Physical Media Forever

Macy Cotton | December 12th, 2023 (Volume 2)
Macy Cotton shares her dedication to preserving physical media and film diversity, highlighted by her efforts to save the collection of Austin's iconic I Luv Video. After its closure in 2020, Cotton, motivated by her passion and concern for the limited choices in streaming services, launched a successful Kickstarter to create a volunteer-run, non-profit video store. Her initiative, inspired by Beyond Video in Baltimore, led to the opening of a new store with over 1,000 members, a theater for events, and a vast collection of films, ensuring continued access to a diverse range of movies for the Austin community.


Hey, I hope some people had the privilege of going to I Luv Video here in Austin. It started two years before Blockbuster and unfortunately closed down in September of 2020. I went all the time. My husband and I went together and I know that we weren’t alone. A bunch of people loved going to I Luv Video.

This is what the Airport location looked like before it shut down. There are an estimated 100,000 films here in this picture, which that’s really hard to conceptualize, but 100,000 films as of 2022. This is what was available on streaming, Prime Video didn’t even have 7,000 films. So just think about what all we sacrifice for convenience of streaming, we are losing out on a ton of choices of film and TV, short films, everything else.

It’s just really, really hard to imagine, because the streaming services really make it seem like they have everything that you could possibly want to watch. But how many times have you tried to get on Netflix or another streaming service and you think, “I really wanted to watch this movie. Wasn’t this just on here last week?” And then it’s not there anymore, or you have to do pretty much a whole research paper to try and figure out on what streaming service the thing you want to watch is, and if you even pay for that thing. It shouldn’t be that hard.

In addition, a lot of people don’t know that even if you buy a digital copy of something on iTunes, on PlayStation, Prime, wherever you buy your digital copies, you don’t actually own that item. You own that item for as long as the licensing with iTunes or whatever has that item. So there have been some recent news about that, it’s just really hard to know that you don’t own that. In addition, a lot of things you might want to watch legally and there’s no way to watch legally.

Here’s director Elaine May. She made a lot of wonderful movies. One movie in particular from the 1970s, The Heartbreak Kid with Charles Grodin. That movie was made by this production company that just through a series of really weird mergers and acquisitions was bought by a pharmaceutical company. So, you can imagine this pharmaceutical company doesn’t really care that it owns this movie and doesn’t really care to do any physical releases. So if you wanted to watch The Heartbreak Kid today, you can’t even buy that movie if you wanted to. So, what do we do about these movies that we can’t find, we can’t watch or anything else?

The director Guillermo del Toro tweeted this the other day, I thought that it was really apt. “Physical media is almost a Fahrenheit 451 level of responsibility. If you own a great 4K HD, Blu-ray DVD of a film or films you love, you are the custodian of those films for generations to come.”

How do y’all feel about that being your responsibility to take care of all of these movies? Did you know that that was your responsibility, or did you think that hopefully somebody was trying to keep all of these and make sure that people would be able to watch the movies that had been made?

So, this had been something on my mind, I was still going to video stores in 2020. So cue me, how do I figure into all of this? Well, honestly, I’m just somebody that’s really nosy and loved I Luv Video. So I just decided to find the owner of I Luv Video, his name’s Conrad Bejaranos, his information, and just see what he was doing with the collection.

So I emailed, surprisingly he decided to meet with me and I just told him, “Hey, this was such an amazing collection. What can we do to make sure that the Austin public can still be able to watch all of these movies?” He was open to my idea. So, my idea was an all volunteer-run nonprofit video store. So this time last year we did a Kickstarter, we asked for $100,000 to acquire that collection and then also find a new physical space.

I don’t know if y’all been to the Lazarus Brewing on Airport, so that’s where I Luv Video used to be, and so we needed a lot of upfront cash to be able to lease a space. To our surprise, we got over the amount that we asked for. We got $112,000, which was incredible. Thank you, thank you.

I wish I could say the idea was all mine, but it’s absolutely not. We modeled our business model off of Beyond Video in Baltimore. There are a lot of other nonprofit video stores around the country, but Beyond Video started with absolutely zero movies in 2018. Just based off of donations and their volunteer effort, they’ve been doing well since 2018 and they have over 30,000 titles, and so we were privileged to work with them to be able to learn how to get all this off the ground.

So, this was our space right after we moved in earlier this year. We’re at 100 Northloop, which just by coincidence was an old location of Vulcan Video, another beloved awesome video store, which we just thought was fate. So, then we had the huge task of unloading all of these movies. Y’all can really not imagine how many movies there are.

So at one point we had over 50 volunteers just at any odd hours helping us unload all of these movies, and then we also had to check these movies for their condition, make sure the disc inside matches the outside cover, make sure they were in good condition. But also we did not have an inventory list from I Luv Video. I think they pretty hastily packed up, so we didn’t even know what we had.

So one of our great volunteers, Kevin Mooney, here’s Kevin right here, is a big tech guy, and he helped us create this website that was able to categorize all of our movies where volunteers could easily log movies on their phone, but it would take all the metadata from that and put it into a spreadsheet for us to use for inventory and then now for our rental software. That’s really helped us log all of these movies in a really short amount of time in just a few months, and so that has been great.

Also, okay, so now we have the movies, a video store also needs shelves, and so one of our board members, Beau Harris, made all of these shelves. If you come to our store, everything you see has been done entirely by volunteer work. Beau built these, they’re painted by volunteers. Here’s our vice chair and my husband, Ryan Teel, sorting movies, and we opened on July 29th. Our first rental was Sling Blade. Here’s our first rental.

So, this is a bit of what the store looks like when we opened. We are very proud to say we have over 1,000 members, we run on a monthly subscription model. So yeah, right now we are just hoping to keep all of those members happy and renting. In the back, we have a 25 seat theater, and so this is the UT Short Film Club just the other day doing a little short film event, and we also work with a local production company to give educational horror screenings and show some B-movie horror.

Just to end, I think the lesson that I learned from this is find something you’re passionate about and find other people in town that share that passion and try and do something cool. This has been a really, really rewarding experience. We’ve met some great people and now we can all rent as many movies as we want, so thank you very much.

Macy Cotton
Attorney and founder of Austin's 1st nonprofit video library, WeLuvVideo.