Synapse on Fire – Synapse Films and the Key to Success in the Cult Film Industry

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Staying lean, mean and unconventional has been the key to success for the cult title specialists at Synapse Films.

By Adam Jahnke

Founded in 1997 by Don May, Jr., Detroit-adjacent synapse films has a surprisingly simple formula for surviving in the turbulent home entertainment world. “My business partner, Jerry Chandler, and I run a really tight ship,” May explains. “I knew a lot of folks at competing video labels and they had downtown offices with amazing views, expensive furniture and lots of employees. Synapse is two people in a dusty office at the end of an airport runway that shakes every time a plane flies by. Our attorney lives in Washington. That’s it.”

As the economy went south and retailers disappeared, Synapse found itself having to make some tough decisions about what it could and could not release. “Nothing, and I mean nothing is going to sell as well as it would have 10 years ago,” May confirms. “ If we spend tens of thousands to acquire and release something like Re-Animator or Day of the Dead, can we really justify the expenses in this economy? They’d be awesome titles to have. But will we drive our company into its grave trying to release these titles? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then we let someone else do them.”

Fortunately, Synapse has plenty of equally awesome titles on tap for 2013, including Hammer horror like Countess Dracula and Hands of the Ripper, Lamberto Bava’s Demons and Demons 2 and McBain with Christopher Walken (not Rainier Wolfcastle). But perhaps the most intriguing upcoming title is Thundercrack!, a bizarre adult horror comedy directed by Curt McDowell and starring and co-written by the legendary underground filmmaker George Kuchar. “That one is taking a while because of the content,” May explains. “A lot of labs are turning their nose up at helping us with restoration because of its adult nature.. But Thundercrack! is going to rock because it’s a totally new version that contains more footage than any other video release.”

2013 will see the launch of Synapse Films’ online streaming channel on Roku. May says, “The thing we’re most excited about with the channel is we’re offering up a lot of films and independent productions that we do not have out on our labels on DVD or Blu-ray. You see, we get a lot of submissions every week. Many independent filmmakers send us their films and, when we take a look at them, there are some films that are really fun but we know, in this horrible marketplace, they just wouldn’t sell. So, what we are doing is giving these filmmakers some exposure and a revenue stream to actually get a chance to make some money on their films. The Synapse Channel will be a source for independent filmmakers to get their films seen by a wider audience.”

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