Go…Direct to Video: Andrew Bonazelli Speaks

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into your favorite online bookseller…

DTV — the excellent rock ’em, sock ’em ode to the heyday of 80s larger-than-life action film excess and its absurdist/dehumanizing aftermath from Decibel Managing Editor & novelist Andrew Bonazelli — is back in a brand new edition, complete with its appropriately insane soundtrack.

Here’s the blurb:

In the mid-1990s, Burke Knox and Pierre-Georges Philippe were second only to Arnold and Sly on the action hero food chain. Today, they’re bloated punchlines pushing 50. Surviving an onslaught of personal and professional lows, the former rivals strike up an unlikely friendship. When a mysterious opportunity for a joint comeback arises, there are only three things for Burke and Pi-Gi to do: roundhouse fate in the jaw, bend its elbow 90 degrees the wrong way, and bring the pain Direct to Video.

And here is our conversation with the man himself…

So. Virtually every decent action yarn seems to kick off with either a murdered wife/girlfriend/mentor, a unacceptable no-honor-among-thieves double-cross, a ignoble past flashback that will require a present day righteous vengeance for atonement, or a hot aerobics instructor possessed by the spirit of an malevolent ninja. Does the DTV origin story meet any of those criteria?

The last one. But then I turned “hot aerobics instructor” into “chubby has-been action stars” and “the spirit of an evil ninja” into “crippling existential ennui.” The topless scenes left a lot to be desired, sadly.

Despite one of the aforementioned past-their-primers Burke Knox dubbing his remaining enthusiastic fans “everyday basement-dwelling orca” and “Sharpie-wielding Action Con mouth-breather,” the book is obviously a labor of love.

You know how everybody laughs at the Rocky IV montage(s) or the three or four wiseguy monologues they inexplicably give Seagal in Out for Justice? I watch that stuff and I’m like, Fuck yes, thank you. That’s how I interpreted it when I was a kid, at least — This fucking rules — and just because I’m an “adult” now doesn’t mean that anything’s really changed. I mean, I have like ten or twelve Criterion DVDs, but I don’t know that my taste is necessarily more refined today. The preponderance of irony and self-awareness in pop culture has inevitably kinda warped my perception of Van Damme — Pierre-Georges Philippe in the book — and Seagal — Burke Knox — but not that much. There are a lot of things they do onscreen that people find laughable, but I find endearing — not just JCVD’s ass shots. Really, DTV is more of a love letter to people who are obsessed with JCVD’s first seven-ish movies and Seagal’s first six than to action cinema at large.

Did you see delving into this subject matter as a way to justify your cultural adolescence?

I should probably be insulted by this question, but sure, I guess.


DTV feels to me like a bit of a departure in both tone and narrative from your first three books — a dark, harrowing vibe still colors the background, but there is also some inherent absurdism and comic relief in dealing with past their prime action stars and slimy managers, etcetera. Did your process — for lack of a better word — differ this time out?

I’m pretty useless with these kinds of questions because I get super intensely/annoyingly involved in a fiction project then forget everything about it, like, the second it becomes a physical reality. But I seem to recall feeling that those first three short novels were a little too melodramatic, and being more excited about going the route you described, going a bit more absurdist. The problem is you’d have to really know the mannerisms and plotlines of those old JCVD and Seagal movies to understand half the jokes in the book. Well, it’s not that much of a problem because I’m a selfish asshole who honestly just writes for myself, but still…

One thread that runs through the book that really resonated with me was this idea of individuals rising or falling according to expectations. There is something almost poignant in the early part of DTV about the burden these former stars carry from the personal implications of going…direct-to-video. And then something perversely Harold Ramis-ian and uplifting about watching these sloppy underdogs bringing the brutal in an attempt triumph once again. Do you have any thoughts on that or would you rather just take this as an opportunity to make fun of me for being such a fucking sissy?

“Almost poignant”…I’m swooning. Anyway, this probably isn’t the answer you’re looking for, but I have little patience for people who have achieved great personal success/wealth/notoriety bemoaning their standing when things go awry. And it really drives me up the wall when everyday people buy into that shit — we all tend to think we “know” celebrities, or at the very least “understand” them based on, like, 10 minutes of a podcast. I feel so bad for her. He really has his head on straight; etcetera, etcetera. It’s gross. Anybody who has ever accomplished anything on the scale of ascertaining global film stardom really needs to fuck off if they’re upset when things finally go south. So, I doubt that I was making any sort of grandiose statement on “individuals rising or falling according to expectations”; it was more like me taking the easy road and throwing darts at their stereotypically bloated, self-obsessed personas. Your interpretation is a lot more interesting. You write the sequel.

