RiffTrax are downloadable audio commentaries featuring comedians Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett heckling (or riffing) films in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a TV show in which Nelson was the head writer, and later the host. The RiffTrax are sold online and delivered by download. The site was launched by Nelson and Legend Films, now renamed Legend3D, in 2006 and is based in San Diego. In 2012, Rifftrax split from Legend3D.
The movies chosen for Mystery Science Theater 3000 were predominantly low-budget B-movies because the show itself was low-budget and producers could only afford films with expired copyright or that had otherwise cheap licenses. The idea of RiffTrax came about after Mystery Science Theater 3000 was canceled and Nelson had researched and consulted a lawyer about the possibility of directly releasing DVDs of films with the commentaries included. But Nelson realized this initial idea was not feasible since he would be "sued out of existence." Instead, the best way to distribute the commentaries would be to sell them independently of the films, to avoid having to obtain the rights to distribute the movies themselves. There would be no legal or monetary restrictions to prevent Nelson from producing them, though viewers would have to provide the movies themselves.
The early RiffTrax were almost all solo efforts on Mike's part, but it soon became apparent that there was a strong demand for them, and Nelson was quickly able to recruit more riffers for the project. Most official RiffTrax (not counting fan-made iRiffs and the spin-off RiffTrax Presents series) have a stable cast of Mike and former Mystery Science Theater 3000 co-stars Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, a line-up that happens to be identical to that of The Film Crew and the last three seasons of MST3K. That said, the guest slots vary often; other MST3K alumni have been featured, such as Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Nelson, in addition to Internet personalities Richard Kyanka (of Something Awful fame), Josh Fruhlinger (writer of The Comics Curmudgeon) and Chad Vader, as well as actors Neil Patrick Harris, Fred Willard, and Joel McHale, and satirist "Weird Al" Yankovic. Nelson has said that he would like to bring in other guests. The enthusiasm of guest riffers for the project led to the establishment of RiffTrax Presents, a series of tracks exclusively hosted by guest riffers and sanctioned by Nelson. The success of the guest format is such that "Three Riffer Editions" of some films previously solo riffed by Mike have been produced for the VOD service, which feature new riffs by Mike in conjunction with Murphy and Corbett, and Mike has ceased producing solo riffs since 2007 (although Matthew J. Elliott has produced some solo tracks for RiffTrax Presents).
Along with the feature length tracks, Corbett, Murphy and Nelson have created riffs for a number of short films, typically educational and safety films, similar to the shorts presented before features on Mystery Science Theater 3000. These include films by the Jam Handy Organization, Alfred P. Higgins Productions, Coronet Films and ACI Films, amongst others. Because these shorts are in the public domain, they can be downloaded with the commentary already recorded onto them. Shorts are usually released at least once, and often twice, a week
In 2008, RiffTrax launched iRiffs, which allows fans to upload commentaries to be sold on the website. iRiffs users are paid 50% of the net revenue generated by their products. iRiffs differentiates from normal RiffTrax in that both serious and humorous commentaries can be uploaded. In February 2009, a contest was held by RiffTrax, in which a winning iRiffs user would be given $1,000 and a chance to develop a RiffTrax Presents title, receiving instruction and critique from Nelson, Murphy and Corbett. The winners of the contest were Doug and Rob Walker and Brian Heinz of That Guy with the Glasses, who contributed an iRiff of The Lion King. The RiffTrax commentary they produced was for Batman Forever.
As part of SF Sketchfest in San Francisco, California, Nelson, Murphy and Corbett have appeared several times performing live riffs alongside a screening of a film. As of 2008, they have appeared three times, having riffed Daredevil and Over the Top in 2007 and Plan 9 from Outer Space in 2008, the last being shown in the historic Castro Theater. The RiffTrax crew have done live internet broadcasts on Ustream.tv, riffing public domain movies and taking viewer questions.
Rifftrax has teamed with NCM Fathom Events to host special one-night live Rifftrax events. Nelson, Corbett, and Murphy, along with special guests, perform their riffing to a live audience in one theater, which is simultaneously broadcast live to select theaters around the country, except in the Pacific Time zone, where a replay of the broadcast is shown. The first show was performed live at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, Tennessee on August 20, 2009, where Mike, Kevin and Bill riffed Plan 9 From Outer Space, along with the short film Flying Stewardess and guest appearances by Veronica Belmont, Jonathan Coulton, and Rich Kyanka of Something Awful. An encore showing was shown on October 8 of that year. The second RiffTrax Live! show in theaters took place on December 16, 2009, where they riffed several Christmas short films, one featuring special guest Weird Al Yankovic. An encore showing was shown in theaters the next day. The third RiffTrax Live! show took place on August 19, 2010, with the trio riffing the cult classic Reefer Madness (its encore showing took place on August 24). A fourth live show riffing House on Haunted Hill, also filmed at the Belcourt, occurred on October 28, 2010, with special guest Paul F. Tompkins. A fifth took place on August 17, 2011, featuring the film Jack the Giant Killer. A sixth took place on August 16, 2012, featuring the film, Manos, The Hands of Fate. A seventh live event took place on October 25, 2012, featuring Birdemic: Shock and Terror. The live event featuring Starship Troopers took place on August 15, 2013. The ninth live event featuring Night of the Living Dead was performed on October 24, 2013 .
