Every single one of us at some point dreamed of starting our own toy company, or at least wished for some property that we loved to be made into plastic. For most of us it stops with just the dream because when we really start thinking about finding sculptors, factories, distribution chains, warehouse storage space and most importantly venture capital… that almost makes our heads explode. This list of things that you can think of that you would need to start a venture like that is only dwarfed by the things you can’t think of to get something like that off the ground. But that didn’t deter Jason Lenzi. Five years ago he made the decision that his dream of making toys of properties that he loved was never going to happen unless he started the process and started learning the ropes. A chance meeting at a party made the introduction with Jason Labowitz (who owns and runs EntertainmentEarth.com) would be the spark he needed to crack open the door to the industry, at first barely noticed, and now 5 years later not easily ignored.
The best part of the story is that he didn’t just try, he also succeeded, and has now built BifBangPow! from "the little company that could" into major studio’s first phone call. This personable young man from MINNESOTA, grabbed one of his dreams by the tail and made it into a reality. And he did it in a very unconditional way. You see there’s not a BifBangPow! HQ… or an office or a staff of brand managers and marketing guys. It’s a small band of rebels, and the man who practically carries the BifBangPow! logo on him at all times (actually it’s a mod "target" tattoo on his forearm, but have a closer look at the ‘O’ in the BifBangPow! logo) is a major part of bringing the cool toys he has always wanted to ‘life.’ If that’s not a Cinderella story, I don’t know what is.
The first time I met Jason Lenzi he was at Toy Fair with a couple of Big Lebowski and Flash Gordon prototypes in one upright glass case.
This past July at Comic Con the BifBangPow/Entertainment Earth/Toys R Us booth was big, busy and busting at the seams with new licenses and new products. Not to mention all of the celebrity appearances and signings at the booth that they have now become famous for.
So, how does all of this happen in just 5 short years? Let’s talk to BifBangPow! founder Jason Lenzi and find out:
Action Figure Insider: So… First of all congratulations for Five Years!
BifBangPow!: WHY THANK YOU, SIR. IT’S BEEN A LONG, STRANGE TRIP, BUT I’VE LIVED TO TELL THE TALE.
AFi: Five years in, are you where you thought you’d be?
BBP!: WELL, IF I SAY YES, THEN IT MAKES ME SEEM OMNISCIENT OR ARROGANT, THAT SOMEHOW I KNEW THE LICENSES THAT BIF BANG POW! WENT AFTER WOULD MAKE SUCH RIPPLES IN THE TOY WORLD. SO, I CAN SAY THAT MY HUNCHES PAID OFF, AND IN A WAY, THIS WAS WHERE I’D AT LEAST ‘HOPED’ WE’D BE.
AFi: The first time I met you was at Toy Fair 2005, you had one glass cabinet with 2 Flash Gordon figures, 2 Urban achiever Lebowski prototypes and some heads for some unreleased 12”Lebowski figure.
Now people are lucky to get close to the EE/BBP booth at comic con because of all of the activity. Can you talk about that growth/transition?
BBP!: WELL, FIRST AND FOREMOST, NONE OF THAT ACTIVITY AND EXPOSURE WOULD BE POSSIBLE WITHOUT ENTERTAINMENT EARTH. JASON LABOWITZ HAS BEEN A TRUE PARTNER, IN EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD, AND HIS CONTRIBUTION TO BIF BANG POW! IS IMMEASURABLE. IT’S SOMETIMES A CHICKEN BEFORE THE EGG SCENARIO, BUT AS OUR LICENSES HAVE GROWN AND BECOME MORE MAINSTREAM IN WAYS, THE ACTIVITY AT SDCC HAS GROWN AS WELL. I DO THINK A LOT OF IT HAS HAD TO DO WITH THE LICENSES, THOUGH, AND HITTING THE RIGHT CULT PROPERTIES AT THE RIGHT TIMES.
AFi: How many licenses are you working on now?
