Raiding the Hollywood vault

While major studios prove adept at handling home media releases for their modern blockbuster titles, there's a growing stable of independent labels bringing much-loved catalogue titles and cult classics to Blu-ray in the UK.

Newest to the scene is the Indicator imprint from Powerhouse Films, which made it debut in October with John Carpenter's Christine and Brian De Palma's Body Double. It followed this with hi-def releases for Sidney Poitier vehicles Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and To Sir, With Love and the Richard Attenborough-starring serial killer drama 10 Rillington Place in November, with cult 1981 slasher flick Happy Birthday to Me following in DecemberMeanwhile, the first three months of next year bring film fans two more John Carpenter flicks (Vampires and Ghosts of Mars), The New Centurions, The Last Detail, Bunny Lake is Missing and The Anderson Tapes.

To find out more, Anton van Beek chatted with Powerhouse Films founder and director John Morrissey…

First up: what's your background in the movie industry?

I've been in the home entertainment industry since 1983. My first job was with MGM/United Artists, after which I worked with Vestron Home Video for over four years. I then spent 10 years as the sales and marketing director at Columbia Tri-Star, which then became Sony Pictures.

So why launch Powerhouse Films and the Indicator label?

It's an idea I've been developing for many years, but due to other work commitments it wasn't possible for me to set up the company until now. The ethos is to offer the best possible Blu-ray editions to people who are genuinely passionate about film.

I think working for a Hollywood studio for so many years was at times very frustrating. It was sometimes difficult to explain to the people in Los Angeles, who were not close to the UK market, about changes we would like to implement, which would benefit us enormously. Occasionally they would see our view point, but a lot of the time, they didn't. Now we can really deliver what the fans want, without having to get that approval.

What makes this the right time to launch a new label?

Over 30 years, I've seen the highs and lows, but the exciting thing now is that we're seeing a very definite shift in the market, with film fans and collectors demonstrating that they have an appetite for releases from labels who offer carefully-produced editions of classic films and less well-known titles. We hope to earn their trust and to be able to continue to deliver the kind of product they demand.

You're starting with UK Blu-ray debuts for John Carpenter's Christine and Brian De Palma's Body Double. Why kick things off with these?

Well, Carpenter and De Palma are modern masters of cinema, and these films are amongst our favourites from their filmographies. It's a privilege to be able to work on these titles, and to be responsible for presenting them on Blu-ray in the UK for the very first time.

What other titles can we expect, that haven't already been announced?

I don't think we have the time here to cover all that we have. All I can say is that we've over 80 films lined up, and that fans of Ray Harryhausen and Hammer will have a great deal to look forward to...

All titles announced to date have been licensed from Sony Pictures UK. Are you also looking to set up similar deals with other studios?

Yes, all the titles so far are from the Sony/Columbia studios, but we are working on a range of other licensing deals.

What's the reasoning behind doing limited edition runs for each title?

I'm sure our reasoning is much the same as for BFI and Arrow, and other labels that do the same. Costs for releasing the kind of high-quality editions we're striving to produce are not inconsiderable, so we are trying to find the best model to ensure that we can deliver on our ambitions.

How important are extra features to the DVD/Blu-ray experience?

If they're well made, they are a huge part of the experience, and key to the ethos of the Indicator label. We've already commissioned a huge number of new interviews with the actors, directors and producers of the films we are releasing in the first four months of next year, and are actively researching and sourcing archive materials, too.

And what about ensuring high-quality encodes?

This is as high a priority as it gets for us. As you rightly point out, it's Powerhouse Film's reputation that's at stake. We're spending time and effort getting this key part right, and we have a fantastic team in charge of all the assets, who have worked on some very major products. They certainly know what our requirements are, and they aren't happy unless they deliver to that standard.

How responsive have you found larger studios to be to the idea of licensing their catalogues?

It definitely helped that I had been with a major studio for over 10 years, but the real focus for Sony Pictures is their new-release product, which generates the bulk of their income. Catalogue sales are a little down the pecking order I'm afraid. I think it's up to Powerhouse Films now to try and change that perception, and so far so good.

Can you see Indicator investing in its own restorations as several other indie labels now do?

As we dig deeper into the Sony catalogue, we are finding some difficulty in finding good HD materials, so we are already looking into ways we can create new masters for Blu-ray. It's an expensive process, but we're dedicated to making films which have long been out of circulation available in the best possible editions.

Do you have any particular passion projects in amongst the titles that you're currently working on?

There's not one particular title that I'm more passionate about than any of the others, but we are looking forward to working on the Ray Harryhausen package, along with the Harryhausen Trust. We have five of his remarkable films; I think we are going to have something really special to show his fans. We also have a great raft of Hammer Films, some extremely rare.

Do you encourage people to get in touch with suggestions for titles they'd like to see you rescue from the vaults

Absolutely, we love hearing from fans – it's a privilege to have had so many people contact us ahead of our first releases. The response to our recent announcement was really overwhelming, and we have been sent so many great suggestions – all of which we have fully taken on board.

In that case, can we make a request for the 1988 remake of The Blob?

The Blob is now on that list, too!