Nature abhors a vacuum, and so when the burgeoning VHS market was crying out for a steady stream of newly produced action films in the 1990s, a company called PM Entertainment was there to provide all the explosions, car chases, kickboxing, and utter mayhem anyone could ever want or need. When most people think of ‘90s independent cinema, their thoughts generally turn to Sundance success stories and hip young auteurs making their film school dreams come true. But there was another, grittier side to the indie film business back then, and that side is now faithfully documented in an action-packed oral history of PM at Hopes And Fears, thanks to author Joe Yanick. Co-founded by a Syrian producer and ex-pizzeria-manager named Joe Merhi, PM Entertainment churned out an astonishing 87 films in only 11 years at an average cost of $350,000 per title. That’s a fraction of what studios were spending on their action films at the time and even less than what Cannon Films was ponying up for its action offerings. PM even branched out into television with its two-season wonder, L.A. Heat. Though the company’s biggest in-house star was probably martial artist Don “The Dragon” Wilson, actors like Roy Scheider, Michael Madsen, and Billy Dee Williams all put in some time on PM productions.
Yanick has gathered testimony from various players in this breakneck Hollywood saga, including in-house director Richard Munchkin, stunt coordinator Cole McKay, and actress Cynthia Rothrock, one of the few female action stars of the era. As everyone agrees, PM’s creative decisions were based solely on economics. Merhi and his partner, Rick Pepin, were only interested in making the films that buyers wanted to purchase. If the buyers wanted more violence and less sex, PM obliged. And if they wanted just the opposite, that was fine, too. The customer was always right. If that meant women or minorities were marginalized due to sexism and racism in the industry, so be it. Still, the company was innovative in its own way, as Cole McKay attests:
We did some innovative stuff. I don’t think anybody at that time ever did as many grab strap turnovers—which is a car turnover where you don’t use a cage. The car turnover kind of became PM’s signature and we always had to go bigger and better. I pipe ramped a Firetruck, a motorhome, and I cannoned an armored car. A normal company could do maybe a turnover a day, we were able to do four of them.