In 1997, director David Michael Latt and producers David Rimawi and Sherri Strain decided to form a production company to make movies with minuscule budgets, B-list talent, low production values, substandard visual effects, and high profits. The studio is Asylum, and their high profits come from straight-to-video, science fiction B-movie “mockbusters” such as Sharknado, Transmorphers, and Snakes on a Train.
The “mockbuster” phenomenon started in 2005 when Asylum and Steven Spielberg both released films based on the same property: H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Asylum’s version achieved accidental success when the Blockbuster video chain ordered 100,000 copies of Asylum’s War of the Worlds. This caused Asylum to rethink their business model.
The Asylum formula is very precise. In their almost twenty year existence, Asylum has yet to lose money on a release. Their films release straight-to-video, on basic cable networks, and in international markets. They know what their audience wants – catering each film released to a specific market. For example, the studio responds directly to the wants of distributors. Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus was made for a Japanese distributor who asked Asylum for a film where a shark fights an octopus. Another example would be Sunday School Musical (2008), which was requested by a distributor who wanted a low budget, faith-based film.
Their business model relies upon films that have a high chance of being sold and usually ride the coattails of whichever big budget/high grossing film is currently trending. Paul Bales, the newest partner at Asylum, stated, “We don’t make a movie unless we know where we’re going to sell it, so we don’t even start to film until we have a good idea of getting money back.” Similarly, Latt has said, “We don’t make a film for a dollar more than we know we can sell it for.”
Asylum has a proven track record. Amidst the negative press, cheesy performances, laughable effects, and high profile lawsuits, Asylum’s films still manage to turn profits. They know what their audience wants and listen to their distributors and tailor each film to the ever-changing market. This is a lesson all filmmakers can learn from the Asylum business model.
Jesse Timm & Mike Hale