Sunday, August 31, 2008

Confessions of a Bootlegger

I've been a bootlegger for seven years. That all ends tonight when I pull the plug on SuperHappyFun.com. It will no longer be a viable "grey market" site after tonight.

I got into the bootleg business as revenge. I was in desperate need of a few movies and was unable to trade for them. Instead, I was charged through the nose for them. Rather than see anyone else pay the exorbitant prices I did, I decided to sell copies for cheap in order to make up what I had paid as well as unleash these titles to the world; effectively undermining the guys that ripped me off.

Don't piss me off.

Thus, SuperHappyFun.com was born. I had registered the domain years before, not knowing what to do with such a wonderfully-named site other than hosting an animation of a drawing I traced out of a Japanese magazine. Now I could try my hand at making an e-commerce/database-driven site.

Out of the blue, a stranger offered to help me put some of my more popular titles on DVDr - a new format to the time - a home-made DVD that played on most of the new DVD machines. Soon things evolved and this stranger went from a guy converting things to one DVDr to him being my partner in crime -- fulfilling orders from his secret underground lair.

I was the murky face of the business -- buying new titles, making deals for things, and gathering a stock that would make my old tape-trading buddies drool. I started garnering a "name" in the bootleg biz, helped quite a bit by an article in Cinemascope by Jonathan Rosenbaum which lauded the rarities I had amassed.

Meanwhile, my partner toiled in obscurity, his life ruled by the order queue that I maintained.

We had our spats -- my partner always had a knack of misplacing things or having massive harddrive meltdowns. I could never get rid of anything or misplace anything, never knowing when my partner would need me to send it to him. This got fairly frustrating.

I tried to stay within the spirit of the law, if not the letter. I tried to only sell titles that weren't available on DVD in the United States. This became more difficult as more and more titles found their way out. I eventually gave up even trying to carry certain directors as they kept being released by obscure DVD outfits.

In actuality, I loved that the titles on SuperHappyFun were being ousted by legitimate release. My dream is that all of the two thousand films we once carried would be as easy to get as the latest hot release. I want a world where the grey market isn't necessary; where all movies are available via a massive movie server where they could be viewed in their original aspect ratio with their original running time with any/all languages available as audio tracks and/or subtitles. Keep dreaming, I know.

Things got weird a few times when I got cease & desist orders. Matthew Barney's lawyers were not happy about me selling copies of Cremaster when the "artist" could fetch a few hundred grand for copies (no lie). David Lynch's people didn't like that the Rabbits webseries showed up on my site (though they didn't mention the Mulholland Drive TV Pilot -- the video that really started the whole business. Remarkably, I never heard from George Lucas's legal team even with multiple fan edits of The Phantom Menace prominent on the site (the other film that pushed me over the edge, along with Jim Morrison's HWY).

Along the way, I tried to branch out a bit. Read about that fiasco here.

When my partner lost his day job, I encouraged him to start his own site and sell the scads of titles he had that I didn't want to sell (too close to being illegal for me). Oh, what bad advice. A few weeks after his site finally opened I found that he was selling some of the same things I was. Essentially, I was competing... against myself. That wouldn't do.

Rather than going ballistic, I decided that this was my chance to get out of the business. No longer would I have to refuse all registered mail (the way all previous C&D letters had come) and constantly scan New Release lists to find out what new titles I'd have to pull from my site.

This is the year of clean-up, apparently. I pulled the plug on Cashiers du Cinemart and now I'm sunsetting SuperHappyFun.com. Now I can finally clean out my basement and start getting rid of the hundred of VHS tapes and DVDs that have been cluttering my life for so long. (Be sure to check back for announcements of DVD sales on ebay or something). Time to cut the things that don't make me money or happy.

Wish me luck!

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting back story. I've never actually bought anything from you, but, rather, I saw a reference to you in an article on Slate.com - I impulsively signed up for your e-letter, and have received it ever since.

