EXCLUSIVE – We talk to Zavvi about what goes into their exclusive Steelbook releases

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2013 was a great year for steelbook fans, with an ever-expanding range of new and catalogue titles, and 2014 looks set to continue this trend.

At the forefront of UK releases is Zavvi, who last year picked up the mantle of retailer exclusives, with an ever expanding collection of new and catalogue titles, including collections from Disney and Pixar.

Zavvi DVD Buyer Joe Anderton took some time to speak to us about the company’s steelbook efforts, including what goes into putting a release together, and a hint at what might be on the way for 2014…

Q: Have you been surprised with the popularity of some titles?

It’s always nice when a title proves a success and goes down well with the fans. We always try to ensure our releases have elements that we know fans will like. Most of the Zavvi team are massive Movie fans, so we like to think we have a good idea of what will do well. Essentially we try and release titles that we would love to own. That said, I think we have been taken by surprise at the success of some of the more ‘Family’ orientated titles, such as our Disney collection. I think there was a pre-conceived idea that steelbooks meant Comic Book and action movies, so it is great to see that steelbooks have such a great far-reaching appeal.

Q: Who decides on the titles – do you approach studios, or vice versa?

As I mentioned, we are all massive Film fans, so there is not a day that goes by without someone championing the release of one of their favourite films on Steelbook! From a catalogue point of view, we propose the titles to the studios that we want to release and take it from there. Sometimes studios will ask if we’d be interested in exclusively releasing a title, though that is more relating to new releases fresh from the Cinema.

Obviously some releases just pick themselves, Iron Man 3 for instance; always going to get a steelbook release, so would be unfair to take any credit for that. However, if anyone is interested in the personal tastes of the Zavvi team, they just have to look at our releases. Withnail & I is my own absolute favourite movie of all time, so at least now the steelbook world has an explanation for that release.

Q: How long is the production process, negotiation etc? Do some take longer than others? I’m thinking here of titles like the Indiana Jones movies, which first appeared quite some time ago, but have now been MIA for some time.

It really can vary hugely. The dream scenario is a studio get back to us with the perfect image straight away, something that manages to convey exactly how we envisaged it looking; then it is pretty much done and dusted and can be with the fans within a couple of months.

However, most of the time there are changes that need to be made or approval given by the studio’s headquarters in The States etc. Talent approval comes into place as well, for instance Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro have all been involved in signing off various steelbooks at one stage or another, which is pretty amazing; we have to pinch ourselves that these people are in some way involved with what we are doing.

However, the thing about international Movie Stars is apparently they can be a little busy, so it can take a while!

Q: How much say does Zavvi have over the artwork used, and is it produced in house or by the studio?

From a concept and ideas point of view, we can suggest, request and influence the artwork. However final say is with the studios and we are often limited to what has been pre-approved. The studio produces the artwork, so no design work is done at Zavvi at all. Sometimes this works fine, The Rocketeer was a perfect example of this. The whole idea to produce a Rocketeer steelbook came from seeing the image from the original US One Sheet Teaser Poster, and thinking how great it would look as a steelbook. At one point it was looking like we could not use it, but luckily we discovered that it had been used as the cover art for the OST in the UK, so therefor it had been pre-approved and was good to go.

Other times we have walked away from producing a steelbook because the artwork is just not there. Some older films or films that have swapped distributers through the years can be particularly difficult to work with. Any newly commissioned artwork can take up to 1 year to get signed-off, with no guarantee of it ever actually happening.

Would love if it was easier to get artwork approved as there is some amazing fan designed artwork out there. Would also love to use some of the great images sold by Mondo and their artists, but just not possible.

Q: Do you have a personal favourite Zavvi release?

Withnail & I obviously! Am a big fan of the artist Ralph Steadman who designed the original artwork for the film, so getting some of his artwork onto a steelbook was very pleasing indeed. Also very fond of Who Framed Roger Rabbit for sentimental reasons as it was our first release and does look great.

Black Swan was stunning from a design perspective and the timeless Disney animation designs look great. On the horizon, Mary Poppins is shaping up to be an absolute must have, while Filth is a bit of a classic from a design point of view.

Q: Is there a title that you’d love to see get a steelbook release, either new or classic?

Loads – though I do have a few that I am actively chasing, again, some of my favourite films. I’d love to release Mean Streets, again as I love the movie, but also because of the 1973 iconic film poster that is so synonymous with the film. That is one that already exists in my head, it’s just the title is not available on Blu-ray in the UK and no-one can quite get to the bottom of when or if it is released.

Another is Le Samourai, Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic French Crime classic. Obviously pretty well-known with film fans but probably does not have the recognition it deserves amongst the wider public in the UK, mainly because it has so frequently been available on DVD in the UK. Only France has a Blu-ray release, but I’d love to change that. Again, getting to the bottom of who owns the rights is very difficult!

Others include, The Big Lebowski, William Friedkin’s ‘Sorcerer’, Brick, American Psycho, Lethal Weapon, Stoker, They Live, Escape From New York, Dead Man’s Shoes… The list is endless really.

I feel I should say just to stop and rumours starting, there are no plans to actually release any of the above as this time. Well, maybe one of them…

Q: Can you give us any details of Zavvi’s plans for the year ahead?

We have loads of pretty exciting releases and initiatives planned. 2014 will see us try and focus more on giving steelbooks a more premium feel, in the form of finishes, artwork, run quantities etc.

All of these things can be challenging, but we are fully committed to giving steelbook fans more and more of what they want. Our ultimate goal is to grow steelbooks into a Film version of vinyl records (before you ask; No, laser-discs don’t count!). We want people to collect them, trade them, see them go up in value etc.

You already see the passion of steelbook fans and collectors in the growing amount of blogs, forums etc discussing the topic, some people live and breeth steelbooks and it is them that we want to appease. Digital and piracy are obviously growing forces in how people choose to watch and consume their movies, but we feel steelbooks offer an fantastic reason to keep collecting and buying a physical product.

I’d love that in sometime in the future collectors would get together at Steelbook Fairs much like they do for Record Fairs now. That would be pretty special.

Q: You say “We want people to collect them, trade them, see them go up in value etc”. However, I’ve seen many comments – including directly to me via Twitter – that there are too many steelbooks being released, and some weeks there have been 8 or 9 releases at the same time. Are you concerned about over-saturation of the market, in effect making them less rare and valuable, or resulting in people simply giving up due to the expense?

We appreciate that there are a lot of releases and that it is impossible to be able to afford all the new releases all the time, which can be very frustrating for some collectors. For every person who gets in touch about there being too many releases, we receive at least 5 requests for more releases!

The way I see it, collecting steelbooks should be seen as a long term hobby. As mentioned previously, we’d love to create a the film version of vinyl. Now, it would be impossible to imagine being able to afford or own every single vinyl release? People pick and choose their favorite bands, albums etc to collect, and similarly people will start to collect their favorite directors, actors, franchises etc.

I think the nature of collecting steelbooks has changed. The expectation at the beginning would have been that with so few releases, you could collect and buy them all. Yet a wider and more varied range of steelbooks is only a good thing for the steelbook collecting world. Ultimately, the more that are sold, the more studios and retailers will see the long term potential of steelbooks and therefore put more thought and love into the production of each release.

We want steelbooks to be around for a long time and therefore need longevity in the range available, the last thing we want is it to slip into the realms of a ‘passing fad’.