Legendary exploitation film producer David F. Friedman mastered the art of his own motto, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”
With titles like “Color Me Blood Red” and “The Erotic Adventures of Robin Hood” under his belt, the sales pitches definitely crackled. Ultimately, it was up to hungry audiences to decide if they were eating prime rib or snout membranes.
When shooting a film titled “Bikini Vampire Babes” in a conservative state shaped like a frying pan, a filmmaker can expect to feel a little heat.
“Most people thought we were making porn,” said co-writer/director/ producer Ted West. “But once you got past that, people were generally very friendly and helpful.”
As if clarification were needed, he explained his inspiration for a horror comedy about a sultry vampire who enters bikini contests to make ends meet: “First, we identified our target audience: guys 16 to 60. What do they like? Girls in bikinis!” Armed with his skimpy, two-piece brainchild, West sought the aid of his longtime professional confidant, Margaret Root, who shares writing credit. Both are commercial photographers by day with a collaborative relationship dating back to the ’90s. That alliance expanded during their leap from still images to moving pictures.
“We just jumped into this feet first,” said Root, who noted that despite their moviemaking inexperience, the creative energy flowed unabated. “We have a great working relationship. Ted had been talking about making this movie for quite some time. He can just talk about something, and it will just spark a bunch of ideas in my head.”
Said West, “Creatively, we’re on the same page. We feed off each other’s ideas and input.”
The duo spent more than a year hammering out the script. Taking two beloved film conventions (vampires and scantily clad ladies), the title suggests a throwback to the mash-up films West and his brother enjoyed as kids at Norman’s Boomer and Sooner theaters: cross-genre pollinations like “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” and “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” that purportedly offered up the best of at least two worlds.
“‘The Valley of Gwangi’ has cowboys and dinosaurs. What a fun movie!” West said.
Root strips “Bikini Vampire Babes” to its bare essence: “It’s a comedy,” she said. “Plus, it’s a bikini movie.”
BLOOD, SWEAT AND FEARS
But the journey from written word to your DVD player is an arduous one, particularly in a city that, regrettably, earned a reputation for removing movies from said player. (“The Tin Drum,” anyone?) Thankfully, the decision to make “Bikini Vampire Babes” an Oklahoma production turned out to be the right one.
“The whole experience was a mixture of anxiety and a good time,” said West.
Agreed Root, “All of it was a lot of fun. But understand that it was a lot of work, and involved lots and lots of time.”
Luckily, they had lots and lots of local help. With little exception, the cast and crew were comprised entirely out of Oklahomans. With $75,000 coming out of West’s own pocket, the production certainly qualified as low-budget. But that didn’t hinder their professional approach. It was shot entirely in HD over 12 days. Permissions were granted, releases were signed.
People thought we were making porn.
“Shooting in Oklahoma is really pretty easy,” he said. “Most people here are really nice. And if you just communicate what you’re doing, they’ll help you out.
While Oklahomans helped make it a logistical dream, artistic ambitions were given a reality check.
“Due to time and budget constraints, there were lots of compromises. But you couldn’t get hung up on it or nothing would get done,” said Root.
Now that it’s done and the DVD is pressed, the daunting task of finding distribution looms.
“The problem faced by us and all independent filmmakers is marketing and distribution,” said West. “Getting your film in front of your target audience and giving them a chance to purchase or rent your film is one of the many hurdles facing independents today.”
While foreign distribution remains a top priority, domestic needs are being met online at bikinivampirebabes.com and Amazon, not to mention local boutiques like Size Records. If it sells, a sequel is assured. And an optimistic West likes his odds.
“There’s around 2,174,605,518 men aged 15 to 64 in the world,” he said. “Surely we can move 8,000 to 10,000 units to these guys.”