Jordan Schwartz, founder of Factory Entertainment, on why creating prop replicas is in their DNA

From Batman and Bond to Star Trek and Men in Black: Jordan Schwartz discusses amazing replica props

Jordan Schwartz, you’re the founder and president of Factory Entertainment. Can you sum up what you’re all about?
Very simple: to create the kind of pop-culture collectibles that enhance the experience of being a fan and that our team, as fans ourselves, would want to own.

Perfect – clear and concise! And to orientate our readers before they visit your site, what kind of brands do you license?
Primarily they’re movie franchises with well-established fan bases, such as James Bond, Back to the Future, Jaws, Jurassic Park and those based on DC Comics… Characters like Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, as well as TV series with substantial historical collector appeal…

Such as?
Such as Star Trek and Thundercats! Also, those with the demonstrated potential to build a fan base across multiple seasons, such as House of the Dragon and Peacemaker. We also have some long-established relationships with leading brands outside of Hollywood, such as the Beatles.

Interesting. I did notice your range was quite broad. In that respect, what are some of your best selling products?
That would have to be prop replicas, whether full-size limited editions that faithfully replicate the on-screen prop, or reduced scale, open-edition replicas. With some simplification, scaled replicas are intended to make replica collecting accessible to a larger number of collectors at more affordable price points.

Jordan Schwartz, Factory Entertainment
While we also have a number of other collectible lines that do very well for us, including – among others – plush, barware and lunchboxes, prop replicas are really the products that are baked into Factory Entertainment’s DNA. That goes all the way back to my first foray into the world of licensed products.

And when was that, Jordan? How long have you been doing this?
I’ve been doing this since 2001! That’s when I co-founded a company around the second Star Wars trilogy. That proved that there was a market for high-quality replicas.

Well, I must say some of these replicas are right up my street! They include Neuralyzers from Men in Black, James Bond’s casino plaques from Dr. No… What else? Sulu’s teacup from Star Trek Generations, and a range of swords from Masters of the Universe. All of these are terrifically offbeat ideas… So what X factor do all your replica props have?
All our prop replicas have to have a “wow” factor to them. The Neuralyzers are a perfect example… The original, screen-used props reflected a gorgeous design aesthetic, but they didn’t actually function as an integrated device would. Much of the perceived function of the props was achieved through close up insert shots of oversized electronics not present in the props themselves.

Oh! Is that right? I mean… That makes absolute sense, but somehow it’s still disappointing!
Right. And while that’s perfectly normal and appropriate for filming a motion picture, it would be less than thrilling for fans of the film to own a replica of a static prop which doesn’t operate as they perceived it to on-screen. Therefore, our team worked for over a year to engineer the various components into a integrated replica that actually springs open when triggered and incorporates the actual sounds and electronic effects seen in the film. Unfortunately, we can’t actually make it erase anyone’s memory, as nice as it would be to forget the Covid era!

Jordan Schwartz, Factory Entertainment

Ha! Well that’s a crying shame! I’m curious about something to which you alluded earlier… Do these items have to be driven by passion? Could you stock things from franchises about which you personally feel indifferent?
Passion is absolutely the driving force. I like to analogise the universe of collecting to an archery target… In my view, prop-replica collectors represent the bullseye: although the smallest piece of the universe, they have the highest degree of passion for the brands they collect.

“It’s the passion of our customers, not my own, that drives what we replicate.”

Love it!
A well-executed prop replica helps create an emotional and physical connection between the collector and his or her favourite pop-culture properties that’s really unlike any other. That being said, it’s the passion of our customers, not my own, that drives what we choose to replicate.

Interesting… Can you expand on that? Or give me an example?
Sure! For example, when Masters of the Universe was originally a toy line and a successful animated series, I was too old to appreciate it… And my children were too young! We recognised, however, that there is a large and extremely passionate fan base that has wanted to own artefacts from MOTU for decades. Those fans, most of whom originally experienced the brand as kids, are now adult collectors – with the passion and wherewithal to purchase replicas if available. That was borne out with our recent release of a He-Man Power Sword replica. This is a real-world realisation of what was originally a toy rather than a replica of a prop… But it sold out completely in record time.