BBP!: WELL, BECAUSE WE’RE A SORT OF ‘VIRTUAL COMPANY’ AND IT’S ALL DOWN TO US, WE CAN’T SPREAD OURSELVES TOO THIN. WE’VE DECIDED TO SORT OF PHASE OUT CERTAIN TITLES, WHICH HAVE BEEN VERY GOOD TO US, AND CONCENTRATE ON NEWER LICENSES WHILE LOOKING FOR NEW ONES AS WELL. SO CURRENTLY, THE RETRO FIGURES WE’RE DOING FOR ‘FLASH GORDON’ AND ‘THE BIG LEBOWSKI’ MAY VERY WELL BE OUR SWAN SONGS FOR THOSE TITLES. BUT THE GOOD NEWS IS WE STILL HAVE PLENTY TO PLAY WITH: ‘DEXTER’, ‘CALIFORNICATION’, ‘THE VENTURE BROTHERS’, ‘THE TWILIGHT ZONE’, ‘LOST’, ‘EASTBOUND AND DOWN’ AND THE UPCOMING CBS FILMS FEATURE, ‘BEASTLY’.
AFi: What do you think is the biggest lesson you have learned in five years?
BBP!: PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE. ESPECIALLY, AND I CAN’T STRESS THAT WORD ENOUGH, WHEN IT COMES TO THE STUDIOS AND NETWORKS. I NEVER THOUGHT ANY OF THIS WAS AN OVERNIGHT PROCESS, BUT IF YOU HAD TOLD ME WAY BACK WHEN THAT LITERALLY EVERYTHING WOULD TAKE AGES TO DO, I MAY HAVE HAD SECOND THOUGHTS AND OPENED A COFFEE SHOP INSTEAD. ALSO, IT’S ABOUT KNOWING MORE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT AND PROPERTY THAN ANYONE ELSE YOU’RE SPEAKING TO, BECAUSE BELIEVE ME, THAT KNOWLEDGE WILL COME IN HANDY.
LOT’S MORE INTERVIEW AFTER THE JUMP!
AFi: Which year has been the hardest?
BBP!: PROBABLY YEAR ONE. NOTHING WAS MORE DIFFICULT THAN HAVING THE ‘DREAM’, IF YOU WILL, AND THEN TRACKING DOWN THE RIGHT PEOPLE AT THE STUDIOS. BUT EVEN THAT WAS CAKE, BECAUSE THEN I HAD TO SAY, ‘HI, MY NAME’S JASON LENZI, AND I HAVE A TOY COMPANY, AND WOULD LOVE TO MAKE BIG LEBOWSKI TOYS. NOW, I’VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE, AND HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL I’M DOING, BUT LET ME TELL YOU WHY I’M THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB…” ONCE WE GOT ONE OR TWO TITLES UNDER OUR BELTS, IT GOT A LITTLE EASIER.
AFi: What changes have you seen in the industry in the past 5 years?
BBP!: HMMM, GOOD QUESTION. I SEE A LOT OF INNOVATION, AND A LOT OF GREAT SCULPTS AND SOME CHANCES BEING TAKEN ON NON MAINSTREAM TITLES. BUT I DON’T FEEL LIKE I SEE ENOUGH OF IT. I ALSO STILL SEE A LOT OF THE SAME OLD SAME OLD, BUT I GUESS IT DOES WELL, SO WHAT DO I KNOW. THAT ALL SOUNDED HEAVY, AND WASN’T MEANT TO, SO LET ME STRESS ONCE AGAIN THAT I FEEL THAT WE’RE STILL LIVING IN A GOLDEN AGE OF TOYS AND ACTION FIGURES, AND EVEN WHAT SOME COMPANIES DID FIVE YEARS AGO PALES IN COMPARISON TO THEIR OUTPUT NOW.
AFi: What product caused you the most grief in the past 5 years?
BBP!: I ASSUME YOU’RE REFERRING TO STUDIO HEADACHES AND THE LIKE? I GUESS IT’D HAVE TO BE ‘LOST’, AND THAT’S NOT A DIG AT THE GREAT PEOPLE AT ABC AND ON THE SHOW. THEY’RE VERY,VERY PROTECTIVE OF THEIR PROPERTY (AS THEY SHOULD BE) AND THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE TO MAKE HAPPY BEFORE WE CAN GET ANYTHING OUT THE DOOR. BUT ‘GRIEF’ IS A STRONG WORD, LET’S JUST SAY ‘STRESS’?
