INTERVIEW: Francesco Simeoni – Director of Content, Arrow Films

These films are important cultural artefacts so I want them packaged sensitively: I think physicality is important

As a market leader for boutique Blu-ray releases of genre movies, Arrow Films (and their associated labels Arrow Video and Arrow Academy) have blazed a trail in recent years: from releasing limited editions of cult classics to being the headline sponsor of FrightFest, few other companies have done as much to shape the landscape of how horror and horror-adjacent films are consumed. Here we sit down with Director of Content Francesco Simeoni to talk about his favourite Arrow titles, extra features and the future of the company.

What was your entry point into genre cinema?  

My first thought is how are we defining genre cinema? I guess it was a gradual process: I don’t think there was a watershed moment so much. As a kid I was watching the Spielberg kind-of-stuff that most kids were – Back to the Future, Jaws and so on – and there was just an increasing exploration of whatever the 9pm movie was, which I would secretly watch in my room when I was supposed to be in bed. It’s really weird, because some of those films I watched at that time came back into my life only through Arrow. I watched Vamp on TV when I was way too young and didn’t even know what the film was: I didn’t know who Grace Jones or any of the cast were when I was ten, so I had no leads to go on when I tried searching for the film as an adult. And then Arrow acquired it and I had this incredible moment where I was finally seeing the end of a film I’d started decades earlier!

So a lot of it was like that, films I just stumbled upon on TV and then it was a case of seeing what looked or sounded good from the TV listings: like Class of 1999 was probably another one which just sounded good to me; robots and gangs! I must say though I am no genre expert, I like loads of different kinds of cinema and have tried to explore a bit of everything. I’ve learned loads just working for Arrow and have made a huge amount of discoveries from fans with recommendations via email, forums, experts we work with on extras and booklets and so on. I remember Luigi Cozzi talking about Malombra, one of the first melodramatic films to have gothic overtones, so I went and watched that. I like just digging up obscure stuff and especially learning about different periods and movements of filmmaking. My tendencies sway to Japanese and Italian films for the most part, though my knowledge pales in comparison to our contributors. I’m just a normal film fan really!

Arrow Films have gone from strength-to-strength over the last 10 years, becoming a market leader in the boutique Blu-ray market particularly for cult cinema. You’ve been with the company throughout that period: what has it been like to go on that journey?

It’s been pretty remarkable in so many ways. I remember arriving and seeing these releases I hadn’t even heard were coming out, and my first thought was that if people just knew these existed this would be incredible: because everyone should have Romero in their collection, so once you do that you can build on those with other cool stuff. I knew we had to step up our game in many respects, but I’d come from the theatrical side of the industry rather than home video so it was a pretty steep learning curve. Through our partners at various different technical and artwork suppliers and agencies I got to grips with the best methods and tweaks and additional resources: like James White (Head of Technical and Restoration Services at Arrow) steering us right from a technical POV – I am so blind to that stuff – it just kind of snowballed.

As we got more team members, and therefore knowledge and experience, it became easier. I am consistently surprised that every year we manage to get more great films: maybe I’m a pessimist, but after Weird Science and Cruising and American Werewolf and Oldboy you think that’s it, next year we’ll need to just be grateful for what we have. And then we get Tsukamoto, Jodorowsky, Flash Gordon, Crash and Tremors and I think there’s no topping this. And then we get amazing UHD upgrades, Over the Edge, incredible box set after box set, Dune, Legend and Shaw Brothers and then I look at next year and I’m in disbelief.

I think one of the greatest things we’ve achieved is that we can put together boxsets of obscure westerns, politiziotteschi, tokusatsu and these can be hits: enough to do follow up volumes anyway. Obviously the big Hollywood stuff sells much better, but that we can be rescuing films from obscurity, shaping opinions and forming the canon for genre is amazing. I noted with interest that the spaghetti western database top 20 lists would change after we release certain westerns, which blows my mind, but that’s what I think this is all about.

Arrow is particularly renowned for the extra value in their releases, including newly commissioned artwork, exhaustive extras, collectors booklets. Which extras are you especially proud of from your tenure as Director of Content?

