AFi Interview – Randy Falk of NECA’s 10th Anniversary
This year I thought it would be fun to not only celebrate AFi’s anniversary, but to also reach out to our friends and the toy companies and celebrate their anniversaries and make it one big celebration of milestones.

We kick off with Randy Falk of NECA who is celebrating 10 years with NECA.   We’ve known Randy for all 10 of those years and he’s always been very generous with us and just a class act.   He’s quiet at first, but when you get to know him you can see what a passion he has for this hobby and that he ‘gets it.’  NECA, under Randy’s direction has given collectors 10 years of excellent product, but more importantly – Consistency.

Randy was one of our two AFi ‘Eddie Awards’ Hall of Fame inductees last year.
Randy took the time to look back on his 12+ years in the industry and 10 years with NECA and answer some questions about where he started, what has changed, and how NECA is able to take risks and continue to innovate while so many other companies seem to be scaling back.

AFi: Can you talk a little bit about your getting into the industry?  We know you were at McFarlane before NECA, but what were you doing before that?
Randy: Most importantly I have always loved toys and action figures and back before eBay I had my own business as a toy dealer doing print ads, toy shows, and dabbling in customs of Star Wars and Toy Biz figures. During college I realized fro certain that I wanted to make toys my career but it took a few years to break into the industry. During that time I still ran my mail order business and I worked as an English Teacher. I was able to get my foot in the door working at McFarlane Toys during one of my Summers off and that turned into a full-time position. 

AFi: How much of a gap was there between your time at McFarlane and joining NECA?
Randy: None really, I spent about 2 years at McFarlane, gave my 2 weeks notice and left in January 2002 to join NECA.

AFi: Do you remember the first thing you worked on when you got to NECA?
Randy: Yes, funny enough NECA had no real toy licenses or sculpting department at that time. I was given a list of licenses NECA had and the random categories NECA held under those licenses and I had to concept and design products that would work under those parameters. It was a big change for me since McFarlane was strictly an action figure company and here I was at NECA designing lights, lamps, candle holders, and bobble heads. It was new territory but I welcomed the challenge and change of pace from McFarlane which had me drowning in Sports. Some of my favorite earliest NECA products I worked on were the Nightmare Before Christmas Jack string lights, the Vincent Price doll from The Raven, The Balrog Candle Holder,  and some Iron Maiden bobble heads as I worship Maiden and Eddie.

AFi: Now that you’ve revisited Gremlins and Beetlejuice, are there any “missed opportunities” that you still would like a shot at a “do over”?

Randy: There isn’t much, maybe Die Hard? That one didn’t turn out too great and I know we could do it much better now. For the most part I think most of what we have done over the past 10 years holds up well sculpturally, if anything I’d like to re-do some things with more articulation. In the earlier days we did minimal articulation but over the past 2 or 3 years we have really pushed for more and more and have set new records for ourselves in amount of articulation and how well it is concealed. 

AFi: Do you have a favorite part of your job?   And a least favorite part?
Randy: Several favorites actually, I love signing a new license or deal for something I am excited about like Prometheus, I love being able to sit back and admire a finished sculpt and/or paintmaster that our talented team has built together, and I love when we get back the initial toys in first shot and test shot form when we can actually play with them and pose them and just have fun with what we made. Least favorite part is without a doubt the manufacturing process. It is very difficult to make quality figures for an affordable price and it gets tougher each and every year. Rising labor and material costs play a huge role in this and at times factories that seem to me working against you rather than with you.

AFi: One of the things that I have always loved about NECA is that you picked a scale and you stuck with it.  Can you talk about your decision for that?
Randy: Consistency is key, you build a universe, a collection and people invest in that, once you deviate from it you alienate the fanbase and make anything they purchased before null and void. We picked a scale that works for us, that shows off the talent and detail and craftmanship and it can still be produced at a reasonable cost. As mentioned earlier it gets tougher each year and we have to find ways to be more creative in recycling or re-using tooling when possible but still being true to the license and our commitment to quality and accuracy. Many of us worked on the earlier Spawn lines and the classic Movie Maniacs so we wanted to co-exist in that space, I never expected to take it over and become the dominant force in the collector figure market.

AFi: Because of the wide range of products you make for properties, you have gotten a lot of licenses that people would assume go to larger companies.  Is there a license you are still “itchin’” for?
Randy: There always has to be a few right? You have to stay hungry to keep your edge I mean, realistically I would love to tackle classic Nintendo like Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Punch-Out because they are great properties and they have never really been done the right way for collectors. Aside from that the classic Marvel & DC characters would be great, I mean there is a ton of stuff out there and the market is saturated but I think we could do some amazing things with those characters as well.

AFi:10 years is a long time in the toy industry. Have you accomplished everything you want to at NECA, or do you see this as the start of “the next ten year” (or even further)?

