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Big Bad Jim Van Bebber

Archived Editorials


Welcome to the first Doogan's View for 2000. I'm not one of those millennium-hypers -- basically because I'm a Bradbarian and believe that 2001 is the first year of the new millennium -- but those are apples and oranges. Last year saw some huge leaps in DVD sales and titles released. It was an amazing year, but get ready for another one. Judging by what's already going on in our world, this next year is going to be huge.

It looks like it's already shaping up to be a good year for DVD -- and we're not even through the first month yet. Sales are up, titles are flying off the shelves and we've already found our first big controversy. It seems the new Synapse Films DVD of Deadbeat at Dawn could be the next hot item on Ebay. According to Don May, Jr., president of Synapse, Deadbeat's writer and director Jim Van Bebber is none too pleased with the disc's transfer or the commentary track, and wants the disc pulled. Don says that the disc is already sent, and that this reaction is a little late in the process. But Jim's not one to be told no, so it appears that he's been calling genre magazines and telling everyone that the discs looks like crap (his exact words: "It sucks dick.").

I've known Don a long time now, and I have also seen the disc (you can read my review of it here). And we both don't quite know what the heck is going on in Jim's head right now. He's being quite belligerent about the whole thing, and leaving some threatening messages on the Synapse message system (along with a few other organizations). Either way (according to Synapse lawyers) Jim's "in violation of federal and state laws covering both harassment, intentional interference with business relations and prospects and defamation," and if he doesn't stop what he's doing, a court of law will be playing DVD critic.

Some facts about the disc: the transfer took over a year to complete and was supervised by Karim Hussain, a Canadian filmmaker who Jim approved of working on the film. Jim wouldn't let Synapse or Karim even look at the interpositive. He claims that he didn't even know if it still existed, and at his insistence they transferred from the 16mm A-B roll reversible film positive. This was a costly venture both time and money-wise. And it's pretty much unheard of for a low budget film transfer for a low budget DVD release, because 16mm A-B roll is a very grainy, high contrast source, that doesn't pass too well through a telecine machine. Karim Hussain (who incidentally worked for free on this project out of his prior friendship to Jim) tells me that the thing people have to keep in mind about a A-B roll transfer, is that no two shots are together. You never, ever see a shot after the other when you do this sort of transfer. On your A roll you have the shot, then there is a piece of black leader. On the B roll is when the other shot pops up. A is half the movie and B is the other half. Together there's about 1,400 cuts in the film, newly edited by Karim, and IF you see any inconsistencies in the film, it's only because you never see two shots together (and in the final product you'd have to have a pretty trained eye to notice anything). Jim points out that the problem he has with the transfer is a problem with the color correction -- but everyone who has looked at the disc doesn't see what he's talking about. The transfer honestly looks fine and any imperfections in the disc are more than likely source print problems due to the storage techniques of the material, and the fact that it's 16mm film.

On Sunday January 2nd, Jim called Don and violently proclaimed his dissatisfaction. I heard the phone messages left by Jim to Don, and they are pretty scary. There's a lot of stuff in those messages, but one thing that stands out most in my mind is when Jim refers to "watching Don like a hawk" in terms of getting his money. I asked Don about this and he found it "funny," stating that if Jim just looked at the contract he would see that he has every right to audit their books anytime he wants within reasonable business hours. Synapse is not afraid of that. When you listen to the messages, you hear Jim make reference (and remember this is all with in a 12-hour period) to not having enough money to sue him. Suddenly, a few messages later, Jim was scraping up enough to hire a private detective to investigate and watch Synapse's books. Later in the day, Jim hired an attorney to sue Synapse. He also says to Don that as long as he's straight about any royalties owed to him he will not talk about his dissatisfaction to the press. But the minute he gets the feeling that they're not being straight, he'd "cry holy hell". The problem is... the same day he said this is when he started calling magazines. That's a political and business boo-boo that has already cost Jim a few valuable friends. The whole thing seems very high school and almost unbelievably freaky.