Naturally, I have brands that I’m particularly passionate about. When my passion intersects with that of other collectors, such as – for example – for James Bond props, we’ll pursue it. But when it doesn’t, I have to remember that this is a business, and that indulging my own passion project if there’s no real market for it would be a fool’s errand.

Jordan Schwartz, Factory Entertainment

Great answer, thank you. So after you’ve decided something’s a terrific idea, how do you typically go about making it happen? How, for example, would you make a replica of a Star Trek phaser rifle?!
There’s no simple answer to that question, because there’s no one way to approach a prop replica. Each replica is a unique design and production challenge. Generally, though, it starts with an assessment of the availability of reference assets from the licensor, how the original prop was made and whether it still even exits.

Right! I hadn’t thought about that. Some of the older stuff in particular, I guess, is hard to source…
Right. Prior to around 1980, it was fairly rare for a studio to archive screen-used props. They were often discarded, recycled or – after production – removed from the set by crew members as souvenirs. And, if they were kept, they weren’t necessarily handled with the care that should be taken with valuable artefacts. Even after the studios began to realise the value of screen-used props, it sometimes became a source of ancillary revenue to sell them off, rather than to retain them for posterity, so even many iconic props of more recent vintage are difficult, if not impossible, to locate.

In those cases, we may rely on screen reference, still images, production drawings and notes available commercially, or from studio vaults. We also use interviews with living crew members, and authorities on the property in question, to provide a basis from which our sculptors can create a 3D model or physical prototype of the object.

Jordan Schwartz, Factory Entertainment

This is incredible! It simply hadn’t occurred to me that you’d have to be part detective, part archaeologist just to understand exactly what you were making.
It can be like that with the older stuff. For more modern productions, in which an on-screen prop may not even exist in the physical realm to begin with, we’ll often be able to obtain the digital files that were used to create it. That said, it may take months for our sculptors and designers to adjust the original to incorporate or simulate effects that were created or enhanced by CGI.

“If I had to name one element that’s common to all replicas, it’s RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH!”

And presumably that raises additional challenges?
Very often, yes… Because digitally created and computer-enhanced props don’t always have to obey the laws of real-world physics. By contrast, if a physical prop did exist, we may be able to obtain access to the original molds. This is all really just skimming the surface of how we go about creating replicas but, if I had to name one element that’s common to all replicas, it’s RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH! What our customers want is authenticity and accuracy, and until we can establish the bona fides of every replica, we won’t be able to satisfy that standard or earn the imprimatur of the related IP owner.

Which replica has proven the most complicated for you over the years?
They’re all complicated!

Ha! Fair enough! Are there any props you’d love to make replicas of but can’t quite bring to fruition?
Well, one of our most successful and sought-after products was a gold-plated replica of the golden gun from the James Bond film, The Man With the Golden Gun… I’d really like to make a small run of those in solid 18K gold. It would be a movie collectible for the ages, but the price would be astronomical and I really don’t know if there are buyers out there for that.

Jordan Schwartz, Factory Entertainment

Phenomenal answer! Let me ask you this, then: of all the replicas Factory Entertainment’s produced over the years, which is your personal favourite?
You should never pick a favourite among your children! As someone whose fandom was borne in 1960’s television, I’d have to say it’s a tie between our desktop replica of the Batcave from the classic Adam West TV show, and almost anything we’ve made from Star Trek.

However, our upcoming 2023 releases of the Neuralyzer from the first Men in Black movie, the flux capacitor from Back to the Future and Black Manta’s helmet from Aquaman – all of which look great and feature beautiful electronic effects – are strong candidates for the limited space left on my own shelf.

Brilliant. Jordan, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed learning about this stuff… I knew a lot of work went into these pieces, but I had no idea just how much. So… To wrap this up, what’s the one question I could’ve asked you today, but didn’t?
What are you most proud of at Factory Entertainment?

Great! And what’s the answer?
As we enter our 13th year in business, I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been around twice as long as every other company in the prop replica space… All the rest of which have come and gone! We’re also recognised by collectors as the go-to leader in prop replicas. This is no small accomplishment in a business segment in which every product is unique, and is a testament to the dedication and passion of the entire Factory Entertainment team.

Jordan Schwartz, Factory Entertainment

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