CONVERSATIONS WITH NICK REDMAN
This month marks the debut of ‘Conversations with…’ a series of articles dedicated to professionals working largely behind the scenes in Hollywood, breathing new life into classic films and film scores to ensure that our collective cultural heritage – that which we have so lovingly coined ‘the movies’ continues to proliferate and endure as a testament beyond the ravages of time. This month’s interview is with Nick Redman, whose extraordinarily diverse career began in London England. He has since segued into doing just about everything a film collector could hope for to ensure that yesteryear’s golden memories remain golden for the rest of us long into the future; we who continue to cherish the past as much as Nick himself so obviously does.
When I sat down to discuss Nick’s career with him he was not only gracious, but talked very openly about his upbringing as well as those who helped mature a starry-eyed dreamer with great aspirations into a passionate archivist and one of the foremost proponents of film and film score preservation today. But Nick was also quite frank in his critiques on industry trends, devoted to celebrating the meaningful relationships he has fostered throughout the years and also to remember the people who helped ease him into his present career.
As you will discover, Nick shares a lot in this interview; about Hollywood over the last twenty years particularly in home video, giving the rest of us some intriguing glimpses into the bureaucracy as well as the craftsmanship that goes into creating new archival materials; allowing the work of such past immortals as Bernard Herrmann, David Raksin, Alfred Newman and Alex North – to name just a handful - to live on in perpetuity.
But that’s only one part to the Nick Redman story – a legacy that includes working on movies, performing in British television, offering his concerted thoughts and reflections on numerous audio commentaries for DVD and Blu-ray, conducting live interviews for BAFTA’s Heritage Archive and even producing an Academy Award-nominated documentary about Sam Peckinpah’s classic revisionist western, The Wild Bunch (1969). Nick also talks about his involvement on 2007’s Becoming John Ford, a feature-length documentary he made for Fox, detailing the often caustic, creative relationship between Ford and then production chief Darryl F. Zanuck. It’s a documentary that became a special selection at the Venice International Film Festival.
Few careers have been as varied or as active. Fewer still have lasted as long. Nick recently celebrated his 20th anniversary as a consultant for Fox’s Music Restoration and Preservation; an alliance that has given back so much to that rich and priceless musical heritage, currently some 600 titles strong and available on CD for all of our listening enjoyment. But it’s Nick’s insight that really serves as the backbone of a minor renaissance currently unfolding within the home video market; the rise of the boutique hi-def Blu-ray label, Twilight Time; a company Nick co-founded in 2011 with longtime friend and business colleague Brian Jamieson, whom Nick talks about extensively later on; how the two met and began their partnership/friendship and what prompted them to take on third party licensing of some of the Sony and 2oth Century-Fox’s back catalogue - a gamble on a fledgling niche market at best – and, at a time when the world financial crisis was at its zenith. That obviously took a lot of guts. But Nick is very circumspect and even congenial about what makes him tick, saying quite simply “I’ve been lucky.”
Indeed, that luck has served him well, as has Nick’s intuitive ability to undertake multiple projects and see virtually all of them through. Twilight Time’s phenomenal growth spurt as the ‘go to’ label for quality transfers of hard-to-find classic movies on Blu-ray as well as some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters of their generation is garnering a lot of praise – all of it well deserved – and some criticism that seems grossly unwarranted. Nick takes it all in stride; saying that even ‘negative publicity’ has its purpose, if for nothing else to perpetuate and spread the word about the company.
In this interview you’ll also read how the name Twilight Time came about and it’s a good story. Yet when I asked Nick to surmise his success in general his stock answer has remained “I’ve been lucky.” But I think after reading this you will agree that although luck played its part, the lion’s share of Nick Redman’s success and reputation is nothing if not a complete and formidable investment of his time, energies, his expertise and his talent – not merely for recognizing what needs to be done, but in having the fortitude, foresight and wherewithal to just go right out and do it; a lot of blood, sweat and tears – the latter, mostly of joy. So here now, from a conversation I had back in August of this year, is the debut of Conversations with Nick Redman. Enjoy.
NixPix – Nick I just want to say what an honor it is to speak with you today about what can only be described as one incredible and varied career. We all move around in our chosen professions but the trajectory of yours has always had this forward motion, building upon the experiences as well as the mistakes from the past. You’ve done so much and, at least in hindsight, so quickly too. It all looks easy from an outsider’s perspective. Although I have no doubt that it was anything but. I wonder if, before we get to talking about the industry and other career developments if you wouldn’t mind sharing a bit about your life before you came to Hollywood, or even America for that matter. Give us something of the story behind the story.
