When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, as the saying goes. So when a group of employees learned the video store they worked for would be closing this summer, they decided to make a comedy series about it.
Support Your Local Video Store is the brainchild of sketch comedy troupe Red Wheelbarrow, which includes two longtime employees of Videomatica. The Kitsilano video store announced last month it would be closing for good this summer after 28 years, due to declining business and an increasing number of people opting to download or stream their movies online. Slated for six episodes, the web series, which begins shooting next week, follows the dying days of an unnamed video store and the absurd and often geeky situations its three rental clerks find themselves in.
Joe Balogh, the rentals manager at Videomatica, says the characters and storylines are loosely based on him and Videomatica's sales manager BJ Summers who also co-wrote, co-produced and acts in the series, but the idea for making a comedy set in a video store has been in the works for some time.
"I think the fact that the store is closing sort of gave us a kick from behind to do it, but it has been something we've discussed doing forever, pretty much as long as I've worked there," says Balogh, who's been with Videomatica since 2004. "The place is a little bit absurd in its own way, so it's perfect fodder for something like a comedy series."
A promo video for the series depicts a middle-aged woman and her dog curling up to a laptop computer to watch a movie online. "Thank you, Internet, for letting me watch whatever I want whenever I want," she beams. "Now I'll never have to go back to that video store ever again." The scene then cuts to a lonely video store clerk, played by Summers, calling out into the night, "Hello, is anybody there? Anyone?"
Balogh says there's a certain amount of gallows humour involved in the show, but it has more to do with taking a sad situation and trying to make it funny. "We've seen so many sad faces over the last little while, and we just want to make them smile for a change. Everybody that walks in the door wants to sob at me, and I want to make them laugh."
That said, developing a series based on the current woes facing video stores has been a cathartic experience for the show's creators, who also include Andria Papineau and Dave Ohlin.
"It's a way for us to get some closure and for all the people in the community that we've become friends with over the years to get some closure as well," Balogh says. "It just makes sense."
Although there are only six episodes planned, Balogh says there's a donation canister on the counter of Videomatica to help fund the project and even additional episodes if enough money is raised. As for celebrity customers, of which Videomatica has had a few, including Johnny Depp, David Bowie, Colin Firth and Jodie Foster, Balogh says he's easily bribable. "We haven't written in any celebrities yet. But if we get any celebrities who want to help us out, we could certainly make a part for them."
The show will be shot on location, at night during Videomatica's off hours, and the creators hope to air the first episode online by the end of June and are considering setting up a Support Your Local Video Store website. Otherwise they'll likely air the episodes on a video sharing site such as vimeo.com.
Of course the irony that they're making a comedy series about the last days of a video store for the very medium that is blamed for the demise of video stores is not lost on Balogh.
"We've definitely noticed the irony ourselves," Balogh says. "But it is the easiest way for us to distribute and at this point there's not going to be any other place to release these things eventually on DVD if there are any stores left in the long run. It's just indicative of the way things are going that we're making a comedy about a dying video store and posting it on the Internet. It just shows that that's the way the culture is going."
For a sneak peak, go to vimeo.com/24554002.