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DVD Producers 2001

On the morning of Friday, July 19th, a panel of six DVD producers gathered at the Comic-Con International show in San Diego, for the DVD Producers 2001 panel discussion, presented by The Digital Bits and sponsored by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Nearly two thousand people, movie fans and film industry guests alike, crowded into the largest auditorium at the San Diego Convention center to experience the discussion, and to get an exclusive first look at a trio of upcoming DVDs. What follows here is a complete transcript of the event. At three different points in the discussion, you'll notice a different DVD cover (including MGM's Hannibal and The Terminator special editions, and Warner's Willy Wonka: 30th Anniversary Edition release). Click on each cover to open up a separate page of menu images from that disc. Also, if you click on the group picture at the end of the text, you'll be taken to a page that includes brief bios on each of our panelists. Special thanks to Sarah Hunt for taking the pictures of the event and helping with the prize drawing. With that… enjoy!

Moderator Bill Hunt
Moderator Bill Hunt

Bill Hunt: Good morning and thanks for coming to DVD Producers 2001. My name is Bill Hunt and I'm the editor of The Digital Bits.com. (audience cheers) Thank you! I guess a few of your have heard of us. This is a really exciting time for DVD. Lots of long-awaited movies are finally coming out on the format, and some really great special editions are being released. And we're very fortunate to have with us this morning a great panel of DVD producers here to talk about their work and some of the things they do.

Before we get started, I have just a few announcements. Laurent Bouzereau was unable to attend at the last minute - he's working on the DVD version of Jurassic Park III and things got a little hectic for him. So couldn't be here but he sends his regards. I want to thank 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, and particularly Peter Staddon, who sponsored this panel. (applause) They graciously donated a number of prizes that we're going to be giving away here today - a huge box of great DVD special editions and boxed sets. I also want to thank DVD Planet.com, who provided a DVD player that we're going to be giving away as well. (more applause). And finally I want to thank MGM and Warner Bros. for allowing us to give you an exclusive sneak peek at a trio of very cool upcoming DVDs.

Now I'd like to introduce our panel. Starting next to me, we have David Prior. David got his start producing DVDs in 1999 with the disc Ravenous. He went on to producer the 2-disc Fight Club: Special Edition (audience cheers), The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Titus. He recently finished the Big Trouble in Little China Special Edition and the new Die Hard Collection. And he's currently working on a couple of very exciting discs that I'm sure he'll be able to talk a little bit about this morning. (applause)

Next to David is Alita Holly. Alita was the senior DVD consultant for Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, where she produced such discs as Men in Black, Ghostbusters and Bad Boys. (applause) Her company Organa West is currently involved in a number of projects with New Line. She most recently produced Frequency, Thirteen Days and also has a number of upcoming titles in the works. (applause)

Our next producer is J. M. Kenny. J. M. has been doing this quite a while. His company Two Dog Productions worked on numerous titles for Universal and other studios. Some of his past credits include The Blues Brothers, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Mummy: Collector's Edition, The Perfect Storm and The Omen. J. M. is currently part of the Television Production division of New Wave Entertainment. He most recently produced the new 2-disc Dogma: Special Edition (big cheers), as well as the upcoming Willy Wonka: 30th Anniversary Edition.

That brings us to Charles de Lauzirika. Charlie first got involved in DVD when he was basically drafted by director Ridley Scott to produce the Alien: 20th Anniversary Edition. That went over so well that he went on to producer Gladiator, The Cell and a whole bunch of very cool upcoming projects that I think you guys are going to be interested in. (applause)

Van Ling got his start at Lightstorm Entertainment where he worked with director James Cameron on The Abyss and Terminator 2. His DVD credits include The Abyss, Independence Day, the Terminator 2: Ultimate Edition and upcoming 2-disc special editions of the original Terminator and Star Wars: Episode I, which I'm sure a few of you are dying to have in your hands. (more applause)

