony began dabbling in "manufacturing on demand" (MOD), an effort to market professionally produced DVDs that were burned as needed, rather than replicating thousands of discs that might take years to sell through.

At first, die-hard collectors were opposed to the idea, arguing that burned discs didn't have the same shelf life as replicated ones, or had inferior picture and sound, despite being encoded and authored exactly the same way. Over time, as Warner Archive and the like became a viable way for the studios to unload a treasure trove of content from their vaults that would never have seen the light of day otherwise, collectors started to come around.

Naturally, I couldn't resist dabbling in MOD in later years, investing in hardware to duplicate and print on my own discs, then assemble them with the same quality wraps, which could be printed in runs as low as 500 pieces. I even came up with the clever idea to print different artwork on each side, so a single wrap could be used for two different titles; this approach even saved money on Special Edition titles by printing liner notes on the reverse side and using clear cases, rather than printing separate booklets.

Unfortunately, at the time MOD was shunned by Netflix, so Tempe releases continued to be replicated until 2015, when FILTHY McNASTY 4: CARNAL HOLOCAUST became the first title to be manufactured on demand. After that, once the original run of discs for a given title sold out, I would keep it in circulation by making them as needed, rather than repressing.

Today, most replicators are happy to do minimum runs of 1,000 or even 500 units, but with no hope of retail sales — and few brick-and-mortar stores left to stock them in the first place — even this is too many. It's for this reason I proclaimed Tempe's final release (ROBOT NINJA Ultimate Edition Blu-ray) would be the last — although in this case, "last" refers to replicated discs.

My plans for Makeflix go beyond just selling the former Tempe catalog direct to fans and collectors. Two years ago, I signed a deal with Allied Vaughn, the company that powers MOD powerhouses like Warner Archive, Sony Choice, and 150 other labels. This alliance will allow me to not only manufacture DVDs, CDs, and Blu-rays on-demand, but also make them available for sale across a vast swath of internet retailers including BestBuy.com, Walmart.com, Deep Discount, and many others.

Most of the classic Tempe DVD lineup is also here, now sold as affordable "No-Case Discs." Rather than package up the existing inventory of bulk discs in storage, I've decided to sell just the disc and artwork — you supply the case, and save a bunch of money in the process. This approach builds upon the popularity of Tempe's "Dollar Disc" offering, which proved to be quite popular with customers.

And yes, there are new releases planned as well, with a number of VHS and DVD-era favorites making the jump to Blu-ray with higher bitrate encoding, DTS-HD Master Audio sound, and plenty of extras, both new and old. So be sure to check back regularly to see what's coming down the pipeline.

In the meantime, kick the tires and maybe buy a few things to fill out your collection! International customers will be thrilled to find that Makeflix offers weight-based shipping, which should help all customers save money. This store also offers more ways to pay, as well as better package tracking options that include SMS text messages as well as email. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Welcome and kind regards,
J.R. BOOKWALTER
Founder/Owner/Janitor, Makeflix.com

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