Interview with Ulrich Bruckner of Koch Media
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ULRICH BRUCKNER, GERMAN SPAGHETTI WESTERN EXPERT, AUTHOR AND CEO OF KOCH MEDIA'S HOME CINEMA DEPARTMENT.
42 years after A Fistful of Dollars the Spaghetti Western is everything but dead. The genre lures more and more fans these days and the heritage of Sergio Leone and Co is held a lot higher among cineasts today than it did at its peak. We had a conversation with Ulrich P. Bruckner, author of the renowned book Für ein paar Leichen mehr and head of the home cinema department at Koch Media, the company that distinguished itself in the past years for their high quality Spaghetti Western releases on DVD.
- Sebastian Haselbeck: On the danger that you've been asked this question a thousand times: where does all that excitement come from?
- Ulrich P. Bruckner: At the beginning of the 70s I was lucky enough to see the first two Leone Western on Austrian television and I was blown away by the first one, that I prepared my tape recorder the following weekend, in order to record at least that great audio track, due to the amazing soundtrack. Ever since then I was hooked on Spaghetti Westerns.
- S.H.: Looking at the DVD market today, there's hardly a month going by without one of these classics being released. As an insider, without giving up company secrets, how's the business with these niche products, are there enough buyers or is it a tight business? Is it a 'grand duel' with the break-even-point?
- U.B.: To be completely honest, you couldn't keep a DVD-label alive with that sort of films, except if you'd have the rights to the Leone movies. However, sales of our Spaghetti Western DVDs are rather slow. The Sergio Sollima DVD box sells best with over 4 thousand items sold, the figures of the others are below 3 thousand. Because of that, we at Koch Media will in the future move away from the special packaging and release on ordinary amarays.
- S.H.: Especially at Koch, what priority do Spaghetti Westerns have in your product strategy? Are you free to decide, knowing that in this area you're not only producer but consumer as well?
- U.B.: In our product strategy, Spaghetti Westerns naturally only assume subordinate priority these days. This has something to do with the not so high rentability and the marginal (if that) cost-coverage share. Fortunately we have several hit-series in our portfolio (e.g. The King of Queens, The Two, Catweazle, etc) so the management lets me decide rather freely on selection and design of all our publications.
- S.H.: There are several releases in preparation, can we look forward to releases in 2006? If so, which ones and are there some nuggets the fans can be happy about?
- U.B.: Among the Spaghetti Westerns we will release this year are "Un Treno per Durango", "Killer Kid" and "Arizona si scatenò... e li fece fuori tutti", all featuring actor Anthony Steffen in the leading role. All three movies were originally intended for the Anthony Steffen Spaghetti Western box, together with the previously unreleased soundtrack. Due to the lack of demand the movies will now be released seperately. The soundtrack won't happen. For next year we have some real highlights in planning.
- S.H.: From your viewpoint, do you think there's going to be a increase in the number of releases in the genre? Do you think there is some sort of saturation, after all the high profile films are available, or do you think that less popular Spaghetti Westerns will sell good as well?
- U.B.: In the future there will definitely be a sinking number of Spaghetti Western releaes, because many highlights have been released and the sales are far below expectations.
- S.H.: What's your opnion on these cheap releases, like the Fidani productions that are put out on the market by some publishers for as low as 3 bucks. Do you think that is justified? All in all, these DVDs are mostly only up to par with TV broadcasts and hardly offer any aspects deserving a DVD release. Do you think we as fans should feel screwed about this? Do these companies underesetimate the potential value of well-made releases?
- U.B.: Cheap releases are a waste of money, because the quality doesn't fit the price and VHS tapes sometimes have equal quality even.
- S.H.: What is your take on the bootleg-market, which is florishing - thanks to some legal loopholes - most of all in the United States? Sometimes these are miserable copies and plagiates or simple VHS rips, other times first class fan-work that cost lots of time and effort. Do you think that sort of market is damaging indie labels such as Wild East or might it fend off bigger publishers from moving into this genre, knowing that the market is saturated by bootlegs?
- U.B.: The reason for missing releases in the United States is mostly the lack of demand. DVD publishers like Wild East are selling maybe one thousand items per title and filling a really small gap by doing so. Since these are mostly 'public domain' titles in the case of the United States, these aren't technically bootlegs, but simply public domain releases (as is the case with Wild East).
