Remembering Revolver’s pioneering spirit and risk-taking marketing innovations, as well as wondering what went wrong at the beleaguered UK distributor.
This week Screen reported the news, being rumoured for weeks, that Revolver Entertainment has shut its doors (its office was empty, although the company is not in administration as of press time).
If Revolver is indeed shuttered, this is bad news for the UK distribution sector. Even most of Revolver’s closest competitors have been saying how sad the news is, without any hint of schadenfreude.
Revolver was always a break-the-mould company. Justin Marciano started the business in 1997 with just £1,000 of his own money, producing motorcycle videos before moving into other types of profitable video deals (Darrin’s Dance Grooves sold more than 120,000 units in 2002, for instance).
The first theatrical release came in 2004 with surfing film Billabong Odyssey. Kidulthood followed in 2006 — it didn’t set any box office records, but it showed Revolver’s envelope-pushing PR and marketing prowess, with a now-infamous billboard depicting Tony Blair and his cabinet as a group of hoodies [pictured]. In 2007, the company had a smash with French hit Tell No One earning £1.2m.
Their Gunslinger production arm took risks on films that nobody else was making, and serving audiences that other distributors weren’t finding ways to engage. Anuvahood really connected with young UK audiences, and offerings like Sket and Shank introduced new filmmaking voices that might not have gotten a break elsewhere.
Revolver recently struck a smart buying partnership with Picturehouse, and jointly worked on the successful release of The Imposter, which went on to win a BAFTA.
The company also took pushed the boat in the digital arena with apps and social networking promotions, and creation of the Facebook tool FindWatchShare.
The distributor has been nominated for several Screen UK Marketing & Distribution Awards over the years, and won the 2012 award for best DVD campaign for Iron Sky. Revolver won a slew awards from Home Entertainment Week, the British Video Association, Summit International Awards and Social Buzz.
Yet we can’t ignore that Revolver wasn’t perfect, and there are financial reasons it is now being shut down.
What went wrong? Some factors could be egos at work, overpaying for product, having offices that were too flash, a staff that was too large (40 employees), and for more mundane factors like the DVD market drying up (does beleaguered HMV owe Revolver money?) and the company’s widest-ever release, Ben Drew’s iLL Manors, not performing as well as expected at the UK box office.
Branching out in the US might have also spread the company too thin. Justin Marciano certainly has a larger-than-life personality that sometimes rubbed people the wrong way, both internal staff and the wider industry.
Yet nobody could say that people working at Revolver were just phoning it in. They were working hard, they were passionate and they were writing their own rules.
There were many, many dedicated and talented people who worked there and I hope they will all land safely on their feet at other companies or set up their own businesses.
The legacy of Revolver isn’t just a sad end with financial trouble, it’s also their creative and innovative work for more than 15 years.