Recently Home Theater Forum had the opportunity to sit down with Nick Redman from Twilight Time to find out more about them and their business model. Here is the transcript of that interview:
HTF: Who is Twilight Time? Who are the people behind it and how did you get started?
Twilight Time is basically two people: Myself [Nick Redman] and my partner, Brian Jamieson. Brian spent 30 years at Warner Brothers. He was a Senior VP for International Marketing and he handled the Stanley Kubrick account. That was one of his big things. Kubrick relied on him heavily for all of the first runs of his movies, for example, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. And Brian handled all of the marketing campaigns for every single one of Kubrick’s movies as they went out on video. He retired from WB in the mid-2000s.
Brian and I had worked together a number of times over the years. In fact, he was the executive who had green-lit our documentary The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage back in the late ‘90s, which got an Oscar nomination, making Warner Home Video the first video division to ever get an Oscar nomination. And I don’t believe any video division ever has since, so that was another feather in his cap. When Brian retired we looked around for another project we could work on. He knew that I had a lot of experience at Fox, that I had been a consultant there for the last 18 years in the music department producing all their catalog soundtracks and running the archival soundtrack restoration program. I was also well known for doing documentaries, and Brian and I were subsequently involved on one for the Ford at Fox set. It was called Becoming John Ford, which played at the Venice Film Festival and got a lot of attention around the world at various film festivals. So to cut a long story short, Brian and I said, well, what should we do now? It appeared that home video was on the decline. DVD sales clearly weren't there because the studios are backing away from their catalog, so we should talk to the studios and see whether or not we could license some films for DVD distribution.
To that end, we went to Fox first because having started the limited edition soundtrack business there in the '90s, it was easy for me to go to Fox Video with whom I had done a lot of projects over the years and say to them, we're presenting this as an exact replica of the soundtrack model that Fox Music began in the 1990s. And the limited edition concept made sense to them because it’s easy and clean. In other words, when you go through a regular distribution model and stuff is shipped by a third-party distributor to other distributors who then in turn sell on to brick and mortar retail stores of which there are precious few these days anyway, you get returns—stuff gets sent back when it doesn’t sell. It becomes very complicated and admin-heavy and the studio has to get involved with quarterly and semi-annual accounting and all sorts of things.
So we said to Fox Video, look, we are going to completely eradicate all of that because we are dealing with one distributor only, Screen Archives Entertainment, with whom we have been working the last 20 years with soundtracks. They understand this business completely inside and out. They are the Number One purveyor of soundtracks in the nation. And, we will limit our runs to 3000 units—the same number that we chose for our soundtracks back in the 90s. It seemed to me that there would be 3000 people in North America who would be interested in catalogue titles, particularly those that haven’t been available on DVD at all before. So that's really how the Twilight Time idea and business model began.
HTF: Did Fox buy into it right away or it did it take some convincing?
It always takes time. But I knew that they liked the idea because it went through the channels fairly briskly and in the end it became only about sorting out which titles would they give us, which titles would they not give us and how much was it going to cost for us to have those titles. In the end it just came down to finessing which films we could have.
HTF: Obviously you have licensed the specific number of units, but is there any timeframe associated with that? Could Sony, for instance come out with their own Columbia Classics Blu-ray of Mysterious Island tomorrow?
Not really, it wouldn't make sense. We said, “Look, it’ll be great if we sell out within a couple of months of releasing a title, but then if you turn around and license it to someone else, or if you do it yourself very shortly thereafter, you will undermine consumer confidence. Because when people are buying a limited edition, they don’t want it to come out again a few months after they bought it.”
So they agreed that if the title sold out very early it would lie dormant for three years. And then of course there are going to be other cases where we are going to get to the end of three years and find that we have not sold 3000 units. Whether it’s Fox or Sony, they will look at a title that hasn’t sold 3000 units in a three year period and there will never be any demand for that title again whether it’s a sublicense or whether the studio would want to do it themselves.
HTF: That's important because I have seen some of our members say, “a title like this, it’s going to be popular. It will sell out. The studio will see worth in it, and I’ll buy it six months from now on Amazon at the studio discounted price.” So it’s important to note that that's not going to happen. If there is a film in your release schedule they are interested in, buy it now, buy it never or best case three years from now.
In all honesty we cannot say that the studio will never reissue these titles in the future or that they won’t sublicense to another label down the line. What we can say is that won’t happen for a minimum of three years and likely longer, and even then it is very unlikely that the studio itself will do it. So only another sublicense is a possibility.
HTF: So if the consumer wants a title, just buy it.
Yes. And they can buy it with pretty good confidence that most of the titles that we are putting out will not come out again in the short term. What we can't guarantee is what the foreign territories do. Fox US doesn’t mandate what they do and there doesn’t seem to be much reciprocity between the international territories.
