Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bif Bang Pow! Celebration, Day VI: Exclusive Q&A!

We’ve arrived at the sixth and final day of our weeklong celebration of Bif Bang Pow!, who in one short year has produced more Twilight Zone merchandise than everyone else in the past fifty years put together. The company was founded in 2005 by CEO Jason Lenzi and corporate partner Jason Labowitz and, needless to say, I worship the ground that these guys walk on. Recently, they graciously agreed to answer a few questions and grant our readers a glance behind the scenes. Strap in and hold on tight, kids.

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To quote Office Space: So Jason(s)… what exactly would you say you do here at Bif Bang Pow!?

Jason Labowitz: Everything! There are three partners in the company and we contract out for every other service. Our jobs are to manage everyone else involved in the process, and make all of the big decisions.

Jason Lenzi: But we oversee every stitch, every fingernail, and every eyelash before anything gets out the door. After all, our names are essentially on these things!

Why The Twilight Zone? Why now? Was the show’s 50th anniversary the primary motivator, or was there more behind the decision to move ahead with the license?

Jason Lenzi: Like most human beings on this planet, I’ve always been a huge fan of the show. And as I got older and learned more about Rod Serling, he became a hero of mine. I always thought the show was underserved in the merchandise department, but when I first inquired about the license, it was one of those scenarios where we thought that someone somewhere was already planning something. Particularly, as you pointed out, because it was coming up on the 50th anniversary. Luckily we got there just in time.

Take us inside the process from start to finish. Say…. The Invader bobble head, or any single item you like. Inception, design, creation. How many steps in the process are there? What’s the average time frame from idea to finished product? Any interesting horror stories?

Jason Lenzi: (The process is lengthy and detailed, so we’ll just talk about the ‘horror stories’!) As most people noticed when we put out our press release way back when, we were very enthusiastic to be able to finally bring Rod Serling himself to life in plastic form. We started with bobble head concepts, but his widow, Carol, wasn’t keen on him being displayed that way, which we completely understood. So we decided to sculpt a figural statue of him, same height as the bobble heads, but more of a portrait sculpt. We had it approved, and were about to present it to the world, when we got word that Carol Serling didn’t want him depicted in toy form at all. So it got scrapped, and at this stage, we’ve respectfully decided not to open the subject up again. But, maybe someday…

Do you think there’s any hope at all? Has Carol Serling seen what you’ve produced so far?

Jason Labowitz: We plan to send Carol the complete series, and we'll follow-up with her in the near future.

How has the response to the Twilight Zone line been so far? I know the first few bobble heads sold out a few times, so I have to assume that at least the initial interest has been high.

Jason Labowitz: It’s been very positive – even more positive than we had initially anticipated.

Jason Lenzi: Agreed. We knew and thought the property would do ‘well,’ but we really didn’t think the fan base was so rabid. You should see all the requests and suggestions we get!

The SDCC-exclusive color bobble heads were produced in very low numbers. Any plans to do a second run, or is that it?

Jason Labowitz: That’s it!

Jason Lenzi: Yeah, for the most part, we really do believe we should keep Twilight Zone merchandise in a black and white world.

Prototypes of the next several Twilight Zone action figures (Henry Bemis, The Invader, etc) were glimpsed at SDCC, but (to my knowledge) no new bobble heads were seen. Are you taking a break from the bobble heads and focusing more on the action figures?

Jason Labowitz: Actually, we’re not taking a break. We have limited bandwidth so we must carefully decide our priorities. With 10 different licenses across a few different product categories and many characters, we have a lot of items that we are working on. Teaser – We’re working on a very special bobble head that is a companion to the Gremlin.

Jason Lenzi: ‘Nuff said.

On a related note, were those action figures at SDCC prototypes, or final versions?

Jason Labowitz: Prototypes.

And on a similarly related note, the action figures have come in pairs so far (3 series of 2 figures each), but there were only five new figures displayed. Does this mean there’s a mysterious unannounced 6th figure???