The question remains: why didn't Jim supervise the transfer himself? Don May, Jr. had this to say about the issue: "I love Jim Van Bebber, and out of respect for Jim -- because I think he's a talented filmmaker and he deserves to work and be in this industry -- I laid low about the fact that he was in jail during the transfer. I said, look the transfer is still being delayed because we're doing an A-B roll negative and it's taking longer than we thought. That was my blanket answer (to anyone who asked about the delays). I wasn't about to tell be people that Jim Van Bebber was in jail -- because I have respect for him and I didn't want it to get out. But with him out defaming the product and the company over this, I really don't have a problem going out about something that's public record at this point. It's one of those things were we tried doing everything we could to put out this movie. Even Jim's partner Michael King said that they submitted the film to a bunch of other companies and no one wanted it except for us. I love the movie and my partner (Jerry Chandler) loved the movie and we wanted to do this thing -- we wanted to give him a chance and help him out and now he's shitting on everyone involved."

A funny bit about this -- on Thursday January 6, while I spoke with Don, there was a call-waiting buzz and Don took the call. It was Jim. When Don told Jim he couldn't talk right now, Jim told him he was lying and that he didn't have someone on the other line. He did Jim, it was me. In Don's words: "This is insane."

I wanted to get the poop from the man who actually did the transfer, Karim Hussain, and he is a bit upset. I really think that prior to this, he had really respected Jim and his work. But now Karim is done with it all. It's like his one filmmaking hero spit in his face. Karim is surprised that Jim is being so immature and reactionary about this whole thing. In his words, it's just a movie. "If he is unhappy with the transfer, that's his prerogative and that's fine -- that's totally cool. But he should deal with it in a very professional manner and explain that he's unhappy like a civilized human being. Not call up people like a caged animal raging out without any control. I find it very sad that he's been reduced to that these days. I'm very surprised." Hussain believes that the only thing "screwed up" in the transfer occurs during the end fight scene, and that's basically a fault with the source material. There are some odd color tints there, but everything else was timed the best it could be given the circumstances. The worst part about all of it is that Karim put in more than 200 hours of unpaid time to get the transfer done.

I then called Jerry Chandler, Don May's best friend and business partner. Jerry is a well-respected, well-versed business man and genre fan. The situation strikes him as a life lesson that they need to learn from and walk away. His stance on the problem with Jim is simple: "I've been friends with Don since he was in high school, and I know what kind of stickler he is. I'm sure you're aware how long it took us to get Vampyros out, and with that Don was upset even up until the last moment about the transfer not looking the way he wanted. I was expecting it to look like something horrible. I get a copy of the check disc and it's gorgeous. All the reviews so far have been great. When Don tells me that, considering the source material on Deadbeat, he is happy with it then I'm happy."

I put a call into Jim's partner Mike King, who actually shot 80% of the film. He is upset about the situation, but is not making any comments. He wants to wait until he sees the disc himself, and then he'll talk with me about any of his concerns.

I dunno about any of this. I think nothing will hurt Jim more than how Jim is acting now. This disc is a great showcase to his artistic talents, and if he's not happy, then he's going to be the only one. This film is a great gem that I hope many will see. But when news gets to me about his behavior on this, it makes me wonder how much people will want to work with him in the future. Without money, there is no external vision. And without distributors, no one will see his work. Right now, I know that Jim is not welcome at the film festival in Montreal called Fantasia because of all this. Karim Hussain will never work with him again, and neither will his friends and associates. Most importantly, Don May and Synapse don't foresee a time when they will work on any more projects with Jim. In my view, that's a real shame because this guy has a lot of talent. If you guys were lucky enough to either find a copy, or you pre-ordered one, then you'll see a talented filmmaker's work. Maybe Jim will see the positive feedback he's going to get with this disc and cool off a bit, and offer a public statement about it. I plan to talk with his partner Mike King about the disc after he gets a chance to see it, and we'll see if there's really a problem with the disc. Until then, get your hands on this disc before it disappears off the shelves of your local disc shop. It'll street next week, and once it's gone, I think you won't see it again. That's the biggest shame of all, because Jim's is a voice that should be heard -- as long as it's not yelling at you through an answering machine.

That's my view, and I'm sticking to it. I'll be back soon. 'Til then, keep spinning those discs...

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com


Previous Editorials:

Doogan's list of films that damn well ought to be on DVD, Round Two 11/10/99
Life is But a Dreamcast 9/9/99
Doogan's list of films that damn well ought to be on DVD! 8/18/99
Doogan talks Oliver Stone, NBK, and common sense 3/15/99
Doogan on the late Stanley Kubrick 3/9/99
What Doogan Did on his Winter Holiday 3/1/99
Interview with Filmmaker Lance Mungia 11/12/98


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