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page created: 7/11/03



Chat Transcript: DVD producer Van Ling
on Home Theater Forum


The following is a complete transcript of the on-line chat with DVD producer Van Ling, held on Tuesday, July 8th on The Home Theater Forum. Thanks to Ron Epstein, Parker Clack and the staff the HTF for all their hard work, and for providing the transcript for all to read. Enjoy!

Home Theater Forum
http://www.hometheaterforum.com

Subject: Live Chat with Van Ling
Date: July 8, 2003

[RonEpstein] It's always a pleasure to have Van Ling amongst us. He is certainly one of the the most recognized DVD Producers around. Thanks for stopping by.

[VanLing] Hello, folks! I wanted to just start off the bat by thanking everyone on the forum. If you read the transcript from the last chat I did in December, you'll notice that many of your suggestions made it onto the T2 Extreme DVD. That's why HTF is in the special thanks section of the credits on Disc 2

[RonEpstein] We thank you for the credit on the disc, Van. That was neat!

[RonEpstein] I am going to open the floor so you can ask questions

[Jacob] I know that you work on the first two terminator dvds.. what are your thoughts on T3 without cameron.. and are doing the dvd for T3? or is someone else doing.. PS loved the commenary by cameron and william

[VanLing] Thanks on the commentary. I have not seen T3 yet...although a lot have people have said it's good. I'm kind of torn... it's kinda like passing judgment on the new husband of your ex or something. Warner Bros. has their own team working on the DVD for T3. I was never asked.

[RonEpstein] That's a shame

[ParkerClack] I agree. You should be doing that disc

[VanLing] To be honest, I don't know if I would have done it even if asked... if Cameron wasn't part of it. Call me stupidly loyal if you will.

[Paul_Nyman] Welcome Van Ling. I really enjoyed your work on T2 Extreme disc. Thank you for the excellent work!! In the previous chat back in December I asked about the THX Ultimate Demo DVD being made available to the public. Any update since that time?

[VanLing] Thanks, Paul! THX is still using the Ultimate Demo DVD but due to licensing issues, they cannot sell it. It is for retailers of THX-certified products only. And the majority of the ones available on eBay seem to be bootlegs! You can tell it's a bootleg if it's a DVD-R. The original ones are DVD-9s.

[Scott_DS] Hello Van. Huge fan of your work. I was so overwhelmed when i rented T2: EE, I just bought the dang thing! anyway, I wanted to inquire as to the staus of SEs True Lies and Titanic. Any news?

[VanLing] Thanks, Scott. No new word on either TL or Titanic yet... ...or at least no one's told ME!

[Paul_Nyman] Van, What are you currently working on or what have you been asked to produce next for DVD?

[VanLing] Hi, Paul! Well, I'm mostly taking a break and working on doing some house fixing-up. As for the next DVD, I have a couple of things going, but I don't talk about anything until they're for sure...don't want to jinx them! If you have suggestions, please tell the studios!

[Jacob] have you told cameron about the reaction to the T2 commentary? And what are his thoughts about it.. or his plans on future dvds of his like the revisting The Abyss or other titles?

[VanLing] Jacob, I haven't had a chance to talk to Jim since the DVD came out... but I do know he's open to doing more, I think. It all depends on what he's busy with and all that. At least now we know that his not doing them as a policy is not an issue! We should thank Steven Soderbergh for getting Jim to do commentaries. As I understand it, Jim did the one for Solaris as a favor to Soderbergh and found that they could be fun if he's not doing them alone and that's the reason I think we were able to get him to do the one for T2.

[GlenRF] Hi van I am a big fan of yours and was wondering of the dvd's you have produced which one would you say was your best one to produce or that you would like to produce out of the new movies coming out?

[VanLing] Tough question, Glen... frankly, I would have to say that The Abyss is still closest to my heart because it was my first and I had no idea how to pull off what I wanted to do and I just did it. But I'm proud of all the DVDs I've worked on for different reasons.

[Scott_DS] I think I'm correct in saying that you went to USC film school. Can you tell us about your experiences there? (I'm a budding film student myself.) P.S. When I said "overwhelmed" in my prior question, I meant that in a good way. :)

[VanLing] Well, Scott, USC film school was a fun experience, and what's interesting is that it really did not differ that much from working in the actual film industry in a way. The budgets and magnitude of the mistakes were just bigger! I would say that there was definitely more passion across the board in doing the work in film school as compared to in the biz. I met a lot of very passionate film people and it's interesting to follow where they all are now. Some are editors, some are producers, some are winning Emmys for directing TV dramas, and so on. The important thing is to learn the trade part of it so that it's second nature to you so you can concentrate on the creative part.

[Joe_Wong] Van, any idea when James Cameron is going to direct a movie again? True Lies 2 or Alien 5 would be interesting!