And finally, we have Mark Rance. Mark actually goes back to the days of laserdisc. He started at The Criterion Collection, which I think many of you will agree set the standard for special editions (applause). He then moved on to New Line, where he built up an impressive list of credits, including Magnolia, Blade, Boogie Nights, Austin Powers and Se7en. He also recently worked on Buena Vista's Unbreakable and Fox's Cast Away, and his company Three-Legged Cat is currently in production on a number of cool titles which I'm sure he'll talk about this morning. (applause)


The DVD Producers panel
The DVD Producers panel

Now… I want to start out by giving everyone a good background on this subject. So what are the basic responsibilities of a DVD producer? What kinds of things do you do? When do you get involved in a project? What areas of the production do you oversee?

Alita Holly: Well… it's a lot of things really. It begins with conceptualization of what the DVD is going to look like. We're hired by the studio, and we first start to work with the directors to figure out what they want to do, what people are going to want on the DVD, and what the creative team involved in making the film want to show to fans. Then we have to physically sort through all the production materials to see what's actually available to work with. Often that's the biggest challenge. One of the things we don't do very much is sleep. (audience laughs) The hours are very long…

Bill Hunt: And the deadlines are tough too.

Alita Holly: Yes… very tough deadlines.

Van Ling: I think that all of us as DVD producers are trying to be the champions of the film, for both the studio and the filmmaker. And that's a challenge, because there's a balance between what you want to do creatively, what the filmmaker wants to do creatively and what resources and time you have from the studio to do it in. The idea is to please both camps without perjuring yourself. So there's actually a lot of creative work that goes into a DVD project. It's not just a matter of gathering up what exists and slapping it together. I think that one of the things we all try to do is to find a way to creatively enhance the movie experience. Somebody once said that if the movie is the jewel, the DVD stuff around it - the menus and the special edition materials - are like the setting in which the jewel sits on the ring.

Bill Hunt: How involved do some of you get with the technical side of things? Are you ever supervising film transfers or disc authoring, for example?

Mark Rance: I think it's changed over time. At Criterion, generally the producers did everything, including telecine, packaging, interface, working with the graphic artists. Now, when you're working with the studios, they generally have people assigned to each of those jobs. So it's less frequent, although we still do some of that from time to time. I know that some of us are involved in finding original elements. You know, when I was doing Silence of the Lambs for Criterion, finding and then legally acquiring the correct elements for that film was a difficult and arduous process - it took months and months to get at it. And I think that continues to this day. I think that you can have an impact on interface design and you can, from that, go to what's called authoring, which is the part of the process where the links are made and how the look and feel of the disc is set. That can come from the producer working with filmmaker and working with the executive in charge of the project for the studio, say like Mike Mulvihill at New Line, to set the tone. And then the authoring house gets their direction from that. If you look at the Nightmare on Elm Street box set, there's an eighth disc in there that has three different interfaces. And that was all set in a meeting maybe six to eight months before we started production. And that came from us.

Bill Hunt: When do you get involved in a given DVD project? How much time do you generally have to work on something?

David Prior: It's completely different each time. Like everything else in this, it depends on the project. Being involved in transfers and menuing - if you have the time for it, if a new transfer is scheduled, I'm involved. But if there isn't one, or you're using a pre-existing transfer, you just take what you have. With the schedule (laughs), it's just… I think Big Trouble and Die Hard were done over the course of a year. And Planet of the Apes will be done in maybe 2 or 3 months, and it's being done while the movie is still in production. There's just no way to really count on any kind of standard schedule for doing things.

J. M. Kenny: I think, speaking for myself, I think most of us would love to be involved from the moment they green-light the project. But it's a synergy between theatrical publicity and home video. And sometimes, for whatever reason, it's really tough to get involved at the beginning. Ultimately, what I'd love to see a lot more of us doing is EPK to DVD. [Editor's note: EPK stands for Electronic Press Kit.] So you have one producer involved throughout the entire filmmaking process. That makes it easier on the filmmaker and the studio. We're able to do stuff on the set, while they're making the film, that is specific to the end result, which is the DVD. We can also get the kinds of things that Entertainment Tonight needs. But we're able to go much more in depth for DVD. So when the viewer buys that collector's edition, what they're getting is not just a rehash of what they saw on the HBO special, for example.