AFi:What product are you the most proud of?
BBP!: CAN I PICK TWO? I’D HAVE TO SAY THAT FIRST FIGURE OF THE DUDE, IN THE BOWLING SHIRT. IT WAS SO COOL TO FINALLY SEE IT IN IT’S PACKAGING. BUT EVEN MORE SPINE TINGLING THAN THAT, FLASH GORDON AND MING FROM THE ‘FLASH GORDON’ LINE. BRINGING THOSE TO LIFE TRULY WAS ONE OF THOSE CHILDHOOD DREAMS COME TRUE. AND THINKING THAT I WAS THE ONE GUY ON THE PLANET THAT EVER VENTURED FORTH TO DO IT MADE ME VERY PROUD.
AFi: What is a typical day for you with BBP?
BBP!: WELL, AS I SAID IT’S ALL VIRTUAL. SO WE DON’T HAVE AN OFFICE I GO INTO, I’M MAINLY CHECKING EMAILS THROUGHOUT THE DAY, WHETHER THEY’RE CREATIVE, STUDIO OR DESIGN RELATED. WE’RE ALSO CONSTANTLY FOLLOWING UP WITH STUDIOS, HOUNDING THEM DOWN FOR MATERIALS, AND/OR GETTING THEM ON THE PHONE AND DISCUSSING THINGS THAT NEED TO GET DONE.
AFi: Your first property that you went after was “Spaced.” Can you talk about that experience? Do you still think it’s a viable property?
BBP!:AWWWW, THE LICENSE THAT NEVER WAS. I LOVED THAT SHOW, STILL DO, AND IT’S ONE OF THE TITLES THAT SORT OF MADE ME FEEL I COULD MAKE THIS HAPPEN. IT WAS CULT, IT WAS UNDER THE RADAR, AND I KNEW THAT BEFORE LONG, SIMON PEGG WAS GOING TO BE A HOUSEHOLD NAME. THE PROBLEM WAS ALWAYS TWO FOLD: CHANNEL 4 IN THE UK HAD NEVER DONE A LICENSE LIKE THAT BEFORE, AND THERE WAS ALWAYS SOME CONFUSION AS TO HOW MANY PRODUCTION COMPANIES HAD RIGHTS TO DO SOMETHING WITH IT. SECOND, IN TRYING TO DISCUSS IT WITH ANYONE HERE IN THE STATES, IT WAS AN ONGOING POP CULTURE LESSON BECAUSE NO ONE HAD ANY IDEA WHAT THE HELL I WAS TALKING ABOUT., AS IT HADN’T EVEN MADE IT TO DVD HERE AT THAT STAGE. THE GOOD NEWS IS, TRYING TO BRING ‘SPACED’ TO LIFE MADE TWO EVENTS TAKE PLACE. WHEN SPEAKING TO UNIVERSAL ABOUT ‘THE BIG LEBOWSKI’ AND TRYING TO SELL MYSELF, I MENTIONED ‘SPACED’ AND PEGG. HAVING JUST MADE ‘SHAUN OF THE DEAD’, UNIVERSAL WERE VERY FAMILIAR WITH THAT FILM, AND SUDDENLY I WAS INSTANTLY LEGITIMIZED. ALSO, I MADE MY FIRST APPEARANCE AT THE ENTERTAINMENT EARTH BOOTH AT SDCC 2005. JUST DAYS BEFORE I HAD BEEN GIVEN THE ‘GREEN LIGHT’ FROM CHANNEL 4 TO ANNOUNCE THE ‘SPACED’ LICENSE. SIMON PEGG AND JESSICA STEVENSON HAD SIGNED OFF ON THEIR FIGURE DESIGNS, WHICH I HAD PUT ON A SIGN AND WAS GOING TO UNVEIL AT THE BOOTH. AS I’M STANDING THERE, I LOOK OVER ACROSS THE HALL AND SEE THE ALEX ROSS BOOTH, AND NOTICE HIS LOGO FOR THE FIRST TIME. IT’S IN THE FONT AND SHAPE OF THE ‘FLASH GORDON’ MOVIE LOGO. KNOWING THAT FG IS ALEX’S FAVORITE MOVIE IN THE WORLD, I MADE MY WAY OVER TO TALK TO HIS MANAGER ABOUT ALEX BEING INVOLVED WITH OUR ‘FLASH GORDON’ FIGURES, WHICH WE ENDED UP MAKING TOGETHER, AND I NOW HAVE A FIVE YEAR FRIENDSHIP WITH THE MAN. SO, EVEN THOUGH IT WAS OVER A YEAR OF PHONE CALLS AND EMAILS WITH NOTHING TO SHOW FOR IT, IN A WAY, I HAVE ‘SPACED’ TO THANK FOR MOVING THE BALL FORWARD.