Randy: 10 years is a long time especially at one company! I’ve been in the industry over 12 years in total now and I have accomplished more than I thought possible. I had a plan when I came to NECA about what I wanted to do and who I wanted to work with and fortunately I was able to put that into action within the first year and when we launched Hellraiser the floodgates opened. I have seen the company grow from 5 people to over 50! It is very rewarding to have been instrumental in that. I am grateful for the freedom I have in my position and for the amazing team of talented artists I work with. That being said I am still just as passionate and just as driven to keep working and trying to innovate and improve upon what has come before. I’m looking ahead and planning 2013 right now. We have access to such great licenses and I feel truly blessed, I mean the films I grew up with Rocky, ET, Gremlins, Freddy, Jason, Predator, Aliens, these are my playground. I get to collaborate with the most talented sculptors and painters here on making these amazing figures that people enjoy all over the world. It doesn’t get much better.

AFi: McFarlane gets a lot of credit for moving the industry forward from where it was locked for so long, but I would argue that NECA has picked up that torch and run it further down the field with the innovations you continue to develop like the translucent skin on the ‘Rocky’ figures and the eyes on the ‘Gremlins’ Mogui.  You guys contiune to inovate while a lot of companies are cutting back on features and risk taking.  What makes NECA different.

Randy: Thanks, our business model does not rely solely on action figures and I think that is the biggest difference. NECA is able to offer so many more products over an infinite number of categories, that diversity allows us the freedom to take more chances and our own creativity and imaginations push us further. We are toy fans, our desks are covered with toys that we work on and that we buy or collect from other companies. We eat, breath, and sleep this stuff, it is more than a job and that ethic pushes us beyond the competition.

AFi: Is there anyone else’s work right now that you admire at other companies?

Randy: I think the teams at Enterbay and Hot Toys do great work but at a totally different price point that is out of reach for most people. To that extent Sideshow does great work too but we’re talking more about replicas and museum type display pieces than actual toys that you can play with or pose. 

AFi: You have such a diverse range of products and license now, do you have a “typical customer” any more?
Randy: You’re right, it’s more like we have many different “typical customers” We, as in the Reel Toys/Player Select brands, pretty much have the same core customer,  a male, average age 14-35, horror, game, movie fan but NECA also has the Twilight and Hunger Games audience as well which has been tremendous. I guess most importantly  is that we not only retained our core “typical customer” that we established  9 years ago with Hellraiser but we have been able to grow our audience and expand our customer base across so many different licenses and products. 

AFi: How do you switch gears between developing all the different kinds of products you do now?  Are you reviewing ‘Twilight’ bedsheets one hour and ‘Gears of War’ prop replicas the next?

Randy: Not anymore, years ago I was managing every category but as we grew NECA expanded and we have a great team of people handling softlines, giftware and apparel led by Sara Martire and we have the WizKids guys doing their thing with HeroClix, so for the most part I can focus on the action figures, prop replicas, and occasional plush or bobble head. I would not have lasted 10 years if I was in charge of every single SKU NECA produces annually, way too much for one man or woman to manage…

AFi: Do you ever wish you could get a special license to do non-mainstream characters from the “big Two”. e.g., Watchmen, Vertigo, Fleischer Superman, etc.?

Randy: Interesting, if anything I’m drawn more to the movie versions so doing the Reeves Superman, Keaton Batman, those excite me and certain artists renditions that really impacted me growing up like a Neal Adams Batman Or Bisley Batman & Joker, those would be cool. I don’t think about it much as we’re so busy with so many great licenses but if we had the keys to the DC or Marvel kingdom we could definitely shake things up a bit.

AFi: In light of the response to the comic faithful TMNT, have you ever looked into doing pulp heroes/comic strip characters such as Dick Tracy and The Phantom, or characters like the Disney Ducks?
Randy: Sadly no because as beloved as the TMNT line was it did not translate globally to strong enough sales to warrant it’s continuation. There is a following for that type of stuff but it is niche and it is mostly American, with the high tooling and manufacturing costs involved we need to take on projects that we can sell worldwide, it is the only way to be successful in this day and age.

AFi: What would the plans have been for the Eastman/Laird TMNT had the line continued?
Randy: Well everyone has seen the Foot and Shredder prototypes, that was all that was sculpted but Casey Jones and Fugitoid were on deck next. There was even going to be a chase Casey figure with my facial likeness under the mask so of course I hated to let that one go. It was great working with Peter Laird who is a wonderful guy and I truly wish we could have done more with that line. 

AFi: What’s the plan for the next 10 years?
Randy: I plan to keep making kick ass toys for all the fanboys and fangirls out there, and to build our collector community on facebook and twitter.
We appreciate the enthusiasm and passion the collectors show us and our lines and we are grateful for your support.

Thank you Randy!   Congratulations on 10 great years with NECA and we can’t want to see what you and your team cook up for the next 10!  Make sure you check out NECA’s Twitter and Facebook page.   They might be one of the most plugged in an open toy companies, answering fans questions every day and revealing sneak peeks and behind the scenes looks all the time.
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