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.”

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Ad Astra

    How 'Ad Astra' Production Crew Created Authentic Look for Brad Pitt Space Drama

    In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt’s astronaut Roy McBride crosses the solar system to find and confront his long-lost father, requiring the movie crew to create an authentic-looking future that conveys the theme of traveling long distances to learn the lesson that it’s where you started from that has the most value. “Visually, the aim was [...]

  • Women in Animation Logo

    WIA Partners With Animation Mentor, Toon Boom to Expand Scholarship Program

    Women in Animation has partnered with Animation Mentor and Toon Boom to expand the organization’s WIA Scholarship Program with workshops and software packages. WIA scholarships are given to animation students with a financial need and who demonstrate talent and passion for animation that will lead to a promising career in the field. The Animation Mentor [...]

  • Steven Poster ICG National President

    DP Steven Poster to Receive SOC Lifetime Achievement Award

    Stephen Poster, cinematographer on such classics as “Donnie Darko” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” will receive the Lifetime Achievement Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Camera Operators at a ceremony on Jan. 18, 2020. SOC grants the award to an Individual who has served the community at large and/or the Society through outstanding service [...]

  • Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep

    Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep Potential Runaways at Home

    Horror film “Midsommar” did it last year. A new adaptation of the Swedish classic “The Emigrants” will do it next year. Prestigious productions that could have taken advantage of beautiful Swedish locations and craft expertise continue to run away to foreign locations for lower costs and tax incentives. Despite having a strong film industry creatively [...]

  • Game of Thrones

    Ireland Lures Filmmakers With Locations, Expertise and a 37% Tax Credit

    Few locations on earth can match Ireland’s proverbial 40 shades of green. In addition to its restful hues, the island nation also boasts alluring lakes, rugged windswept coasts, small charming hamlets, rustic farmhouses of aged stone, hilltop castles and breathtaking expanses of wild scrubland. Bustling and modern Dublin, Ireland’s capital, will be the largest English-speaking [...]

  • UNDONE Animated Series Amazon

    How Animated Series 'Undone' Used a Mix of Techniques to Tell the Mind-Bending Tale

    When Kate Purdy wanted to tell a story about the nature of reality, she knew she wanted to play with perception and time, fade in and out of memories and give voice to visions that only her main character could see. And it wasn’t long before the executive producer and co-creator of Amazon’s new series, “Undone,” [...]

  • John Wick: Chapter 3

    James Cameron, Keanu Reeves Starring in '2nd Unit: Invisible Action Stars' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rootbeer Films has completed “2nd Unit: Invisible Action Stars” with James Cameron, Keanu Reeves, Mark Wahlberg and Halle Berry, Variety has learned exclusively. The film explores relationships between actors and stunt performers — a topic at the heart of Quentin Tarantino’s recent “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Joe Mantegna narrates “2nd Unit: Invisible Action [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content