Photos By: BJ Ramos
Factory Entertainment is currently one of the leading manufactures and distributors of high-quality licensed toys, collectibles and household goods. Its list of products and licenses is truly impressive—especially when you take into consideration the relatively short amount of time it has been in existence. Factory Entertainment produces products for licenses like Marvel, DC, Universal Monsters, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and many, many more.
The team at Factory Entertainment first met while working for Master Replicas. Master Replicas was founded in 2002 and it specialized in prop replicas and high-end adult collectibles. MR produced products for iconic licenses like Star Trek, Disney and Marvel. Its line of Star Wars prop replicas played a large part in making the company truly beloved within the fickle fanboy community. Master Replicas produced lightsaber hilt replicas, blasters and other memorable props from the SW saga. Unfortunately, Master Replicas closed its doors in 2008. MR’s closing allowed former Master Replicas employees—Tom Vargas (Director of Marketing), Barry Eldridge (Creative Director), Gary Graybill (Director of Product Development) and Jordan Schwartz (President) to start Factory Entertainment in 2011.
I was lucky enough to visit the Factory Entertainment office in California recently and being around the small team allowed me to appreciate the dedication and passion the Factory Entertainment crew has for their craft. They are huge fans of the properties they are creating products for and care about putting out the best collectibles they possibly can.
I spoke with Tom Vargas and Barry Eldridge about how Factory Entertainment got its start, the challenges that come with working with licensors and where they hope the company will be in the near future.
Obviously a lot of the success of your toys, replicas and everything else you guys create at Factory Entertainment comes down to the strength of the licenses you have. What was the first license Factory Entertainment acquired when it opened its doors in 2011?
Tom Vargas: When we started we didn’t even have a license. The first license we ever got was James Bond and there has been incremental growth ever since then. We currently are producing over 300 SKU (Stock Keeping Units) numbers. We don’t have the license for Bond replicas anymore but we had a great run with it.
You guys produced a replica gun from the James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun, as your very first prop replica for Factory Entertainment. Was it hard to recreate a prop like that for a film that was made in the 1970’s?
TV: We used a lot of screen reference more than anything else for the golden gun.
How long does it take to create a product for Factory Entertainment? From deciding what to do to having it in the hands of collectors—how long does that process take for you guys?
TV: It depends on the type of product it is and the complexity of it. It typically takes 42 weeks from conception to production.
That sounds like you guys move pretty fast…
TV: I’m really proud of that. We have three people—myself, Garry and Barry—that are producing and designing these products. We have a great deal of assets, databases and style guides to work from. But, for three people to do that in a 42-week span with that many SKU numbers is pretty cool. You do have easier stuff like towels and lunchboxes that aren’t that difficult or complex to make. When you look at a lunchbox or towel they aren’t that complex because it’s about putting artwork on something that already exists—those things are cool but they aren’t as difficult to make as a prop replica or other things that we do.
How prepared are the licensors these days in terms of being able to give you the assets you need to produce the various products you make?
TV: Some are prepared and some aren’t…it just depends who they are. The older the title is the more difficult it is to make…the newer stuff is much easier.
Barry Eldridge: Sometimes we approach a licensor and ask, ‘can we make this?’ A lot of times they respond, ‘do we own that?’ They literally don’t know if they own it sometimes. The problem is licensor’s put most of their focus into properties that are releasing something that year or have a big anniversary year. We pick up a lot of older licenses before they have an anniversary—before the price of the license goes up.
TV: One of the easiest props we made was from The Princess Bride. They still had the swords and they were in immaculate condition. They actually mailed the swords to us.
BE: For The Princess Bride they had stuff that had been wrapped since the 80’s and we were the first people to open it since it was put in crates. It was really cool.
How do you decide what products to make for any given license?
TV: It depends on what they will let us have. We have a lot of proprietary stuff. Our premium motion statues are proprietary to us—they are part of a range we created.
What are some things that you guys have accomplished while working at Factory Entertainment that you are really proud of?
