|Founded||Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S. (2004)|
|Headquarters||Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States|
concert, wedding, and corporate videos
Red Letter Media (stylized as RedLetterMedia) is a film/video production company operated by independent filmmakers Mike Stoklasa (previously of GMP Pictures) and Jay Bauman (formerly of Blanc Screen Cinema). The company was formed by Stoklasa in 2004 while living in Scottsdale, Arizona, but is now based in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. Stoklasa himself attracted significant attention in 2009, through a 70-minute video review of the 1999 film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The review was posted in seven parts on YouTube, and presented by his character "Harry S. Plinkett". While Stoklasa had published other video reviews for the Star Trek films in The Next Generation series prior to this, The Phantom Menace and subsequent Star Wars prequel reviews were praised for both content and presentation.
Stoklasa has produced other works under the RedLetterMedia banner, including short comedies and web series (The Grabowskis); several review-based web series (including Half in the Bag and Best of the Worst); and concert, wedding, and corporate videos. His low-budget features have been largely horror and comedy, and have included Feeding Frenzy, The Recovered, and Oranges: Revenge of the Eggplant. Bauman, who had directed Stoklasa in several low-budget features under the Blanc Screen Cinema banner, has been a director and producer working with him on most of his projects. In addition, Stoklasa has employed colleague Rich Evans to be a full-time actor and stagehand for their projects.
Stoklasa created his first video review for Star Trek Generations after watching the film again some time in 2008. He noted that he thought it was a "shitty movie" and "completely messed up the transition to the big screen from what was a really great TV show", inspiring him to share this view with others. Stoklasa found his own voice to be too boring for the review and adopted the persona of Harry S. Plinkett, a character he had previously used in several short films (originally played by Rich Evans) and since further developed within the reviews.
Mr. Plinkett has been described as "cranky", a "schizophrenic" and "psychotic" whose voice has been characterized as "a cross between Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers and The Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill". The character has also been described as illiterate. He mispronounces words like "protagonist", and brags that he has never read a book and has no intention of doing so. He also displays ignorance of history, as when he confuses the Cuban Missile Crisis with World War I, and the Nazi invasion of France with The French Revolution. Through side comments in narration, flashes of disturbing images, and cuts to live scenes filmed by RedLetterMedia, Mr. Plinkett is implied to have murdered his various ex-wives. Glimpses of human remains and hostages seen in his basement indicate he may be a serial killer. He claims to have had a disappointing son who hanged himself in a gas station bathroom, and an "adopted" son he kidnapped from a grocery store parking lot. Mr. Plinkett also has a fondness for Totino's Pizza Rolls, and he encourages feedback by promising to mail one to viewers who leave comments on his "webzone". However while seeming oafish and moronic the Plinkett character appears to demonstrate an astute understanding of film history and criticism, referencing numerous other films as examples to demonstrate his viewpoints. His voice and other traits were intended to incorporate a sense of humor to avoid making the reviewer sound too much like a nerd or armchair critic. The character seems to live, or at least have lived, in Teaneck, New Jersey, having made references to its police department (in his Star Trek review) and the Cedar Lanes Cinema (in his Revenge of the Sith review). Furthering the New Jersey connection, he also has a fondness for gambling in Atlantic City, as some reviews give his mailing address as a slot machine at a casino in Atlantic City.
Plinkett first appeared in "You’re Invited! The Olsen Twins Movie", a short film that incorporates clips from the film The Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley in which the Olsen twins accept a phone call from a man named Mr. Plinkett.
There are two different versions of the Harry S. Plinkett character. While Plinkett was originally portrayed on-screen by Rich Evans, the character is voiced by Mike Stoklasa in the various film critiques commonly referred to as the "Plinkett Reviews". This has given rise to a number of continuity conflicts which RedLetterMedia has sometimes addressed via self-aware humor in its videos. For example, in the trailer announcing the release of Plinkett's review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when asked by Emperor Palpatine, "when is your next review coming out?", Evans' Plinkett appears confused and says he doesn't do film reviews. The action then cuts to Stoklasa's Plinkett (always seen from first-person perspective, and thus never appearing on camera) watching a stripper. The trailer concludes with Palpatine using "force lightning" on Evans' Plinkett and exclaiming, "Die, fake Plinkett!"
