Sideshow Collectibles celebrates 20 years of creating terror, wonder and fantasy.
SURROUNDED by ocean waters carved and painted by hand, the Death’s Siren statue has a beautiful face and torso above the water line, but below it she transforms into something gruesome and ugly – and ultimately deadly to those entrapped by her surficial beauty.
Is there a good story there? Are there more characters with such horrific dualities?
Greg Anzalone believes there is. In fact, Death’s Siren and other characters in the Court Of The Dead story represent his vision for the future of Sideshow Collectibles, the business he co-founded 20 years ago that serves the serious entertainment collectors market.
Death’s Siren and the Court Of The Dead Story are unique for the studio in that they are from the minds rather than just the hands of its artists, and represent the “natural evolution” of the company, which models figures from others’ imaginations, says Anzalone its president and CEO.
“We eventually want to own our own content,” he said. “There is no ceiling on this vision.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the unusual Thousand Oaks company that began in a Woodland Hills garage in Los Angeles in 1994 with a group of artists connected to the film industry – such as co-founder Robin Selvaggi – and entrepreneurs like Anzalone looking for a new business to start up.
Anzalone’s idea was to make something out of the raw, “amazing” talent that inspired him – while also working with them, he said.
In Sideshow 1.0, Anzalone’s term for the kick-start phase, the studio crafted toy figurine prototypes for retail manufacturers such as Mattel Inc and the former Kenner Products. They were paid well, and highly regarded, Anzalone said.
“It was successful in that realm, but not satisfying,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a service company; I wanted to be more of a creative entity.” That will be realised as Sideshow 3.0, says Anzalone, when the company also becomes the story creators.
So Sideshow shifted toward that direction soon after, and began making action figures and other toy figures as Sideshow Toy, its own brand. But by 1999, the studio changed direction again.
This time, as Sideshow 2.0, the studio burst into the collectors’ market by buying licensing agreements to design and sculpt highly recognisable movie, comic book, game or animation characters. The studio made a name for itself again with strikingly lifelike figurines carved from various resins, metals and sewn cloth with a high level of detail and in a variety of sizes.
With that new direction, the company took on its current name, Sideshow Collectibles.
“It was a niche market that didn’t really exist,” said Anzalone. Starting with toys made the transition easier, he added.
After 15 years, and serious relationship-building with major studios, the company creates figurines for hundreds of characters from the top storytellers at The Walt Disney Co, Marvel Entertainment, DC Comics, Inc and Lucasfilm Ltd, to name just a few.
Busts, nearly life-size statues and replicas of characters ranging from the familiar to the obscure fill the display cases at the business, and no doubt outnumber its 100 employees.
There’s the terrifying creature from the Predator movies – its fierce and deadly jaws in eerie detail; the faceless dark and evil Sauron from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings movies; beloved Star Wars characters and their sidekicks; DC Comics and Batman arch-nemesis Poison Ivy and various Terminators.
On the lighter side are Captain America and the colourful X-Men minus their mutant-related issues. Any statue unrecognisable but hideously glorious is likely a personal, original creation from a Sideshow artist, or something specially made for a customer.
The studio produces on average 100 new items each year and ships 1,200 packages a day. The least expensive collectible is US$100 (RM322) while the most is US$6,500 (RM20,960) – that’s the life-size T-800 endoskeleton from Terminator 2.
Sideshow has sold about 500 of them, said Anzalone.
“People always ask me, ‘Where do people put something like that?’ or, ‘Who buys that?’” Anzalone said. They buy them for their home theatres or as office decorations, he said, as in-store displays or for theme parks. “We don’t have any difficulty selling them.”
Over the 20 years of its business life, the studio’s most popular characters continue to be from Star Wars, Anzalone said, likely because of the movies’ three generations of fans.
At Sideshow, there is also a business amid the art, and financial creativity helped save it from the recession’s worst consequences.
In 2007, “things got a little crazy,” said Selvaggi, vice-president of e-commerce, who also handles marketing and retail.
Collectors began cancelling their orders, and Sideshow responded by reselling those products into new channels, she said. It entered new markets, got aggressive with social media and put in place a flexible payment plan to help customers pay for their orders.
Those tactics saved relationships with longtime buyers, offset the cancellations, avoided layoffs and became so popular that Sideshow hired people to manage the payment plan service, said Selvaggi.
“Now they can tailor payments to their budget,” said Selvaggi. “It was good for us.”
Soon after, Sideshow absorbed film industry layoffs – where most of its artists come from – but at reasonable salaries, she added. The company rewards employees with merit-based bonuses and profit-sharing, while keeping salaries conservative in case of future economic downturns.
In 2014, after having built three internal photography studios, added photographers and recently writers to help fulfill Anzalone’s vision, Sideshow is “significantly larger” than it was in 2009, Anzalone said.
Sales have risen steadily and are up 20% this year. The significant driver of that growth, now two-thirds of its business, is from international customers who are as infatuated with American pop culture, its movies and characters from them, Anzalone said. It’s what he calls “the new renaissance of American pop culture”.
“The beauty of these characters is they break down, or break through, religious, cultural, political and economic barriers,” he said. – Ventura County Star/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services