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“Film distribution is kinda where record distribution was 20, 30 years ago,” says Nick Panagopulos. “There’s a lot of little labels popping up.”
New to that crowd is Factory 515, a DVD-distribution offshoot of Panagopulos’ job as president of Silver Spring–based Brainbox Productions, a multimedia house that creates Discovery Channel programs and other glossy commercial work. An indie filmmaker at heart, the 29-year-old Panagopulos talks excitedly about bringing the DIY spirit to DVD, and again, his chosen metaphor is a musical one: “The only reason that Sub Pop rose to the top is that they signed the better bands.”
And so Panagopulos is looking for his Nirvana. So far, the Factory 515 catalog features mostly homegrown product. Titles include Five Lines, Panagopulos’ 2000 feature about D.C.’s Metro system; a collection of quirky shorts assembled by director Todd Rohal, who not coincidentally is Factory 515’s primary DVD author; and several best-of efforts from the D.C.-based 48 Hour Film Project.
But there’s material from beyond the Beltway, too, including a combination DVD/CD, co-distributed with Drag City Records, featuring both the movie Slitch and the film’s entire Will Oldham/
Dave Pajo soundtrack. Panagopulos raves about a music-and-movies collection from the Billy Nayer Show and waxes enthusiastic about the group’s Sundance-sanctioned “musically driven space Western,” The American Astronaut. That disc, planned as a spring release, is “gonna be huge,” says Panagopulos. “They have a huge cult following.”
Factory 515 is still basically a Web presence, and its biggest seller to date is a lacrosse instructional DVD, which Panagopulos says has moved upward of 8,000 units. But there are five more discs scheduled for release in the first quarter of this year, Panagopulos says, and “the customer we’re trying to get, if they like any of these titles, will like them all. Or at least be interested.”
That’s because Panagopulos, hoping to establish a recognizable Factory 515 identity, turns down more clients than he signs on. He wants the Factory 515 banner, like the noted repertory label Criterion, to become a draw in and of itself. Customers “see [the Criterion] label and know it’s going to be good. And people buy it just based on the reputation.”
A project that could be the foundation for that rep is Jeff Krulik and John Heyn’s Heavy Metal Parking Lot, which Factory 515 is about to release on DVD. Or it could be the ever-expanding 48 Hour Film Project series, three more installments of which will be released this spring. Before the lacrosse disc, these were Factory 515’s best sellers.
“We’ll never have the blockbuster movies,” Panagopulos admits, but he insists that the way to compete with Wal-Mart and Amazon is by “getting into that underground and finding people that have a product that the mainstream sees as borderline viable. And we can do it for low cost and put it out there, and we have exclusivity on it.”
“Low cost” is a relative term, of course. Brainbox invested $30,000 in a DVD-authoring computer system, but these days anybody can make DVDs at home. If your new computer didn’t arrive with a DVD burner, you can buy one for under $100 at Best Buy. This new reality has caused several local production companies to founder. After explaining that homemade discs are “replicated” rather than “duplicated”—the latter a more stable process—Panagopulos goes off on a positive-spin tangent.
“I think it’s great that DVDs are now accessible….You’ll see these new distribution companies pop up—and it will take down the man,” he laughs. “It’s all about taking down the man. Then you become the man. It’s a vicious cycle.” —Dave Nuttycombe