At the dawn of the '90s, video distributor Tim Crawford stumbled upon some obscure but compelling documentaries about UFOs. Crawford knew--just knew--it was an encounter that would change his life.
"I saw this material and I thought, 'Wow, every video store in America should have this,' " says the 36-year-old self-styled "UFOlogist." So it was that, well before Hollywood's latest space-invader obsession, Crawford divined that "this was a genre about to explode" and set about exploiting it.
In those pre-"X-Files" and "ID4" days, Crawford began cornering the market in documentaries about UFOs, crop circles and the like. Today his company, UFO Central and Home Video, fields about 1,000 titles--some with wiggy home footage of purported flying saucers--many of them exclusively licensed to Crawford. He started a retail outlet, now docked in a paranormal bookstore in Burbank, and, from his warehouse in Venice, sells UFO "video packets" (a selection of the most popular UFO videos) to about 12,000 video stores nationwide.
"The subject has gone beyond a fad," Crawford says. "It's become canonized as part of our culture."
Still, a fad never hurts. Crawford claims business is up 30% since the TV broadcast of an "alien autopsy" video and the release of "Independence Day." With tales of the unexplained now prime movie and TV fodder, UFO Central has become a convenient source for producers who need to scan the "Close Encounters" Zeitgeist fast--past clients include "Hard Copy," the Discovery Channel and A&E.; Crawford's selection is diverse enough so that whether the demand is for Pleiadians (nice guys, look a lot like us) or Grays (those big-eyed creatures you see on T-shirts and billboards), no one's particular alien fetish is slighted. He's also got tapes covering the Roswell incident (the supposed 1947 spaceship crash, and subsequent government coverup, in the New Mexico desert) and the secret spaceship depot, Area 51, both of which figure prominently in "Independence Day."
A qualified believer ("there is definitive evidence that there's more to the human species than our existence on our planet"), Crawford admits to seeing "strange lights" in the sky but is swayed more by the unhysterical factual speculation he found in the better-documented tapes. "The heavy-duty information is not so much visual as intellectual and cerebral," he says, eyes blazing above a wispy beard. Not that producers are pawing through Crawford's tapes to find anything like that; when it comes to UFOs and box-office upside, paranoia beats the pants off plausibility any day.
"Right now," Crawford complains, without a trace of irony, "all the public really wants to see are flying saucers."