On February 25, 2013, RiffTrax announced a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to secure the rights to riff Twilight, the first film of The Twilight Saga, for their live show in August 2013. On May 22, 2013, RiffTrax announced that they had failed to secure the rights to Twilight and that they had instead gotten the rights to a different film, Starship Troopers.
|Date||Main Feature||Short subject(s)||Guest Stars|
|August 20, 2009||Plan 9 From Outer Space||Flying Stewardess||Veronica Belmont, Jonathan Coulton, and Rich Kyanka|
|December 16, 2009||None||Assorted Christmas shorts||Weird Al Yankovic|
|August 19, 2010||Reefer Madness|
|October 28, 2010||House on Haunted Hill||Paul F. Thompkins|
|August 17, 2011||Jack the Giant Killer|
|August 16, 2012||"Manos", the Hands of Fate|
|October 25, 2012||Birdemic: Shock and Terror|
|August 15, 2013||Starship Troopers||None|
|October 24, 2013||Night of the Living Dead||None|
|December 5, 2013||Santa Claus Conquers the Martians||Santa and the Fairy Snow Queen||None|
In August 2008, Nelson, Corbett and Murphy formed a musical trio named The Rifftones, initially to compete in Quick Stop Entertainment's second Masters of Song Fu competition. They won the competition, beating fellow musicians Jonathan Coulton, Paul and Storm and, in the final round, Jason Morris. After the competition, they decided to continue creating songs as The Rifftones, making songs based on the movies they've riffed and releasing a CD collecting them, which is available on the RiffTrax site.
RiffTrax commentaries must be synchronized at the start of the movie using a cue. To reassure consumers that the MP3 file is synchronized with the film, a fictional character named DisembAudio occasionally speaks a line in exact synchronization with the movie. DisembAudio has also occasionally been known to join in on the riffing. "RiffTrax Presents" commentaries feature a female synchronization voice, Debbie. Though RiffTrax are suggested to be played on an MP3 player or with computer software, they are sold as unrestricted MP3s, allowing users to choose the viewing method that suits them the best. A RiffTrax Player is also offered as a free download for Windows computers.
The movies chosen for RiffTrax are based on two criteria: whether the movie lends itself towards a funny riffing, and whether the film is widely available on DVD. These criteria have resulted in a wide variety of genre and era of movies chosen to be riffed. The first audio commentary made available through the web site in July 2006 was for the 1989 film Road House, long cited by Nelson as the cheesiest movie ever made.
The RiffTrax Player (RiffPlayer) is a program which automatically synchronizes the commentary playback to the DVD playback. The RiffTrax Player makes use of a commentary MP3 as well as a text file (.sync) containing the synchronization information of the DVD and the commentary. As of this writing[when?], the RiffTrax Player currently supports Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X Snow Leopard and up.
RiffTrax On Demand
RiffTrax On Demand features downloadable DRM-Free video files of films with RiffTrax commentaries embedded. RiffTrax On Demand has released many short, public domain, and educational films similar to the ones that MST3K would sometimes mock before a full-length movie began.
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- Kaiser, Andy (2006-08-07). "Please talk during the movie". The Grand Rapids Press. p. D3.
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- "iRiffs FAQ". RiffTrax. Retrieved 18 November 2008.
- Legend Films, Inc. (February 4, 2009). "RiffTrax Announces Chance for Fans to Work with the Stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000". PR.com. Retrieved 28 February 2009.
- Walker, Doug (March 19, 2009). "Rifftrax Winner!". That Guy with the Glasses. Retrieved 2009-03-19.
- Walker, Doug (2 August 2009). RiffTrax: Batman Forever announcement. ThatGuyWiththeGlasses.com.[dubious ]
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- "Mark your calendar: Next RiffTrax Live event scheduled for Aug. 19". mlive.com. Retrieved 15 June 2010.
- "The Stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Give the Vincent Price Classic House on Haunted Hill the RiffTrax Treatment on the Big Screen This Halloween". BusinessWire. October 5, 2010. Retrieved 25 March 2011.
- "RiffTrax LIVE: Jack the Giant Killer". Fathomevents.com. Retrieved 2011-08-15. with the short What Is Nothing and two short videos created by SomethingAwful.com
- Sloan, Will (16 August 2012). "'You Can't Just Be The Voice Of Generic Sarcasm": The Art of Movie Riffing". Retrieved 17 August 2012.
- "RiffTrax Live: BIRDEMIC". Fathom. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
- "RiffTrax Live: Starship Troopers". Fathom. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
- "RiffTrax Live: Night of the Living Dead". Fathom. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
- "RiffTrax Wants to Riff TWILIGHT Live in Theaters Nationwide! by RiffTrax: Mike, Bill & Kevin — Kickstarter". Retrieved 25 February 2013.
- "RiffTrax FAQ". RiffTrax. Archived from the original on 2008-01-21.
- "Mystery Science Theater, round two". The Commonwealth Times. 2007-02-08.[dead link]
- "Mike Nelson Interview". Buzzgrinder. 2006-10-14.
- Murphy, Kevin; Corbett, Bill (May 13, 2008). RiffTrax Presents: "Saw". RiffTrax.
- "RiffTrax Player". RiffTrax. Archived from the original on December 13, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
- "'Road House' -- it's the cheesiest, book says". CNN.com. 2000-08-16.[dead link]
- "On Demand Catalogue". RiffTrax. Archived from the original on December 13, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
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