Exclusive Sideshow Toy Interview!
Posted 11/07/01

Tom Gilliland from Sideshow Toy agreed to take a few minutes to chat about their current products along with upcoming lines for next year.  I've been quite impressed by the licenses they've put out this year, and they are one of the companies that should have some very interesting news come Toy Fair time.  On to the interview!

First let me thank you for taking time to talk about Sideshow, your products and the future.

Let's start by discussing some licenses and licensing issues.  Folks are really excited about the prospects of the Bond license.  Is there any additional news on character selection?   

At the moment we are still developing the line with the licenser and can confirm that
we will be releasing Dr. No first. We will be doing Connery as James Bond & Wiseman as Dr. No. The second in the series will be Roger Moore and Christopher Lee from "The Man with the Golden Gun."

While Sideshow has started to produce a small number of non licensed figures, like Brothers In Arms or Six Gun Legends, the majority of your products are still based on licensed characters.  That's always a tough bet in the action figure industry, and many companies are moving away from licensing.  Will Sideshow continue to focus on licensed characters in 2002?

Licensed characters are and will continue to be a staple of the Sideshow 12" figure line.  Our licensed characters tend to focus on established Film and TV properties that have an established fan base. Our non-licensed products come from our design team's desire to work on some historical product based on eras we re-enact or collect.

Large companies often have many layers of management that decisions like licensing have to go through.  How are such decisions handled at Sideshow?

Sideshow is actually a small company which allows us more freedom from the layers you mention.  Our licenses are generally chosen by the designers who have a real interest in the available license.

Are there any dream licenses that you would love to do?  

Sure, but considering the number of sharks in the water I'll  have to keep my 'blood' to myself.  Needless to say the Army of Darkness and Platoon licenses were on my list from the start, so as a designer I would have to consider that satisfying.

Okay, let's switch direction a bit and talk about some of your current products.  While your body design is one of the best, some have had trouble with loose joints, particularly ankles.  Are there any plans to change your body design or make slight improvements during 2002?

From one product to the next improvements are being made.  The current Brotherhood of Arms figures have bodies that finally have all of the loose joints worked out and function as they were originally intended.  Obviously this is frustrating for us as much as our consumers.  At Sideshow we work very hard and very long to bring the best product we can to market.  Unfortunately sometimes things happen that are beyond our control and can only be fixed in later editions.

Many collectors were very happy about the recent switch back to the gate fold boxes and the new collector friendly packaging.  What prompted the changes?  What can we expect with future packaging?  

Honestly that is what we wanted to do all along. It was our mass market clients that were dictating the 'no flap' package design.  Now that we have greater  control  over our own destiny we returned to the box style we feel is most suitable for our products.  This included using the blister tray style in the box.

While most collectors agree that your sculpting, articulation and accessories are some of the best in the business, there have been some concerns on costume detail or quality.  Do you have any plans to address this?  

Absolutely.  This has been seriously addressed and I believe the results are evident on the Brotherhood of Arms Series One figures, and will continue to be seen on all future products.  Some of the original clothing designs were also streamlined a bit for mass market release.  While we moved to the collectible market sometime ago, many products were already in production and could not be altered to reflect our new direction.  The Shirt 'Dickey' is a great example of something you will not see anymore.  Socks and full undershirts are being worked into all future designs.  All of our military products will feature this improvement, to the extent that some figures will come with both complete Greatcoat and blouse.  Many of our accessory items are sewn just as the real items are.  I believe that the fans out there will be very surprised with our forthcoming Bayonets and Barb wire figures.  Both feature working fabric gas masks and bags that are extremely close to the originals in our collections.

As I said, your sculpting is some of the best in the business.  How do you decide who sculpts what?  Your company was also one of the first to put the sculptors names on the packages.  What kind of effect has this had?  

