Even before they made Santa Dog, The Residents began work on an incredibly ambitious project: a full-length film called Vileness Fats. The group had just moved into a studio at 20 Sycamore Street, which had a completely open ground floor - just perfect, it seemed, for a sound stage. The Residents felt that film would be the ideal medium for the ideas which had been knocking around in their heads and jumped in with both feet.
The new studio was roomy, but not quite big enough to make a movie. In order to be able to fit sets into the ground floor space, the group made most of the characters in the film midgets. They aren't played by midgets, mind you - the costumes were designed so that full-height people could scrunch up in them and waddle around.
The sets were very elaborate, done in a sort of German Expressionist style reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. They were made of cardboard and the space limitations meant that each set had to be completely dismantled before the next one could be built. This, of course, affected the filming schedule and sometimes even the developing plot.
Like the sets, the story itself was built as needed. There was no script before shooting started, only a vague outline of the story. The script grew as film progressed - a system typical of the project. The Residents hired people as they found a need, such as Graeme Whifler to do the lighting and some directing and J. Raoul Brody to play a small part - both of whom would continue to work with The Residents on future projects.
The Residents may not have been organized but they were in control, something they felt was very important. Without a film company looking over their shoulders and telling them to make sure it would sell, they could do whatever they wanted to. They financed it all themselves (one of them selling his sports car for $1200) and could only work on it during evenings and weekends because of the jobs they were holding down to pay for it all. They used 1/2" black-and-white video tape in the filming, for a variety of reasons. They felt that video was the coming medium and wanted to be on the leading edge of the technology. Also, with video tape they could see the results of their work immediately after filming, which was useful as it let them get right on with re-shooting when necessary. Most importantly, they didn't have to pay for developing.
Unfortunately, the lack of direction on the project meant that it dragged on for years. By 1976, The Residents had fourteen hours of video filmed and were not even two-thirds of the way through what they had of the incomplete script. To make things worse, 1/2" B&W video tape had become obsolete due to the introduction of the Beta and VHS color formats, so the footage looked incredibly dated even though it was brand new. There was no way that the video could be transferred to film and re-shooting the footage was out of the question. The space limitations were becoming too restrictive as well - it took a full year to build set for and film the night club scene, for instance. Finally, shortly after they released The Third Reich 'N' Roll, The Residents abandoned Vileness Fats. Not ones to let even failed projects go to waste, they proceeded to tease the outside world with stills from the film, incorporating the mysterious film that never was into their mythology.