- S.H.: I am sure you are familiar with the situation european and american fans are facing in wishing such classics as Il Mercenario or Navajo Joe released in proper ways. Both seem to be at MGM (at least in Germany). How good are chances that such a major label might take care of these in due time, after all the Sabata films from MGM on DVD aren't really great releases (contrary to what they achieved with the Leone DVDs). Then there are such films as Five Man Army, also located at MGM. Do you think the treatment such films get from major labels is lousy? What are your expectations in that respect?
- U.B.: Concerning the releases of the two films IL MERCENARIO and NAVAJO JOE I think chances are bad that there will be something going on, because these are indeed at MGM. At the major labels there's usually the philosophy, that there needs to be a minimum number of sold items below which a release won't take place. That number is usually at around 7 or 10 thousand pieces. As mentioned, the major labels have more of a profit thinking than independents do, just like Koch Media. Hence, these labels specialize in top titles and leave niche titles in their archives.
- S.H.: What is your personal favorite DVD release (non-Koch) in Spaghetti Westerns? Is there one disc where you wished you were the one having produced it?
- U.B.: My personal favorte on DVD is the Collector's Edition of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - I think they got the most out of it there, in terms of bonus features and in terms of transfer, I think it's top notch.
- S.H.: Is there a film which is extremely rare, one that is out-of-bounds even for you, one that you would definitely love to release on DVD?
- U.B.: One of the absolute top titles would surely be MILLE DOLLARI SUL NERO (Sartana) with the stars Anthony Steffen and Gianni Garko.
Unfortunately they are licensed with the austrian company MCP, who previously showed their lack of effort to the fans with Stranger's Gundown. They will (if they do) most likely do a cheap bare bones release in cut form and wrong format and with german audio only.
- S.H.: What are the criteria in question on which you base a decision on as to release a new title, aside from availablilty of material and speed of production. Are you making the decisions all by yourself?
- U.B.: The decision bout the release date depend on the program as a while, the availablilty of the material (the movie and the bonus features) as well as releases from competitors. These decisions are made by myself in accordance with the head of the marketing department, the distribution and the product management.
- S.H.: DVD is soon going to be replaced by advanced formats. How do you think is that going to affect releases of Spaghetti Westerns? MGM will most likely release the Dollar Trilogy in the United States soon, which is not available in restored form as of now just as "Duck, You Sucker!", but first on Blue Ray Disc. Do you think that is technically sound? Some criticise for example the low bitrate of the "Once Upon a Time in the Weset" DVD.
- U.B.: I am sure it will take some years until the High Definition Format (HD or BLU-RAY) will establish itself as a mass product. Nevertheless I support Sony's decision to release the Dollar films on blu-ray, because there are already HD-masters available. How good those releases are going to be cannot be said. The format would allow for additional extra features on the discs, which would be a great thing for the fans.
- S.H.: You mentioned a re-release of your book Buches some time ago. What is the status on that and is it only going to be a reprint?
- U.B.: The corrections and additions are almost complete. I assume that the re-release will go through this summer or early spring next year.
- S.H.: Are there any plans to release the movies of the Sollima- and Django boxes on DVD seperately (minus the book and digipak-format)?
- U.B.: The three Sollima Westerns will definitely be available on single-discs, possibly in spring 2007.
- S.H.: Kinowelt is following a similar approach and is splitting up its Django box. Doing that, they are releasing a rated-16 (cut) version of Django. What do you think about that? Do you think that is a justifyable tool to get younger audiences into watching these films and finance the genre, or do you think that is a way that will ruin year-long efforts to finally get these films out uncut?
- U.B.: I generally don't appreciate cut versions of films at all. You don't buy a book that is missing pages neither!
- S.H.: One last question about Koch: Many of your Spaghetti Western releases have english subtitles, which we think is great. Why are these mostly not even mentioned on the cover or in the menus? Does that have legal reasons? Will that change?
- U.B.: These subtitles are for those few international fans who buy our DVDs, too.
- S.H.: Is there a strong competition in Germany for the rights to Westerns in the DVD sector? Is that a stable market or is there lots of movement or friction? Would you wish that Carol Media / Best Entertainment and Co would back off and leave the game to the pros?
- U.B.: There is hardly any competition for Sapghetti Westerns. Since there are many license owners of Spaghettis there is always as chance to snatch the one or the other gem.
Thank you very much for your time and the interesting answers, we wish you and your projects the success it deservers (financially as well) and we are looking forward to seeing many more excellent releases by Koch Media.