RiffTrax is a brand of downloadable Commentaries started by Michael J. Nelson and Legend Films in 2006. They are distributed in mp3 file format and are to be played in-sync with the movie being watched. Originally showcasing only Mike, he was later joined by MST3K alumni such as Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, as well as other noted internet personalities.
After MST3K ended its run in 1999, Nelson started coming up with creating DVDs of movies with commentaries included. After consulting a lawyer, he was told he'd be "sued out of existence". The best-sounding idea was to sell the commentaries separately, thus avoiding distribution rights altogether and no restrictions on movies being used.
RiffTrax began in 2006 as a collaborative venture between Nelson and Legend Films, a DVD publisher Nelson had provided "riff" commentaries for. In 2012 Nelson and other RiffTrax personnel bought RiffTrax from Legend, taking the company completely independent.
As of December 2013, RiffTrax had 13 staff members.
The RiffTrax files are available in mp3 format that will allow the viewer to view it in their preference of choice. The track is synced by DisembAudio, who will periodically through the commentary, give a line that is said in the movie so that the viewer can either pause the commentary or the movie to allow the other to catch up. The movie to be riffed itself has to have two critical criteria:
- The movie should be able to provide a funny riffing.
- The movie must be widely available on DVD.
Throughout the commentary, there are usually skits where Mike or another riffer will bring up a subject that may or may not relate to the film, which is usually done to kill time during a drawn-out sequence of events. Sometimes a reference to the Podracing sequence in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is made in relation to these long sequences.
Other running jokes are references to an actor's previous work, their personality, or a reference to the Internet phenomenon Schnappi. Other on-going movie references from previously riffed titles include the machine Cerebro in X-Men movie series or the wrestler Bonesaw in Spider-Man trilogy.
On Demand features and Rifftrax Live!
After several years of providing MP3 commentary riffs of mainstream features, Rifftrax eventually got around to producing pre-packaged features where the commentary and movie are melded together for purchase (sort of like MST3k, but without skits or silhouettes on the screen). Rather than selling these films in physical form, the vast majority of Rifftrax's On Demand work is download-only, available in most of the currently accepted video formats. As one might expect, many of the movies used in this way are works that Legend Films managed to procure and own the rights to, making the licensing issues much simpler than before.
In addition, Mike, Kevin, and Bill also regularly perform Rifftrax Live, in which they riff on a film in front of a live, theatrical audience, the performance of which is then streamed to other theaters all across the country. The live events follow the same general Rifftrax format, occasionally deviating with a few minor skits, extra material, or special guests, and in some cases releasing exclusive free content on the internet after the live event. Many of their VOD titles have been made available to stream on Hulu.com but in summer of 2014, they added an even larger collection.
In 2014, Michael J. Nelson, Kevn Murphy and Bill Corbett filmed Total Riff Off, where they applied the RiffTrax treatment to episodes from several National Geographic Channel series. Total Riff Off premiered on April 1, 2014 with three episodes in a row, each an hour in length with commercials included.
- "Killer Shrimp N' Friends"
- "Demon Bat": includes a "Man vs. Monster" skit
- "Guy and a Goose": includes skits from "Swamp Men" and "Alpha Dogs"
Rifftrax also provides the ability for anyone to produce and publish their own riff commentary of a film on the website (called "iRiffs"). Money can be charged for these commentaries as well, a percentage of which goes to Rifftrax with the rest going to the content creator. Video on demand features are also now allowed as part of iRiffs.