I wish I got the chance to watch more of our stuff, so I must confess there’s loads I haven’t even seen. My focus is on finding new films or on acquiring those I already know about, so one of the pitfalls of my job is I’ll often watch a rubbish screener or ancient DVD and then not watch our newly restored Blu-ray because by the time it’s out I have a new pile of things to watch! With extras it’s a similar story, though I do try and sample things when they come in. I think a good extra is something that you take away as being valuable to your appreciation of the film or that helps expand your understanding or knowledge of a film or particular subject.

I think I’ve said this before but I get a lot of value from early works, so being able to get another film as an extra I think can really help to understand a filmmaker and their development, so I loved being able to add I Vampiri as an extra on Black Sunday.

The commentary by David Forgacs on The Conformist is one of the best I’ve ever heard: the amount of information in there is astounding and I found some of his observations and research fascinating.

Guillermo Del Toro interviewing Paul Williams on Phantom of the Paradise is one of my favourite interviews. I am so grateful to Guillermo for organising this as it would never have happened without him. I love this extra as it’s a really nice chat between them, and not only do you get fascinating insight but as it’s a chat between friends I feel like it’s a privilege to witness the kind of conversation which is more than just a Q&A: there’s a lovely familiarity which brings across a love for the film and Paul and there’s humour along with insight that a standard interview wouldn’t have achieved.

All of the extras on The Borowczyk Collection were great, including the massive book, but I really liked Film is Not a Sausage and Blow Ups. I love extras which are able to focus on subjects related to a film or filmmaker and in these, because Borowczyk is a great subject, we were able to learn more about his other work or methods. All the interviewees on this set spoke about Borowczyk in such an infectious way, I felt like I got a real sense of his character and ways of working which I found fascinating.

“The History of the Arkanar Massacre: an appreciation of Hard to be a God” by Daniel Bird was essential for me. I absolutely loved the film but Daniel was able to convey things about it that I would have needed to watch it ten times to unpeel. I love this kind of analytical appreciation for films which have such deep layers: it’s not needed often but it’s great when you get it. I feel so frustrated when you have a film that deserves this and you can’t have it (usually because a filmmaker vetoes it!) and you need to go hunting elsewhere to get this kind of analysis. Extras like this, and booklets especially, are so valuable in such cases.

The De Palma Digest, on Sisters, was one of the first big visual essays we did I think and it can stand in for loads of visual essays we’ve done subsequently (I’m going to try not to repeat the same kind of extra here). I love this kind of extra personally: while interviews with cast and crew are great I do really enjoy critical analysis, production history and trivia so visual essays are often great ways to get this across. Justin Humphrey’s extra on this disc is also great.  

Abel Ferrara on The Driller Killer is a great one for me. I’m conflating his interview and commentary as we did them pretty much back-to-back, but Abel is a great story teller and like a lot of filmmakers has an amazing memory for people he’s worked with, situations, who got the money, how the film was set up, the things that happened on the shoot and so on. I’ve been fortunate to work with Ferrara a few times and his stories (including off camera) are always good fun. Obviously filmmaker commentaries and interviews are always great and a key thing we always want with a release, but I am completely biased here of course, we have loads of great filmmaker commentaries.

Multiple cuts on Waterworld – again this one will stand in for multiple cuts we have on loads of films which are a great extra to have, but I think this just may be the last one I watched. I love having this as an option, and some people will probably think I’m mad, but I also like it when there’s a slight material change so I know when the scenes are not in the other version and they get this flag to know that a cut was made and you can speculate as to why. I think having access to different cuts between theatrical and director’s cuts is pretty essential as you may be familiar with a mainstream version but, better or not, it’s interesting to see a director’s vision if they made changes.

The monograph on Kinji Fukasaku by Tom Mes in our Battle Royale: Limited Edition was great and again, like a big doc, it’s great to get that wider context and I love dipping into a booklet after watching the film.

I’ve been really biased here with these either being personally overseen by me or representing specific events or experiences and this is really testing my memory (I quickly flicked through a few pages of our website to jog my memory) so I’m sure I’ve forgotten some but also I didn’t want to mention the same kind of extra over and over: we’ve had loads of great extras for so many films but these kinds of extras appeal to me and I’ll routinely go for these kinds of things when I get discs.