Among the low-budget features produced and directed by Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman through RedLetterMedia include the talking fruit action film Oranges: Revenge of the Eggplant, made in 2005 and available on Netflix; The Recovered, a horror thriller starring Tina Krause; and more recently in 2010, Feeding Frenzy, a genre-spoof of puppet monster movies like Gremlins. Feeding Frenzy featured Rich Evans as Mr. Plinkett; Evans originated the character in short films, and this feature was filmed before the popularity of the Phantom Menace review. Mike Stoklasa's short films are usually dark comedies. The Mr. Plinkett character, then played by Rich Evans, appeared in several of the short films, starting with "You're Invited" and including "The Cleaning Lady."
Mike Stoklasa created and starred in five seasons of the web sitcom The Grabowskis, opposite Dixie Jacobs, about an exaggeratedly trashy and unpleasant sitcom family. Early installments of the series were only a few seconds long, but grew to full episode length over time.
The Star Trek Generations review was met with many favorable comments, inspiring Stoklasa to continue to review the other three Star Trek: The Next Generation films—First Contact (1996), Insurrection (1998), and Nemesis (2002). Inspired by these, Stoklasa proceeded to create his review for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, citing his dislike of the prequel trilogy, and how it influenced a trend of films characterized by CGI spectacle, in lieu of the live-action stunts and meticulously crafted sets that characterized films of earlier decades. Stoklasa does not believe that Lucas "ruined [his] childhood" but instead "disappointed [his] adulthood" through Lucas' direction of the Prequel trilogy; Stoklasa comments that Lucas did not have the same amount of control during the filming of the original trilogy that he had during the prequel trilogy, ultimately resulting in more memorable movies. He believes that Lucas continues to "devolve" the Star Wars franchise to target specifically younger audiences instead of the wide range of appeal that the original trilogy had. While contradictions in continuity are to be expected in science fiction and fantasy franchises with long established histories like Star Trek, Stoklasa has stated that it is virtually impossible for writers working in those franchises to write viable stories that avoid such contradictions entirely, and while he does focus on such gaffes for material in his reviews, he states that what truly irritates him is sloppy writing, in particular writing that exhibits traits such as poor character motivation, lapses in common sense or questionable logic, in order to advance the film's plot. Touching upon the Star Wars prequels as an example, Stoklasa says:
"The Star Wars prequels are the best examples of this where you’re mesmerized by all the visuals and excitement on screen, but if you really stop and listen you’ll realize that almost every line and every action makes no sense and is just there to get to the next special effects scene."—Mike Stoklasa
Stoklasa has since created reviews for the James Cameron films Avatar and Titanic, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Baby's Day Out (which was referenced at the end of the Attack of the Clones review), the children's movie Cop Dog (originally mentioned in a short update video), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He also created a satirical short film review of J. J. Abrams' Star Trek and later followed it up with a full-length review.
Stoklasa has released audio commentary tracks done in the Pinklett character for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier which are available for download. He has also created two brief video reviews based on the first two teaser trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII), which he notes builds on a previous comment about having Abrams direct a Star Wars film from his earlier Star Trek commentary.
In an interview, Stoklasa stated that in creating a review, he and a friend would watch the film only once while taking notes and frequently pausing the film to discuss scenes. After that, he would write a 20-30 page script for it in the Plinkett character, voice it, and edit it together along with some improvisations.
The Phantom Menace review
Stoklasa's review of The Phantom Menace was published to YouTube on December 10, 2009, and quickly became popular, receiving over 5 million views since its release. The video was widely linked to by many people across the internet, including celebrities such as Damon Lindelof and Simon Pegg. In comparison to his earlier Star Trek movie reviews which lasted 30 to 40 minutes, the Phantom Menace review had a total run time of approximately 70 minutes. The review took between seven and ten days to complete.