J. M. Kenny
J. M. Kenny

Mark Rance: I actually did that on Magnolia, and the difference between what the studio's theatrical department needs for promotion and what the DVD needs are sometimes so at odds, that it actually gets to the core of why DVD is different from a theatrical release. But that's part of that process that we have to negotiate with the studio - what the studio wants and what the DVD audience is asking us to do.

Van Ling: That's exactly right. The people who are promoting the film have a very specific agenda about what they want shot - what kind of interviews, what kind of sound bytes, what sort of behind-the-scenes footage. And what you try to get for DVD is a different animal. As a DVD producer, it's very important if you can be on the set to try to make sure that what you need for the disc is gathered properly, so that it's not just the electronic press kits and other press material that gets handed down to you after the fact, and all of a sudden, that's what you have to work with as so called "behind-the-scenes" material for the disc. Stuff that was shot basically in one or two days.

Van Ling and Mark Rance.
Van Ling and Mark Rance.

Bill Hunt: To basically promote the movie release - fluffy sales stuff.

Alita Holly: Right. But that's also starting to change, because directors are hip to the fact that no matter how many people see their film in the theater, this little shiny disc is the thing that's gonna live on people's shelves for a very long time. And they are the link between the studio and the DVD producer, and they're the people that can say, "Hey… I want you on my set." They want their DVD to be a really good product, so they've started to invite us in from the very beginning. And I think that's going to happen more and more.

Charles de Lauzirika: But, in addition to what's being shot - as J. M. said, EPK to DVD - I also think that a lot of the best material is coming from directors' assistants, who are shooting their own stuff with DV cameras on the set every day. What David had to work with on Fight Club, for example, was a gold mine. And I think that's why it was such an amazing disc - you have that intimacy that you don't get with stuff that's produced by an outside film crew.

David Prior: Fight Club was such a different case. The footage that we had was so different than what you normally get with EPK stuff.

Bill Hunt: There's no agenda other than to shoot what's happening.

David Prior: Exactly. There's no flashiness, there's no elaborate camera movements - they're just documenting what's going on that day.

Bill Hunt: My next question is… obviously, as DVD producers, you're all also film fans, otherwise you probably wouldn't be going this kind of difficult work. So as both producers and fans, what are the things that you each think makes a good special edition on DVD?

J. M. Kenny: Well… I'm a fan and I'm often times star-struck as well. I get to interview a lot of these people, and I'm thinking, "Wow… I'm talking to Kevin Costner," or whoever it may be at the time. So I love to see the interviews and the documentaries. It's hard to do a good retrospective documentary when the DVD streets maybe three months after the movie was released. But the more in-depth you can go into it, and give people a good sense of the experience of the making of the film, that's what I'm a big fan of. I love a good documentary, and that's what I try to do with each one of my titles. To put something on there that's a departure from something that you may already have seen on HBO or Encore - something that goes more in depth. For publicity purposes, they may just touch on a number of topics. But for the DVD, you can go heavy into detail about visual effects or casting or something like that.

Alita Holly: Two things I love to see on DVD are… well first, documentaries that really go beyond the movie. Like for Thirteen Days, you want to know about the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis - what were the real stories? Or on Frequency, how do solar flares really effect radio communication? What's the real science behind that? I think DVD is a really unique way to answer some of those questions for people in an entertaining and interactive way. So any time a movie makes me think about those kinds of things, I want to be able to delve into that more. Normally, you'd go and get a book. But the DVD gives you a new way to do that, right after you've watched the film. And the other thing that I think is really fun to play with on DVD, is something that really uniquely uses the technology. I'm not talking about the same old bells and whistles, but something that you couldn't do with anything else. Like the scene edit workshop that we did on Men in Black, where you can really use the technology to explore the filmmaking process. You couldn't have done that on laserdisc or VHS. With DVD, we can give you new ways of investigating the subject material.