Nick Redman - “Well, first off let me just say I’m happy to speak with you today as well. And yes, I’d like to do that too, chronologically if that’s alright.”
NixPix - Absolutely. Go right ahead.
Nick Redman - “Well, I was born in Wimbledon, South West London where, of course, tennis is still played. My father was a book-keeper; mum a housewife. You must remember that postwar England was still very depressed economically in the mid-1950's. Mum had a ration book into the '60's. It was a very working class British existence. I left school when I was fifteen, which was not uncommon: no real education and certainly university was not an option. So I went to work for the government, in civil service at the old War Office Building in the Ministry of Defense. I did that for two years.
From fifteen to the time I was seventeen and a half I was a Junior Clerk. And although I had achieved the status of working with secret documents, a career in government held no great interest for me. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life there. But when I would say this to people they would gasp as in ‘How could you not?’ It was, in fact, hard to get in and just as hard to get out and I know people who spent their whole lives working there. But I didn’t want it. So I went back to school and took drama for a year. I was almost certain I wanted to be in show business. Only I didn’t know anyone who was in show business. I banged around a bit as an actor, playing Neanderthal thugs on British television – nothing of merit, really.
Eventually, I realized my future wasn’t going to be in acting and so I went to work for producers for television. Most of my twenties were spent as an assistant producer, reading scripts, trying to write scripts. There really wasn’t a whole lot going on in the British film industry at that time. By the mid-1980's I knew I had to get out one way or another. So at age twenty-nine, I packed my bags and took a trip to the United States. I had always wanted to go there.
NixPix – And so you came to L.A.?
Nick Redman - “No - first to New York for two weeks. Then I flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico and drove from there to Los Angeles. For a British kid who dreamed about the American west it was everything I hoped it would be. I mean going through Arizona and passing the spot where Geronimo was captured, and then Tombstone, the Painted Dessert and finally California. Actually I met my wife there. We became acquainted before I had to fly back to New York and then back to England. A long distance relationship followed. Eventually we married and had a daughter, Rebecca, who is twenty and the enduring love of my life.”
NixPix - That never changes.
Nick Redman - “No, it certainly doesn’t. But when I came back to L.A. I was thirty and it really was like starting all over again, I mean in the industry. I had an idea because I had done a few documentaries for the BBC and their affiliates and one of them was on film music. I didn’t realize there was no interest for things like that over here back then. So, I banged on a lot of doors. One of them belonged to agent Richard Kraft who was then head of Varèse Sarabande and whose brother, David was a director at KTLA News Channel 5 in Los Angeles. We became very good friends and in fact still are and both Richard and David became mentors very early on; also Bruce Kimmel who went on to produce Varèse Sarabande’s Broadway musicals albums. Bruce encouraged me to go after soundtracks because I think he could see that was where my interest lay.”
NixPix - So how did you make the leap to 2oth Century-Fox?
Nick Redman - “Richard had heard that Fox was looking for someone to come in and begin a new archival program, in effect going through the vaults and unearthing and preserving their rich legacy in film music. They wanted to restore some of their vintage catalogue. My first meeting, or I should say interview, came and went and I learned that it was a toss-up between me and another guy. Months and months passed and nothing. And I didn’t think I had it. And then I got a call from Elliot Lurie, the head of the music department and he said, ‘It’s you’ and I had to start off by asking for maternity leave because my daughter, Rebecca had just been born.
Fox had a vast library of film music…material stored on 35mm film that had essentially lain dormant for fifty years. But in 1993, Fox created their new record imprint (Fox Records) in association with Arista. Like all labels, this one would primarily feature new artists. But the studio also decided that if some classic catalogue could be resuscitated then those titles would also be added to the pot for good measure. Funny story, actually – though true…when Elliot Lurie welcomed me on board his first words were “Okay, so nobody around here knows how to do what we're asking you to do…so don't come to us with any questions!”
I thought he was joking. Then I realized he wasn’t and spent weeks just sort of rummaging around the place getting to know the ropes and where everything was. I found executives who were extremely supportive; first and foremost and always - Tom Cavanaugh, Fox Music's head of business affairs. Quite simply without Tom's constant help, support, encouragement, and boundless enthusiasm and his generosity along the way, both in business and as a dear friend…there is no-one like him…this program would not have survived in any way, shape or form.