Jason Labowitz: Yes and no. We had initially planned that Santa Claus (Henry Corwin from “Night of the Meek”) would ship in time for this 2010 holiday season but that ship date slipped. We might hold him back until holiday 2012. So now we’re back to four new figures in the next wave, and Santa Claus coming later.

I’m in possession of the initial six action figures, and they just blow me away. The head sculpts looked amazing online, but in person they’re truly breathtaking. This isn’t really a question. I’m just gushing now.

Jason Labowitz: Greatly appreciated. We believe that this is among the best roto-casted sculpts anyone has ever seen in this scale.

Jason Lenzi: Thanks so much! It’s really great to get that kind of feedback, especially from a die hard fan!

What would your dream license be?

Jason Labowitz: Blade Runner. It's not that there's necessarily built up demand for a toy line - and it's possible that putting out toys today wouldn't sell many units. But it's just the one key significant sci-fi property that never had a toy line.

Jason Lenzi: I completely agree with Blade Runner. I’ve said it before, but I’d love to finally give the world a small scale James Bond action figure and vehicle range of toys. It’s a crime that the toy world has never been given that.

Another classic TV show that I’m quite fond of (i.e. obsessive over) is the original Outer Limits. Any chance you guys might take a crack at it? With all the creatures and aliens, you’d have a freakin’ field day. Sideshow Collectibles did 12-inch action figures from both series. I’m just sayin’.

Jason Labowitz: We can't discuss upcoming unsigned/unannounced licenses, but we appreciate the suggestion. We're always looking for a gap in the marketplace and potential demand for products that have never been made before. We'll probably have some new licenses to announce in early 2011.

Jason Lenzi: And to add, (The) Outer Limits is a weird one, isn’t it? Fans love it, I love it, it’s a classic in every sense of the word. But if you compare it to The Twilight Zone and its exposure and syndication over the past 50 years, it’s not even close. It’s like comparing The Stones to The Beatles, there just isn’t the same universal appeal. Having said that, you never know…

How long do you see the Twilight Zone line (bobble heads, action figures, deluxe items, etc.) continuing? Is it pretty open-ended, or is there a more finite plan in mind?

Jason Labowitz: Our license is for a fixed period of time. But we're confident that if the line remains popular, we'll go back to the negotiating table to extend the deal, and expand the breadth of products.

I’ve begged privately, and now I’ll do it publically: PLEASE do a bobble head (or an action figure, or preferably both) of Maya the Cat Girl (from season one’s “Perchance to Dream”). I was briefly in touch with Suzanne Lloyd (the actress who played her) earlier this year, and I’d love the chance to send her a little Maya.

Jason Labowitz: We have your wish list, along with a few suggestions from other experts. If demand continues, I see no reason to stop producing the characters that everyone wants.

Jason Lenzi: The great thing about this license, and the response we’ve gotten, is what was initially thought of by us as a ‘monsters only’ mind set, has now opened up to the whole world of The Twilight Zone. I really do think the possibilities are endless!

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How else can I succinctly describe all these beautiful Twilight Zone items on my shelf? Before Bif Bang Pow!, my TZ collection was limited to five vinyl LPs, about ten CDs, the complete series on DVD, two boxes of Twilight Zone Magazines, a handful of books, and a woefully incomplete set of trading cards (oh, and one solitary Hallmark ornament). In a single year, Bif Bang Pow! has dropped a lot of TZ product into the marketplace (ten bobbleheads, six action figures), with results ranging from really good to absolutely incredible. They haven’t dropped a single ball yet. They’ve made it clear that they genuinely care about the license, which has resulted in some great, oftentimes breathtaking work. And this is only the beginning. …

SDCC came up a few times during the Q&A, so let’s have a look at Bif Bang Pow!’s Twilight Zone display. Yeah, I know, this took place back in July. Call it a Zone-esque time warp and just roll with it.