The review contains several elements that have been considered insightful. Stoklasa points out that the film has no real protagonist or strong characters in general. He demonstrates this by asking his friends to describe characters from the original trilogy and Phantom Menace without referring to the characters' physical appearances or occupations. Juxtaposed with the archetype and personality descriptions they give for the characters Han Solo and C-3PO, Stoklasa's friends are unable to come up with similarly ardent descriptions for the Phantom Menace characters Qui-Gon Jinn and Padmé Amidala. Stoklasa points out that many of the decisions made by Jinn's character are highly questionable. He further suggests that the character is entirely unnecessary to the plot and overall story save to have a final climactic lightsaber battle. He notes Lucas' attempt to add more concurrent plot elements in each of the successive Star Wars films which he refers to as "The Ending Multiplication Effect". Stoklasa then illustrates the chaotic and confusing nature of ending the film by pulling together four concurrent plot threads, each with a radically different tone, unclear objectives, and an overall lack of proper character motivation.
The review cuts among clips from The Phantom Menace, behind the scenes footage from the film's making-of documentary The Beginning, as well as the Plinkett sub-plot (which shows the character to be a murderous, emotionally unstable slob obsessed with Totino's Pizza Rolls). Stoklasa also uses cutaways to unrelated still shots which he uses to make analogous comments or to inject additional irreverent humor.
Unlike many other fans and critics, Stoklasa only makes passing comments about the widely unpopular character Jar Jar Binks, though Plinkett does dismissively refer to him as a "cartoon rabbit that steps in the poopy". In a later interview, Stoklasa called Binks the "most realistic and understandable thing" in the film compared to all of the film's other problems and what most moviegoers could easily focus on when pointing out the film's faults.
Jon Carroll of The San Francisco Chronicle lauded the video's humor and Stoklasa's insights into filmmaking, despite the occasionally sophomoric tone of Mr. Plinkett. Even without the Mr. Plinkett voice, the analysis and critique from Stoklasa was considered to be "plenty fascinating", but with it, the review becomes a "deep-dish analysis packaged like a gonzo stand-up comedy routine". The review was considered to be "an epic, well-edited well-constructed piece of geek film criticism" by Peter Sciretta of /Film. Damon Lindelof, in a Twitter message on the video, noted that "Your life is about to change. This is astounding film making."
To coincide with the release of the 3D re-release of The Phantom Menace, RedLetterMedia created a version of the review in 3D that can be viewed with standard red and cyan glasses. He also released an audio commentary track for the film done as Plinkett, which offered more criticism.
Attack of the Clones review
Stoklasa's review of Attack of the Clones was previously announced by a trailer posted on January 6, 2010; the 90-minute review consisting of nine parts was posted to YouTube on April 3, 2010. The review gained similar recognition shortly after its posting. In the review, Stoklasa presents his thoughts on the questionable romance between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala, the miscasting of Samuel L. Jackson, and numerous visual allusions to Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. The video also continues the subplot of the prostitute, Nadine (Jocelyn Ridgely), locked in the basement from the Phantom Menace review, which is built up in the last minute or so of each part. Nadine is forced to watch Attack of the Clones with Plinkett, and at the end of the review she escapes from his house.
Within the first 48 hours of its posting, the first part of the review was pulled from YouTube based on a copyright infringement claim by Cartoon Network. Stoklasa was unsure of the reason for the claim and consequently whether to counter the claim or let it go, even after seeking legal help. Stoklasa commented that while using copyrighted clips as part of reviews and commentary is generally considered fair use, he was unsure how Lucasfilm would take a full deconstruction of the film. Stoklasa moved forward on the Attack of the Clones review only after Lucasfilm had remained silent about his Phantom Menace review. Furthermore, if the matter was not settled, he would have been unlikely to proceed with his plans for a similar review for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Neither Lucasfilm nor Cartoon Network responded to the matter, but the claim was later retracted and the first part of the review was again available on YouTube. Stoklasa believed this was a combination of media coverage about the review, including interviews with MTV and fans writing to the parties involved to request its return.
Revenge of the Sith review
On December 31, 2010, Stoklasa released his 110-minute review of the Revenge of the Sith. The review had less content regarding the Plinkett-Nadine subplot, as Stoklasa felt it was already too long. The subplot was instead split into a separate short film and was released on March 10, 2011.