Somehow in that first year we were able to release CD’s for Stormy Weather (1943), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Robe (1953), Laura (1944),Star! (1968) and, of infinitely more pleasure to the accountants, a 4-CD Star Wars Anthology set…the sales of which paid for a lot of other sins. Actually, later on we were able to revisit Star Wars with a 20th Anniversary set to coincide with the theatrical reissues of the movies and that really has been the gift that kept on giving. But it’s been a learning curve.
Somehow there was always an executive or two in various departments who took an interest in what we were doing. In the early days I leaned a lot on home video, supplying audio cassettes to be packaged with video tapes and 24-carat special edition gold CDs to go with the Laserdiscs, isolated score tracks to synergize Fox Music's restorations with the movies themselves.
Over the years specialty labels dedicated to soundtracks kept the program alive. To date as many as 600 albums of vintage Fox film scores have been issued on CD and at least 200 more restored, inventoried and vaulted for safekeeping under the supervision of Ron Fuglsby and Library Services. Even at this current rate of progress it'll take a while to complete the job. But we're getting there. And you must remember that in its infancy home video was hardly the department anyone wanted to get into – not just at Fox - but anywhere. It was thought of as the absolute dead last. Everyone wanted to concentrate on new feature development. But then VHS took off.”
NixPix - And so did your career as an unofficial consultant at Fox music restorations.
Nick Redman - “Well, the one thing is that I have remained constant. It’s an ever-changing industry, not just from a technological standpoint but also in staff - who come and go. Yet its’ been twenty years and I am still here. I don’t go to the studio every day but I do oversee the Fox music library as a consultant under a non-exclusive arrangement which has been rewarding because it’s meant I can go after projects elsewhere too, at other studios and record labels.”
NixPix - Is that how your involvement began on The Wild Bunch?
Nick Redman - “Yes…well, sort of. You see Warner had approached with the idea of doing a remaster on Jerry Fielding’s score for the film. And I love that movie and naturally said ‘yes’. But it was a complete accident, more so thinking back on it now, because that’s where I met Brian Jamieson who hired me back in 1994.”
NixPix - Whom you partnered up with to create Twilight Time?
Nick Redman - “Yes. But back then Brian was VP of International Marketing for Warner Home Video. He began working in New Zealand in exhibition (managing theaters) then in distribution in London, where he met director Stanley Kubrick, and finally making the jump to Warner Home Video in Los Angeles in 1984. Brian was Stanley’s point man to promote all his home video releases. But Warner Bros. just wanted me to look after Fielding’s score. The documentary The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage (1996) was a complete accident.”
NixPix - How do you mean?
Nick Redman - “Warner’s was restoring the movie for a Laserdisc release and we were doing the soundtrack at the same time. And one day these reels of 35 and 16mm film were discovered in the vaults and the guy who discovered them came to Brian and said ‘I don’t know if there’s anything useful here…’ and inside was this extraordinary behind-the-scenes footage of director Sam Peckinpah making the movie. Priceless stuff. Silent footage. And Paul Seydor was a film editor then who had written this book on Peckinpah that I had become obsessed with and read, then re-read from cover to cover and could not put down. Paul and I became great friends and when I decided that I wanted to produce a documentary to incorporate this ‘lost’ footage there was really only one man I could see directing it and it was Paul.
You know, the business end of Hollywood is tough. But Brian said, ‘Look, you want to do this, I’ll find the money for it somehow’…and he really worked to push it through at a time when nobody was doing documentaries about movies and it was just one of those things. You must remember that The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage was originally prepared as a Laserdisc supplement. It had no proposed life beyond that. But when it was completed, thanks to Brian, it received a theatrical release and even came up for Oscar consideration.
NixPix - That must have been exciting.
Nick Redman - “Nerve-wracking actually. I can still remember sitting in the audience as Tommy lee Jones and Will Smith read the nominees and I thought ‘No’. Because, you see, Entertainment Weekly had sort of put the jinx on us saying, ‘well, The Wild Bunch should win it but Breathing Lessons will probably win it. And in fact, did. Breathing Lessons is the documentary about this poet in an iron lung. And Jessica Yu, in accepting the Oscar made headlines when she said ‘I’m probably the first Academy Award winner whose dress cost more than the film.”
NixPix - Still, it must have been rewarding to get the nomination.