AFi:; Besides “Spaced” is there another license that got away from you that you really wanted?
BBP!: YES, BUT I’M GLAD IT DID. I KNEW WHEN ‘DOCTOR WHO’ CAME BACK IN 2005 IT WAS GOING TO BE MASSIVE, AND FOR A FEW WEEKS I THOUGHT I’D MAKE SOME CALLS REGARDING THE LICENSE. WE NEVER COULD HAVE DONE IT THOUGH, AND EVERYTHING THAT CHARACTER OPTIONS HAS DONE HAS BEEN MAGNIFICENT, SO WIN WIN!
AFi: If you could poach any property from another toy company what would it be?
BBP!: TRUTHFULLY, NOTHING COMES TO MIND! I THINK THERE’S SO MUCH GREAT STUFF OUT THERE, THERE’S VERY LITTLE I LOOK AT AND THINK, ‘WE COULD HAVE DONE THAT BETTER’.
AFi: BBP had an unbelievable amount of Comic Con exclusives this year as SDCC 2010. Why so many?
BBP!: UM, BECAUSE LIFE IS SHORT?
AFi: You’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of the actors that you have made product of. What do they say about their figures and bobbleheads?
BBP!: MICHAEL C HALL LOVES THE ‘DEXTER’ FIGURE AND BOBBLE HEADS. HE PARTICULARLY LIKED THE SWAPPABLE ARMS. THE REST OF THE CAST OF ‘DEXTER’ ALL LOVE THEIR BOBBLE HEADS AND HAVE BEEN VERY COMPLIMENTARY. I HAD A FRIEND INTERVIEW JEFF BRIDGES A COUPLE OF YEARS BACK, AND MY FRIEND MENTIONED THE DUDE ACTION FIGURES WE’D MADE, AND HE SAID BRIDGES BROKE INTO A WIDE GRIN AND SAID ‘AREN’T THEY COOL? WHO WOULDA THOUGHT IT?”. SAM JONES WAS THRILLED WITH THE FLASH GORDON FIGURE, BUT MELODY ANDERSON SEEMED TO THINK HER HEAD WAS TOO SMALL. DANNY MCBRIDE LOVES THE ‘EASTBOUND AND DOWN’ BOBBLE HEAD, AND OF COURSE, PROUD PARENTS JACKSON PUBLICK AND DOC HAMMER ARE REALLY EXCITED BY THE ‘VENTURE BROTHERS’ TOYS.
AFi: Most of your recently debuted action figures are in that retro-Mego-esque style. Will we continue to see the regular 7” plastic figures from BBP?
BBP!: FOR A WHILE, IT’S GOING TO BE A RETRO BBP! WORLD, BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN WE’RE LEAVING OTHER SCALES BEHIND.
AFi: If you were to do another wave of 7” Flash Gordon figures who would be in it?