How far along in the process of conceiving and/or executing DTV did you get the idea for a soundtrack?

Well, I’ve saved over two hundred emails about this particular aspect of this monstrosity, so I can answer authoritatively. I guess around March 2011, I emailed Albert to say I was almost finished with a final-ish draft and wanted to do a soundtrack. As always — always, and I’m not just saying this because he’s my direct superior and close friend and will maybe skim over this interview when he’s not juggling fatherhood and expanding the scope of this magazine — he was extremely supportive and sent me emails for many of the musicians. Not to come off like a bitter cunt, but I recall pitching a bunch of fairly prominent labels about DTV and nobody was super interested in making it happen. So, it is to David Hall’s great credit that he took the time to help organize this and ultimately release it on Handshake, Inc. That experience taught me to not get too pissy when your brilliant idea doesn’t blow up the world’s skirt. DIY or die.


Tell me a little about your pitch when approaching bands.

It was a little complicated. Some of the material was pre-existing. Some songs, like the Atlas Moth’s cover of Hooray for Earth needed to be explained a little. Matthew Widener of Cretin went way the fuck out of his way and wrote an actual theme for the comeback movie that Burke and Pierre-Georges embark upon in the novel. I gave everyone a brief plot synopsis, gauged their interest, then offered as much carte blanche as possible. That the vast majority of the bands did this for free on their spare time is fucking incredible.

Not only did you get some amazing bands to participate, but they obviously took the project seriously. Did the end result exceed your expectations?

Absolutely. And that’s why I wanted to reissue the book and soundtrack through Towering Achievements. David and I only had enough money for a very small initial print run, but I wanted the novel and soundtrack to exist in perpetuity. Regardless of how finite DTV‘s audience may be, I think most people at least think it’s a good idea. Getting them to actually read and listen is more challenging, but not impossible. If you go balls-deep the DTV page on Towering Achievements, you’ll find that certain formats of the soundtrack and story are more or less free. But there is a DVD edition that offers new cover art, a CD of the soundtrack and a Kindle link for the book — all of that money’s going to the bands, so I would really encourage anybody who’s curious to check that out. They fucking deserve it.

The packaging of both the first and second editions of DTV is pretty novel. How important is that aspect of this for you? Do you believe writers will have to think more creatively about this aspect as books eventually become as pirate-able as music?

Well, I don’t think anyone will ever have the desire to pirate anything I do, so that’ll never be a going concern. People who have to worry about that — uh, me not there yet. They’re on their own. Like most self-stylized novelists without an audience, I just want people to a) read the thing, and b) (optional) get something out of it. Seeing what Justin Smith has accomplished via Vitriol Records — and specifically the entire Graf Orlock discography — made me think I could do something similar. It takes a long-ass time to make a unique physical variation of a record or book or whatever, but it’s so much cooler having something handmade or atypical, isn’t it? This is so important to me that it’s the guiding principle of Towering Achievements.

Considering your last two books and this new Towering Achievements project, I wonder if you’re trying to marry not-always-complimentary modes or working — i.e., the solitary nature of fiction writing and the unpredictable synergy of collaboration.

I think I’ll save this one for my shrink. I mean, I’d get into this more, but this sends me down a rabbit hole where I have trouble sleeping, over-thinking creative leadership and ownership and participation and friendship and how it all intermingles and overlaps.

You took a foray into film last year. Could you see DTV being adapted in that medium?

Jeff Speakman’s only 55. I think he’s ready for his comeback.

Finally, what’s next? Any projects percolating?

A bunch, but in lieu of more self-involved babbling, I want everyone to know that Towering Achievements isn’t just about my projects. That’s just a starting point — that and the Bedpan Treasures t-shirts, which are my friend Kevin’s big, idiotic concept. I want to get like-minded people in queue to do similar, creative, bizarre things. Either physically or for the blog. Please visit the site and email us: [email protected]

Hungry for more? Check out Andrew’s excellent recent interview with Haulix and the Towering Achievements site.