Posted: 05/14/04

Brentwood 10 Movie
Box Sets Are Killer!:

An Interview with Greg Glass & David Levine

by Barry Meyer


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Brentwood Communications (BCI) has come up with a unique concept in DVD packaging, and if you're a horror fan, like I am, then you've gotta get to your local video store or mega-mart and dig up what these guys have to offer.  The guys at Brentwood have become like the sugar-daddy to all the fervent genre DVD collectors by cramming together their eye-catching 10 movie DVD box sets (10 movies on 5 discs) in a wide variety of genres, like Horror, Martial Arts, Action, retro TV, just to name a few.  The best part is that you can snatch up one the popular Brentwood 10 packs for the price of a single best selling major Hollywood DVD release (many sets go for just fifteen bucks at major stores).  Think about it - you can drop a twenty on Scary Movie 7, or you can get yourself a blood-soaked collection of popular and obscure horror flicks, with some gruesome titles that you've only heard about before -- all in one box set!  And you'll still have a few bucks leftover to plunk down on some Milk Duds.  What a bargain!

I was curious to find out how these guys could provide DVD collectors with such tasty bargains without loosing their own shorts in the highly competitive world of DVD sales.  I spoke with the Senior Vice President of BCI, Greg Glass, and he was kind enough to give us a behind the curtain look into how Brentwood does what they do.

Can you give us a brief history of your time at Brentwood/BCI?

[Greg Glass] I came to BCI in June 2000 with our president Ed Goetz from Simitar Entertainment.  Ed Goetz and Simitar were a long-time leader in budget VHS throughout the 80s and early 90s.  By April, 1997 Simitar was the first indie in the U.S. with DVD releases.  Due to problems in the music division, Simitar folded in 2000 and Ed and I came to BCI to start a DVD division.  Prior to Simitar, I spent 11 years at the Handleman Company, the large rackjobber/distributor of home entertainment software to Kmart and Walmart.  BCI was purchased by Navarre Corporation, the large independent home entertainment software wholesaler, in October/November 2003.  BCI is now part of their growing publishing division.  We are very happy to be a part of their organization.  They will help us become a better distributor, and help us fund our growing acquisition efforts. 

These 10 movie multipack Horror DVD box sets are the best thing since the Groovie Goolies.  How did this unique concept come about?

[Greg Glass]  In the year 2000, retail shelf space for DVDs began to max out, and it was getting harder to place individual value priced titles.  Furthermore, as price points began to drop, retailers were becoming frustrated with the lower register ring on value priced titles.  Moreover, we had many good films in our library in popular genres that could just never see the light of day due to their lack of publicity or star power.  The DVD multipack was created to solve these problems.  Put multiple films in one package to reduce shelf space requirements while still allowing retailers to carry a breadth of titles, raise the price point by selling multiple films at once, and market films by genre, so that horror fans or martial arts fans would find a value in purchasing multiple films at once, even if some of the individual films in the set did not have value as stand-alones.  It has been a concept that has flourished for all these reasons. 

Martial Arts and Horror seem to be your most popular genres.  Is either of these two genres growing faster than the other? 

[Greg Glass] BCI (as well as Simitar, the former company of our president Ed Goetz and myself) has always been focused on male-oriented genres.  These genres are where DVD got its start, and what has driven the business to the level it is at now.  Although BCI is now having great success with family and children's programming, the Action genres will always be our core.  This includes Horror, Martial Arts, Action, Sci-Fi, Classic TV, War and documentaries/special interest programming.  One of the reasons Horror and Martial Arts are so successful for us is that we are one of the only companies packaging these genres.  Many of our competitors focus on "safer" categories, with less 'R'-rated or 'unrated' content.  We aren't scared of these films - on the contrary.  These films have avid fans who buy a lot of DVDs.  Both Horror and Martial Arts are categories that will continue to grow as long as we can continue to deliver good packages.

The response to Brentwood's Horror box sets has been greatly positive with a lot of rabid fans drooling over titles that they've only heard about before, and with bloodthirsty fans who want an easy way to build a collection without resorting to selling their body parts.  On the flipside, there are the more stringent videophiles who say that the quality of Brentwood DVDs could use some improvement.  Who are your best buyers - the collector or the videophile?  