I used to be more into movies than I am now - I guess it was more out of nostalgia than passion that I signed up.

Matt K said...

Thanks all the rare films and years of incredible HONEST service. I tried to recommend your site to as many people as I could. I see many of your titles on ioffer.com these days. It seems they have no policy towards bootlegging. I'd like to see posts about how you obtained some of your rarer titles. How did you ever obtain My Best Friend's Birthday?

Take care
Matt K,
Osaka, Japan

Anonymous said...

Peace and popcorn to you.

Anonymous said...

it's been a helluva ride mike. but all good things must come to an end. i'm glad i could supply you with some titles over the years, and even happier when you could supply me! see you in toronto this fall.

Stefan said...

Very interesting story, especially the cross-ref'd JNWC fiasco background story.
Well, thanks for making all the movies available (for some of which I had been looking for years) and thanks for introducing me to JNWC. It was fun subtitling 'Big Mess' for you, too bad I couldn't do another one..
All the best,
Stefan
Edmonton

Eric Bresler said...

Best of luck! Superhappyfun will be missed.

Jason said...

Without you I wouldn't have seen My Best Friend's Birthday, The Idiot Box, or gotten the glorious un-special editions of the Star Wars trilogy (and THX 1138) on DVD. Can't thank you enough!

Best,
JR
Jenison, MI

Greg Goodsell said...

Luck! Thanks for Matthew Barney's Cremaster series, though I could hardly believe ANYONE would pay more than what I paid you for them --

Anonymous said...

It's always a good time to get rid of the things in life that don't make you happy or prosperous. I just had to pull the plug on my home business, same reasons. Best wishes to you.

~Sue~

adgy said...

Good luck with whatever you decide to do next!

Adam said...

I've ordered from you a few times, and you've always been a trustworthy name in a business plagued with the shady and the dishonest. You created your business not from greed, but from a love of the art form. And that's truly appreciated and respected. I'm sorry to see the site close, but I know that your day to day life can get in the way sometimes. So I personally thank you for your years of honesty and loyalty to your customers, and with God's speed on wherever you end up.

paganomuzak said...

you've done great things for the world m'man. (assuming you're that guy at the top of that page). good luck then. that was highly entertaining btw. here's looking forward to "Saw 43,849" (bad joke sorry)

GAMERA_2004 said...

I am going to miss this site. I finally got a chance to see titles like 'MARKETA LAZEROVA' and 'BIRD, ORPHANS, AND FOOLS" that I had read about over 30 years ago. Your selection of Eastern European films was second to none and I loved your brief, all too brief, venture into the Japanese NEW WAVE.

Well best of luck in your future endeavors and there are still the many films I bought from you.

Peter M. said...

You were an inspiration for my endeavors- I knew I made the big time when I was placed on your "recommended" list.
Thanks for "Nightmare Alley" years before Fox finally released it. Thanks for quick service and good prices.

Cheers!
-Peter M.
http://www.yammeringmagpie.com

Anonymous said...

Hi,

what a honest and interesting stroy. Many thanks.

I ordered twice and got really satisfied despite of that unusual payment process.

Because European video standard (PAL or SECAM) are really better than NTSC, I found quality rating was overvalued. But it wasn't really a matter for such art jewels.

I wish you would enjoy new job activities wich same passion but more luck and benefit.

Pierre from Grenoble (France)
sorry for my poor Enghish

Jonathan The Lovable said...

Thank you for SATANTANGO, LUDWIG: REQUIEM FOR A VIRGIN KING, THE BIRD PEOPLE OF CHINA, and the countless other art pieces you've given me over the years. You were the reason why I got a job in the first place! Thank you for making me a consumer.

Anonymous said...

It's sad to see you close superhappyfun. I used to order movies all the time up to late 2004/ early 2005. I ordered so many Japanese movies that you sent me free ones. I got caught up into P2P and importing Japanese movies from Japan. I know that we will all miss you.

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