Van Ling: I think too, we really try to address the uniqueness of the particular film. The publicity people are always trying to differentiate what makes this film unique from a promotional standpoint, but every EPK piece you see has that same shot of the director behind the camera saying, "Action!" We try to go beyond those generic things. I think the best DVDs are the ones that are really able to address, in depth, what is unique about that particular film. And, as Alita said, it may be using the new capabilities of DVD.

David Prior and Alita Holly
David Prior and Alita Holly

David Prior: For me, it's a combination of two basic principals. I think one is that the goal of a good DVD special edition should be to create some kind of living record or archive of the film, because that's really what it's all about in the end, right? The other is to give you supplements, and an interface design, that stylistically take into account the film. And if you get those two, and there's a lot of content - you feel like someone's really gone in depth and researched the film and really understands it - and the material supports the film, that's really about it for me. That's what I'm looking for.

Mark Rance: Let me take another tack, which is that we have a lot of technology at hand that is kind of in contest with the very nature of film, which is a straight narrative. There's an argument to be made for simplicity. And at the moment, I think many discs are getting loaded up with hours and hours of stuff, that's often editorially messy, out of control and pointless. That's fine from a studio perspective, because you can have a nice long list on the back of the package that helps sell the DVD. But I kind of miss the days when a really great commentary was the single biggest selling point - like Martin Scorsese on Raging Bull. That's an amazing commentary - an amazing extra - and that's all the "film school in a box" I need. I don't want any more. (applause) So no more commentaries where they just turn the movie on, and they make the filmmaker say, "That's a refrigerator, and I know who owns that refrigerator right now…" (audience laughs) If I hear one more of those, I'm gonna get a gun and shoot the guy who did it. (more laughs)

Charles de Lauzirika: Mark, I think another big problem with DVD right now is that the schedules are just so out of control.

Mark Rance: Totally.

Charles de Lauzirika: There's just no more time to sit down, take a deep breath and say, "What would make this a great disc that serves this movie?" Right now, it's just like meatball surgery - the studios are just cranking this stuff out.

Mark Rance: It's no accident that many of the best DVDs are for films that are older than five years.

Charles de Lauzirika: Exactly.

Bill Hunt: There's no doubt that with DVD, there's been a real rush on the part of the studios to get new films out on DVD "day and date" with the VHS release. But the problem is that the home video release schedules are all based on that old, VHS mentality, and DVD is far more complicated to work with than that. And sometimes you're talking about just two or three months between a film's theatrical release and the day it's supposed to be released on DVD, so there's just no time to put this stuff together.

Charlie de Lauzirika: When I heard what David just said about the schedule for Planet of the Apes, I cannot… (turns to Prior) I totally feel sorry for you, man. (huge laughter) That is just ridiculous - doing the DVD before the movie's done? I mean, you have to see the movie to know what you're gonna do with the DVD!

Charles de Lauzirika
Charles de Lauzirika

David Prior: What Charlie said, exactly. (more laughter) For Apes, the supplements are due three days after the movie comes out. (still more laughter)

Van Ling: It's true. I think that a good DVD has great material. But a great DVD has great material, well organized. I'm lucky, because I really haven't had to do any current release films. I haven't had to deal with what some of these folks are going through. They've had to put all this stuff together without the benefit of the kind of hindsight you get after a film's been released for a while, where you can think about the impact of a movie and what kinds of things you can emphasize.

Alita Holly: That also goes back to the original question about whether we get to be on the set. If the DVD materials are due just days or weeks after the movie is released, they have to let us on the set. Otherwise, what else could you do?

