'A Very Legitimate Form of Employment': The Stars of DTV

Most actors do them because they're not getting enough work elsewhere, of course. But there are a number of performers who have actually achieved some kind of star status through direct-to-video movies. Some have been rescued or allowed to make key transitions through the form. Shannon Tweed, for example, was having a hard time shedding her Playboy bunny status before becoming one of the queens of DTVs. Others who have benefited greatly include:

Andrew Stevens: The real star and creator of the recent "Night Eyes" series, Stevens has been able to get into writing, producing and directing through direct to videos and has a newfound respect in the business. Stevens says he thinks of these as he does cable movies. "That's where they ultimately end up," he says, referring to the afterlife of DTVs, many of which end up on HBO, Lifetime, USA or Showtime. "I think actors look at this as just a job: Are they available? Do they like the script? It's a very legitimate form of employment, not only for actors but for all the crews."

Stevens, who completed "Body Chemistry" with Morgan Fairchild earlier this year, says he is amazed by how well-known the "Night Eyes" erotic thrillers--in which he plays a security guard--have become. "When I went shopping for a new car, I discovered who watches these," he says with a laugh. "Every car salesman knew me from the series."

Stevens remains grateful to DTVs--and loyal. Recently one of his films was asked to be an HBO World premiere movie first before going to video. "That would have been more prestigious for me," he says, "but the videos are much more commercial when they debut right there in the stores. I'd rather have a commercial product than a star on my report card--and I feel I owe it to my fans."

Tim Thomerson: After 25 years as a supporting player in films and television, Thomerson now has a cult following as the private eye star of the "Trancers" series on video. "The power of these is incredible," says Thomerson, who has also starred in DTVs such as "Doll Man" and "Intimate Stranger." "I was in Rome recently and some people came running up to me saying, 'Jack! Jack!,' " the name of his character in "Trancers," which also has played in theaters overseas.

Thomerson takes a matter-of-fact view of DTVs: "Everything ends up on video anyway, and there are so many good small films that only have a quick theatrical release anyway. What's the difference really?"

Cynthia Rothrock and Don (the Dragon) Wilson: Both these former world champion kickboxers made the transition to "acting" as stars martial-arts DTV series.

Rothrock, whose films include "China O'Brien," "Golden Harvest" and the "Lady Dragon" series, says the DTVs have served her purpose perfectly. Her dream was to do a television series, and now she's done a pilot. "Direct videos have definitely been great for my career," she says. "CBS came to me because they knew I was so popular in the world video market."

Wilson is not quite so generous in his praise: "They're definitely good in that it means more work. . . . And maybe I never would have had my (shot) if not for these videos. But it does slow your career in a way. There's about a five-year waiting period before it can end up on regular television where it gets the chance to be seen by 20 million people."

Wilson yearns to go big screen. "The hope for me is making better films, and you can only get a certain quality when you have one month to shoot for a small amount of money. If you're making a $3-million movie, you're never going to make a $3-million salary."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World