Arrow Video for over 5 years now have been release retro cult classics under their own brand name, polishing up sound and picture for blu-ray release and often adding new extra features into the packaging. Works from important directors like George Romero, Wes Craven, Dario Argento, Brian De Palma are just a few of the names that have been touched on.
The Arrow brand is a constant presence each business quarter as they reveal via their website, twitter and facebook accounts what is coming up for release next.
We managed to get some free time from Francesco Simeoni of Arrow Video to tell us more about what goes on behind the scenes when acquiring titles and what process is followed through to release.
Can you tell us generally who or how many people you have looking for titles that would be appropriate to release through arrow?
It fluctuates as the team is split across different areas of the company but the core team has one person always looking at new acquisitions (me) and then across the rest of the business there are two more.
What process would they follow once a title is thought of?
Each case is different. Sometimes a package of films becomes available (like the HandMade films) and this is presented to different companies by an agent and so we decide if we want to go for it or not. Some packages we let go, often because they are not right for the business. Other times there are films we really want so we seek them out by doing research, speaking with colleagues and so on. Lastly there is just regular contact with our licensors, agents and producer who represent films and libraries and we will be looking for more product and we will choose what we want to work on, based on what our fans are telling us by email, social media and what they are buying.
Are you avoiding certain areas when doing this? Like for example: if a title is owned by a large studio like Warner or Universal do you ignore that, or can you still approach these people to do your own release?
Warner do not sublicense to anyone, there are very few exceptions to this rule but generally anything Warner is off the cards. Paramount too are difficult. Universal, Twentieth Century Fox and MGM are good to work with and we have released many titles by these companies. But some things you know you won’t be able to get, Universal wouldn’t give us Jaws for instance, and Fox wouldn’t give us The Fly, there are some things you know you wouldn’t be able to get, some companies you know you can’t work with so that helps narrow things down but it’s never a simple formula with whoever or whatever it is.
Looking at time scale: How far ahead would you say you are with certain titles. How long do you work on a title from the moment you get the rights to it to the moment you release it?
Well ‘working on’ is a bit vague, we are acquiring titles now for the end of the year and 2015 so that in a sense is working on, we are right now thinking about extras for our titles at the end of the year, but also some in the next couple of months, adding things, fine tuning. We are also looking at artwork across the board, from now til December. Selecting artists, divvying up titles to producers in the team, selecting who will work on extras if new interviews need to be shot and so on. But also in the immediate there’s work going on for releases out next week – checking that stock has come in from the warehouse, that PR has everything they need, that check discs and booklets are being sent out to reviews, arranging advertising so work is always happening right across the whole slate of releases which are many months apart.
We limit ourselves to about three for Arrow Video and one for Arrow Academy, this is because we feel releasing much more would make it too much for our fans to keep up with, potentially buying four releases a month is quite expensive!
For titles that have been released before by other companies that have existing extras – do you try to buy over these extras like documentaries or commentaries, trailers etc?
If they are good then yes we do, if we feel something has dated or could be significantly improved then we will make our own and start afresh.
Arrow of course do their own upgrade work as well. Who looks after picture and sound restoration – And again is there a certain amount of budget that has to be attributed to this? If so, does this potentially mean that the more successful releases are then the more money and time you have to put into future releases?
Yes we have many restorations under our belt as well as many more upcoming. All this is looked after by our Head of Technical and Restoration, James White. It is of course natural that successful releases will support more niche and experimental releases and this is certainly the case. Something like our forthcoming release of WITHNAIL AND I will surely be much more successful than our STRAY CAT ROCK collection – films not many people have heard of.
Is this process always being improved to give even better definitions in sound and picture quality? Can you tell us about the process used currently to clean images, and sharpen sound?
James White (Head of Technical and Restoration) steps in to take this question:
As you might imagine given the range of titles we’ve restored, each film presents its own set of challenges, given the accessibility of original elements, the history of the film and its distribution on film and video, as well as the overall condition of the film materials. That said, our goal is always the same, to present that film at both the highest quality and in the most historically accurate way possible. This involves no small amount of researching into what existing materials are available, after which we take a film through the stages of scanning, grading and restoring the image and sound, conforming – and reviewing each of these stages down to the smallest details along the way. We’re keen to involve any of the original talent behind the film whenever possible, such as the film’s director (as we did with TIME BANDITS), or its cinematographer (as we’re currently doing with WITHNAIL AND I), as we want what we produce to be as definitive as possible. As we do the lion’s share of our work with Deluxe labs in London, we have access to the most up-to-date technology and a dedicated staff sensitive to our project specifications. No matter how sophisticated the tools we have to work with these days, we feel they should only be used in service to the film and to arrive at a result that looks and sounds photochemically genuine.
Arrow also present “making of” and extensive interviews with cast and crew from particular films. How do you decide how to allocate time and budget for these? Not every release has extras whereas some are bursting at the seams. (The Argento collection is a good example for a variety of releases).