Mark Rance: But then there's a really funny conundrum, which is that we're dealing with things that have never really been done before with films. Film is one of those arts that's historically been the least documented, and it's very difficult to preserve all the elements that go with it. If you look back at the silent era, or even the seventies, you realize just how much stuff is at risk of being lost. At the same time, many filmmakers, including one or two that I'm working with now, are very aware of how much overkill is going into the analysis that DVD invites. So they'd rather back off altogether. David Lynch's Straight Story is a perfect example. The disc has no chapters. You hit play, and you see the movie. There's no commentary - nothing. It's just the movie. And that's where some directors are going these days. They want to take you back to some version of the straight-up theatrical experience. One day they may wake up and realize that they've missed an opportunity, but that's their reaction to DVD at the moment.

David Prior: But it's also… there's a big fundamental difference. When Criterion was starting, it seems to me as a collector of the discs, that the mission was to take important or interesting movies that people may not have seen, or may not have seen in a while, and to give them some kind of special treatment. And that made a lot of sense. But now, inevitably, the studios have picked up the idea, and so we're doing things for movies that haven't even been released yet. We don't know what their place in the world is yet… or if they even have a place in the world. And so the danger there is that it starts to cross into salesmanship too much. It's not as much about archiving and illuminating the film, as it is about selling discs.

Van Ling: Right. The term "special edition" is starting to lose its meaning. (the audience applauds in agreement)

Bill Hunt: (laughs) Okay... this a pretty ironic point to be giving you a preview of an upcoming DVD special edition, but given our time crunch today, that's exactly what we're going to do. The first disc we're going to be showing you was produced by Charles de Lauzirika. It's the 2-disc Hannibal: Special Edition from MGM. So Charlie, do you want to come up and do your thing?

MGM's 2-disc Hannibal: Special Edition
Click cover to preview DVD
Charles de Lauzirika: Sure. [Charlie walks over to the podium and takes the remote as the lights dim and the DVD starts to play on projection screens around room.] That of course is the MGM DVD logo, which wakes me up every time I pop one of their discs in. (laughter) So this is Hannibal, which comes out on August 21st. And this is Disc Two that we're going to be looking at. Just for your information, Disc One includes the feature in anamorphic widescreen, audio commentary by Ridley Scott and audio in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. There's also French and Spanish 5.1 audio tracks, a trailer for the new Silence of the Lambs DVD and also a Windtalkers teaser. [He looks out into the audience at MGM executives.] Is that okay to say? Yes? There is studio representation in the audience here today.

Van Ling: We've all got shock collars on, in case we start to say the wrong thing. (big laughter)

J. M. Kenny: Otherwise known as contracts I believe… (more laughter)

Charles de Lauzirika: Exactly. So the extras on Disc Two of Hannibal start off with a series of five featurettes. And this is something that you're going to probably be seeing a lot more of on DVD - rather than one long-form documentary, you'll have a series of short featurettes. Because of various legal issues, going over a running time of thirty minutes is discouraged. Is anyone else on the panel having problems with this right now?

J. M. Kenny: There's a big debate going on right now at the studios as to whether you can call something like this a featurette or you have to call it something else. You can't call it a documentary, because that causes a whole other set or problems for a studio.

Van Ling: Yeah. And these all sound like just semantic terms, but they have a huge impact on what we do. If something is under a certain length, like four and a half minutes, it can be considered a promotional trailer, and therefore the studio doesn't have to pay certain royalties and legal fees for it. Likewise, if something is over thirty minutes, it becomes a documentary and the studio again has to pay the actors a royalty. There are different legal guidelines, and each studio has slightly different way of approaching them. So we have to constantly work around those.

Charles de Lauzirika: So what we did on Hannibal to get around this rule, is to make five shorter featurettes, and then give you the "play all" option. (huge laughter) Basically, these all really add up to one long-form documentary. So if you get the disc, please… just press "play all". (more laughter) Each featurette covers a different aspect of the production. And they were culled together from a variety of different sources - EPK, on-set footage - much of which was shot by John Pattyson. I actually had to go to Morocco to record Ridley's commentary. He was there shooting his new film, Black Hawk Down. And so we got the commentary, and while I was there, I shot additional material for him for the different multi-angle sequences on this disc. So you're going to see a variety of different kinds of material - some of it slick-looking EPK footage and some that's more raw, home video-looking. For example, in New York, we actually go into the premiere, and we go into the after party, so you'll get to see a lot of areas you wouldn't normally get access to. You'll see actors just being themselves off camera and that kind of thing.

