February 2, 2020
Written by Michael J. Masucci
When EZTV Video Gallery opened its doors to the public, on June 15, 1983, the ‘business model’ (if there ever was one), was to pay rent and expenses just from ticket sales from the nightly screenings. At first, the screenings were 7 days a week, with three or four screenings per evening. The first week was a big hit. A feeling of optimism was contagious.
John Dorr’s initial enthusiasm was quickly dampened following disappointing audience attendance after the first few weeks. The truth was that other than participants (cast, crew) and their friends, the ‘outside world’ was largely uninterested in sitting for two hours, in uncomfortable folding chairs, and watching work produced using home video equipment, on home TV sets. It is the simple truth. There would be occasional ‘hits’, but for the most part, even a forty seat screening space proved difficult to fill. This was hardly unique to EZTV, as other spaces reported the same results.
John worked hard contacting various distribution outlets, in an attempt to find ways of expanding the audience. Usually, after an initial promising ‘lead’, Dorr would subsequently receive a polite rejection letter. The letters would pile up, and he actually collected them, much as writers collected theirs.
More promising opportunities came from the expanding national Queer community, including bars and clubs, which began showing video on their TV sets, that was more geared toward their community.
At that time, I was making my living, by creating abstract video art animations and graphics that played as ‘video wallpaper’ in most of West Hollywood’s hottest nightclubs. When I began creating my club videos at EZTV, I split the income I was making with John, in exchange for free use of the equipment. It certainly helped, but the fledgling gallery’s expenses still greatly outpaced the income. Even other groups around the country were inspired by the idea of EZTV. For a brief while, there was even an “EZTV Dallas”, which held screenings and exchanged projects with us. But they too, could not make ends meet.
It was Pat Evans and Earl Miller that came up with our winning solution. They rightfully recognized that among the large group of founding members, most of whom were hobbyists, that a few were actually already full-time working professional videomakers. In addition to myself, Mark Shepard worked as an editor for film trailers, and James Williams made his living as a photographer.
Pat and Earl suggested the initially controversial notion that EZTV should try to offer our skills, as a way of making money for the space. EZTV would take a ‘cut’. John was initially resistant. EZTV co-founders such as Robert Hernandez (who had loaned the gallery the money to buy a real editing system) became frustrated, and spoke out strongly in favor of Pat & Earl’s idea.
Within three months, John had spent the little money he had to start the space. An emergency meeting was held at the small house I was renting a few blocks from the gallery. We agreed that we’d try to fund the space, by becoming a production service, rather than rely on the ephemeral uncertainties of ticket sales. The gallery and screenings became a community service, rather than the formula for survival.
It was the right move, And EZTV survived. Not all the members were happy with the idea.