BBP!: THE SIMPLE ANSWER TO THAT WOULD BE THE ENTIRE CAST! BUT IF THAT COULDN’T HAPPEN, I’D LOVE TO SEE: VULTAN, MING WITH SKULL CAP, KALA, PALACE GUARDS, DALE IN WHITE JACKET AND SKIRT, AND OF COURSE, AURA. BUT SHE MAY END UP MELTING ANY SHELF SHE STANDS ON, SO WE HAVE HEALTH AND SAFETY TO THINK ABOUT.
AFi: Recently BBP has been in the news with the story of one guy getting bent out of shape about Toys R Us carrying your Dexter figure. Have you been contacted for a direct comment yet? Are you reading the comments on the news pages where the story are posted?
BBP!: WE GOT CONTACTED, BUT BY THE TIME WE GOT THE MESSAGE THE STORY WAS DONE. AND YEAH, I HAVE READ SOME OF THE COMMENTS, MOST OF WHICH WERE IN OUR DEFENSE. THERE HAVE BEEN QUITE A FEW ARTICLES WRITTEN ON DIFFERENT TOY AND POP CULTURE SITES AS WELL, ALL SORT OF MAKING FUN OF THE WHOLE NOTION. YOU KNOW, AT FIRST I FOUND IT SORT OF AMUSING, AND WAS PROUD TO BE IN THE COMPANY OF SO MANY TOYS THROUGHOUT THE YEARS THAT HAVE CAUSED A STIR. AND I STILL AM PROUD OF ALL OF THAT, BUT THE MORE I THINK ABOUT THE WHOLE THING THE MORE MY BLOOD BOILS. NOT BECAUSE PARENTS DON’T HAVE A RIGHT TO SAY WHAT THEY THINK SHOULD OR SHOULDN’T BE IN A STORE ON THE SHELVES OR BECAUSE THERE ARE LITERALLY DOZENS AND DOZENS OF PRODUCTS IN THE SAME TOY STORE THAT ARE MARKETED DIRECTLY TO KIDS (WHICH OUR ‘DEXTER’ FIGURE CLEARLY ISN’T), BUT BECAUSE ONCE AGAIN A STORY HAS COME TO LIGHT AND DISTRACTED PEOPLE, FOR HOWEVER BRIEF A TIME, FROM LARGER ISSUES GOING ON IN THE WORLD. IF 7 ‘DEXTER’ FIGURES ON A PEG IN YOUR LOCAL TOYS R US IS THE WORST THING YOU SEE OR READ ABOUT ALL DAY, WELL, YOU’RE NOT LOOKING HARD ENOUGH. OH, AND ALSO BECAUSE I HATE, WITH EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING, ANYONE TAKING A MORAL HIGH GROUND AND TELLING THE MASSES WHAT IS RIGHT OR WRONG. THINK FOR YOURSELVES. (THE PROBLEM WITH SAYING THAT IS USUALLY, ALA ‘LIFE OF BRIAN’, THE RESPONSE IS “BUT HOW SHALL WE THINK FOR OURSELVES?”)
AFi: What do you think the next 5 years will bring for BBP?
BBP!: MORE LICENSES, MORE DIVERSE ITEMS, MORE DREAMS COMING TRUE. THERE’S ONE POSSIBILITY RIGHT NOW, AND IF IT COMES TO FRUITION, I’LL BE MAKING THE TEN YEAR OLD JASON LENZI A VERY HAPPY KID. STAY TUNED, AND AS ALWAYS, THANKS SO MUCH FOR THE SUPPORT AND INTEREST IN WHAT WE’VE DONE OVER THE YEARS. AFI HAS BEEN AN ENORMOUS FAN OF OURS, AND WE CAN’T THANK YOU ENOUGH. KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON!
Thank you to Jason for the interview and congratulations on your 5 year anniversary!
Just a follow up on this from last week when Jason answered our questions for this interview — came the news that Toys R Us has cracked and decided to no longer carry any Dexter product in their stores. This is really troubling to me, and I hope it is to you as well. You’ll see some further info and blogs about this on the site soon.
You can see a complete catalog of all available BifBangPow! Products at www.EntertainmentEarth.com
And if you’d like to read more from Jason Lenzi he also has a great Men of Action blog right here on AFi!
||Posted by Daniel Pickett