So therefore, as has just happened with The Egyptian, for example, Fox in Norway or somewhere can sublicense the title with another label and they can put out their own Blu-ray of The Egyptian. There is nothing we can do about that, we have no influence. But what we are saying is that in the US, Fox won’t do anything with our titles and Sony/Columbia won’t reissue our titles at the very least until after the minimum license period.
HTF: So how do you pick the titles that you will be releasing?
Well, that's a good question. With Fox we submitted a long list, a list that was 200 films long. And the list gets whittled down because Fox will say something like “that film is this particular senior executive’s favorite movie and he would love it if the studio would put it out”. So we take that off the list. Now, we know that they probably won’t ever do anything with that title [laughs] and then we can go back to them in a couple of years and ask for that title. But that's how our list got whittled down to about 100 titles that had not ever been on DVD in the United States. It was basically a list of our favorite films, films that we knew and liked or films that we had always wanted to see on DVD or ones that we thought catalogue collectors would like. It was a real mishmash, a real potpourri of things. It was dangerous to do it that way because when they finally approved our list of 100, we then found out that quite a few of those titles were only available as 4x3 letterbox masters, not 16x9 enhanced. We released Violent Saturday in 4x3 as a test, but consumer response indicated that if a title wasn't in 16x9 it wasn't acceptable. So those titles have to go on the back burner until we figure out what to do.
Our deal with Columbia is different. With Columbia the films that we are releasing are titles they have ready for Blu-ray but are not on their schedule. They are films that are already on DVD in the Columbia catalogue. They want us to focus on Blu-rays they seem to feel there isn't a market for themselves. So that is how we got things like Mysterious Island, Fright Night, Picnic and Pal Joey and other titles. We are happy in a way to be guinea pigs for the studio. If they want to know how something is selling, we will tell them. If we sold 200 copies of a title in the first six months that will tell them, boy, aren’t we glad we dodged the bullet and didn’t put that out! If we sold 3000 copies over a few weeks they might think down the line that one might be worth revisiting. So in a way we are kind of a petri dish for the studios, which is how we characterize it to them: as an experiment, a limited edition experiment to really test the waters for catalogue both on DVD and on Blu-ray. So far the DVD statistics seem to be quite weak. Some of the early titles that we put out on DVD are not selling encouragingly well, whereas the Blu-rays do seem to have a little bit more life to them.
HTF: So with Columbia [Sony] we know that you are only doing Blu-ray because that's the direction they want you to focus on. When it comes to Fox, how do you decide whether you are going to release the title on DVD or Blu-ray?
We look at the film as a whole; get an idea from Schawn Belston [Senior Vice President, Library and Technical Services at Fox Filmed Entertainment] and his marvelous team as to what shape the master is in. With the Sony Blu-rays, Grover Crisp, the head of asset management, is the guy who really determines whether a film is up to snuff. So nothing that we are going to put out that comes from Sony is going to be below Grover’s already very high technical specifications. With Fox it’s a little bit looser because they have said, you have licensed the titles, you can put them out whichever way you want to put them out. So therefore we tend to think we will release those titles that don’t seem to be quite Blu-ray ready on standard DVD, and those that are ready on Blu-ray. We have also petitioned Fox to do a second line of titles which would be similar to the Sony model where we will release some higher profile titles previously released on DVD by Fox onto Blu-ray, to go along with the existing DVD program. As we have said earlier, we told them that we are little bit hamstrung with some titles because of this 4x3 letterbox issue. While those are on hold pending their upgrades, we would like to focus additionally on some Blu-ray releases of catalogue titles they have already on DVD. I think our first one of those will be Demetrius and the Gladiators.
HTF: Wow! Going forward then, are we going to see two titles a month, one Fox and one Sony?
That's what we have agreed to do. If the market improves, then we may up the number of monthly releases to two from each studio.
HTF: here has been a limited criticism that your titles cost too much, they are very expensive. Why do your titles cost more than a standard studio title?
I find the criticism about the cost a little strange, to be honest, having been a huge laser disc collector paying routinely $100 or more for a laser disc from Criterion in 1991. Paying $30 to $35 for a Blu-ray now is not out of line with Criterion and if you look at it, the MSRPs of many studio titles are exactly the same as ours. The difference is that everyone expects the studio mass releases and some Criterion titles with their Barnes & Noble sales to be discounted heavily. So therefore people don’t end up paying the MSRP. What we are saying is, the tradeoff is, you’ve got to pay the MSRP but it’s a limited edition. When you are only manufacturing a few thousand units, the cost of everything goes up, plus the major expense that we have is the royalty that we pay to the studios.
We pay a per unit charge, and on top of that royalty, which is significant, particularly on a limited number of units, we have to pay our replicators, we have to pay for the packaging, we have to pay for the authoring, compression, and everything else that goes with it. So therefore in order for Twilight Time to break even on one of our titles we would have to sell almost two-thirds of the run to actually be in the black, 1500-2000 units just to recoup.
HTF: As I understand it because of your business model these are upfront costs for you?