Charles de Lauzirika previews Hannibal
Charles de Lauzirika previews Hannibal

J. M. Kenny: Charlie, quick question: how would you categorize Ridley's involvement with DVD?

Charles de Lauzirika: Ridley really loves the format. And that's been a blessing, because he gives me total access. He's there whenever you need him for stuff. I felt really bad, because he's in the middle of shooting his next movie movie, and I basically took him away from all that for about six hours to get all the DVD stuff for Hannibal while I was there. And he's totally fine with that.

One of the things I want to show you are some of the multi-angle features, which are my favorite. Something I've always been interested in, since the day the DVD format was announced, was its multi-angle capability. We were originally told that you'd get to see the movie, and you'd be able to switch to another camera angle while you were watching. And of course, as we found out, only porno discs did that. (laughter)

Bill Hunt: And not very well. (more laughter)

Charles de Lauzirika: Exactly.

J. M. Kenny: Not that any of us own any of those, by the way. (more laughter) We're all in the "legitimate" industry up here.

Charles de Lauzirika: Well, I don't know. I've heard stories… (more laughter) So basically, for Hannibal, I thought… let's try it. Let's take scenes from the film and do them multi-angle.

Van Ling: You turned it into a porno movie? (laughter)

Charles de Lauzirika: Well… not exactly. I'm not even gonna go into the whole cannibalism thing… (laughter) But we wanted to take like six scenes from the film - some action, some drama - so that you could see what they looked like in their raw form, from each camera, as if you were there on the set when the footage was being shot. And unfortunately that turned out to be a huge disaster, because once a film has been cut, it completely leaves the reality of the way the film was shot on set - it's been manipulated and time condensed. To make all the camera angles match would have been impossible. So we ultimately took just one scene, which Ridley predominantly shot with four cameras, which was the opening gun battle at the fish market. You start with this menu page that gives you a sample frame of the film. And at the top and bottom, we give you the technical specs for that piece of film - what the scene was, what camera it was, the frame rate, the T-stop. So if you're really into filmmaking, it's all broken down for you into the smallest detail. That's why we called it Anatomy of a Shootout. And if you don't know some of this stuff, these terms of cinematography, you can select them and the disc will explain what they mean - just some good basic definitions - so you can understand what you're seeing. The multi-angle feature lets you start by selecting any of the four cameras, or a fifth piece of video that's a combination of all four running simultaneously. So let's start with A Camera… this is the raw footage from that camera as it was shot. And this is all interactive, so you can switch from camera to camera as the action plays out. The idea with action scenes like this, is that when you've got lots of stunt work going on, and lots of pyrotechnics going off, you want to shoot it from as many different angles as possible. As you watch this video, you'll see that each take is a different portion of the larger scene. And with your remote, you can skip from take to take, through the whole scene. So this is just one of the multi-angle sequences on this disc.

Another multi-angle segment is called Ridleygrams. As some of you may know, Ridley is not just a director, he's also an artist. And he does a lot of his own storyboards. So here you can watch Ridley talking about the storyboard process, with picture-in-picture images of the storyboards and that exact scene from the final film. Or, you can switch to the second angle and look at just the storyboard panels, or a third angle that is the storyboards compared to the final film. And all the while, you can hear his comments about the process. We also have another multi-angle piece which is about the title designs for the film. That gives you four video angles and four audio tracks, so that you can follow the process of the development of the film's opening credits and some of the work that went into it.