Nick Redman - “Very much. Never before had a home video division made a documentary that went to the Oscars. It’s an expensive process, striking prints and marketing and distribution and getting through the Academy’s whole series of qualifying rules. Studios normally never push anything that went to home video. But the Head of Warner’s theatrical distribution back then was a man by the name of Barry Reardon who could see what we were doing and said, ‘I’ll find a way to bury the costs.’ He was absolutely essential to getting prints made and shown in theaters. Today, it would never qualify for the Oscars, if in fact it was even made at all.”
NixPix - Oh?
Nick Redman - “Yes, you see the system’s so difficult today. First, the Academy rules have been changed. I think AMPAS was a little concerned that all of the studios would start flooding the market by submitting every home video supplement and bonus feature for Oscar consideration in the ‘under 40 minute or less category’. The documentary category is usually reserved for more independent product.
So they panicked, as the industry will do from time to time, and made it so that today it’s virtually impossible to get any studio-made documentaries up for consideration. The qualifying rules are impossible. In fact, at one point AMPAS tried to abolish the 34 min. documentary category altogether. It didn’t succeed at the last minute. But they tried. Even making documentaries for home video today…everything’s changed. The Wild Bunch documentary was released just before the advent of DVD. But today, studios look upon DVD bonus features in general as an irritating necessity.
NixPix – That’s a shame. Why the shift, do you think?
Nick Redman - When DVD first exploded onto the scene and shocked everybody by how successful it became it really was due to Warren Lieberfarb who’s since acquired the title ‘the godfather of DVD’. I mean he really pushed it - in effect transforming the entire home video marketplace from a ‘renters’ to ‘buyers’ model.”
NixPix - And the love affair was on.
Nick Redman - “Yes. Because even a film that had not recouped in theaters could be expected to make its money back as a DVD release. All of the studios were suddenly riding a tsunami of revenues – a giant wave of money just pouring in and this contributed to DVD’s upward trajectory right on through to 2006. “
NixPix - So what happened?
Nick Redman - “Right in the middle of that curve everyone said ‘let’s go hi-def right now’ and it was just too soon. That decision not only killed the momentum but sparked another VHS vs. Betamax war. Only this time it was HD DVD vs. Blu-ray. In the end Blu-ray won, but by that time it was more a question of what did we win? The first Blu-rays were expensive. No audience for it. And then the industry really shot itself in the foot by dropped its price point because they thought that would stimulate the interest.”
NixPix - But Blu-ray is better than DVD.
Nick Redman - “That didn’t matter. Although it’s a bigger niche than say Laserdisc, it’s a niche nonetheless and not likely to ever become the norm. On top of this you had the worst financial crash in our lifetime and with it an almost immediate loss of studio interest to produce or farm out the production of bonus features. In 2006/2007 there were so many companies that did bonus features for DVD. It was a cottage industry. That business disappeared almost overnight.”
NixPix - Is physical media coming to an end?
Nick Redman - “I am not a proponent for the end of physical media but I do think the business is now in a transition and is being reshaped. Everyone has to figure out survival on their own terms. The days of delivery of Blu-ray or even DVD to your neighborhood brick and mortar stores is going away…which the studios really don’t mind. And I can’t really blame them.
Besides they really hated the old model of distribution. Today, almost none of them can ship 100,000 units of anything except the very big titles. That delivery system - mass distribution - is over. Everything’s being tailored toward streaming and downloading. Once it gets perfected so you won’t notice a loss in quality from Blu-ray the race is over.”
NixPix - As a collector I find all of this very disconcerting.
Nick Redman - “What will remain of physical media will be the boutique labels; Criterion, Shout! Factory, and hopefully, Twilight Time. I look at the younger generation and they don’t have the same nostalgia for older stuff that we do. And the older generation is passing away. Believe it or not VHS in its prime sold more titles than any other format in home video’s history. Laserdisc was a niche market and an expensive one at that. DVD did very well. But Blu-ray hasn’t shown as much promise. And when streaming and downloading become the only option it will boil down to even fewer titles still.”
NixPix - Because the studios cannot afford to license every title in their vast archives all of the time, so everything will be parceled out at their will and in their own good time, essentially when they feel like making titles available?
Nick Redman - “Yes. Twilight Time was actually born out of that financial crash. When I first proposed the project, Danny Hersch, our mastering engineer, just looked at me and said ‘You’re going to lose your shirt. It’s going to be twilight time for you!’ I thought that was pretty poetic so that’s how the company got its name. But recession or not, it just felt right to me; a happy accident and a logical extension of the work I had been doing at Fox.