[VanLing] Hi, Joe. No idea. I don't know if he even knows... ;-)

[Evelio_Figueroa] If you are going to do the next Star Wars DVD, can everything be in 5.1? Menus Trailers ETC

[VanLing] Hi, Evelio... the question is, would people be willing to have me do everything in 5.1 if it lowered the overall picture quality?

[RonEpstein] nope

[ParkerClack] I wouldn't

[GlenRF] I wouldnt want it that way either

[VanLing] there's that tradeoff, because we really do fill the discs to the brim. I agree with you on trailers and such, but it's still really tight for space, even on disc 2. The way disc allocation works is that we make a list of all the materials we want to include on the DVD on a disc by disc basis including what audio and subtitle tracks we are shooting for, then calculate an average bitrate to see if we would overflow the space. We then have to decide if we want to drop things or drop the bitrate instead. The first things to go are "extraneous" elements like 5.1 for menus, or a separate 2.0 surround track. The trouble is that everyone has their own preferences. I've asked in the past on HTF if you had to choose between a commentary or DTS, which would you pick? One third said "commentary", one third said "DTS" and the last third said "both"!

[RonEpstein] I would prefer DTS

[Evelio_Figueroa] I'd pick DTS

[ParkerClack] I just want the best picture and audio. DTS and Commentaries are that important to me.

[Scott_DS] Commentary but it depends on the film

[GlenRF] DTS

[VanLing] This is why we need to find more space on the discs!

[VanLing] Here's a question: do you think anyone would buy a DVD that had the movie on it several times...once with best picture and audio and again with commentary and other film-tied features?

[Evelio_Figueroa] Why not add a 3rd disc to the set.

[Jacob] not every title would get this treatment..

[Scott_DS] DVD-18 would answer the problem, wouldn't it?

[Joe_Wong] Sound and picture quality is top priority for me

[GlenRF] I would buy it if it was a disc set

[Jacob] more for the big titles.

[Scott_DS] I agree with Jacob, too

[George_Emblem] yes i would buy it

[ParkerClack] I just want the best the first time around on one disc.

[ParkerClack] Do you think the advent of BlueRay is going to change this?

[VanLing] With BluRay and such, we'll have a bigger bit-bucket. Will folks want studios to use that extra room for HD content, or more SD content?

[ParkerClack] I would believe HD content

[RonEpstein] I agree

[VanLing] As I understand it, current technology (and upcoming) would give us enough space and oomph to do HD... but that's it. There might not be room for extras like commentary and so forth, which obviously have to be on the same disc as the feature.

[Jacob] since you brought up The Abyss as your first dvd.. what would you like to do if you could revisit it? since you know more now then before.. like the T2 dvd.

[VanLing] New transfer, anamorphic!! Otherwise, in terms of content extras, I'm open to suggestions. Abyss on LD was about 65% of what I wanted it to be. The DVD I was able to bring up to 95%.

[ParkerClack] Cameron commentary since it was so cutting edge

[VanLing] definitely commentary, then.

[George_Emblem] i own dvds because i like to watch my favorite movies over and over but i also enjoy revolutionary packages like the high bit rate or higher resolution transfer on the second disk, will we be able to see more of these revolutionary aspects of dvd in years to come possibly with the menus, 7.0 sound, etc

[VanLing] hi, George... it's all a tradeoff because of disc space. Each item you want will currently take away from the other things on the disc. And there's no way around that other than adding more discs. The studios will only do that if the market will bear it. Here's a question on that topic... would you rather get a single multi-disc set or get "additional volumes" every few years with new material and better transfers as the technology gets better?

[Scott_DS] Cool! Van, considering your wealth of knowledge about film, have you ever considered writing/directing one yourself?

[VanLing] Doesn't everybody? ;-) It's definitely something I want to do at some point, but it's SOOO easy to procrastinate by doing DVDs of other people's stuff!

[ParkerClack] I was just wondering what desktops you are using now. Do you have one of the new G5s yet?

[VanLing] They're not out yet, are they? I'm on G4s.

[ParkerClack] Its my understand they are.

[VanLing] I may have to spring for a PC at some point too if I want to keep up with what's going on in DVD-ROM these days.

[Paul_Nyman] Any rumbles out of Lucasfilm on what kind of impact online petitions have to convince Lucas to put the Star Wars OT out on DVD. An example Lord Of The Rings has come out as two seperate cuts 3 months apart on DVD.

[VanLing] Good question, Paul. I have no idea, but I do know they hear out what fans have to say. But they also balance it against George's wishes as the filmmaker. I don't think it's a question of if but a question of when and what version(s).