[Greg Glass] At $7 to $10 for a 4-movie set, or $15 to $20 for a 10 to 20 movie set, I think it is pretty obvious which kind of audience we're aiming for.  The Videophile is looking for a pristine or restored transfer, with lots of extra features.  That is not our focus with these sets.  Our focus is to provide lots of content at a value price.  Often this means supplying unrestored masters, pan and scan masters, or even edited versions.  We do the very best we can to find the highest quality original masters, but we also have a price point that we have to hit for each collection.  Consumer Value is our #1 goal - we want everyone who buys one of our sets to feel that they got their money's worth - that they are happy with their purchase. Companies like Elite and Criterion are better at serving the videophile on some of these films.  Now, this is not to say that we as company are not capable of high quality releases.  We have a number of frontline and midline releases coming this year that will be more in line with the demands of the videophile.  For example, we have 21 films from the Troma library coming out in 2004. The films will be packaged in sets of 3 films on 3 discs.  They will be produced from masters provided in their original form directly from Troma.   Films that used to sell for 14.98 or 19.98 per film on VHS - these 3-packs will be available for 14.98 each - a great value, but a step up in quality from our standard value priced packs.  This is a win-win for videophiles.  It'll be great to have these Troma films out on DVD for the first time, using original masters, and all at an unheard of value price.   This is definitely the direction of our company...to provide the value we are known for to a wider and more discriminating audience.

Troma sells their own DVDs, so are you working in conjunction with them?  What will the difference be with how you package the Troma DVDs compared to what they're doing themselves?

[Greg Glass] Studios like Troma that have hundreds, if not thousands, of films in their libraries need to find alternate sources of distribution.  Again, there is only so much shelf space available.  By sublicensing older titles from their library to us, it gives them a chance for a revenue stream while they continue to focus on their new films.  The main difference is that we will have the "classic" Troma titles at a value price, while Troma's mainline product, which they self-distribute, will be new films at a full price.  Since we license the films, we can do what we want with them.  Hopefully they will be happy with the results.  

Any other major names that you'll be hooking up with?

[Greg Glass] Quite a few, particularly on the classic film library and TV side...but I hesitate to talk about any deals still in process.  As deals are signed, I'll be happy to share them with you. 

Going back to the issue of quality vs. quantity... Personally, I'm so friggin' glad to find old TV movies, like Moon of the Wolf, in your collection, that I'm more than happy just to have a copy, no matter what.  I mean, if you really think about it -- is there ever gonna be a Criterion version of Bo Svenson's Snow Beast anyway?  How does Brentwood go about selecting the titles for their box sets?

[Greg Glass] Everything is about the genre or theme of each pack.  We simply try to put films together that have some sort of common thread or theme, a theme that can carry over to the artwork, as well.  Each one of our packs gets its own title - so it looks and feels like a horror film package.  Many of our competitors put out imitations of our packs and call them "Classic Horror Collection" or something like that.  Each one of our packs has its own stand-alone title and theme like "Killer Snakes" or "Blood Bath" or "Horror Rises from the Grave".  In each collection, the films all tie into that title/theme.  Blood Bath is all gore movies, Killer Snakes is all snake/horror etc.  This is part of our success - treating the content more seriously than just throwing any film in the box set.  And of course, with our box art, we really try to make a statement.  We're not afraid of blood and guts Television.  We work with a number of film libraries on the acquisition of unregistered masters - virtually anything we can get our hands on.  On the licensing side, we are going to every film market worldwide and working with dozens of independent producers to find films that will work within our value priced formula. 

Some of the multipacks have extras, like rare old cartoons and trailers, while other sets don't have any extras.  Do you have plans for more extensive extras?

[Greg Glass] Most of the DVDs with available extras are from 3 years ago, when we first started producing the multipacks.  As the multipack concept took off, we realized that our core consumers were more interested with DVD sets containing more films, rather that more extras - so that became our focus.  With our midline and frontline titles however, we continue to offer lots of extra content in every pack.  With our value lines, we will continue to add extras, but only occasionally.  For example, our 60 Greatest Cartoons set comes with a free children's music CD inside.  Needless to say, that has been a huge seller for us!