Brian went to the bank to ask for a loan and was, of course, laughed right out the front door. So we, Brian, Julie Kirgo and myself, all turned to one another and said, ‘Look, how much money have you got? How much money have I got?’ And we just went ahead and did it. It took about a year to become self-funded but it had trajectory – a logical course. I suppose my years of working for the British civil service taught me to be a pragmatic person. I just got used to logical thinking and applied it to what I wanted to do later on in life.
My business partner, Brian Jamieson was at Warner Bros. for years and he really was responsible for pushing catalogue titles on VHS, then Laserdisc; showcasing them with selected screenings in theaters. Under Brian the studio really spent money to retrieve money. But Brian retired from Warner’s in 2008. Only he didn’t want to just get out of the business. So, together he and I decided to start up Twilight Time.
Basically we went after deep catalogue titles applying the same limited edition philosophy I was familiar with for soundtracks. But it was a huge learning curve even for Brian and me. Still, we went to Fox first, because of my long-standing relationship and I pitched the idea. It’s a long process. But I had learned from my past experiences that the quickest way to get your idea shot down is to sell it in such a way where the studio has to get directly involved. If it’s an inconvenience they won’t go for it, you know? So my first consideration was the simplicity of it. The limited edition concept became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I said, ‘Look, we’ll give you all royalties up front. You never have to worry about anything. We’ll buy 3000 units and if they don’t move it’s up to us to eat the loss.”
NixPix - How did Screen Archives factor into this equation?
Nick Redman - “On the other end. I had known them for decades, and they’ve been around for even longer than that - all the way back to the 1970's when they were an actual retail store. Then they switched to an online retailer exclusively. Smart move. I worked with them on distribution for the Fox soundtracks which had been profitable for all concerned. So I went to them and said ‘What if I bring you a DVD and Blu-ray business?’ I won’t say it was easy. In fact, the first year was pretty tough. But then it started like a bolder rolling downhill. You know we’re only 2 ½ years out and the acceleration in that short time has been tremendous.”
NixPix - That’s encouraging.
Nick Redman - “…and a bit daunting. We’re on the cusp of something exciting. I always say check back with us in eighteen months. We’ll either be a substantial player or gone entirely.”
NixPix - I can’t see that latter scenario happening.
Nick Redman - “2014 is already shaping into a significant commitment of 50 to 60 titles, roughly the same output as Criterion which is the gold standard bearer of the boutique labels. For us, that means a commitment of $1.8 million dollars. So far Twilight Time’s been running at a break even. But I’m a bit of a control freak. I like to know where everything is. With our progress we couldn’t be more pleased…and the studios – Fox and Sony – like us a lot. We speak their language. We designed a streamline, mechanical system. One that we knew would work.
Certain Blu-ray sites have criticized our business model; saying we’re too expensive or that they can import a title cheaper from overseas. This I really don’t mind. After all we are the smallest and newest Blu-ray label on the block. The more people who talk about us the more people that find out about us. And I don’t get frustrated over criticism. But what I cannot stand and hate is ignorance. I don’t think there’s any excuse for being ignorant. If you don’t know something, look it up. It’s easier than ever these days. But don’t minimize the importance without having your facts straight!”
NixPix - How do decisions get made at Twilight Time? For example, who chooses the titles? Who does the remastering?
Nick Redman - “We don’t take any credit or blame for the quality of a transfer. Our selection process is different with each studio. Fox will say, ‘These are the masters we currently have that we’re willing to license out’ and I’ll make a determination for release based on the quality of those elements. Even if it’s a film I personally would love to release, if I don’t think the transfer is up to standards I won’t choose it. At Fox, Schawn Belston prioritizes what can be and what will be restored. You know, it’s roughly a quarter of a million just to restore a movie.
At Sony, things are a little different. Grover Crisp, who is widely regarded as one of the premiere restoration experts in the business has been very proactive. Sony has been doing 2k and 4 k scans of their catalogue and a lot of these will get vaulted. Grover Crisp signs off on the scans with his seal of approval, and I think you’ll agree Sony’s scans have been head and shoulders above the rest. That master is then sent to 1K in Burbank which is a division of Cinram; the biggest hi-def replicators in the country for DVD and Blu-ray authoring and compression. A check disc is sent out. If it looks good then it’s a go.
