Since 1981, A&O’s annual B-Fest has been airing the worst of what low-budget B-movies have to offer for 24 hours straight. The giant underground festival in Norris attracts not only Northwestern students, but also bad movie lovers from all over nearby schools and states. This year, among the crowds were Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman of Red Letter Media, the Wisconsin-based video production company most famous for their epic, feature-length Star Wars reviews.
“There are always some really good bad movies and some bad movies, of course. Well, they’re all bad movies,” said Stoklasa while reflecting on past B-Fests. After adding up partial time spent at previous years, this was his second full year of attendance. Meanwhile, Bauman has been coming for the past five years, watching anything from cheap 50s horror like The Wasp Woman to the 70s Chuck Norris flick Breaker! Breaker! to the legendarily awful midnight classic Plan 9 from Outer Space. “It’s a collective experience of pain of torture,” Stoklasa continued. Bauman added that while the event is “fun” and “unique,” it’s also “a descent into madness. We came up with the idea of bringing air fresheners to keep surrounding our perimeter.”
Other past favorites included Rhinestone starring Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton and To Catch a Yeti featuring Meat Loaf and a creepy yeti puppet.
When they aren’t attending 24-hour schlock fests, Stoklasa and Bauman are busy working on their website RedLetterMedia.com. While their initial boost in popularity may have come from the epic 70-minute long deconstruction of The Phantom Menace by the psychotic Mr. Plinkett character, since then the company has been creating new kinds of content. “We’re looking to add a little more variety to the site,” said Bauman.
Red Letter Media’s other endeavors include the movie review show “Half in the Bag,” the sporadic video game review show “Game Station 2.0,” and most recently “Best of the Worst,” a show tackling movies that would fit right in at B-Fest. “There will still be the occasional Plinkett reviews, because they take a long time to make, but we’re branching off into other things. We’re also doing another feature film in the spring,” said Stoklasa. This will be their first feature since their 2010 horror-comedy Feeding Frenzy.
One of the side effects of this growth and increased exposure is being recognized by Red Letter Media’s expanding number of fans. While B-Fest seems like a natural place to get noticed, considering they have helped
promote it on their show, the two have also been spotted at some more surprising places. “I was at a restaurant and it was completely empty except for one person who happened to recognize me,” recalled Bauman. “As he was leaving he came over and I was like oh my god you were sitting behind me the whole time. I hope I didn’t say anything horribly embarrassing.”
Stoklasa also remembered a curious meeting he had with a fan at a restaurant. “There was a middle-aged guy wearing a suit who didn’t seem like a movie nerd and he’s there with his wife kind of looking at me. Then at the end he goes ‘Are you Mike from Red Letter Media?’ So yeah it happens a couple times.”
Before returning to the celebration of bad movies, it only seemed appropriate to ask Stoklasa and Bauman for their thoughts on the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII and its new director J.J. Abrams. “I have a wait and see attitude about it. It’s not like you can ruin Star Wars anymore,” said Bauman. “I’m curious but I think J.J. Abrams is a weird choice. He might have been reasonable if he hadn’t done Star Trek already.”
Stoklasa agreed that the jump from one franchise to the other was an odd decision. “Will he stop making Star Trek movies then? They’re such different franchises. Star Trek was more intellectual and now it’s not. We need to flip the coin and have a really smart director make a slow, cerebral Star Wars movie. But that’ll never happen.” Ultimately though, they’re both just happy the franchise is finally out of the hands of its creator. Stoklasa believes that “everyone will agree that it couldn’t get worse than George Lucas. My dad or whoever could’ve done it. Just pull some guy off the street and they could do a better job.”
- Photo by Jordan Minor.