Absolutely. This is another reason why the studios love this model. It has to do with accounting. The worst thing that you can do is propose a project to a studio that involves them having to get their lawyers, and operatives into having to do another task beyond the job that they are already being paid to do by the studio. So you must find a way to eradicate that. If you are Criterion, for example, you go to somewhere like Sony and you say, we will give you X number of dollars to license these 10 titles, the studio says, oh okay, but they know that dealing with Criterion that way, Criterion pays an advance against royalties, and they have to keep monitoring what the sales situation is. With our model of only 3000 units, we work out what the per unit royalty charge to the studio is going to be, and we write them a check for that money straightaway. So, they are then out of it. They have been paid in full. By the time the disc comes out they have nothing else to worry about. They have no more obligations, they don’t have to chase us up for money or figure out how many discs we sold. It’s a very clean model. And so that's another reason why our costs or our pricing structure has to be on the higher side: because all of those things are paid out of pocket right off the bat on each title.
HTF: So you will pay upfront for a title and it could take you years to sell out?
Right. So if we pay in the first month all of our royalty obligations, all of our manufacturing obligations, all of our authoring and compression and everything else, we still might be sitting on that title for a minimum of three years or more. There is one particular Fox title, I’m loathe to say what it is, but one of the first ones that we did on standard DVD has sold so poorly, at the projected rate of sale, it would take 20 years to sell out. That’s our gamble and that's our loss. We pick a title, and can be horribly wrong. The studio doesn’t care because they have been paid and they are out of it. They don’t mind at all but we are stuck with 2800 units for the rest of our lives. That's our lot, so we know that on titles like that we have lost. There is no way that you will ever recover the money that you spent on it, but you hope that the next title you put out will sell well enough, not only to cover its cost but also to pick up the slack on the other ones that don’t sell as well. That's why we need the occasional Fright Night because it will sort of cover a multitude of sins.
HTF: With each title do you typically try to license any existing special features?
With Fox it hasn’t applied up to now because we have been putting things out on DVD or Blu-ray that they haven’t put out before on DVD. So there aren’t any existing special features except the occasional commentary here and there (as on The Egyptian). With the Sony titles they had some preexisting features, but we were told in certain cases those features for whatever reason were “not available for third party use”. So there is nothing we can do about that. We are just not in a financial position right now to generate our own special features. You have to understand that this is in a way a hobby for us because I still earn my living as a soundtrack producer, a documentary film maker and all the other things that I have to do to make a living. Brian also does a load of other things and Twilight Time is our hobby for which we aren’t able to take a penny for ourselves as yet. All we hope is that we can sell these titles well enough to pay for future releases so we can keep on doing it.
HTF: You called it a hobby but it sounds more like a labor of love.
Oh, labor of love I suppose is more accurate. You know, no one forced us to do it. So we are not begging for sympathy. Home video has been close to our hearts for a long time. For Brian it’s been his career for decades. For me, I have had many, many great experiences working with studio video divisions over the years on a lot of projects and I never thought the day would come when the studios would allow us to license the films from them. Given how huge DVD was and how much money the studios were raking in hand over fist in the late 90s and early 2000s, right up to 2007-2008. I never thought the business would decline to the degree that they would, in a sense, prefer to outsource to a third party. But that day has come and it’s come in spades, because I don’t see the situation ever reversing.
I think that home video, the physical media, is going to be like the soundtrack business became in the 90s, which is when the major labels got out of soundtracks, and the future of releases depended on niche labels to carry the entire weight of that small world. And I think that DVD and Blu-ray particularly is going to devolve to a third party world while the studios concentrate much more on the digital future: downloading and streaming and beaming it into your house directly. Physical media is coming to an end, which is why we called the label Twilight Time. I mean that was the joke: it’s Twilight Time. The sun is setting on the world of physical media. This is what it’s about. This is the last go-round--this is the end of home video as we have known it up to now.
HTF: Interesting I had not picked up on that. I just thought it was a nice name, I didn’t look at the deeper meaning there. Unfortunately, I think you are right.
They won’t admit it. If you ask them, they say oh, no, no, no. That's not the strategy at all. But I don’t see any alternative to the strategy. And I think they made a mistake with Blu-ray, I honestly do. I think the huge, huge, huge success of DVD was the ability to convert American consumers from being renters to buyers. That was the triumph of DVD because laser disc, as you know, never was more than a really small market. I don’t think even at the height of laser disc which was around ’92 or ’93, there were more than about 2 million laser disc players in the country. So that was a really small, high-price premium kind of business. When they converted the American public from being renters to buyers and you had that huge revenue stream that DVD became for them they went too soon into high def and suddenly people got confused.
