What comes to mind when you think of raunchy lowest-common-denominator B-Movies? Full Moon? Not even close. The Asylum (Sharknado)? Nope. Keep going. Troma? Think lower. Have you ever heard of Low-Budget Pictures? No? Well, they may be the most productive, if not the most recognizable film companies peddling schlock. Zero Budget Heroes: The Legend of Chris Seaver and Low-Budget Pictures is a loving retrospective of making DIY fun sleazy and cheap films. Given the tawdry source material, this is a thought-provoking and sentimental documentary worth watching, particularly for those with an interest in the film making process.
The Warped Dimension Film Festival is a celebration of independent films. The festival is an offshoot of the somewhat larger Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, the San Francisco parent event that has a rebellious independent streak itself. And few production outfits scream INDEPENDENT FILM like Low-Budget Pictures. Never heard of them? Neither had I, until I watched this documentary.
Low-Budget Pictures (LBP) was the concoction of Rochester filmmaker Chris Seaver, a true DIY movie making maverick. At its roots, it is not an unfamiliar story: As a child, Seaver got hold of a VHS camera, after seeing a Nightmare on Elm Street, and committing himself to creating films like that on his own… with the videocamera and his high school buddies. They were the creative kids in a small western New York community, and they were able to turn their town into a video playground. In truth, it never got a whole lot more complicated than that.
Seaver was dedicated to making things his own way, and he had an abiding love for trashy B-Movies. The cameras got better. The productions got larger and more organized, but essentially these films were the effort of this man, his friends, and whomever was willing to outrageous things in the name of bad taste and good fun.
He knew that in order to get attention, crazy titles for his films were his way to get people to buy his DVD’s.
His titles included:
Twelve Inches of Dangling Fury
The Terror of Blood Fart Lake
Most Heat (and its sequels Wet Heat, and Moist Fury)
Teen-Ape vs. the Nazi Monster Apocalypse (Part of a series of Teen-Ape Movies)
Taintlight (A Twilight Spoof)
Bloody Giblets: The Legend of Lady Vandalay
Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker
All told, there are 54 Low-Budget Pictures Titles, created in a span from 1993 to 2011, when Seaver closed the doors on LBP and started up again as Warlock Home Video which continued on until 2015. Zach Olivares, and his documentary crew was able to interview a huge quantity of people involved with LBP all of whom waxed fondly of their memories doing these movies.
This was the ultimate DIY film experience. The actors were the crew and the crew were the actors. Seaver wrote, directed, edited, and produced these films, and distributed them at film festivals and fan conventions on DVD’s. Everyone did favors for everyone else, and nobody got paid much if anything. If you look on IMDB, you will see that the biggest budget listed is a miniscule, unfathomable $10,000 for Quest for the Egg-Salad, which just happened to have Lloyd Kaufman in it. Many of the movies were announced to have been made for $500.
That relationship with Kaufman, and Troma productions seemed to be a natural fit. Brought together by the Matt Stone and Trey Parker (South Park) people, who asked Seaver “Why haven’t you sent your stuff to Troma?” If Troma is the bigger NYC outfit by comparison to LBP, that gives a bit of perspective. Similar missions. Similar aesthetics. But such good things only go so far, as the independent spirit that drives both companies came to an ugly head when the two did a joint project together in the late 2000’s.
If the story is of the rise and fall and rise again of LBP and its later incarnation Warlock, it is the fall that seems to have left a major dent in Seaver’s psyche. Even in the post-screening Q&A at Warped Dimension, Seaver was rather maudlin about the experience. While for much of the documentary, you could sense the joyous manic energy and sheer wackiness of the productions, eventually the grind seemed to have gotten the better of the central figure of the company. Seaver was LBP, and when he wore down, so did the company.
I found the documentary to be curiously inspirational. I am not a huge fan of really trashy B-Movies, but I have found myself incredibly curious about the LBP offerings. They are so outrageous and absurd that I will have to experience some of these first-hand. I would love to see Seaver get up off the mat, and give it another try, but the youthful devil-may-care attitude of the original films, which had a tasteless audacity about them may not be repeatable by this production family. Maturity has a way of cleaning up the edges. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing.
Warlock films was a move towards a more conventional approach. And Seaver has since been making Star Wars fan documentaries, which given the background props seen in this documentary does not surprise me, even if the catalog from LBP is the farthest thing from family friendly big budget productions that you can get.
I applaud Olivares’ willingness to track the decline of the company. Clearly he presented himself to Seaver at a time when Seaver had pretty much packed up his bags. The documentary is a bit too long, and there are times where it feels like the same ground is being covered, but the essentials are laid bare, and perhaps the additional footage provides a foundation of understanding for the joys and perils of doing it all on your own. A documentary needs to have a compelling central subject, and with Low Budget Pictures, you have one.
This is Olivares’ first documentary as a director, and it’s so new it doesn’t evan have an IMdB listing. Ironically, the film quality and the editing of the documentary is probably more organized than your average grindhouse film, and the care and thought in the editing (always the key for a successful documentary) was clean and easy to follow. The documentary built in a manner that had you admiring the denoument, the closing interview with Seaver reflecting on his legacy.
Zero Budget Heroes: The Legend of Chris Seaver and Low Budget Pictures would certainly receive an R-Rating for language, raunchiness and bad taste. But, like its source material, it certainly is not going to get an MPAA rating. A film like this is likely going to be on the film festival circuit for a while, and it will be interesting to see if it gets picked up by a digital distributor. If you want to catch any of the LBP movies, there are a number of them available on Amazon Prime.