In the late 1980s, Craig and Amy ran the only video store in a small midwestern Illinois town. The couple were motivated by their ability to bring low budget B-list movies, alongside the A-listers, to the people who resided there. For the first time in history, the majority of lower and middle class families could experience films in the comfort of their own home utilizing Video Home System – VHS – tapes. Spaghetti westerns, low budget horror, imported British comedy, recorded theatrical plays, and various cartoons were just a handful of the items Craig wanted to ensure their customers could get a hold of outside of the strict broadcasting schedules local television could offer.
“The closest video store, aside from us, was at least thirty minutes away, and I wanted to make more niche items available, things that were unlikely to ever reach broadcast TV or weren’t broadcast often,” Craig reminisced, “That was the most fulfilling aspect to me.”
“I watched small town people gain access to documentaries and British TV and independent films they never knew existed, but helped change their world views,” added Amy, “I felt it was an impactful service we provided.”
VHS tapes were often too expensive for most households to own at the time. A family might be able to afford a television and a VCR. However, being able to consistently buy VHS tapes wasn’t financially accessible, which gave birth to the video rental stores, like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, where people could pay to rent their favorite movies and tv shows. Craig spoke about how this differed from today’s almost unlimited streaming services, “You were forced to plan out what you would watch instead of spending hours trying to decide what to watch like today.”
The shift from film and tv shows being exclusive to theaters or limited to broadcasting schedules, to being prerecorded onto VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, to being almost unlimited media streams has allowed the public to experience recorded media in drastically differing facets.
Amy noted that when film and television switched from VHS tapes to DVD format, producers could now create additional media, often called ‘extra features’, that would further hook the target audiences. Blooper reels, director’s commentary, or short 3–5-minute films were often the most popular additions. Streaming services now, such as Netflix and Disney+, often release short documentary style films after major movie releases showing the filming processes. These types of features tend to foster a more personal connection between audiences, actors, and the creators; one example being blooper reels. With these additions, audiences could share the amusing relatable human experiences, like forgetting lines or laughing during a serious scene, that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible in a theater showing.
However, the exclusivity of the theaters still played an important role in the experiences that shaped Craig and Amy’s childhoods. When asked about growing up during a time where multiple cult classic films came out, such as The Evil Dead and Rocky Horror Picture Show, Amy had this to say, “It was almost like a rite of passage, being old enough to get into the midnight showing of Rocky Horror at the local theater and being initiated in by the staff playing out the movie live was something I loved.”
The 70s and 80s created a huge shift in film media, Hollywood was moving out of the golden age and took on an anarchic mindset, seeking new ways to hook younger audiences. Directors were now praised for their artistic work, instead of being viewed as exclusively technical participants, and freshly graduated film students, such as Stephen Spielberg and Ridley Scott, were offered chances to create the newest sci-fi, action, and horror films that are still popular today.
More than 30 years later, television and films have drastically changed in presentation and format, video stores are all but a myth older generations reminisce over, yet Craig and Amy still enjoy sharing British TV shows, various documentaries, and low budget independent films together and with others. It is thanks to their love for underappreciated films that they impacted more than just themselves, once upon a time, they cultivated a media buzz that might not have otherwise existed for one small midwestern town.