Chris Grap has always had an affinity for what he calls “lovingly crafted bad movies.”
That comes across in “Trailer Trash,” a biannual series he dreamed up that features a hodgepodge of vintage movie trailers at the Theatres at the Mall of America.
Grap, a senior manager of experiential entertainment and new marketing at the mall, previously worked in film production in Los Angeles. “There were lots of opportunities to explore different types of programming on the big screen in California. I loved that,” he said.
So when the chance to bring off-the-beaten-path programs to the mall’s theater arose, his imagination ran wild. Each “Trailer Trash” production has a different theme. Also, Grap is behind other unique series at the theater, like “Swayze Daze of Summer,” highlighting Patrick Swayze movies, with the proceeds going to charity.
“Trailer Trash VHS,” scheduled for Thursday, April 9, pays homage to the days of video store rentals. Many movies that appeared on VHS weren’t popular enough to make it onto DVD, and that’s the type of thing one can expect to see in the lineup.
“ ‘Trailer Trash’ is a giant cinematic mix tape of the weirdest things we can find on film,” Grap said.
The theater’s monthly “Tape Freak” series shows “a weird, unique, and cheesy movie we think deserves a larger audience,” its website says. Those full-length titles also stay under wraps until show night.
“Trailer Trash,” along with other alternative programs, happens in the 223-seat “theater six,” where old 35-millimeter equipment is still intact. That’s concurrent with the Hollywood blockbusters playing elsewhere in the theater, Grap said.
It’s become more like going to a concert, with people clapping, laughing and repeating lines. The interaction takes it to a new level, he said. Also, more in line with a live performance, “Trailer Trash” has an intermission.
Although the “Trailer Trash” concept can be tough to explain to people, it has garnered a faithful audience.
Grap likes the social aspect. “There’s this sense of ‘we’re in this together.’ There’s camaraderie,” he said.
A Wisconsin native who moved to Minnesota in 2004, Grap remained connected to the film scene. When he learned that the mall independently owned the cinema in the building, he saw an opportunity to showcase rarely seen movies.
He read about filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s move to present “Django Unchained” in its original 35mm format at the New Beverly Cinema. Preceding the movie were vintage trailers from Tarantino’s collection.
Grap re-created that experience at the mall, and it was so popular that he decided to put together a program consisting entirely of movie trailers.
He pulled in his friends Tim Holly and Colette Ricci, and they began building a collection of 35mm film trailers. They scoured eBay, shuttered theaters and private collections. They’ve since amassed over 700 trailers that date from the 1940s to the present, according to Grap.
For “Trailer Trash VHS,” the content has been mined mostly from Holly and Ricci’s personal video collection.
It has meant sifting through lots of videotapes, one at a time, to find the “weirdest and most fun,” to add to the program, Holly said.
They’ve also been looking for quirky old commercials and other tidbits to insert into the program to make it more entertaining.
“It’s a lot of work digging through stuff, but it’s something we’re excited about,” said Holly, who met Grap years ago when they both worked on film projects for Outpost 31 Productions.
A graphic designer, Holly has also produced screen print posters and buttons to give away to guests for some of the special events. (Limited-edition signed and numbered posters will be given away for “Trailer Trash VHS.”)
Raymond Virtucio, who began as a projectionist at the mall when 35mm still reigned, tries to create a rhythm with the trailers. At the last “Trailer Trash,” he integrated the old and new technologies, overlaying the digital and switching between mediums. He wanted it to be seamless so the audience members weren’t sure what medium they were experiencing, he said.
Virtucio used a digital camera to shoot scenes in the projection booth, which he simultaneously projected onto the screen. It brought an element of live performance to the event.
As Grap described it to him, the effect was sort of snowflake-like. “It was unique. It was there for that one night and then it was gone,” said Virtucio, adding that he wished he could’ve witnessed it from the other side of the projection booth.
Right now, he’s brainstorming the possibilities for future events. “Our creativity and time and effort are the only limiting factors,” he said.
‘Craft, patience, passion’
Jason Shapiro of St. Paul said that for movie buffs like him, who grew up in the “prime video era,” it’s nice that “we have a venue,” adding, “I keep hoping that more people will discover what he’s doing.”
Shapiro has seen plenty of obscure YouTube videos, but “Trailer Trash” has exposed him to movies he’s never heard of. “I have a love of the awful, anything that’s sort of like, ‘I can’t believe this exists and was made in earnest,’ ” he said.
In his view, the B-movie trailers that make up “Trailer Trash” make it “a celebration of all of our mistakes … it’s a laughing together, not at,” sort of deal, he said.
The special events have even grabbed some young viewers who weren’t around when these movies were first released.
Joe DiMeglio, 13, who lives in St. Paul, had noticed a poster for an event at the theater. He caught the Father’s Day showing of “The Shining” with his mom and a friend. It became a monthly thing, he said.
For him, it’s been a fun learning experience. “I personally think that 35mm looks better. I also think that a lot of them are better than newer movies,” he said. “It seems more like someone made something, like more effort was put into it.”
As a result, for a school project, “I looked into the evolution of film and sort of how it first came to be, how it is now and how it has disappeared,” DiMeglio said.
When it comes to the theater’s special events, “Trailer Trash” “is the crown jewel of what we do,” Grap said. “There’s a lot of craft, patience and passion behind it.”
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.