What are your personal Top 10 Arrow Titles?

Again I’m really biased here and this is down to personal experience of not only the film or package but how it came about:

  • Rififi – I’m choosing this because not only is it one of my favourite films but it’s one of the films I first focussed on at Arrow as a dream title to work on. I even wrote the synopsis and specced out the extras before I got the job!
  • Battle Royale – This was my first big project at Arrow: again it’s another film I love and I really enjoyed pulling all the materials together for it, from artwork to extras. To see it done again on UHD was a real treat!
  • Phantom of the Paradise – One of the first filmmakers I targeted for Arrow when I had authority to do so was Brian De Palma. I’d seen all the majors we released but this had eluded me: I couldn’t believe it was so good, I thought it’d be passable but I loved the aesthetic and anarchic tone. The costumes and music, William Finley, everything really: I think it’s my favourite De Palma film now!
  • The Long Goodbye – This is one of my favourite films and I had loads of fun working on this. The extras were great and I think it’s one of our best ever artworks.
  • The Rivette Collection – I’d never even seen these films before but Out 1 was this huge cinematic holy grail so it had to be done and it lived up to expectation. I saw it theatrically over one weekend at the Prince Charles and was floored by it: I think it’s an incredible achievement. I love the artwork too and have the posters hanging up in my house. Robert Fischer made a stunning doc on it as well for a really complete package.
  • The Borowczyk Collection – I’d seen half of these films prior and I thought they were ok. I got onto Goto as the Quay Brothers (whose work I like a lot) said it was a big influence and I thought it was ok but nothing special. When we restored it I saw it theatrically in a QC screening and it just clicked for me and now may be my favourite. The experience of seeing the films in better presentations with the extras really enhanced my appreciation and understanding of Boro and I am immensely proud that we got to present him in a new light. I think it’s one of the best sets we’ve ever done.
  • Videodrome – I am a big Cronenberg fan so he’s another filmmaker I’ve really tried to target over the years. I think Videodrome is probably my favourite but that could change with revisits of his other work. Working on this was a treat as it has loads of areas to explore and to have his early works in the limited edition was a treat: I personally think these films are really fun!
  • Robocop – I think Robocop is one those rare films where it’s so good that even without nostalgia you don’t need to give it a pass for certain things which don’t hold up due to the ravages of time or changing attitudes or whatever: it’s pretty much perfect! This is one of those releases which I still can’t realty believe we did but was so great: I personally went for the rigid box and it’s lovely, one of my most prized possessions.
  • Carrie & Tremors – I’m doing these together as I’m just going to repeat myself with Robocop: these are great films that I have a huge amount of fondness for. For me these are the kinds of films I can watch over and over, the kind of films I like to bust out at Christmas, play well to a group, can be put on at any time, and as with so many of our releases I think we got the physical aspect perfect. Conversation on releases is often centred around the film or the extras or the transfers, but I think physicality is important. I hate owning some releases that feel really cheap and tacky and I’m a bit of a stickler for certain things on packaging: I use books as a comparison (I especially hate ‘now a major motion picture’) and that books rarely feature quotes on the cover or ‘digital download codes’, so why should films? For me these films are important cultural artefacts, not a grocery item to be casually consumed, so I want them packaged sensitively and I’m glad we’re able to do that for these great films.

You’ve released some teaser images on social media for some of the titles we can expect over the next 9 months: any particulars you’re able to share? I hear Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch is on the cards.

Yes Naked Lunch is coming soon which is really exciting: I think it’s one of Cronenberg’s best films and we have a really exciting package in the works. We just announced a Yokai Monsters box set which collects the original three films and Takashi Miike’s re-make, Argento’s seminal Deep Red on UHD and we’ll be re-issuing more Argento on UHD next year. We’re also working on a release of 80s slasher Phantom of the Mall which is going to be a special announcement….

Tim Coleman

Follow Francesco in Twitter for more regular updates on all things Arrow.

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