In the end, Twilight Time’s success is predicated on these partnerships, our relationships with the home video people and asset management divisions, the authoring and compression companies; it’s a busy complex process. Recently we were approached by TCM, as you know, a very high profile online retailer to sell our catalogue there as well. We’ve also come down to a consistent price point of $29.95 which is thoroughly in keeping with the competition but means that we have to sell half of any run of our limited edition series just to break even. We’ve had sell out successes too with some titles like Christine (1983) and Fright Night (1985) and these make up for some of the titles that haven’t sold as well. It’s a lot of horse-trading, though.
NixPix - Can you explain that last comment?
Nick Redman - “I’ll give you an example. A while back Sony decided to do an absolutely spectacular new scan of the original Fright Night to coincide with the theatrical release of the 2011 remake, but at the last minute they decided not to put it out. They approached us. Even though Fright Night isn’t a deep catalogue title we said yes to releasing it because it helped us get access to some other titles that we really wanted from the Sony archive.”
NixPix - And Fright Night sold out.
Nick Redman - “Almost immediately…but let me give you another example – not from Sony. We were told about a movie that had been a big box office success – one of the biggest, actually, and when it came out on DVD it had sold something like 4 million units. So the studio that owned the rights thought they’d put out a Blu-ray. So they went to their retailers and asked how many copies they’d like. You know what the answer was? One copy per store. Now let’s just say all of the other chains agreed to take one copy each too, and let’s say that totaled 10,000 units.
Under the old third party agreement the studio could effectively expect between 30 to 40 percent of units to remain unsold, and unsold to be returned to them. So that’s 4,000 units back - if you’re lucky. And selling 6,000 units for which the studio might expect to get somewhere around 70 cents per disc. That’s just one reason why even some of the bigger titles in a studio’s back catalogue, like say Sleepless in Seattle (1993) have come to us instead of going into brick and mortar retailers. And I have to say, we’ll take them. We’ve got everything now; musicals dramas, comedies.
NixPix - Some people ask about the limited edition of 3000. Is this an arbitrary figure?
Nick Redman - “Well, I can tell you it has nothing to do with artist’s residuals as it often has been incorrectly suggested on websites. When I was dealing with film music in the early 1990’s the statistics showed that there were about 5000 people worldwide whose interest would translate into buying. By the late 90’s that number was downgraded to 3000. So by keeping the number at 3000 for DVD and Blu-ray we’re almost guaranteeing the product will sell.
NixPix - What about more aggressive advertising?
Nick Redman - “Basically useless. But more people are finding out about Twilight Time every day. Our sales reports incrementally reflect this. It has to be osmosis. There isn’t any other solution. You can’t make the same treacherous mistake as the old brick and mortar model; being stiffed by distributors, never sure how many units will be sold, how many will get returned. It’s an accounting nightmare. As I said before: Screen Archives doesn’t pay us for anything unless they’ve sold it. In the old days, distributors gave you an advance based on product shipment and potential sales. Not bad, except the big mistake was expecting this same amount of money the next month. By not falling into this trap Twilight Time can accurately predict what is coming in from its revenue stream and that’s already begun to create a larger stream; an ever-widening circle.”
NixPix - Your alliances with Sony and Fox have obviously been mutually beneficial and lucrative. Any plans to go after the other studios?
Nick Redman - “Well, as you may know we have just finalized a deal with MGM/UA which is part of the Fox family. I need to clear up for those who may or may not know. Years ago Ted Turner purchased the rights to the MGM library pre-1986, a back catalogue that included hundreds of titles. These became the cornerstone for his cable empire known as TCM – Turner Classic Movies – and Turner eventually sold the rights to Warner Bros. who are now the custodians of this vast library. The deal Twilight Time has made with MGM/UA has nothing to do with this catalogue, but in fact contains a fairly impressive collection of movies – all the United Artist catalogue, MGM titles from 1986 to the present and all of the titles released through Cannon, Polygram, and, Orion.
NixPix - Which brings us to Warner’s. Their recent output, I think, has disappointed a lot of collectors; a lot of reissues like The Wizard of Oz (1939) – yet again – and in 3D no less, which I personally believe flies in the face of the studio’s one-time policy to preserve and restore without embellishments. But otherwise it’s been a trickle of new catalogue. I recently had a discussion about this on one of the message boards and was chopped off at the knee for ‘criticizing’ Warner’s when, in fact, I was trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of what’s been going on over there.
I was told that Warner’s catalogue Blu-ray output has been stronger in 2013 than any other studio. But the list of titles I was given also included movies like Best in Show (2000) and Jason X (2001) which frankly, I don’t think have earned the right to be classified as catalogue just yet – certainly not in the way we’ve been discussing ‘deep’ catalogue titles herein.
