CONFESSIONS OF A VIDEO BOOTLEGGER

This story may or may not be true, depending on the statutes of limitation for copyright infringement.

This is the story of KID A and KID B. The kids loved movies. The kids wanted to make movies. The kids were not above breaking the law for the sake of their cinematic education. Mommies and Daddies weren’t paying for film school, and being kids of the 90’s, their heads will filmed with sugarplums… cocaine fueled sugarplums who used to work in video stores and were now making the most influential films of the 90’s. Films that KID A and KID B would skip school to see. These sugarplums didn’t go to no goddamned film school. They didn’t kiss the asses of film execs and go through the rungs of being a personal assistant for some dickhead producer or overrated movie star. These sugarplums broke the rules and wrote some killer scripts, or made their own action films in Mexico for $7,000 raised by subjecting themselves to medical experiments. KID A and KID B had fancy plans, but needed an education. An education built on late fees from Blockbuster.

It started in 1996. KID A was lucky enough to be a teacher’s assistant for his school’s AV class during his freshman year, a rarity for a kid that young. Having access to the equipment in the AV club- cameras, tape decks, editing suites… KID A started putting things together. At first KID A used his access of this primo equipment to make skate videos for his friends. He couldn’t skate for shit, but he had a fisheye lens and a VHS-C, so that was good enough to get in with the cool kids. He learned how to use the analog editing suite to make demo tapes for the skater punks, some of his stuff even made it into compilation tapes you could buy at Zoomies and Skate-Shops. But this was kid stuff. KID A wanted to do more.

Over the next year, KID A would make short films, music videos, and “fake trailers” for imaginary movies with the equipment from his AV class. These were a big hit with the kids in school. Some of the projects even got played during school assemblies. The attention he was getting was like a drug, but he wanted more than making silly assembly videos of football highlights. He wanted to make a movie, but how?

KID A met KID B in the summer of 96. Both of them had been lucky enough to grow up with premium cable and a VCR, so they already had an extensive knowledge of movies. KID A had access to premium editing and recording equipment and many times had used the multitude of VCR decks to make copies of skate videos for all skater punks in the area code. KID B had stolen a “VIDEO CLARITY ENHANCER” from his brother. It’s selling point was to enhance the clarity of one video cassette to another during the recording process. It’s real purpose though was to remove the “scrambling” copyright protection on studio released VHS tapes of movies and TV shows that prevented bootleggers from selling high quality copies of them on the street.

At first, KID A and KID B used their newly acquired equipment to make a library for themselves. They would go to the local Blockbuster or family owned video store, rent a new release, dub the tape, and began to build an impressive collection of films which they watched religiously. KID B discovered that a local video store had started a “rewards” program to try to compete with the big chain franchises. For every 5 rentals, you’d get a free rental, however this was a “punch card” program, so if one had a star shaped hole puncher, one could technically get a free rental every visit, therefore building one’s collection of films to duplicate.

Soon they were watching 10-15 movies a week, bootlegging the ones that they liked best and adding them to their collection. 50 tapes grew to 100, 100 grew to 200, soon there were more than 400. Through his connections from his AV class, KID A had an endless supply of blank video cassettes. One day KID A was thumbing through his book of CULT MOVIES, hunting for titles that they had not acquired yet. Some of the cassettes were rare and expensive, so he had little hope of ever finding them in his little town. He desperately wanted to see some of the films featured in FANGORIA and SCREAM magazines. Movies like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, and THE DRILLER KILLER. Sometimes he’d get lucky and find them at the artsy movie theater downtown that had a video store in the basement where he could find CRITERION COLLECTION films, Kung Fu flicks and Video Nasties. More films for the collection. Must keep collecting! Must keep watching!

He found a copy of Cannibal Holocaust available to order by mail in the back of Fangoria. Fifty Bucks, plus shipping. He had the money, but it would be a lot to lose if it turned out to be a scam. If there was only a way to see without getting ripped off. One day he mentioned to the kids in his AV class that he was getting a copy. They knew he had quite the collection and a few of them offered him 10 bucks for a copy. He brought this idea to KID B, who agreed that this could be a good way to make some money to add to their collection. Together they bought Cannibal Holocaust with money fronted by the kids from class. Three weeks later it arrived, a piss poor bootleg copy in a box that was printed off a personal computer. When the filmed played, the picture was so fuzzy that you could barely make anything out, but once your eyes adjusted you could get the idea. Despite the quality, they dubbed a bunch of copies and brought them to the kids at the AV club. To their surprise, the kids didn’t complain, and asked what other obscure titles they had.

That was it. Before you knew it they were making dub after dub of Evil Dead 2, Zombie, Last House on the Left… Kids were buying them left and right and at five dollars a pop it helped fund KID A and KID B’S expensive hobby. This went on for several years, and by the time VHS started going by way of the dinosaurs, their collection was nearly a thousand. DVD’s were the new thing. With them you could get all the features that the wealthy enjoyed on Laserdisc, but now affordably and without having to flip the disc halfway through. The kids’ taste for director commentary, behind the scenes features, WIDESCREEN grew, and those old bootleg tapes just wouldn’t cut it anymore. Ceremoniously, KID A and KID B packed them all up in boxes and took them to back of the local thrift store where dumpster diving teens rummaged for treasures. These were the future hipsters, the vintage clothing aficionados, the reason why vinyl lp’s are so goddamned expensive. They left the boxes out there in the open, hoping that one of these kiddos saw the true treasures within. Maybe one of them would go on to talk about the shower scene in DRESSED TO KILL, or the infamous decapitation in THE OMEN.

Once a collector, always a collector. Despite the fact that pretty much everything ever made has been digitized and streamed through the internet in one form or another, nothing beats the feeling of owning something. These days KID A and KID B feel they owe it to the film makers whose art they copied (albeit out of love and the desire to see more of their art), so they urge the cinema lovers out there to never give up on physical media. Buy that Blu-Ray that someone did the artwork for. Pay the thirty bucks for that album, it’s worth it. And while the questionable actions of KID A and KID B does weigh on their conscience from time to time, their mission to bring those forgotten gems and obscure works of art to the masses continues.

Keep Watching! Until Next Time!

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