[greg_t] Hi Van, Thanks for being here tonight. In the good ol' days, we would get seperate releases, one with full bitrate DTS, and another with DD and extras? Do you have any idea what would keep the studios from trying this again? Is it mainly a cost issue? Thanks.

[VanLing] Greg, it's all about cost. It's even less likely they'll do that now because DVD is now the major breadwinner for home video which means that they're less interested in catering to niches and more interested in hitting the bigger audience of consumers. Frankly, I think it would be cool to have a Chinese-menu list of features and then be able to order the one's you're interested in compiled onto a custom disc but that ain't gonna happen...too costly and it takes away from the art of producing DVDs as a complete product.

[Scott_DS] Rumor (fact, actually) has it that Fox is re-releasing the Alien films later this year. Are you contributing to this set? (On Aliens, anyway?)

[VanLing] Scott, my friend and fellow producer Charlie De Lauzirika is producing that whole ALIEN set for Fox so I wasn't officially involved in any of it. Which doesn't mean I won't have any contribution, or so I'm told...;-) I won't know until the DVD set comes out if anything I "donated" ended up on it! But Charlie tells me there's going to be some great stuff.

[Pat_Ashmore] Sorry if this has been asked already... What did you think of T3 and do you think Cameron will be involved in Alien 5?

[VanLing] Hello, Pat... as I noted earlier, I haven't seen T3 yet... and I don't know if Jim's going to do Alien 5. There's the Aliens Vs. Predator thing happening, I think, so I don't know who's doing what.

[Jacob] at the last chat.. we talked if you were interested in doing The Fly remake for fox..did you ever hear anything if you can comment about.

[VanLing] Jacob, I never heard anthing from Fox on that. Sorry.

[Evelio_Figueroa] I'd like to answer your question you asked earlier. I wouldn't mind buying "additional volumes" every few years as long as its has 5.1 everywhere on the DVD. :-)

[VanLing] even if the source was not 5.1??

[Evelio_Figueroa] If the source was not 5.1, I'll be happy.

[VanLing] fair enough!

[Scott_DS] Without mentioning any specific studios, trailers are becoming somewhat of a rarity on some DVDs (some more than others, of course). Other than legal reasons (music rights/$$/change of ownership) or quality issues, is there any reason why trailers might be omitted? I hate to think it's laziness.

[VanLing] I don't think it's laziness, Scott. It's one of the easiest pre-done things! If anything, it's for legal reasons or space. If the studios think the space is better used for other things... like trailers for their OTHER movies... they'll go that route.

[GlenRF] Van, I was wondering the difference between the dts version of SPR to a dvd with DTS and other sound tracks.

[VanLing] Well, Glen, the DTS version of SPR had to have a Dolby track of some sort on it regardless in order to be spec-compliant, I believe. So it likely has a DTS track and a Dolby 2.0 track on it. When there are multiple releases of the same title with the only ostensble difference being the audio format, they usually contain the same compressed video. Only the audio configs are changed. This means that since DTS takes up more room than DD5.1 the film would be encoded to accommodate the DTS track plus the required Dolby 2.0 and the DD5.1 version would use the same video encode and thus have more unused space on the DVD!

[Jacob] here is a non-home theatre question... since you have not seen T3.. have you seen the other summer movies like matrix 2, hulk, x2, etc? what did you think (breifly).

[VanLing] loved Nemo, saw it twice. Enjoyed X2 a lot. Seeing Hulk tomorrow night. Waited for the crowds to die down on Matrix2, and a blink and it's gone!

[Scott_DS] You know, it's funny. I might have applied to Banned from the Ranch after film school but not anymore, I guess. :) My question is how does one break into DVD producing? Contacts? Demo reel? Just knowledge?

[VanLing] Scott, knowledge is important, but not enough, sadly. The main thing is to be able to understand and work with the studio system without killing yourself or others in despair sometimes ;-) You have to understand the balance of what SHOULD be on the DVD versus what you can AFFORD to put on the DVD. DVD producers are works for hire that do not get any back-end on the sales...unless I've been REALLY missing something ;-) So the best way these days to get into DVD producing would be to apprentice yourself to a DVD production company (not cranky old freelancers like me). These companies try to do multiple titles at once and can be an opportunity to learn the ropes.

[greg_t] Just wanted to say thanks for the great job on Attack of the Clones. It is one of my favorite dvd's. Was there any aspect that you found particularly enjoyable while working on it?

[VanLing] Thanks, Greg... I think the most enjoyable part was first of all being asked back to do it... ;-) And then the fact that Lucasfilm really supported keeping the level high, even though we had about three months less time to do it in than TPM!

[DougIrving] Hi Van. Thanx for chatting with us this evening. I'm late to the party, so if this has been asked already, sorry. Given your great work with the Star Wars DVDs, has Lucasfilm contracted you to work on the forthcoming Indiana Jones DVDs?