First of all there was the battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray. That disoriented and baffled everybody and then when the dust settled on that and Blu-ray won, people suddenly realized well, hell, I have just bought all these DVDs, now I have got to buy all of these Blu-rays and I have also got to get a new TV. And I think a lot of people got turned off and in desperation the studios then began to downgrade the price of their Blu-rays in order to kind of kick start people into buying them and then people got used to the idea that Blu-ray was a basically valueless format because you can buy them for $10 or less at Wal-Mart or wherever, and meanwhile Warner Archive is selling DVD-Rs, not even pressed DVDs, for $19.95 or $26.98 on Amazon. I don’t get the logic. $26.98 for a DVD-R which is basically worthless but you can get a Blu-ray of one of their great catalogue titles for $10. To me, that’s the wrong way around.
I think people have to get used to the fact that Blu-ray is the top of the line digital physical media that is available right now, until one day maybe people might be able to have 4k systems at home. But if Blu-ray is really the top of the line in terms of what you can watch at home and hold in your hand and have a physical version, isn't it worth something? Isn't it worth at least as much as a glitchy DVD-R?
HTF: The picture and sound on your DVD and Blu-ray have been getting rave reviews, both Mysterious Island and The Egyptian were highly praised on here on Home Theatre Forum. There have been some minor complaints about like chapter stops being every 10 minutes as opposed to actually doing them in places that would made sense like you would see on the DVD. Are there any plans for future titles to change the way you are doing chapter stops?
Yes, there are. I suppose that's my fault. I just have to say I made a mistake. I am a person who never ever once in my life used a scene selection feature. So I didn’t think people would miss them and when our authoring house just asked us how we wanted to do the chapter stops, they recommended every 10 minutes and I just said okay fine, it sounds good to me. Now I have realized that a lot of people seem to like the idea of being able to go to chapter 10. So we are revising that, and probably by the time we get to our January releases with Roots of Heaven and Picnic there will be a pop up scene selection as part of it. It’s not there for Rapture and Fright Night because they are already manufactured. But starting with Roots of Heaven and Picnic I think we will institute scene selection.
Another complaint that we have been getting is how do the collectors know there are only 3000 units? Maybe we are making 300,000! But there is nothing we can do about folk who just think there is something sinister about what we are doing.
HTF: Somehow I think that Fox and Sony would take you to task for that as they would be short some commissions.
Everyone knows that the limited edition model is now an absolutely ingrained studio model. Every single studio has its own limited edition soundtrack restoration program. Fox were the first. They started it and all the studios have followed suit.
HTF: Yeah, I think it’s important for me to point out that you are not calling me from your yacht in the Cayman Islands....
HTF: The only other complaint that I have seen on any of your releases was that with Mysterious Island the audio track or the music track was actually music and effects versus just music.
We have done an isolated score track on every single one of our releases and on Fate is the Hunter, which was culled from a music and effects track almost entirely, we called it an isolated music and effects track. When it came to Mysterious Island the split was about 70% from the actual music tracks and about 30% from the music and effects track mono stems, all kinds of sources that music editor Mike Matessino had to work with on creating that isolated score. So I felt that even though some of the cues have effects on them, that we were not doing any kind of false advertising by describing it as an isolated score track, it is 70% from the music tracks and about 30% from a variety of other sources. For anyone who cares about that Bernard Herrmann score you will get the whole thing which no one has ever had before because no CD release or LP release of that music has ever contained the whole score. Here, you have all of it except some of it is a little bit adumbrated with effects, which for me is only a minor tradeoff for a big sound track fan and collector.
Also, I usually get questions from people saying why do you even bother doing isolated score tracks? We do it because we love film music and because film music is a very important part of the film making process. I was able to get the deal with Fox Music to include isolated score tracks as part of our ongoing music restoration program, so again it’s sort of a synergy between Fox music and the Fox video division. Sony also very generously agreed to let us include this feature too. There is no downside to doing it and I don’t like to use the word educational, but it is educational. If you watch a few scenes of the film with just the music and without the dialogue and effects, you will get a very different appreciation of that scene. It might enhance your opinion of the way the music works and derive a better understanding of the film as a whole.
HTF: So on Mysterious Island it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t, because you can't label it as a music and effects track because really you don’t have the effects for 70% of the film. It seems like to get the music, you had to go get the best that was available and 30% of that happened to have effects and 70% of that happened to just have the sound track.
Exactly. We would have had to describe it as some long, unwieldy, clumsy thing which we didn’t want to put on the back of the wrap.
HTF: That would have been an asterisk with five lines of text at the bottom of the package.
Exactly. When the CD came out of Mysterious Island in 1993 and it was only 40 minutes long most people realized that half the score wasn’t there. And why wasn’t it there? Because it didn’t exist as individual music tracks. They had been lost over the years or deteriorated to the point where they can't be used. So anyone who knows the story of Bernard Herrmann’s score from Mysterious Island—and I assume that the people who care about the isolated score do—then they are going to know that there was a problem with those tracks and that problem can't be reversed if the tracks are lost.
