“I Lost It at the Video Store: A Filmmakers’ Oral History of a Vanished Era”

By on October 1, 2015

In this book trailer for I Lost it at the Video Store: A Filmmakers’ Oral History of a Vanished Era, by filmmaker and New York Times writer Tom Roston, we see just how important those carefully-curated video store rental selections might have been to an entire generation of independent filmmakers and how video stores had become to budding filmmakers what bookstores were to writers, once upon a time.

We can all remember some of the video stores that were important in our lives — for us it was a certain Music Plus location near the college we attended that had both a great selection of foreign films and vintage classics; then there was Rocket Video on La Brea near Melrose, and, for a time, a Hollywood Video store on Wilshire, both of those here near Night Flight west HQ in Los Angeles; and we also rented a lot of great VHS tapes from Facets in Chicago, too — and Roston even mentions a couple of those in this recent interview he did with Salon.


I Lost It At The Video Store — just published by The Critical Press (September 24, 2015) — collects interviews Roston did with filmmakers like John Sayles, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell and Allison Anders (seen here) — who talk about how these stores (many of them chain stores, like Blockbuster) were communal-like neighborhood haunts where these film enthusiasts would sometimes become friendly with the video store clerks, who would then recommend certain titles they might have missed, increasing the depth of their knowledge about certain genres, directors or even specific films, which in turn would become as important in some cases as taking any kind of film history college class. Some of them even got jobs working in video stores, quite famously, like Quentin Tarantino, further expanding their knowledge about cinema.


Allison Anders/photo by Kevin Scanlon

Here’s an excerpt from Entertainment Weeklys exclusive report on Roston’s book, featuring interviews with some of the “clerks-turned-directors discussing their days at the drop slot”:

QUENTIN TARANTINO: “I found Video Archives in Manhattan Beach and I thought it was the coolest place I had ever seen in my life… the owner asked if I wanted to have a job there. He didn’t realize he was saving my life. And for three years, it was really great. The case could be made that it was really too terrific. I lost all my ambition for the first three years. I stopped trying to act and trying to direct… And after three years, it got to be a real drag putting movies in people’s hands. When I started getting sick of the place, I started to reconnect with my ambition.”

KEVIN SMITH: “My mother was up my ass, ‘You got to get a job.’… So I am combing the want ads. And I see the dream job. ‘Help wanted. Video store.’ And I go to RST [in New Jersey]. I was like, ‘This is the Cocoon of jobs.’… I didn’t want to be a filmmaker. I just wanted to work at a video store. I thought I was going to be sitting behind the counter on a little footstool for the rest of my life. And brother, that suited me just fine. My father hated his job at the post office. He worked nights as a letter carrier. I saw how having a job he hated affected my old man. Here was a job I loved, and I got it… I always liked being helpful, and I’d try to tell people what to rent even if it was the same stupid s—over and over again. I loved talking with people. There was no Internet, so you couldn’t jump on a message board or Twitter. You got to do that in person with people.”

Elsewhere, Roston says the idea for the book came to him after reading this great piece in Indiewire where a lot of critics and film writers wrote about their favorite video stores and he says “I thought, ‘What about the filmmakers?'”

Tom Roston is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom’s freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He’s written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. He also writes a weekly blog about documentaries for PBS’ award-winning POV website. He lives in Brooklyn.

What were the names of the important video stores in your life?


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.