Harvey Entertainment Takes Control
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This fall, Christmas ghosts will roam about at night. © Harvey Entertainment.

Heather Kenyon: Since Harvey Entertainment was purchased from the family in 1989, the company has been making a string of strategic moves. What have these moves been leading up to?

Rick Mischel: The company began as a place where they controlled certain proprietary, intellectual property rights, rights to certain characters, Casper, Richie Rich, all these classic characters. The company first started out as a licensor. They licensed the rights to make movies or create goods or make television shows to other entities that would then produce those shows and Harvey would get some participation. What has gone on in the last ten years is that the company has moved from being a licensor to a producer and distributor. We have taken control of our own destiny. Now we produce our own product. We control the distribution of our product. We fund much of the production costs of our product in order to maintain quality control and the control over distribution. That’s really the big change in the company.

The company went public in 1993, and that created more capital for the company to grow. In the last year, financially, the company went through a re-capitalization with the new management team. My CEO Roger Burlage and I came in and put in $18 million of capital in order to take these properties and exploit them in all media.

© Harvey Entertainment.

HK: And move them into new directions. Would you like to talk about any of the specific moves the company has been through that you think are key?

RM: The key things that have really contributed to the company growth are, of course, the success of the first Casper theatrical movie. The rights were licensed to Universal and Steven Spielberg’s company Amblin and they produced the movie. The movie was a big success and that drove the company’s licensing and merchandising success. Harvey, with Universal, produced the new Casper series which is very successful on television. The company also produced under a license to Warner Bros. the Richie Richmovie. That brought Richie Rich to a whole new audience and spread the word. These moves helped drive our licensing and merchandising around the world. These decisions and productions really contributed greatly to Harvey getting on the worldwide stage, it is now more of a known player.

HK: We just reported that you posted some really nice quarter figures, so it is working, which is nice, isn’t it?

RM: We are very focused on keeping our overhead low and driving up our revenues. We are getting there.

True to Harvey’s promise of family entertainment, Casper takes care of his friends. © Harvey Entertainment.

HK: Harvey has a portfolio that contains many classic characters -- Casper, the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, Baby Huey, Wendy the Witch, Hot Stuff. Are you updating these characters? What challenges have you been facing taking these classic characters in new directions?

RM: Well, it is a challenge. When you look at classic characters the challenge is, you don’t want to alienate the audience that loves them, that makes them classic, but you do want to refresh them and take them to new audiences and expand your audiences. With Casper, which is our most popular character, we are obviously very, very careful on any changes we do. We update Casper in the sense that we use the same image of Casper that was in the Universal movie, but we are very careful to maintain our family friendly audience for Casper and keep the jokes on a family level.

With our other characters, we sometimes have more flexibility. With Richie Rich for example we’re developing a script where Richie Rich goes to public high school. He’s now sixteen years old. We are trying to reach a broader audience; trying to reach the kids that know Richie Rich from the Macaulay Culkin movie that have grown up and are now fifteen, sixteen and we are trying to reach the kids that are six to twelve that still know the character. We are also trying to reach the nostalgic parents. So we take Richie, we make him a little older and we put him in a different situation. With Hot Stuff we are developing a live-action film where Hot Stuff is mischievous but not malicious. He definitely gets into trouble. It is a film that parents and kids will want to see. Again the imagery is a little updated. We have considered with some of our other characters — Little Audrey, Little Dot — really aging those characters up or looking at them in different situations. You have more flexibility with your lesser-known characters, but we look at each character and we decide what is the best way to go.

HK: I am sure it applies for the medium as well. A feature film needs to appeal to a broader group of people than perhaps a Webisode that is on your Web site.

RM: You are right.

Mainframe is the production house working on Casper’s Haunted Christmas. © Harvey Entertainment.

HK: Will we be seeing any new Harvey characters or are you really focusing on the classics?

RM: Well we are focused on our classic characters but we are a company that has brand value in the family audience, in family friendly entertainment. We do look for other characters that we can bring into that fold, either through completed feature films or television shows that we can acquire and distribute here under the Harvey label or creating new Harvey characters through the acquisition of book rights, and pitches from writers and creators that come and see us. We have a property called Minerva Louise,a book property, that has been very successful, selling 750,000 copies in the U.S., and we are developing that as a pre-school animated series. We have some prime time animated shows that we are looking at as well. We are definitely open to it.

HK: Are you finding it difficult? Direct to video you already have distribution with Universal which is great, you have access to the market, but television is tough. Are you finding it difficult to sell into television?

RM: Television is tough. There is no doubt about it, but we try to align ourselves with studios and creative people that will bring a really fresh look to our characters and that is the way we think we will be able to penetrate the market. With originality and freshness and humor — all the things that will make the property better.

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