So the only way to prepare a complete score was to use as much of the music tracks that survive and the rest of the music culled from other sources that contained effects. You know, the bees are going to be buzzing! But you still don’t have the dialogue. Just by subtracting the dialogue you have a much clearer idea of what the music is and where it’s going and what it’s doing. So even if purists are upset that they don’t have it without the bees buzzing or the sea crashing, the majority of people are going to be happy with it.
HTF: It’s basically the best that you could do with these sources that were available?
Yes. A lot of it really is self-evident. Maybe I am being naïve but I think that the person that's going to buy the Mysterious Island Blu-ray for $35 has got some knowledge. We are going for people who are discerning--we aren’t going for the people that would pick this up for $7.99 at Wal-Mart on a whim. They throw in some carpet rolls and what not and suddenly they see a Blu-ray for $7.99, they throw that in the basket as well? That's not our audience.
We are ourselves collectors. We are ourselves lifelong movie buffs. We are putting them out, and if we didn’t put them out it is likely that they wouldn’t come out. And we are going to try to put them out in the way that we would like to see them, which means that we are always going to try to have the best picture and sound that we can and if I can get the music on there as a special feature I will. And that's the way we would like to do it, and I would like to do other features if we get better at this, and if we can sell better in the future than we are right now, we will look into it.
I mean, I was at a party recently and a guy finds out at that I am involved with releasing Fright Night. He comes over and he goes, I waited all my life for a special edition of Fright Night, I said, well, you will have to wait a bit longer because ours is not a special edition in the sense that you mean. But it looks good and sounds good and if the picture and sound quality are important to you, you will like this Blu-ray. If you want the Blu-ray only because it’s got four hours of Chris Sarandon reminiscing about the movie then that's not part of it.
HTF: So where the studios are willing to provide the previous release special features you are absolutely going to include them?
We are going to try. For example, we are doing Major Dundee. I happened to be one of the participants on the audio commentary for the DVD release. So I asked if they would let me have my own commentary, and they said yes!
HTF: Speaking of Major Dundee, there’ve been rumors of a director’s cut that no longer exists. Is the one you are releasing essentially going to be the restored 2005 release?
Yes. I don’t believe that there's anything more than that. There were a few nonintegrated scenes that Grover put on that original DVD. But basically that version is as close to what Sam Peckinpah would have hoped for as you are ever going to get. There is never going to be a longer version. And again, as you know, there are a lot of these urban myths around director’s cuts and who saw what. I was involved with The Wild Bunch, which is one of my favorite movies, when I worked on the laser disc release for Warners in the 90s, reissuing the original Sam Peckinpah version. The years have gone by and people still come up to me and say why didn’t you include the scene with the blah-blah-blah? And you say, what scene with the blah-blah-blah? People have read somewhere that some fan said that he saw some scene. People don’t even remember what they saw half the time. And you have to get beyond the urban mythology to really find out what's what.
The Wild Bunch that is currently in release on Warner Home video is Sam Peckinpah’s version--100% the uncut version that initially played in the UK in 1969. Anyone who thinks there is a longer version lying around somewhere because somebody wrote that they had seen one—that’s absolute nonsense and it’s the same with Major Dundee. There is no longer version lying around somewhere just waiting to be found. This is it. And this wouldn’t have happened if Grover Crisp hadn’t taken it upon himself to do it back then in the mid-2000s. And he took an additional fantastically radical step of commissioning a new score for the film. Because it had always been the case that Sam Peckinpah hated the music for Major Dundee. Of course, Peckinpah was fired during the post-production process, so he would not have hired the composer who ultimately scored the film. The composer who did the original version of the film wrote a score that is ruinous to the picture and Grover Crisp did something that had never been done before, which is to take a major studio feature and replace the music with a brand new score that he commissioned from Christopher Caliendo, who did a wonderful job. So the Major Dundee restoration from 2005 is a very interesting case in more ways than one.
HTF: But you said you have released, or you have licensed ten titles from Sony so far?
So far we have locked in eight: Mysterious Island, Fright Night, Picnic, Pal Joey, Bell, Book and Candle, Bite the Bullet, Major Dundee, and The Big Heat.
HTF: Those will be just one a month for the next couple of months?
Yes, one per month.
HTF: What title more than anything would you like to have as a Twilight Time release?
Well, I would have to say two of my favorite movies, both of which are already on Blu-ray. One would be Zulu and one would be The Wild Bunch. But that's me just saying that these are my favorite films. If I could pick something that I loved that is not available at all, that's what I would have to think about. You know, funnily enough, I would have said until very recently, Sands of the Kalahari. You know, I like Cy Endfield, the director of Mysterious Island. I know everyone thinks of Mysterious Island as being a Ray Harryhausen film but for me it’s a Cy Endfield picture. You know, he directed Hell Drivers and Mysterious Island and Sands of the Kalahari and Zulu, I mean that's not a bad bunch of films to have on your resume. But that's such a large question--there are reams of movies in the Fox and Sony/Columbia libraries that we are aching to get our hands on.