Astute readers will spot five thus-far unreleased action figures on display:

Doctor Bernardi (“Eye of the Beholder”)
The Invader (“The Invaders”)
Henry Bemis (“Time Enough at Last”)
Three-Eyed Venusian (“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”)
Henry Corwin/Santa Claus (“Night of the Meek”)

As revealed above, Henry Corwin/Santa Claus has been delayed. So the next wave of figures, Series IV and V, will include the other four. They were slated to appear before the end of the year, but we’re almost to November, and no official announcement has been made… which makes me wonder if they’ve been delayed a bit. I guess we’ll see. Doctor Bernardi and Henry Bemis look especially promising. I’m a big Invader fan, but I’m holding my excitement in check for now… the prototype looks a bit (or a lot) too skinny. But honestly, I have no reason to doubt that the final product will rock. And oh my God! I just NOW noticed that The Invader isn't as tall as the others, which means they're using the child-sized body. I'm grinning like hell at this realization. Nice touch, guys.

What are MY holy grails, you ask? Well, imaginary reader, if I had Anthony Fremont’s control over the universe, I’d make sure the following TZ characters became action figures in the near future:

1. Rod Serling, obviously, despite the odds. Maybe I’ll write a letter to Carol Serling myself…
2. Maya the Cat Girl (“Perchance to Dream”)
3. Nurse (“Eye of the Beholder”)
4. Janet Tyler (with interchangeable heads) (“Eye of the Beholder”)
5. Alicia (with disintegrated face) (“The Lonely”)
6. Joey Crown (with trumpet) (“A Passage for Trumpet”)
7. Marsha the Mannequin (“The After Hours”)
8. Brother Jerome (with Staff of Truth) (“The Howling Man”)
9. Battling Maxo (“Steel”)
10. Old Ben (alien disguise) (“The Fugitive”)
11. The Hitch-hiker (with raised thumb!) (“The Hitch-hiker”)
12. Anthony Fremont (“It’s a Good Life”)
13. Joey Cardiff (with pool cue) (“A Game of Pool”)
14. Fats Brown (with pool cue) (“A Game of Pool”)
15. The Woman (with axe and knife) (“The Invaders”)

As noted, no new bobbleheads were shown at SDCC, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see more… it sounds pretty likely that a Bob Wilson (William Shatner) bobblehead is being planned, and I’m sure some others are on the drawing board or in various stages of production as I write this. What characters am I hoping for? Well…

1. Doctor Bernardi (“Eye of the Beholder”)
2. The Devil (“The Howling Man”)
3. Alicia (with disintegrated face) (“The Lonely”)
4. Nurse (“Eye of the Beholder”)
5. Janet Tyler (bandaged face) (“Eye of the Beholder”)
6. Maya the Cat Girl (“Perchance to Dream”)
7. Female Devil (“Of Late I Think of Cliffordville”)
8. Brother Jerome (“The Howling Man”)
9. Old Ben (alien disguise) (“The Fugitive”)
10. Anthony Fremont (“It’s a Good Life”)

I’d also like to see the cast of “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” (army major, clown, ballerina, hobo, bagpipe player) as bobbleheads. For that matter, action figures would be cool too….

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This concludes our Bif Bang Pow! celebration. Special thanks to Jason Lenzi and Jason Labowitz, and the whole gang at Bif Bang Pow! --- you guys are doing spectacular work. From the bottom of my Twilight Zone-obsessed heart, thanks a million.


Anonymous said...

Nice interview. I wonder about approvals required by actors for the TZ action figures. Does BBP have to seek out the actor/estate for approval or is that already done by CBS or whoever license's TZ? In other words, can BBP make any TZ figure they desire or are they limited to certain licensor-preapproved characters/actors?

Anonymous said...

Nice selection! Liked how you stuck Maya in there. What a great character anyway. Sexy and scary. But where's Martin Sloan or Walter Jameson?