The decision on who sculpts what is pretty simple.  Mat Falls  sculpts 85% + of all or product portraits. We consider him to be one of the fastest and accurate 1:6 scale
   sculptors around. As you know, Oluf Hartvigson picks up the remaining projects, another sculptor of remarkable talent.   Other talented individuals have also made portrait contributions to our line as well. The remaining accessory items are divided up between  Mat , Oluf, and  members of the Design team, Jared Chapman, Heath Hammond, and others.

In the development life cycle of one of your products, what is usually the most difficult aspect?

Every turn has its own unique issues.  I would say that the overall time crunch is the most difficult hurdle.

Quality is one of the biggest issues most action figure companies face. With production happening half a world a way, it can be difficult managing that aspect of the business, and yet it's crucial to success.  How does Sideshow handle quality control?  

As best as humanly possible. We focus on communication and the constant development of a tight relationship with the factories that we work with in China.

Most 1/6th scale collectors love to set up dioramas, and clearly Sideshow realizes this with the release of their Civil War cannon. With the number of classic horror figures you've produced, perhaps a generic dungeon/lab/spooky diorama would present some great cross sell potential.
Are there plans for other diorama type pieces?  

The Cannon is a good indication of some of the things you may see pop up in the   Sideshow line-up.  I can not get specific but rest assured surprises like that are in store for the future.

During this last year, you made a rather controversial switch to limited editions.  How is that working out?  What are the smallest and largest edition sizes that are possible?  How have retailers reacted? 

This has worked out very well for us.  Despite early worries and frustrations, it appears that most people fears about 'scalpers' etc. were unfounded.  Sales have been strong with the fan base that we have cultivated and our customers have remained very loyal.  We feel we have been able to reward those same fans with some characters that NEVER would have seen the light of day in the mass market.  The London After Midnight, White Zombie, and three alternate Frankenstein figures are perfect examples.

The edition sizes currently range from 3,500-10,000 and are on the increase.  Retailers have been pleased as well.  Nothing makes a shop owner happier than product that disappears from his store quickly.  So far nearly every product we have put out has 'Sold Out' on our end and is in limited circulation in the marketplace.

When any company begins to sell their product more directly, and through smaller retailers, their web presence becomes more critical.  What kinds of changes or additions to your web site can folks expect to see? 

We are working on adding some fun stuff, like diorama pictures of our products as well as historical info.  There will be more entertaining additions to our site, as well as editorial content. All in good time.   

I've noticed that Sideshow has attended quite a few shows this year. What's your upcoming schedule of events that you'll be attending? 

Toy Fair in February, San Diego Comic Con in July, Chicago Comic Con in August, and several others are equally as likely.

Many companies have some sort of 'mission statement' that lays out their high level, long term direction.  What do you see as the core mission for Sideshow in 2002?  

I think our Core Mission could best be summed up by our desire to continue to make exciting and edgy 12" action figures from film and TV.  The Nostalgic angle is a little old now but was never given any real respect when it came to trying to manufacture a quality reproduction of the character in question.  It used to be acceptable to fill a label slapped box with nearly anything even if it bore no resemblance to an actor or character at all.  We have tried very hard to make as authentic a product as possible and continue to try to push for greater accuracy and value in all of our products.

If there's an aspiring sculptor or toy designer out there, what advice would you give them in trying to break into the industry?  

Keep at it.  A lot of people talk about the industry but few actually ante up what it takes to be successful in it.  This industry is certainly full of pitfalls and unforeseen calamities that can derail you, but a good focus and a sometimes insane level of positive thinking can create a rewarding career.

Anything else you'd like to add? 

I would just like our fans and customers to know that we work very hard in every attempt to bring them the best products we possibly can and will continue to do so. We appreciate all of the support and the kind letters and emails that we receive. Lastly, while the focus here has been on the 12" line, we also have an amazing collection of high-end collectibles tied to the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. We are extremely excited about this product and believe that collectors will be as well. We have huge surprises planned, all tied to the 3 film releases. We hope to bring figure collectors of all types a broad range of very cool product.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with the Galaxy.  Good luck with your future products!

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