[VanLing] Hi, Doug! No, I did not work on the Indiana Jones DVDs at all. Spielberg likes to use Laurent Bouzereau to produce his DVD extras, and Paramount likes to use 1K Studios to do menus. I think the fans will be in good hands in both cases. Also, I was busy trying to do T2 Extreme.

[George_Emblem] i want to rephrase my earlier question, I mean if you had all the space in the world, what would you envision on a dvd like maybe a joint venture with a game company to offer a game title on the dvd? this was touched on with the second disk of T2 extreme.

[VanLing] George, tough question...Space of course IS an issue, so we don't generally blue-sky these things, but a game would possibly be doable.

[George_Emblem] yes!

[VanLing] The only reason to put it all in one package is if the two "worlds" can complement each other, like having the game be able to use video assets from the DVD. Otherwise, in a way it's not economically viable, as folks may not be willing to pay the additional price (and the price WOULD be higher) for something they don't use or want.

[Scott_DS] I want to apologize if I sounded like I was asking for a job in my last question. I would never do that as it would be unprofessional and unfair to my fellow posters. Just asking for advice. :-) (And you don't seem cranky!) What I really want to do is direct :) but DVD work seems equally attractive to me. Anyway, I was wondering if the current incarnation of DVD holds any more surprises or new features that haven't been exploited/discovered. Anything else you'd like to try?

[VanLing] I think that the DVD spec still can have some cool features no one's tried yet... I just haven't found them yet! It all starts with a creative justification, not a specification. There are more subtle things that can be done that not many people know about, most of them about getting around limitations. For instance, on T2 Extreme we did the Interactive Mode with the branch-offs. This seems like just a non-branded version of New Line's Infiinifilm. But I think we were able to do something a little more complicated in that you normally cannot do active branching AND have multiple subtitle streams at the same time. If I'm not mistaken, InfiniFilm titles have to forgo having any other subtitles. We figured a way to do both, but it was a real challenge in authoring and planning.

[greg_t] Van, did you get to do any work on the upcoming Daredevil dvd? Also, do you have any personal preference for Dolby Digital or DTS sound?

[VanLing] I did not work on the Daredevil DVD at all. I think both DTS and DD5.1 have their merits, but I don't have a DTS system myself, so I haven't done head to head comparisons. From a disc space usage standpoint, however, I would hope that DTS sounds better, since it takes up a third more room on a disc! ;-)

[Evelio_Figueroa] Of all the features on DVD, which is the most used and which is the least?

[VanLing] It depends on what you mean by "feature". Some studios consider chapter stops features! I think basic making-ofs and trailers are the most ubiquitous, because they're already pre-made for maketing. Very few people use branching and even fewer use seamless branching, because it requires a lot of diligence and extra effort and a LOT more QC and checking! Note that pretty much no one uses parental control as it was originally designed... but those features are used for director's cuts.

[RyanFB] For what reasons is the pan & scan cropping vectors feature in the DVD spec generally avoided like the plague for most releases, and dual releases or flippers get put out instead? My understanding is that they would take up relatively little space on the DVD. Pre-emptive attack: "Cheap players can't do it well" could also be said for seamless branching ;)

[VanLing] Ryan, my understanding of the avoidance of cropping vectors is that they cannot effectively reproduce an artist-driven pan and scan experience. What most people don't realize is that to properly do a pan&scan, you're not only just panning the image from one side to the other, but are zooming as well in order to get the best composition, given the compromise you have to do with pan&scan anyway. If you just encode the full OAR frame and use vectors, you'll be blowing up the image and moving around intermittently throughout the film, so the image quality will be horrible compared to a real p&s transfer. Also, every pan move is artistically accelerated and decelerated (or is supposed to be!) individually with every shot. I don't think that the vector capabilities of DVD can match that, and even if it could, it would vary in quality from player to player, so there would be no consistent result. Filmmakers and studios want to know that if they're going to have to do a P&S, at least they can make sure it's locked and consistent on every player.

[Scott_DS] This is a general question... what is one movie (new or old) that you'd love to work on the DVD for?

[VanLing] No fair, Scott! The original Star Wars comes to mind. Hope I have a shot when it happens! I'd love to do South Park, too, actually.

[RonEpstein] Parker and I would like to take this opportunity to thank not only Van Ling for giving up his valuable time to talk with us, but you, the membership who came here tonight to participate in this event. Thank You so much, as always Van, for your support of Home Theater Forum. We love your work!

[VanLing] Boy what happened to all those folks ready to rumble on edge enhancement?? ;-)

[VanLing] Thanks again, everybody!

Session Close: Tue Jul 08 22:21:50 2003

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