HTF: I have read on your Facebook every so often that nothing is sold out yet. Is there any title that is getting close to being sold out, so if someone’s been sitting on the fence and hasn’t bought yet that they should probably get off the fence?
Actually, Fright Night just sold out—and very quickly, too. Took about five weeks. A lovely Christmas gift! And Mysterious Island is also doing very well. Other than that, The Egyptian Blu-ray is our best seller so far at 2000 units. Which I think is a respectable number because that's two-thirds of the run gone. What we are learning about Blu-ray and DVD sales is, you start off with a reasonably good month. The early adopters, the people that really want the title, buy at the active preorder stage. Then you have a larger number of unit sales the next month as the reviews come out and people get to know that it’s there, which leads to a strong third month. And then, by the fourth month they are moving on to other things and you start seeing these steep declines in orders on a particular title. It’s a very interesting curve in seeing how it goes but at the rate of trickle-out for The Egyptian I would suggest certainly that will be gone sooner rather than later and won’t take all three years. And then of course as I said earlier there are other titles, one in particular—I am going to be long dead and there are going to be copies of it in a warehouse somewhere. We have seen it with soundtracks. Ones that I thought were going to fly out the door just sit there, and something that you think, nobody on earth is going to be interested in this, are sold out in 24 hours. It’s a peculiar phenomenon and it cannot be predicted.
HTF: Well here’s to more sell outs and less warehouse space.
Yes. Particularly because Cinram has to do the storing. Cinram is our manufacturer, based in Pennsylvania. We send half the run to Screen Archives and then Cinram keeps the second half pending reorders from Screen Archives, and so soon we are going to need our own warehouse at Cinram, I think.
People say, the reason that a title hasn’t sold out is because it’s not in Wal-Mart, it’s not in Target, and nobody knows to go to this obscure website called www.screenarchives.com. I believe that is not completely accurate. Think about it: Twilight Time has been going for nine months. Our first release came out in March of 2011, we haven’t been doing this for years and years. We have just started. It’s been a very steep learning curve for us, even for people like Brian Jamieson and I. Decades of experience in studio and video distribution and we have still found that it’s very hard. And we are still learning. We do know that one of the problems that we have with our model is it depends on people knowing that these titles exist and that they have to go to screenarchives.com to get them.
We don’t have thousands and thousands of dollars that we can spend on. So we have to do this by osmosis and it’s an incremental business. We feel that when we started in March, nobody knew anything about this at all. Yet, here we are at the end of the year, and I feel quite a few people know about us now and it’s thanks to Home Theater Forum, other places, and also having a Facebook page. Gradually people are coming around. When Sony offered us Fright Night, initially, we thought that we might not do it because well, Fright Night didn't really fit the Twilight Time model, it’s not the kind of catalogue film that we do. But we said okay, Sony is asking us if we would like to do it and so let’s say yes. And the benefit of Fright Night for us is it has brought an entirely new demographic of aficionados, predominantly the younger group. A cadre of much more vigorous complainants about the price, but as we know, every young person thinks everything should be free.
HTF: "Occupy Twilight Time”, yes.
Absolutely. I mean soon it will be, the Blu-ray should be free and you should pay us $5 to take it off your hands. I mean that's ultimately where this is going. So those people have got to learn that Blu-rays are going to become more rarified and I think they are going to be surprised. I think you will see that studio retail MSRPs for Blu-rays is going to start increasing over the next year.
HTF: I have already seen it a little bit.
Yeah, consciously under the radar trying to reverse a marketing decision that clearly wasn’t the right one, which was to devalue the product in order to spike a boom in sales. And I am afraid that people are going to have to get used to them being more like $25 to $30 than $7.99.
HTF: I think that Screen Archives is smart by also registering with Amazon as the seller and listing your products there. Mysterious Island is there now and that's a great way for so many people to go to Amazon and look for it, and know it exists.
Correct. And that's the only way we can do it. I mean I had the discussion with Screen Archives about them being a third party seller where of course they have to charge even more on Amazon. For example, Mysterious Island which is $34.95 if you buy direct from Screen Archives is $39.95 if you get it through Amazon because of course they have to add the Amazon markup. It is not practical for Twilight Time either with or without Screen Archives to go to Amazon and say will you sell our product because the amount of money that they take per unit is so high that it just isn't practical. So we can't do it that way. But Screen Archives can be there as a third party seller and if people who do routinely, you know, go to Amazon and try to find something, let’s say, for example, you have always wanted Mysterious Island on Blu-ray and you keep looking for it on Amazon, eventually you will find it through Screen Archives as a third party seller. It’s not the best way to do it but it’s the only practical way to do it right now. And Screen Archives, too, buoyed by the interest that is being generated in Twilight Time have now begun to sell the Columbia Classic DVD-Rs and they are also selling the MGM UA DVD-Rs. And I think that there is a rumor around that Warner Archive will soon start selling to third party vendors as well. In which case Screen Archives will start carrying Warner Archive releases and that means that Screen Archives becomes overnight a real player in the DVD/Blu-ray business because they will be offering 1000 to 1500 titles.
