What prompted you to come to this year’s Las Vegas Licensing Expo?
In the last year, with all the heat on the new Puppet Master movie (Puppet Master: Axis Termination), we’ve had so many people call us about licensing. I had to come to Vegas to meet some of these people because it’s a real lost opportunity if I don’t. The franchise is so well known and so it’s time to get involved in licensing.
It was good show for us. We made some odd deals but so many people have grown up with these films that it makes sense. We’re talking to some big video games companies now and we’ll be back at next year's show too.
How has your approach to licensing your movies changed since when the first Puppet Master film came out back in 1989?
It was a whole different world. It was a world where you could make some money if you made a good movie because there was a huge rental market. You were shipping VHS tapes, which sounds like some kind of antique now. We were distributed by Paramount for years and Puppet Master was a huge success. We shipped hundreds of thousands of units to video rental stores.
I’ve been involved in eight or nine well-known active franchises for many years, and it’s only recently that the bottom fell out of the rental business. To bring in the revenue to make sure we keep making these movies, we need to forge licensing partnerships. Merchandise deals are fun for the fans and helps us to stay in business.
Why does the new Puppet Master film lend itself to merchandise?
From the start of the franchise, it’s always been very ‘toyetic’. I’ve never made a slasher movie and torture movies were never my cup of tea. My films are fantasy based and a lot of them have creatures and dolls as the main focus. It’s an easy thing to transition into products.
The characters are always pretty unique. If it was just some guy in a mask cutting people up, it makes licensing harder. My movies are also always sort of benign-ish, so they travel well. It all works out well.
Horror fans are a passionate bunch so there must be a hunger for merchandise based on your movies?
They are, thank God. We’ve done some crazy weird deals. There’s a guy that makes high-end bracelets where the beads are actually the heads of well-known characters. It seems silly but each bead sells for $45 and you can get 13 beads on a bracelet. They’ve had endless requests for Blade from Puppet Master so that’s an interesting deal.
Another weird deal was with a guy whose business is selling these little things that pop together to create the 3D head of a famous character. It takes about an hour to build and he sells to museums mainly. He’s now looking for movie icons and we did a deal where he’ll make the heads of Blade, Torch and the Gingerdead Man.
They are strange deals but they’re fun for the fans.
Are you ever conscious of putting something in a film because you know it will sell well as a piece of merchandise?
I don’t really think that way. I’m lucky in that a lot of the characters in our films are creatures that do make good toys. If I was making psychological thrillers, it’d be cool but there’s no toy potential there. But it’s not like I decided to make all these weird puppet movies to sell toys; it just seemed to work.
So many people I meet who say they grew up with my movies. I had a meeting with the guy who runs Loot Crate and I was excited because they ship half a million of these crates. He was a fan and knew every movie I’d ever made. I didn’t need to sell him anything. There’s an advantage to having had been around for a long time.
How did you start off making these kinds of cult fantasy titles and what do you make of today's movie landscape?
I’m a fan of the films. I didn’t think it was a good genre to exploit; I just liked the films. When I started making movies, it was before all the major studios started making similar movies with $200m budgets. Now the market is oversaturated with big tent pole movies. I don’t like most of them because they use CGI, which to me looks cartoony.
I don’t know how many times we’re going to see iconic buildings being blown up and bridges falling. We’ve seen it. Give us a character we care about. If you don’t care about the people it’s meaningless. It’s like they’re beating you over the head with a sink.