What is the process of acquiring prints?  Do you search for Public Domain titles, or do you license?

[Greg Glass] Currently, 50% of our library of films is unregistered, while the other 50% is owned or licensed exclusively to BCI.  Each month, a larger portion of our library becomes licensed and exclusive.  Public Domain films/TV Shows are part of a finite world.  We have the majority of what is available and worth having in our library already.  All of our growth and expansion is in the licensing of films and film libraries.  By creating packages of films that are mixed between public domain films and licensed films, we create truly exclusive packs that cannot be copied by our competitors.  The challenge for the future is to continue to make good licensing choices that provide royalty structures that still allow for our value pricing model.  We offer producers and content owners the opportunity to exploit or re-exploit their films into the marketplace in a new, low-margin/high-volume way.  It has been very effective, and most of our producers are seeing tremendous financial dividends from allowing us to distribute their films in our packs.   As I said above, the process is to go to every film market, meet with every producer and content owner, to make sure that we are aware of and involved with every film and TV show out there and that is available.  The licensing of content is a very competitive business, and we are right in the middle of it.

This sounds like a genius business strategy.  Why hasn't anyone capitalized on this before?  Are the big businesses too safe, allowing smaller outfits to take the big chances?

[Greg Glass] The idea came first out of necessity - there is only so much PD product available.   Now, as we increase our volume and upgrade our product - and more importantly, as we now have copycats out there doing what we are doing - we need to exclusively control our content and our market share.  The major studios really have no need to mess with unregistered product, as they have content coming out their ears already - they could never release it all.  Our goal, like with the indie studios, is to convince the larger studios to let us license films and shows from their libraries that we will never get to in the next five years.  Why not license them to us on a five-year deal?  We'll generate some revenue for them, and then the titles will revert back to them.  It is a difficult sell, but we are having some success creating in-roads.

In the meantime, we will continue to mine every avenue for licensed content, and leverage our large PD library in conjunction.  Consumers, with the exception of videophiles, don't buy DVDs because they are licensed or unregistered - they buy movies because of the movie itself, the stars, the genre and the value.  We don't see any need to differentiate between the two in our multipacks.

I have to say, as a recreational collector, I grew leery of buying hard to find titles from smaller VHS distributors because the videotape quality was thinner than masking tape. But now, with DVDs, there is no threat of the VCR devouring a perfectly new tape anymore.  Do you find more people willing to snatch up packs of obscure titles, now that they are on a medium that will last?

[Greg Glass] DVD has made the collecting of films possible.  Prior to DVD, video was NOT a catalog business.  It was either a frontline mega hit business, a rental business, or a budget/special interest business.  As you noted, the format was poor and it was too big and bulky to store.  As was with the CD on the music side, the DVD turned the video business into a catalog/collectable business.  DVD works, and it is here to stay.  The next format change will be to HD DVD, but for now it is still DVD.  What has created the "snatch-ability" of DVDs is the rock bottom pricing of hardware.  The $39.99 DVD player has created a huge market for value priced DVD.  A consumer that buys this type of player is generally looking for value in their DVD purchases.  January and February have been our largest months in sales the last two years, predominantly because of Xmas sales of cheap DVD hardware as gifts.  These consumers get their new cheap DVD player at Xmas and then head into the stores in January looking to amass as much content as possible on a budget.  BCI multipacks are the best way to accomplish that goal!!

What's the prognosis on VHS, now that DVD has taken center stage?

[Greg Glass] We are just about out of the VHS business completely.  We maintain a small catalog of VHS programming, most of it special interest, for a select group of customers.  2004 will probably be our last year for VHS. 

You've started putting out larger multipacks of Horror flicks - 20 movie box sets!!  What's next for your Horror DVDs?

[Greg Glass] Midline packs like the Troma sets discussed above is our next exciting area.  We have several other BIG licenses in discussion on the horror front...stay tuned! 

Does Brentwood/BCI have any plans to ever produce their own movies?