Twilight Time, though, is the only line of Blu-rays that they have. But it’s going to draw more and more people. Screen Archiveshave been around for 35 years. They used to be a retail store in Dallas, Texas and then they moved to the Washington, DC area and now are processing thousands and thousands of CD orders every day. So it’s quite a big operation, but just not known as well yet in the DVD and Blu-ray world, but they will be. It won’t take long. They weren't ready for Fright Night, though. When Fright Night went up for presale at noon on November 14, it crashed their site!
Julie Kirgo, our Twilight Time staff writer, is an old, old friend of mine and we have worked together on many projects over the years. She just loves writing about these films and it’s funny how much Brian, Julie, and I really care about this little side line. It is, as you said, a labor of love, and we really want it to continue. I don’t want to have to go back to the studios and say, well, we are going to have to hang up our boots because we just can't make it work.
And then again, if we do really badly they are vindicated and they were right not to do it in the first place and we just want to disprove the theory that nobody wants catalogue DVDs or Blu-rays anymore. I believe that there are people out there that really do care but, you know, as a generation, they are getting older, and the younger people are becoming less and less connected to the past, to the history of film and so on.
HTF: Unfortunately I think you are right. Now, obviously every studio is a little different and you can't speak for studios but Fright Night is a title where so many people have said, I don’t understand why Sony isn't releasing this. It would sell way more than 3000 titles. Based on your gut feeling and experience, what does a studio need to see in sales to decide that it’s worth it to release a title?
Let’s take a hypothetical and Fright Night is a good hypothetical. Let’s say that a studio says we have got this film that we made 26 years ago and a remake has just come out and we are going to assume that the remake will do decently well. So therefore we will piggy back on the remake when the remake goes to Blu-ray, we will do our Blu-ray of the title and we will go head to head with the remake and see what happens. In order to make it worth their while they would have to manufacture probably somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 units
The first thing they are going to do is look at the DVD sales and say well, this thing sells an average of 681 copies a year. If we have to go out with 100,000 units that might be a bit of a stretch for us, you know, because a lot of them are going to come back. Then they get their people selling it in to places like Wal-Mart and all of the chains, asking themto take 10,000. So in the end let’s say that they get orders for about 70 or 80,000 Fright Nights. Then they have to worry about how much money they are going to charge for it. If it’s only $7.99 or something like that, they are going to make pennies on the unit sale. If it fails they are going to get back 70,000 or 80,000 of the 100,000 units that they pressed to their warehouse where they are either destroyed or remaindered and written off for $1 each to a Wal-Mart-like entity where they then take a complete loss, and the title is further devalued.
Alternatively they can say to Twilight Time, why don’t you put it out in your limited edition format!
Being in business with us represents no risk. They get some money to show for the sale. And then they can try to use their market research to analyze what Twilight Time did or didn’t do with the title to see whether or not it’s worth doing again in the future. So again, like we said earlier, we’re sort of a petri dish. It is perfectly understandable why the studios are becoming increasingly reluctant to mass-produce catalogue titles in an ever more uncertain market.
HTF: Do you think that as you continue to roll out titles, it will be easier for you to work with your existing studio relationships to get more titles?
I think that we stand a chance with the limited edition model because the studios always have the option to do something again with the title. It’s their asset. They own it, it’s theirs. They could do whatever they want with it in the future. There is no harm, no foul in it for them. It will only be undermined if we find there just isn't enough of a consumer base to support the model. Then we all will have to pick up our chips and find another game.
Studios do need sites like yours. They are interested in what consumers have to say. It doesn’t necessarily make them act a certain way but they take it on board and they can feel pressured. It’s a very fine line, making the right decision which I believe Sony did with Fright Night. This way, they have something and the fans have something. They did it, they look like heroes to the consumers that want it and there is no risk or downside to that.
HTF: I would actually be afraid that they would say okay, we won’t farm things out because that's when we get into trouble with our consumers but we will just sit on the titles and never release them like we were doing before.
Right, you are right. Studios are jittery. The people that work there are human beings. They would love to keep those jobs. We are in a very unstable world at the moment and they don’t want to be out of work. So therefore it’s much easier to sit and be very cagey about things than it is to put your head up above the firing line and do something. So they are taking a chance by licensing, but they are not just licensing to Twilight Time, they are also licensing to Criterion and Image and other companies.
I think they know that they can trust their product with us, that we are going to treat it well, that we are going to do exactly what we say.
HTF: I see two different, very distinct reactions to your model. Some people, including the vast majority of people on our forum, think this is fantastic. These are films that would not otherwise ever be released. Yes, they are not going to be discounted but at the same time, at least I have the option of purchasing the ones I am really interested in. If they didn’t exist I would never be able to own this on Blu-ray.
