Russell Binder reveals what Striker Entertainment is looking to do for Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared

Striker Entertainment’s Russell Binder on the unique challenges of the Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared licence.

Russell, you have a long history in the entertainment and brand licensing business. Tell me about that.
Growing up in Southern California, I was exposed to projects – and friendly with many people – in the film and TV business. But my exposure to the entertainment-licensing business came when my mother remarried and I met my step father, Jay Roth. Jay introduced me early to the concept of licensing, and at age 25 brought me into his company to mentor me and teach me the business.

Roughly when was this?
Around 1996. And simultaneous to my joining Jay, I also became a stakeholder in a start up management and production company that specialised in animation. Through these two companies, and the amount of transacting I was able to do on both sides of the fence, I was able to build and nurture a meaningful network. I established entertainment, manufacturing, retail, financier and right’s holder relationships that continue to serve up new opportunities 25 years later.

Impressive. And you’re now a Founding Partner of Striker Entertainment. What did you set out to do with Striker?
I founded Striker 14 years ago out of necessity, and the desire to build something I could own and scale. I never wanted to go the studio route, despite the salaries, access, and regularity of content offering a greater layer of security. I wanted to be independent, and I wanted to work across all categories – not specialise in just a few.

Russell Binder, Striker Entertainment
For what reason, specifically?

I wanted to test my creative and client servicing instincts, to develop a talented and committed team, and to work directly with creators and help them effectuate the vision they had for their properties. I also wanted to stay nimble, and I wanted to work on projects that inspired me and my team and that would allow me to grow a thriving business. And as it happens the timing couldn’t have been any better.

In what way?
It was a time when there was a more robust feature-film licensing business, and a growing number of independent studios that were producing and owning their works… And either marketing and distributing the projects themselves, or renting distribution from one of the big studio marketers and distributors.

When that business slowed down and became more of an “franchise or bust“ model for features, television and gaming were beginning to enter their heyday. This was before streaming, and at a time when a television series had a chance to develop some roots with a meaningful viewership. There wasn’t such a crowded landscape and bifurcated audience like we see today.

“There wasn’t such a crowded landscape and bifurcated audience like we see today…”

Got it. You also mention gaming?
Yes; the gaming business was coming into its own with user engagement in gaming increasing, graphics capabilities dramatically improving, and communities of fans coalescing. That, and mobile gaming was also just beginning to erupt due to the amount of handsets that were available and the increasing graphics and computing power those devices offered game developers. Being independent gave us a tremendous opportunity to follow the technology puck, and to stay relevant and informed with how audiences we are beginning to adapt their consumption habits.

Russell Binder, Striker Entertainment
Properties you recently and currently represented include The Twilight Saga, The Hunger Games, TED, House of Cards, The BFG, Terminator Salvation… And the well-known spelling test, Terminator Genisys. What do they all have in common? What makes them properties you feel you can serve well?

The commonality of much of what we’ve gravitated towards representing is that most of the content is what we consider ’genre’… Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Super Heroes, Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, etc. If you look at the biggest entertainment franchises of all time, they’re almost all genre.

I hadn’t thought about that, but I wouldn’t presume to debate it! And out of interest, are you naturally interested in those genres?
Oh, for sure. Growing up loving the movies and TV series that were fed to us from Sid and Marty Croftt, DC and Marvel, Amblin and Lucasfilm to Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Spielberg and so on… We were already hooked, and we knew that properties like these united us.

United you? Because they’re universal in some way?
Absolutely. Despite our socioeconomic and political differences, everyone can enjoy Star Wars, Spiderman, The Walking Dead and so on. And if you have a dedicated fanbase that you care about and respect, they’ll embrace your content, show up to your events, and wear and showcase their merchandise as a badge of belonging – and as bait to meet fellow fans. We felt we knew how to walk the walk, and that we were authentic in our love for – and appreciation of – the content that shaped us. That meant we could express that passion outwardly on behalf of our clients and their properties.

Russell Binder, Striker Entertainment
Great answer. As I understand it, one of your new clients is Blink Industries. You’re handling worldwide merchandising and licensing for Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. For the uninitiated, how would you describe the show?

That’s the easiest question so far… And the hardest! How would I describe the show… Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is one part kids’ puppet show, or costume character show, and one part acid trip. It’s a show with mature themes gift wrapped beautifully in felt, pretty colours, catchy tunes and familiar Saturday morning settings.