In the review, Mr. Plinkett notes that the only character he liked was Emperor Palpatine, as he was the only character who ever showed any charisma or depth. Additionally, he again laments the use of blue-screen effects and the simplicity of the filming, claiming that there are only two types of scenes in the movie: Scenes done in shot, reverse-shot, and the "mind-numbing action sequences that the fanboys crave".
The review was noted by film critic Roger Ebert in his blog, who said, "I was pretty much sure I didn't have it with me to endure another review of [Revenge of the Sith]. Mr. Plinkett demonstrates to me that I was mistaken."
Stoklasa's reviews have been considered part of an emerging art form that hybridize mashup with video essays, as they use a combination of footage from the movie in question, other related sources (such as clips from the original Star Wars trilogy movies for his Phantom Menace review and clips from documentaries about the production of the film), still images including title cards, and short, live-action segments. The combination of the Mr. Plinkett character and other elements used to present the reviews have been considered "a very clever attack on a certain kind of dumbass fanboy style of film reviewing". Patton Oswalt, in an interview with Esquire, noted that the Mr. Plinkett reviews are an example of "amazing film scholarship" on the Star Wars prequels that demonstrate how much of the Star Wars universe is squandered by them.
Literary critic Benjamin Kirbach argues that Plinkett enacts a kind of détournement by recontextualizing images which would otherwise serve as Star Wars marketing material (such as behind-the-scenes footage and interviews). Defined by Guy Debord as "the reuse of preexisting artistic elements in a new ensemble", détournement is a way of generating meaning out of cultural texts that is antithetical to their original intent. Kirbach argues that Stoklasa uses this tactic to construct a subversive narrative which frames George Lucas as "a lazy, out-of-touch, and thoroughly unchallenged filmmaker".
Kirbach also argues that Plinkett's popularity can be explained, in part, as a form of catharsis. Because he is portrayed as insane, the Plinkett shtick "legitimates our nerd-rage by literalizing it". But aside from raw catharsis, Plinkett's insanity also serves as a critique of the film industry itself. By fictionalizing his critic, Stoklasa constructs a character who is unable to speak at a safe distance from the text he analyzes. "Plinkett becomes the figure of a consumer culture that has been force-fed Hollywood schlock beyond its carrying capacity," Kirbach writes. And furthermore:
Stoklasa's major conceit—that someone would have to be "crazy" to watch movies the way Plinkett does—also implies a barely hidden inverse: that the film industry has induced a consumerist fantasy in people who don't watch movies this way. Plinkett's obscenity and jokiness are without a doubt designed to garner viewership, but they are also Stoklasa's apology for—or defense against—a culture that already construes his level of passion as pathological. This central irony leads us to question what is actually more insane: the consumer who rejects the expressions of a massive culture industry, or the massive culture industry itself. Plinkett satirizes the kind of consumer such a system generates: psychotic, sexist, homicidal.
However, the reviews have also been criticized by some Star Wars prequel fans. Stoklasa stated that he feels "Star Wars to some people is like a religion so they respond to attacks on it as such." A prequel trilogy fan wrote a 108-page point-by-point rebuttal of the Phantom Menace review, which Stoklasa mocked in an announcement video for his Revenge of the Sith review.
Half in the Bag
Half in the Bag is a regularly released series in which Stoklasa and Bauman do more traditional movie reviews. Stoklasa has described it as a cross between Siskel and Ebert and a 1980s sitcom, with himself and Bauman as Lightning Fast VCR Repair employees who discuss newly released movies, as well as some cult classics, comic book conventions, and other film projects they engage in.
Within the canon of the series, Mike and Jay initially conducted their movie reviews while ostensibly squatting at Mr. Plinkett's house under the pretense of repairing his VCR for exorbitant hourly fees. Plinkett (Rich Evans) would sometimes grow suspicious of Mike and Jay's constant frittering, drinking on the job, and general lack of progress on fixing the VCR and confront them. However, the two usually fended off Plinkett's questions by claiming they are waiting on parts, or sometimes by attempting to murder him. Other times, Plinkett seems oblivious or indifferent to Mike and Jay's antics.
