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A Cautionary Tale

Picture of the word FAIL

“FAIL STAMP” by Nima Badiey on flickr CC:A

Why I Won’t Purchase from Artifactory Replicas, and Why You Shouldn’t Either.

I love movie and TV show props. These are items that may be an integral part of the story, like Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber, or an incidental set piece like a Men in Black business card. These items, for some, become icons that personally tie them to a story and make it more real to them. The Internet has a lot of information about these things, and there are many websites that cater to people with these interests. One such place is the Replica Prop Forum. The members there often discuss items in detail, obsessing over every measurement and component of a prop, and the more skilled among them make limited runs of these items for purchase by board members.

On February 12, 2010, one member with the handle “SD Studios” opened a message thread in the RPF’s ‘Junkyard’ forum  to gauge interest in a Men in Black “neuralyzer” (otherwise known as the ‘flashy thing’.) (NOTE: a free membership is required to read the posts in that forum.) This member, whose real name is Stephen Dymszo, had a small company that had produced well-recognized prop replicas in limited runs before he went on to found a commercial prop company known as Master Replicas.  He had previously produced the neuralyzer in proper filming scale, which raised a great deal of controversy within the community as it was very large. (The original prop had to be bigger to hold all of the electronics. A hand model with huge hands was used in close-ups to give the appropriate sense of scale on-screen.) These originally cost over $800 each, and people had gladly forked over their money to own one. Master Replicas produced another neuralyzer model under his tenure that quickly sold out. He left Master Replicas years ago to start another prop company, Quantum Mechanix (QMx) before he finally went back to producing props under the SD Studios moniker.

Mr. Dymszo had a reputation of being honest, straightforward, and dedicated to quality. He exhibited high standards in what he produced and happy customers would vouch for his work. After reading the thread about what he proposed I jumped in and registered my interest. He responded with an email giving details and a few pictures. There were two models to be made—a ‘standard’ with rudimentary electronics for $395 and a ‘deluxe’ with fancier electronics and sound effects for $495. The production process should take about 4-5 months, depending on the ability to coordinate the work between five different companies. He wanted to implement a payment plan, and I made arrangements to pay Mr. Dymszo $400 toward a deluxe model. I was told that the final payment of $100 plus shipping would be required upon completion of the props. This began an ongoing saga that, nearly four years later, has not yet reached a successful conclusion.

Members began getting sporadic updates on the progress of the prop. We got enough info to keep us happy and believing that we’d soon receive our precious replicas. We were told there were some initial problems in acquiring the dot-matrix LED displays used in the earlier SD Studios models as they’d long been discontinued. A cache of them was found and production moved along. RPF member JeffreyMorren recently reported that he and Gerry Mros shipped 53 deluxe circuit boards and 7 standard circuit boards to Mr. Dymszo in December 2010. Videos of the working electronics were posted to YouTube. Then, bad news: the printer that Mr. Dymszo had worked with on his previous runs had gone out of business, and now he’d have to find someone who could not only print the control panel legends but could also perform the necessary cutting and trimming of the panel. Months went by. Then we were told that he found an overseas company to do the work, but since this was a small order they’d fit it into their workflow when they could. He’d also discovered that the on/off switches were flimsy and wouldn’t stand up to regular use, so he had to replace all the switches before the units were shipped. Again, months went by with no updates. In the meanwhile, SD Studios continued producing and selling other prop replicas. The reports from his satisfied customers were good, so the neuralyzer customers kept waiting. More patiently than we should have, but remember that this guy had a sterling reputation and produced a lot of great merchandise over the years.

Within the past year he’d mentioned (in an email update, I believe) that he was closing down SD Studios. He’d said not to worry, that all outstanding orders and runs would be completed, but that he was starting a new company. From what I remember he’d also said he wanted to get out of the prop business. The new company would take a considerable amount of his time and effort and that updates would only come with actual news to report. He also asked people to stop bumping the RPF message thread because that could bring unwanted attention from the studios and a cease and desist (C&D) order from the lawyers. A C&D order would mean that the neuralyzers would never be finished or delivered. That kept the buyers quiet for a while longer. Over the past six months or so, however, the message thread has come alive with people who’ve finally had enough and want a resolution.

In the meanwhile, Mr. Dymszo has opened another prop company, Artifactory Replicas. This company produces some pretty boring stuff in comparison to his previous efforts, but these items are intended for use in museums and for eclectic collectors. His offerings include a replica “Shroud of Turin” and the golden record sent off with the Voyager spacecraft. He sent an email update a few months back to the neuralyzer customers that said he fully intended to finish them. However, SD Studios was closed and had no money for refunds or to finish them but he was working on a solution. He also said the money couldn’t legally come from Artifactory as it was a separate business that had no dealings with SD Studios.

As of this posting, neuralyzer customers including myself are still waiting for a product or a refund. Some readers are probably laughing at this turn of events. Couldn’t we have seen this coming? Why did we wait so long before making a fuss? Why should we expect anything if these items weren’t “legal” to make in the first place without a blessing from the copyright holder? Well, there is some precedent for this. Studios have turned a blind eye to this sort of hobbyist activity in the past if the produced numbers of an item are very low. As for the trust placed in Mr. Dymszo, he’d had over seventeen years (by his own count) of producing quality merchandise and happy customers. None of us thought we were gambling our money on an unknown quantity. We believed in him. And in the grand tradition of one “Oh sh*t” cancelling the goodwill of a thousand “Atta-boys” Mr. Dymszo has blown his previously good reputation to shards.

Many of us no longer believe that we’ll see anything from the investments we made nearly four years ago. In fact, if Mr. Dymszo were to contact me with news the neuralyzers were finally ready and asking for my final $100 payment plus shipping, I wouldn’t send him anything. At least, until someone else reported they had and received their item. Fool me once…

The bottom line is this: don’t spend your money with Artifactory Replicas. If Mr. Dymszo was willing to treat the customers of his previous company in this manner, it is likely you may find yourself in the same predicament.

If and when I ever have good news to report I’ll let you know, right here.

To see more of Nima Badiey’s flickr photostream, go here.

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