The show is unique; it’s both familiar and exceptionally distinctive from anything else out there. With over 250 million YouTube views, and a new series in production in the UK, it’s clear the property is resonating with a growing and engaged audience.

What are you looking to do for and with that brand?
We’re looking to respect and service the fans and help the show creators express their unique vision in products and experiences that best represent the uniqueness and quality of the series itself. We want to push the envelope of creativity in both common and uncommon categories. We want to bring the DNA of the series into the products our licensees develop, manufacture and market.

Russell Binder, Striker Entertainment
And just quickly, what is the DNA of the series?

Quirky humour, intricate design, music… Oddities! So the effort will be how to take traditional categories of product and employ unique design and function to make these products special and in service of what the fans love so much about the series.

To that point, what are the challenges of licensing with a more surreal offering like that?
Both Blink Industries and Striker have an ambition to try and avoid making this feel like most traditional licensing programs. There’ll need to be a harmony between functionality and design, and retail distribution and price point tension. So the challenge will be how to interpret this uniquely styled and produced series into products that don’t get lost on the shelf… And that contain the magic that makes fans keep coming back to the content.

What, then, is your creative process at Striker Entertainment? How do you like to work?
We’re by no means one dimensional when it comes to our process. As an agency, we have our own ideas of what would be the best product and experience interpretations of the content we represent… But until we get into the heads of the content creators we work with, we resist the desire to go shop for deals. Every client we have has a perspective on how they view their property, and how they wish it to be translated into consumer products.

Russell Binder, Striker Entertainment
It’s a more organic partnership…

Right. Our jobs are to align with that vision, bring our expertise to bear, and do our best to synchronise expectations with industry realities like manufacturing lead times, price points, shelf-space availability, etc. That said, we love to have product brainstorm meetings to throw out the wildest and wackiest of ideas, and see how to take a foundational program and make it thrive on all levels for each tier of fandom.

With which other kinds of property would you like to work? Is there anyone you look at and think, “They’re exactly the right fit for us!”?
One of the toughest challenges we have is balancing our portfolio of existing clients with the ambition to grow and take on new clients. We’re always looking at new projects and putting them through the stress test of whether or not we feel we can be additive, and if we feel the property has the potential needed to justify deploying our internal resources against them.

“We pride ourselves as much on our deal-making capabilities as we do with how we service our clients.”

Russell Binder, Striker Entertainment
We pride ourselves as much on our deal-making capabilities as we do with how we service our clients. So we need to be extra sure we have the time, resources, and enthusiasm before taking on a new client or property. That said, it’s our mission to be relevant, to know what’s going on in pop culture, and to have clients and properties that everyone is talking about.

Brilliant. Russell, this has been terrific. To wrap things up, let me ask you this: what’s the one question I haven’t asked you that maybe I should?
How is Striker continuing to adapt as the amount of new content and distribution platforms continue to multiply?

And what’s the answer?
The answer is that Striker is more than a licensing agency. We’re an IP accelerator. Striker represents the best and brightest of the independent content producers for consumer products licensing, but – and it’s a big but – we also don’t look purely at consumer products when we think about how an IP can be extended… We’ve grown a production business that can take game, book, comic, toy, etc., IP into film and television.

We have an overhead deal with Blumhouse – whose properties include The Purge, Get Out, The Invisible Man – that encourages us to bring IP to them for media adaptation… And if Blumhouse passes, we have the rest of Hollywood to discuss these projects with.

So you’re working on film and TV quite a bit right now?
Yes; I can’t say too much but Striker is executive-producing a wide range of film and TV projects at the moment. They include Creepshow on Shudder, Day of the Dead on SyFy, and more that are to be announced soon. Finally, Striker will selectively work with unique companies, making distinctive products, and who want to secure IP for collaborations and licensing.

Striker works with a scripted podcast company called REALM – with IP acquisitions being one of our functions; as well as one of the coolest eBike companies in the market… Super 73. Long and short, we’re all about building franchises and franchise value while being able to support the development and growth of IP in a widest range of verticals where we can be of material benefit.

Fantastic stuff. Russell, thank you again for your time; please keep us up to speed with your new projects! In the meanwhile, we’ll look forward to seeing what’s next from you and Striker Entertainment.

Russell Binder, Striker Entertainment

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