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Seismic Productions: 25 Years of Shaking Up the Business

Trailer house expands into full-service marketing for studios, indies, TV and digital

It was a saturday in 1992, and Seismic Productions co-owner David Schneiderman was sweeping his porch in preparation for his birthday party when the phone rang with a call from Bob Weinstein, asking for changes on the trailer for his Miramax political satire “Bob Roberts.” Schneiderman told him he’d tackle it when he got back to the office on Monday. Weinstein told him he needed to do it right away.

“I said, ‘But Bob it’s my birthday and I’m having a party or 50 people in a few hours,’ ” Schneiderman remembers. “And he said ‘Well, what better way to celebrate your birthday.’ and I hightailed it into the office!”

At the time of Weinstein’s call, Seismic was a scrappy boutique trailer house, competing with big companies like Kaleidoscope, Intralink and the Cimarron Group, and ascendant Miramax was a key client.

Today, Seismic has 40 employees and a reputation as one of the top independent trailer houses in Hollywood, but it still jumps when a client calls, regardless of the hour or the day of the week.

“I get emails from clients at 11:30 at night,” says Schneiderman, who started his career at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency in New York before coming west to work at Disney in 1986.

“If they ask, we have to do it. We are in a service business.”

Seismic opened its doors in late 1989 with two employees — co-founder Kevin Sewelson, who cut the trailers on a second-hand edit bay, and Schneiderman, who stood behind him, drumming up business on the phone.

Seismic built its reputation creating campaigns for independent films such as “The Crying Game,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “The Wedding Banquet” and “Fargo.” But over time it has broadened its palette to become a go-to company for everything from the R-rated comedies (“About Last Night,” “21 Jump Street” and its sequel, “Hangover Part II” and “III”) and animated films (“The Nut Job,” “Megamind,” “Surf’s Up”) to thrillers such as “Contagion” and the grisly horror franchise “Saw.”

“While many trailer houses are specialists in different genres, Seismic Productions has successfully developed a well-earned reputation for smart, innovative work on everything from independent small-scale films to big budget tentpoles,” says Frank Chiocchi, exec VP of marketing for Walt Disney Pictures.

When Seismic co-owner Erin Wyatt joined the shop in 1998, the company still had just four employees. Wyatt had studied sports medicine at the U. of Colorado, but by the time he earned his degree in 1994, he had lost interest in pursuing it as a career. Instead, he decided to try his hand at acting, traveling first to New York and then to San Francisco, before winding up in Los Angeles.

Wyatt was hired by Seismic as a runner, but, after a year or two of fetching lunches, he got the chance to cut a trailer. Spotting an innate gift for the craft, Schneiderman assigned him an editing bay in a converted bathroom and pushed more work his way.

Before long, Wyatt had abandoned his acting ambitions and found himself cutting more of Seismic’s most high profile trailers, including spots for “Brokeback Mountain” and “Sex and the City.”

In 2010, Wyatt was made a partner. The following year, Sewelson sold his share of Seismic to Schneiderman and Wyatt and left the company.

While Seismic has grown exponentially in size since Wyatt’s arrival, the company hasn’t been immune to the vagaries of the biz. The company had to scale back in the wake the 2007-08 economic crisis.

These days, “everybody wants a deal,” Schneiderman says. “I look back at my billing from 1989 and our prices aren’t that much higher, and everything else is more expensive.”

Fortunately, while the shop’s rates have remained flat, the volume of business has increased with the explosion of the digital space, bringing new exhibition platforms (e.g., YouTube) and content producers (Netflix, Amazon and Hulu), as well as an increasing need for multiple additional versions (green band, yellow band, red band) on top of the traditional film and TV spots. (Even in cases where doesn’t necessarily produce the trailer, Seismic has created multiple TV campaigns for major films, including “Inception.”)

Seismic’s bottom line has also been helped by its diversification into faith-based films (“Heaven Is for Real”) and stage productions (TV spots for “Shrek the Musical,” “Madagascar Live!” and a Jerry Seinfeld standup tour), as well as return business from filmmakers and stars such as Tyler Perry (18 movies), Adam Sandler (16), Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart (seven each).

In the final three months of 2014, Seismic is doing campaigns for seven films — three family films, a faith-based movie and three comedies. The company is remodeling its main building in West Hollywood and considering expanding operations in another. But Schneiderman is still determined to keep things intimate.

“We look at this place as a family,” Schneiderman says. “It used to be that when a client called, one of (the partners) would answer. That’s not doable anymore. But it’s still a place where the buck stops with us.”

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