TV: I am a huge fan of the prop replicas we have created. I think they are outstanding. I think the golden gun is a thing of beauty. It’s a very competitive industry and being able to get the James Bond license was huge for us. We thought getting the Bond license was an impossible task but we were able to do it. Beyond the golden gun being an amazing piece, I liked that it proved people still wanted high-end collectibles.
You guys were a part of Master Replicas and it was one of the first companies to market collectibles towards adults—how helpful was the Master Replicas experience to what you guys are doing now at Factory Entertainment?
BE: When MR started the people that ran it were really nerdy and were hardcore fans. It has become more acceptable and you can put props in your home and people won’t think you are weird today. There was a point 15 years ago that you couldn’t tell people you collected this stuff—they would think you were weird. Now it’s cool.
TV: You are absolutely right—they were one of the first to break through to adult collectors in a big way. They really grabbed on to a demographic that exisited—but it existed in a small way. The demographic spread like wildfire and MR and its F/X Lightsabers really helped that. I learned from that experience that slower growth is important. We were producing products for prominent properties while at Master Replicas and when we started at Factory Entertainment we were starting at square one. Personally speaking, you can’t get too big too fast. You have to take it a little slow and mitigate as much risk as possible at the very beginning.
How do you balance that idea of growing slowly with taking full advantage of all the possibilities and opportunities that may present themselves as you are getting started?
TV: Manageable growth. We started with two operators and had an investor that was hands on and he was an operator in many ways as well. We started small and didn’t have a lot of products that we were producing. We are very much in charge of the growth.
Barry, you talked about how collecting is sort of considered “cool” now and years ago it wasn’t something that was universally accepted or understood. Has that acceptance sort of changed the kinds of fans we have today?
Some kid who has watched The Force Awakens and loves it, like we loved the original Star Wars when we were kids, and wants to embrace the universe is really lucky now because they have theme parks and all this stuff. But, they aren’t going to go to conventions and meet weirdoes with questionable hygiene. They are going to spend their money at Disneyland because it’s beautiful and they have a store that looks like your wet dreams. Why bother meeting weirdoes on the internet? That kind of stuff doesn’t exist anymore and it’s sad.
What kinds of things do you think adult collectors are looking for today when it comes to collectibles?
TV: What we do here at Factory Entertainment that separates us from a lot of other companies is we produce a wide range of products that aren’t pointed at a certain price point. Rather than come up with different brand names or company names—everything we produce is for Factory Entertainment. We are selling items that are as cheap as $9.99 all the way up to $800.00. We are really happy we can do that. I think having a wide range of products is essential now. We started a prop replica company but we knew we had to expand beyond that to keep the doors open.
I often joke about our industry being a very specific and niche industry. We are kind of like a craft toy industry. Like craft breweries—there are microbreweries out there that are producing their own beers and are competing against the bigger guys. We produce a lot of stuff that is purely fan service—it’s not made to make a million dollars.
Adult collectors, the really hardcore ones, are such a singular group of people. Is there any other group of people out there—or any other fan base—similar to the adult collectors that are so passionate about their pop culture collectables?
BE: I would say, the only fan base that is close, music fans. Because people buy what they like when it comes to music and they can rarely be swayed. Our industry is similar, if someone likes Star Wars, they may have some interest in other sci-fi properties but they are mostly Star Wars fans. I would say music because it’s personal. ‘Why do you like that band? I don’t know, I just do.’ They can’t tell you why they love that movie or explain the feeling they get when they buy a certain replica. It makes no rational sense—they just love it. Certain licenses have a very specific type of fan base.
Where do you guys hope Factory Entertainment will be in the next 5-10 years?
BE: I hope we are still making stuff people like.
TV: I think about that…I would love to be making Star Wars products. But, what we have right now is better than anything I could of ever envisioned.
Factory Entertainment recently announced its March Marvel Madness event and you can see brand new Marvel items here. They are also running a giveaway for their new Captain America – Rides Premium Motion Statue and you can enter to win here.