Guests appear on the show from time to time, sometimes as characters such as cops, paranormal investigators, "George Lucas", etc., while others, such as Alexandre O. Philippe, the director of The People vs. George Lucas, appear as themselves.
Since the conclusion of the first "season" of Half in the Bag, the show has become more diverse in its use of sets. A number of episodes take place in the Lightning Fast VCR Repair shop, and more recently in the home of an elderly woman in need of VCR repair who, unlike Mr. Plinkett, is not so easily bullied or gulled by Mike and Jay's chicanery.
The general format of a typical episode commences with Mike, Jay, Mr. Plinkett, or various other characters engaging in a few minutes of "plot progression" for the story-oriented portion of the series. These segments usually end with a segue into a discussion of films, such as one character asking another if he's, "seen any good movies, lately?" At this point, Mike and Jay break character, and address the audience directly. A film is then introduced, first with a montage of clips from the film, itself, and then with a short synopsis from either Jay or Mike typically delivered in a heavily cynical and sarcastic tone.
Mike and Jay then discuss their thoughts on the film (like or dislike) and deconstruct various aspects such as the actors' performances, the artistic direction (or lack thereof), and use of sound and visual effects. The review portion of an episode typically concludes with Mike and Jay deciding whether they would recommend the film to a general audience, a specific audience, or to no one at all.
Episodes often conclude with Mike and Jay slipping back into character, at which point another story line scene takes place, usually relating to and/or tying up events from the opening of the episode. Many episodes end on cliffhangers which are resolved in the next episode, or are resolved more slowly as part of a greater story arc over several episodes.
The tone of the story elements in Half in the Bag often shifts radically from episode to episode, sometimes involving simple plot lines such as Jay and Mike lying to Mr. Plinkett, to far more irreverent and outlandish scenes such as Mike engaging in a bloody melee with a demonically possessed Plinkett. These scenes often bear some relationship to the movie or movies being discussed by Mike and Jay in the episode. For example, when Mike and Jay reviewed Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the two engaged in a lengthy discussion about their perception of director Michael Bay's style as overly self-indulgent and excessive, suggesting it had no artistic merit. They compared this to mindlessly making the same puerile joke over and over again. The episode then ended with an extensive scene of Mike and Jay accidentally emptying the contents of Mr. Plinkett's faulty colostomy bag on the floor, repeatedly projectile vomiting, slipping and falling, and covering themselves with fecal matter while Mr. Plinkett calmly looked on and ate a sandwich.
Best of the Worst
A regularly released series in which members of RedLetterMedia watch and review several movies which they expect will be terrible. After the viewing parties, a rotating panel of four people affiliated with RedLetterMedia sit and discuss what they have just watched. Panels typically consist of any combination of Mike, Jay, Rich Evans, Jack, Jessi, Josh (The Wizard), and/or special guests.
Many of the films are sent into the show by fans and can range from low budget B-movies to instructional videos.
Some episodes feature the "Wheel of the Worst", in which a wheel is spun to select which films will be watched. The Daily Herald praised Best of the Worst for being RedLetterMedia's most entertaining series.
Films and other videos viewed and discussed on each Best of the Worst episode typically have some sort of theme, for example "ninja movies", "sci-fi movies", "alien movies", or non-cinema related media. Fans of the series often comment about particular films and videos they want the group to watch. Examples include Tree Stand Safety and The Shoji Tabuchi Show which were especially anticipated videos (and subsequent letdowns) by both the members of RedLetterMedia and fans of the series.
Most episodes conclude with the panel voting on which movie/video is the "best of the worst", as well as which was the overall worst. Films that are decided to be the worst are often destroyed by the group in some overly elaborate fashion. Examples include freezing a tape in a block of ice, then shattering it with a sledge hammer, taking a DVD to a shooting range and firing live rounds of ammunition at it, and tying a tape to the rear bumper of a car and dragging it around the streets of Milwaukee.
On one occasion, the members of the panel were so nonplussed at the material they had been forced to endure, that they threw the Wheel of the Worst into the dumpster in lieu of destroying an individual movie or video. The Wheel later reappeared on the series when it was learned that the city of Milwaukee refused to haul away the Wheel of the Worst (presumably on the grounds that it was too awful to be taken and disposed of by the department of sanitation).