This depends on the film, sometimes in a contract you have to release a film by a certain time so if the people you need to interview are shooting another film, not available or dead then there are little options as to what you can do with your special features. You can interview critics who can often share more lucidly the details of a film’s production than the crew can or delve into the film’s meaning and themes in a very interesting way but you can only do that once, so this can be a contributing factor in a release having less extras. Another reason is of course budget, if a film is not very well known or has a history of not selling well then it would be silly to heap lots of extras, and therefore money on which may end up sitting on shelves with no one buying it. If it’s a very successful film then the opposite can be true. The film may have lots of extras that we can buy in but fans may have seen those many times before so they aren’t exciting and so give little reason for someone to buy the film again but we don’t want to not include them so the answer becomes adding old and creating new, this way anyone who hasn’t seen those extras gets something interesting and those who are familiar get them (so they don’t need to keep their old release) as well as having new content to pique their interest. So this way a release can really be loaded with extras. Other times it’s just out of pure passion. LIFEFORCE, TEXAS CHAIN SAW 2, the De Palma releases, WHITE OF THE EYE, these releases are so loaded because when we are producing them we can’t resist adding more and more because we love them ourselves.
Can you tell us a bit more about how the interviews are set up with cast/crew for films?
When we buy a new title for distribution we make a decision on how to approach the extras, if we can buy in existing extras and add short films/supporting features, do a small booklet or a large book, shoot new content and who will do that. Once all this is chosen the company shooting the new content will chase the relevant people and we will discuss what approach to take, if we know for sure some cast aren’t available or if we are in touch with certain cast members or crew already and go from there.
Who gets to shape and edit these into documentaries ready for release?
This is the responsibility of the company chosen to film the new content.
You sometimes get Cast/Crew commentaries as well – But often too you have critics come in to record commentaries. Can you tell us a bit more about these?
Often you know that a commentary won’t be able to come from cast or crew, or that a film is deserving of further critical analysis so this is where critic are the best to call on. We research critics who are fans of the film in question, or have written on it, in say a biography, as Alan Jones has on Dario Argento’s work, as Sam Umland has for WHITE OF THE EYE, as Steven Thrower has on Lucio Fulci’s work and so on.
UK Horror journalists/specialist Kim Newman and Alan Jones have teamed up on various occasions to do some of the Argento catalogue both Commentaries as well as information booklets. Can you tell us why perhaps they have not done more of these – it was almost becoming a trend to have them on?
It is mostly a question of finding the appropriate title, we wouldn’t want them to do so many commentaries as this may start to get a bit boring for both them and the fans but both continue to contribute to our booklets regularly since those commentaries.
Arrow also has brand new art done for the covers of the release – sometimes with multiple versions/reversible sleeves. Can you tell us about the artists that do the work for you – are they contracted, do artists come to you for ideas, do you run competitions for this?
We have always had new artwork with reversible sleeves since our label started in 2009. In fact I think we were the first label to do this (I joined Arrow in 2010 so I can’t be sure!) we draw on a wide pool of artists, who work freelance, each is approached because we feel their style and sensibility is fitting with the film. We do not run competitions for artwork (yet) but artists do regularly approach us though we rarely find that the artwork is appropriate or timely with what we happen to be working on at that time so it’s often just bad timing for artists submitting cold.
You also occasionally do a steel book release on certain releases. Can you tell us how these are picked and decided?
SteelBooks carry a high minimum order quantity so they are selected for the biggest titles. The artwork we will generally favour is the original poster, but this doesn’t always work, like Brian De Palma’s BLOW OUT the original poster is quite dull so wouldn’t look good on a SteelBook. We are very happy with our series of Vincent Price SteelBooks which are all landscape so that’s great that they are all going down so well with the fans!
Do you often use other media partners to promote the release of new titles. Either to run competitions, signed posters, t-shirts (You even did a large give away one year at Frightfest I seem to recall)?
We would like to but media partners are often not interested in what we are doing, usually they are just interested in the new Spiderman film unfortunately. but festivals like FrightFest are the exception and we like to be involved with as many festivals and events as possible and now attend many conventions where we sell our new releases, often before they are officially out and talk to fans and so on.
Are you planning to do further runs of discs that sell out. As we understand it the DAWN OF THE DEAD Blu-ray set is becoming hard to get hold of?
No, once something is sold out we won’t release it again, but in the case of DAWN OF THE DEAD and MARTIN this is a rights issue. Unfortunately the rights were sold on before we could renew our license so we had to stop selling the films which we are very disappointed about.
And that wraps up the chat. Arrow are busier than ever with more cult classics to come in the following months. Vincent price Fans look out for The Pit and the Pendulum, De Palma fans can get excited about Sisters, and Joe Dante’s The Burbs coming our way.
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