I was also given a numbers comparison between Fox and Warner’s 2013 releases: by their count Fox at 77 (combined releases through the studio and Twilight Time) to Warner’s 83. But when I suggested that if we were only going to crunch only the numbers we had better look at Fox as a studio by itself and all of the others studios equally thus – meaning Warner, MGM (pre-1986), RKO, the Samuel Goldwyn library and now the Paramount acquisition – all, of course under the Warner umbrella - but still considered entities unto themselves, then Warner’s output looked fairly anemic to me. I don’t mind saying there was an early frost in the air. Your thoughts?
Nick Redman - “Back in the halcyon days between 1997 and 2000 Warner’s used to be the industry leader, the standard bearer. Their output was astonishing. They’ve since slipped to about number four. What does it tell you that they’re more interested in repackaging Oz then releasing new catalogue product to Blu-ray?
I believe it probably has to do, as I said before, with the transition affecting the home video market currently; physical media dying out, streaming/downloading taking off. Everything’s influx. There’s also perhaps a fear lurking from around the corner that everything being planned now is leading up to an end to their own jobs. This system that we’re all in - the business - is not a very stable world. Brian was in it at Warner Bros. for thirty-three years.
NixPix - You’ve recently marked a 20th anniversary too.
Nick Redman - “Yes, but there’s always this toxic environment to get around. The obsolescence of studio-run home video departments is coming, I think. How long will that process take? That’s anybody’s guess. Streaming and downloading are a separate part of the studio’s revenue stream, not administered by the home video divisions, but rather the digital division – hence, a growing obsolescence of the home video market.
And we have to remember that when VHS was first announced it wasn’t the sexy part of the industry either. VHS was the graveyard of the business. You didn’t want to be caught dead saying you worked in home video. But Brian was one of the first to realize this was going to become viable – actually, a profit center – for the studios.
So when the business took off he moved from distribution and exhibition in 1982/83 into home video. That wasn’t considered fashionable back then. But after 1997, and until 2007 – really a solid decade - DVD was sexy. Everybody wanted to get in and be involved. Right at the end of that wave I collaborated with Fox on their massive John Ford box set, a project they never would have attempted a year later.”
NixPix - And that included another great documentary, written by Julie Kirgo and that you not only produced but directed: Becoming John Ford.
Nick Redman - “Yes, and that’s been released as a supplement on our Blu-ray of Ford’s Drums Along the Mohawk (1939). I was lucky. That type of commitment from the studio would probably not happen today. It’s funny. Because when I started in this business I never knew that my life would be given over to the preservation of things I cared about as a kid. I sometimes joke with Lalo Schifrin - one of the people in the business I looked up to who has since become a great friend - that I haven’t progressed since childhood. That everything I do today is to preserve my own memories from that childhood. But I am just as enthusiastic, still living in the moment when these things were important to me. I’ve spent my entire life going in circles.”
NixPix - For those who may not know, Mr. Schifrin is the composer of many immortal film scores and television themes. His career is legendary, having composed the jazzy iconic intros to Mission Impossible (1966-73) and then Mannix (1967-75) and underscoring such memorable movies as Cool Hand Luke (1967), the Dirty Harry films and Coogan’s Bluff (1968).
Nick Redman - “We connect in the most primal way. Human beings, I mean; through a shared passion and interest. It remains the core part of our being - the movies that you enjoyed; the music that you listened to. Everything remains locked up inside of us. But I notice that my daughter’s generation doesn’t seem to share in that same nostalgia that my generation did and continues to. Now, I’m probably sounding like an old man.”
Nix Pix - No, you’re making a lot of sense. But do you think it’s a matter of not feeling nostalgia or is it that there’s really nothing to get nostalgic about these days? Personally, I feel as though movies in particular since 1997 have deteriorated from any attempt at being artful into largely disposable entertainments. 1997 was, of course, the year of James Cameron’s Titanic. But it almost seems to me that after that gamble paid off the mentality around Hollywood was to pull back from investing in such costly quality product and simply fall back on making stuff that really didn’t capture the public’s fascination – except for the immediate moment or two.
There’s still good stuff being made. I don’t want to suggest that there isn’t. But it just doesn’t proliferate into the pop culture; the movies that get the biggest hype today are merely designed to make back their money right now without any thought for how they’ll be recalled – if at all – twenty-five to fifty years from now.