In May 2014 B-movie director Len Kabasinski appeared on an episode of Best of the Worst that featured three ninja films.
In an effort to generate more content with greater frequency for the website, Rich Evans introduced Game Station 2.0 in which he presented brief reviews of video games. After four episodes, the show failed to garner much of a following, and has since been defunct. On YouTube, the shows have surpassed 100,000 views, which is in line with most Red Letter Media videos such as Best of the Worst and Half in the Bag.
On April 15, 2014, a re-tooled video game review show appeared on the website. Re-titled Previously Recorded and now featuring Rich Evans along with Jack Packard, the show quickly found an audience among RedLetterMedia's already well-established fanbase.
Since then, more episodes have premiered on the RLM website, and Rich and Jack have added a weekly live Twitch stream under the Previously Recorded banner.
The Twitch stream airs Wednesday evenings, usually starting around 6 or 7pm Central. Rich and Jack are sometimes joined by other members of RedLetterMedia such as Jay and Jessi, and typically play several video games throughout the course of the night with periodic breaks.
The Previously Recorded stream often runs until midnight or later, with the members in attendance taking turns playing games and responding to questions and comments on myriad topics posed to them in the chat window.
Unlike other RLM original properties, the Previously Recorded live stream does not feature the RLM personalities on-camera. Viewers see only the stream of the game that is being played with the voices of the members in attendance over it. Jack Packard has repeatedly responded to requests for a live "face cam" by saying that the format of the live stream will not be changed. On November 26, 2014, they broadcast a webcam showing board games, but only featured their hands (as well as Jack's cat, Biscuit). On December 3, 2014, they held a livestream of Rich Evans building his new computer rig. Once again, it was shot to only show Rich's hands and arms.
The Previously Recorded live stream has drawn as many as a thousand fans a week for the initial broadcast. Archives of past streams are also available to be viewed any time.
Jack Packard aired a solo live stream under the Previously Recorded banner on Sunday nights. The format changed to "Hack and a Half" when Rich Evans started joining him by Skype.
On November 30, 2014 while playing "Wiki Wars" on the Sunday night stream Jack and Rich found that they could reach Twitch Plays Pokémon in three clicks. They were mildly delighted by this. Also featured the first appearance of Genghis Khan. It has also been revealed Rich has a disliking of the condiment mustard, and Jack dislikes in-game cutscenes.
In addition to RedLetterMedia's regular content, they periodically release an assortment of other videos to their website. Jay Bauman presents Quick Cuts in which he does a short, solo review of a film he has seen. Quick Cuts reviews are presented in a non-comedic fashion, and typically consist of a closeup shot of Bauman with cutaway scenes to the film he is reviewing. Jay has expressed that other members of Red Letter Media may be seen doing episodes of Quick Cuts, however no one other than Jay has done this.
Occasionally, RLM releases "behind the scenes" and "deleted scenes" footage. Behind the scenes videos range from time lapses of the RLM crew working on set pieces, to more traditional "making of" footage that shows what goes on behind the camera during production of Plinkett Reviews and Half in the Bag.
The RLM crew occasionally releases audio commentaries through the Band Camp website. Titles include The Terminator, Alien vs. Predator, Samurai Cop, Batman and Robin, Ghostbusters 2,Jurassic Park and Halloween. These commentaries are free to listen to on the Band Camp website, or at least one dollar to download.
Amateur animator and RLM fan Shaun McKinnon began sending in episodes of The Animated Adventures of Mr. Plinkett in which original animated sequences are used with re-mixed soundbites from various Mr. Plinkett reviews and other media. New episodes are posted periodically to the RedLetterMedia website.
RedLetterMedia also produces original feature-length films, such as Feeding Frenzy and Gorilla Interrupted. Their current feature-length project is entitled Space Cop (starring Rich Evans in the titular role). The project has been in production for several years, beginning in 2008, and is nearing completion. If the film is completed on schedule in 2015, that would mean it has taken 7 years to make.
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