That is absolutely right. I think the market per se, particularly for esoteric international films that Criterion specializes in or old films in general—there are not huge numbers of people clamoring for them. People think that because they themselves are rabid collectors that there must be millions of other people like them, and it just isn't true. And then the 3000 number is not out of thin air, it’s based on a real sense of what there is out there in terms of those aficionados that would really want a film like The Left Hand of God or the remake of Stagecoach, or My Cousin Rachel. But 3000 is not an out of kilter number, it was based on accurate projections for soundtracks initially, and now that number is exactly the right ballpark for deep catalogue films. And even though Fright Night sold out, it wasn’t instantaneous, it was available to order for a five week period and had been announced and mentioned on all the websites for two and a half months prior to that.
HTF: You had a much-needed success with it because like you said, you want to have some of those to help fund some of the other titles.
Yes, we have to. I mean it would be fantastic for us to have a Fright Night every other month but we know we aren’t. In January we have Roots of Heaven and Picnic. We love Picnic, it’s just not going to have the clamor that Fright Night had. There was a clamor, a frenzy, the minute that Fright Night went up for presale and there was a furor about it. But (sadly!) that's not going to happen with every release.
HTF: Part of the issue I think is there are still a lot of people who like classic films that don’t think that they are going to see a significant upgrade by going from DVD to Blu-ray. And slowly at least on our site, we are seeing people for whom there is that one film that makes them upgrade. Then it’s, “oh my goodness’s I can't believe I waited this long to start getting some of these classic films on Blu-ray”.
Yeah. I am with you. You know, I have been slowly only slowly dipping my toe into the Blu-ray water. The one that got me is the film we have come out with at the same time as Fright Night--Rapture, this very little known John Guillermin film from 1965. We might not even have done this title, but Guillermin himself called us and said “I have got this little film at Fox and it’s my favorite film of my own work. I would love it if you would put it out”. That inspired us to go look for it. Fox had this pristine high def master of the movie; it’s a black and white Scope film shot by Marcel Grignon. It looks like a French classic, like a Nouvelle Vague film. It was all shot in Brittany, with some scenes in Paris. So the whole vibe of the film is French New Wave. It’s one of the most gorgeous looking black and white Scope films I have ever seen. it’s been a revelation for us, and I think it will be for people who take a chance on it even if they have never heard of it. It doesn’t have big stars in it, it has Melvyn Douglas and Dean Stockwell, and the masses don’t usually rush to get Melvyn Douglas’ movies! But when they see the look of it, and how it looks like on Blu-ray, I think they will be completely knocked out by it, and it will be like discovering a French New Wave film they didn’t know existed. We wouldn’t have had it if John Guillermin hadn’t called. So these are little serendipitous things that happen that lead to treasures being unearthed like this.
HTF: It’s great that the film makers are even seeking you out and see you as a viable way for their art to live on.
Susan King in the LA Times wrote a little piece about Brian and me last Christmas. It was before we had released anything. She basically said that this could be the future of DVD. “It’s going to be about independents like Twilight Time.” Guillermin said he read the piece, called Susan King and got my telephone number from her. He's a feisty guy, in his eighties, and who of course directed films like The Blue Max, The Towering Inferno and Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure. He has a very long filmography.
But Rapture, this movie literally came and went. It didn’t even get a proper release. It was a Darryl Zanuck production after Zanuck had left the studio but returned to it in the 60s. He was still doing independent films that were being released by 20th Century Fox. It was one of Zanuck’s pet projects. A black and white Scope film, a strange story, a little bit like Whistle Down The Wind, about a young girl who is badly treated by her father. She has a scarecrow made out of his clothes in the garden which she thinks comes to life when an escaped convict played by Dean Stockwell appears, and she falls in love with this man who she thinks is her scarecrow come to life. It’s a very odd film. But again, very typical of the films that would be made at that particular time with a great sort of look to it and a great feel about it, and a fantastic score by Georges Delerue. And that Guillermin, of all the films he has made, and all the successes that he has had—this is the one that he thinks about at the age of 86, the one that he wishes would be saved by somebody. We’re honored to have had the opportunity.
I'd like to thank Nick for taking the time to speak with HTF, and congratulate Twilight Time on their first title sell-out. I appreciate the passion they have shown to release titles that I don't think would have been released otherwise. For those of you not yet familiar with Twilight Time or their releases here are some past HTF reviews: Rapture Blu-ray Review | Fight Night Blu-ray Review | The Egyptian Blu-ray Review| Mysterious Island Blu-ray Review | The Kremlin Letter DVD Review | Violent Saturday DVD Review | Fate is the Hunter DVD Review | The Flim-Flam Man DVD Review | Stagecoach (1966) DVD Review | The Left Hand of God DVD Review. You can also follow them here on HTF to see any new threads, Twitter or Facebook updates: http://www.hometheat...m/twilight-time
Robert Harris has also weighed in: A Few Words About The Egyptian | A Few Words About Mysterious Island
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