It was supposed to be a summer hit that would launch the careers of its young stars and rake in millions at the box office. But Side Out, a 1990 comedy film about beach volleyball starring C. Thomas Howell and Peter Horton, turned out to be a colossal flop that contributed to the bankruptcy of its production company, The Vista Organization.
The film, which also featured Courtney Thorne-Smith and Harley Jane Kozak, earned only $3.5 million against a budget of $8 million, making it one of the biggest bombs of the year. Critics panned its clichéd plot, wooden acting and lack of humor, while audiences stayed away in droves.
The film’s failure was a major blow to The Vista Organization, which had been founded in 1986 by former Paramount executive Frank Yablans. The company had hoped to produce and distribute low-budget films that would appeal to the youth market, but instead it churned out a series of flops such as The Adventures of Ford Fairlane and Wired.
The Vista Organization was dissolved in 1991 and its assets were sold to 20th Century Fox. But the legacy of Side Out did not end there. The film also had a lasting impact on thousands of students who attended Vista College, a for-profit school based in El Paso, Texas that declared bankruptcy and shut down last year.
Vista College was one of the schools that the Federal Trade Commission put on notice for allegedly making false claims to students regarding earnings and job potential post-graduation. Many students who enrolled in the school ended up with huge debts and worthless degrees.
But last month, a group of activists called The Debt Collective announced that they had erased $16 million in private student loans for over 7,000 former Vista College students. The group bought the debt from the school and canceled it, sending letters to the students informing them of the relief.
\”We bought the private student loan listed above and canceled it,\” the group wrote in the letter. \”You no longer owe the balance of this debt. You do not need to pay us, nor should you pay anyone else for this debt—it is gone!\”
The group also said that they believed that Vista College may have committed widespread fraud and targeted low-income people and people of color to put them into lifetimes of crushing debt for their own profit.
\”We believe that they also may have lied to students about the quality of the education, and about the likelihood that those students could get well-paid jobs in their fields with a Vista degree,\” the group added.
The Debt Collective is planning to file a group-wide borrower defense to repayment claim on behalf of the students, which is federal student-loan relief provided to borrowers who prove they were defrauded by a for-profit school.
The group hopes that their action will inspire other students who are struggling with student debt to join their movement and demand justice from the government and the predatory lenders.