[Greg Glass] Not at this time.  Prior to the purchase of BCI, by Navarre Corporation last year, BCI had a division that produced television documentaries.  That division, BCI International, is now a stand-alone company owned by the former owner of BCI.  They currently have two series on TLC (The Learning Channel) with several more in production.  We have a DVD output deal with them, and the first series, RIDES (a series about custom car and hot rod design) will have its 1st Season box set release in July, through us.  Sometimes, we do "extras" production in house as well.  However, feature film production is not in the cards for us any time soon.  It's just the business we are in. 

You spoke earlier about the eye-catching designs of Brentwood's DVD packaging.  Your stuff does look great, and the artwork separates Brentwood from other bargain DVDs on the shelves.  Do you have your own graphics department, or do you hire out? 

[Greg Glass] We have a four-person in-house graphic design department, and we also use over a half a dozen outside artists as well.  We produce so many titles every month; it requires both just to keep up. 

We have our Art Director, David Levine who has been with us for almost 3 years now.  He came with us from Simitar Entertainment in Minneapolis, but did a stint with K-Tel there before relocating to L.A.  He has been a graphic artist for over 12 years, and taught Adobe Photoshop technology courses at a junior college in Minneapolis for 4 years while working at Simitar prior to coming to BCI.  He is also a wonderful illustrator, and he could probably better provide you with the finer points of our package designs.

Greg handed me over to BCI Art Director, David Levine, who filled me in on how they come up with their distinct DVD box set designs.

I have to admit that Brentwood packages don't reflect their bargain prices at all.  While other bargain DVDs look like bargain bin deals, Brentwood has a fairly polished and unique appeal. How did you develop the look?    

[David Levine] The most important thing to us is that they don't look cheap. Our entire attitude is that even though they may be bargain movies, they don't need to look like it. We study current packaging very closely - especially front line movies. We're at Best Buy every Tuesday looking at what is new, and we also cruise all the daily DVD websites to see what is coming up. We try to follow trends in design, so that we can always keep our packaging fresh and current.
 
Some of the artwork looks original.  Do you create original art, or do you utilize the images in the films and other existing artwork?

[David Levine] Some of each. Sometimes we try to locate images from the movies, other times we create everything from scratch. We shoot a lot of own source material, for other things we utilize illustration and a lot of Photoshop manipulation. 

(Greg Glass suggested that we check out the cover art for the Alien Worlds 4-Movie Set, a package with artwork hand drawn by David Levine, himself.  It's pretty wicked.)

Do you have a model to follow, or do you change it up according to tastes and target audiences?

[David Levine] We just try to make something that is suitable for the specific genre, but is also very eye-catching. They all need to be bold and a bit "in your face". The example I like to use is that no one goes into a store looking specifically for one of our titles, so our packaging needs to draw them in and get them to pick up something they've never heard of before. If I can get you to grab one of our sets off the shelf, then I've done my job.

Is everything done on computer?  

[David Levine] Yes.  A few things might start out on paper, but it all gets digitized at some point. We're totally Mac based. Our two newest machines are Dual 2GHz G5s. About 96% of our work is done in Adobe Photoshop. Photos are taken with a Sony 8 mega pixel digital camera.

I like the in your face, oft times disturbing imagry of your Horror packages, and also the superfly retro feel of some of your Urban pack designs.  Is there a particular genre to which you guys look forward to creating designs for?

[David Levine] Our favorites are usually the last batch that we've done. The Urban ones are fun, because we really try to stay true to the classic feel of the old posters. I think we're partial to the Horror packs. There are just no limits in that genre, and it's fun to see what we can create next.

I want to thank both Greg Glass and David Levine for taking time out to speak with me, and giving us a peek inside the inner workings of Brentwood/BCI.  These guys at Brentwood are providing a tremendous service to us horror fans by shoveling out bucket loads of these multipack DVD box sets.  Do yourselves a huge favor and scan the video shelves for their DVDs.  Trust me, you'll flip your cans when you read through the awesome title selections.  I'll be laying down some reviews of these sets, to give you a taste of what they have to offer.

Barry Meyer is a freelance writer living in New York.

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