Nick Redman - “Yes. I mean when I was a kid The Sound of Music (1965) played in England for something like two years. Every time I walked by that theater there it was. Everyone knew the songs from the film. The album was being played everywhere. It was really a part of the cultural fabric. Today, I’ll say to my daughter, ‘let’s go see something’ and we’ll plan to go and see it, and then something will happen and we’ll put it off for a bit and by the time we decide to go it’s already gone. The staying power just isn’t there.”
NixPix – I hope that’s just a blip and not a trend of where we’re headed as a society. But keeping things more positive: are there any dream projects in the cue for Nick Redman? Anything you haven’t done but would like to.
Nick Redman - “Well we’re about to take a trip with Nancy Kwan (The World of Suzie Wong, 1960, Flower Drum Song, 1961), myself, Julie Kirgo and Brian to the Far East. Brian did a docudrama on Kwan’s life in 2010 called ‘To Whom It May Concern’ and at that time Nancy was invited back to Cambodia to sail up the Mekong River, through the killing fields and to meet the children as a sort of goodwill tour, and at the time we all agreed we’d like to do this…I used to joke that it was going to be our Apocalypse Now journey in reverse. But now it’s really going to happen – in September and October and I’m looking forward to it.
As for future projects: I tend to think that Twilight Time might be my last go around before I put my feet up and retire to Monaco. I’m kidding. But you know, I’m looking forward to doing a lot more traveling with my partner in life, Julie Kirgo, who is a historian and busy with her own projects but also finds the time to writes the liner notes on many of our Twilight Time releases. Actually, they’re more like interpretive analytic essays. She’s quite simply one of the best movie essayists around and we’re lucky to have her. But otherwise, I really can’t say what I would grasp at. But I’ve been lucky, you see. Opportunities have come along; things that were and are important and I knew I just had to do.
NixPix - Like BAFTA?
Nick Redman - “Yes. As a member of BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) if fell to me to host some of their events. I enjoy it a lot. But you see, it all comes back to the same passion; namely preservation of film history. The Heritage Archive is a series of interviews BAFTA conducts to showcase a person’s lifetime career in overview. They are filmed for posterity. It’s not done in front of a live audience, but then there are other Q&A sessions with more contemporary talent that are done in a theater setting and in front of a live audience. As a matter of fact, I recently did one with producer Aaron Sorkin (The American President 1992, A Few Good Men, 1995, The West Wing 1999-06, The Social Network 2010).
NixPix - And the future of Twilight Time?
Nick Redman - “Well, when we started I don’t think we really thought it through, blundering along, making a lot of mistakes, even for Brian and myself, who had a lot of experience. In the MGM/UA deal we’ve just signed we’ve agreed to release at least two titles per month; that’s in addition to the already two or three titles we’ll continue to release from Sony and Fox.”
NixPix - And if Universal comes on board?
Nick Redman - “Well, now Brian and I are in the position that all the other boutique labels eventually found themselves. We’ll have to grow. It’s inevitable. Personally, I couldn’t be happier about it. I’ve had people tell me via our Facebook page that they’ve bought our entire output so far because they want to own the whole Twilight Time ‘collection’ as it were. But you know…I worry about that too. Because I think to myself, these are people who are invested and believe in us. And now we’re asking them to increase their monthly spending on our product and I just don’t know how they’re going to do it.
NixPix - I don’t think you realize how extraordinary the comment you just made is. I don’t know of too many executives who would think twice of or even care about how a customer is going to afford something – only that they were selling the product. That speaks to a level of personal investment to Twilight Time that I just think is a very rare commodity these days.
Nick Redman - “Well, I do care and I think we have a genuine responsibility to the people who have discovered us, have stood by us and continue to follow what we do and support us in our efforts. Twilight Time’s steadily been building over these last two years and I am committed to making certain that we do not disappoint.”
NixPix - Nick, I want to sincerely thank you for the time you’ve spent with me today, for your honesty and frankness that you’ve shared about your life, the industry and your plans for the future. And I want to wish you every success in all those endeavors, particularly Twilight Time.
As a collector, a close follower of the home video market, and, as a lover of movie art what you’ve done and continue to do is very important to America’s cultural heritage. It is gratifying to know that classic Hollywood has such an invested proponent on its side.
So, once again, many thanks for all that you do and for taking time out from that busy schedule to speak with me. My readership will appreciate it. I most certainly do too. You have my respects.
Nick Redman - “Thank you and best to you as well.”
@Sept.2, 2013 (all rights reserved).