There are also about fourteen deleted scenes, which you can watch either with or without Ridley's commentary. There's the film's alternate ending. We have a marketing gallery which gives you all the trailers and TV spots made for the film, and you can view each by itself or all together using another "play all" option. You can go as deep or shallow as you want. There's also a still gallery with over 600 never-before-seen production photos, as well as a poster gallery with tons of different unused concepts for the film's poster campaign - and some of the artwork in there is very cool. There's also bios, production notes and, of course, the most important feature… the DVD credits. (laughter) So thank you for looking at Hannibal. (applause)

Bill Hunt: Charlie, why don't you quickly tell us about some of the other upcoming DVD projects that you're working on right now.

Charles de Lauzirika: Currently, I'm right in the middle of the Thelma and Louise: Special Edition, which should be out sometime next year. I was told that was okay to say. (laughter) As J. M. knows, we're trying to finish up an edition of Legend (more applause). It'll get there, I promise. It's coming. And then I've already started the Blade Runner: Special Edition. (big applause)

Bill Hunt: The next disc we're going to show you is Warner's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 30th Anniversary Edition. (more applause) So J. M…. you're up. [J. M. Kenny approaches the podium and takes the remote.]

J. M. Kenny: Thank you for the segway. [J. M. has a little trouble getting the disc to play.]

Bill Hunt: This is what happens when you confront a highly-trained DVD producer with a remote they've never seen before. (big laughter) [Finally, the menus appear.]

Warner's Willy Wonka: 30th Anniversary Edition
Click cover to preview DVD
J. M. Kenny: There we go. Much better. Since this was the 30th anniversary of the release of Willy Wonka, the main point we wanted to emphasize on the DVD is, what are the actors doing today? What are the kids, who are long grown-up, doing now? What's their perspective on the film, all these years later, and what's Gene Wilder's perspective? So we were lucky enough to get all five of the kids, Gene and one Oompa Loompa (laughter) to participate in a retrospective documentary on the film. It's called Pure Imagination, and it runs again about thirty minutes. The disc also has an original documentary that was done at the time of the film's production, which features Harper Goff's fantastic set design. That's about a ten minute piece. And one of the things I discovered when I was talking to Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt, was that the actors who played the kids in the film had never sat down in the same audience to see the film together. So we figured this was a great opportunity for an audio commentary track. And that's what we did. When you listen to the commentary on this disc, it's all five of the kids watching the film together for the first time ever - Julie Dawn Cole, Paris Themmen, Peter Ostrum, Denise Nickerson and Michael Bollner.

Bill Hunt: And an important point to make here is that everyone you want to hear from, with regard to this film, is on the disc, either on the new commentary, or in new interview footage in the documentary.

J. M. Kenny: Right. You know, Hannibal is a good example of a DVD special edition where the film is recent, and the director is heavily involved and the producer got to be in on it from beginning to end. There's a ton of well organized material on the disc that takes you through the filmmaking process. Wonka is a little different, because this is basically a film that's thirty years old and, unfortunately, no extra materials really exist anymore. There were a few deleted scenes, but no one knows where the footage is or if it even survived. The film was originally financed by Quaker Oats. (big laughter) True story - it's in the documentary. Mel Stuart's daughter read the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and really liked it. So Mel Stuart took it to David Wolper, who in turn went to Quaker Oats for financing, and got something like three million dollars. The whole idea was that the movie was a marketing piece for a line of candy bars - Wonka Bars - which were going to come out at the same time as the movie appeared in theaters. When the movie hit the streets, the candy bars came out, but they couldn't last on the shelves. So the candy bars were a failure, but the movie has endured for 30 years now. So our whole objective on this DVD was to bring everybody back to see how the movie affected their lives, what it was like to be a part of it all, and what they're doing now. And just to give you a retrospective look at a film that's got a fond place in most of our childhoods.

Bill Hunt: J. M., when does this title street?

J. M. Kenny: It'll be in stores on August 28th, I believe.

[At this point, J. M. plays about a 3 minute piece of the Pure Imagination documentary.]

J. M. Kenny previews Willy Wonka
J. M. Kenny previews Willy Wonka

J. M. Kenny: Anyways, this goes on for about thirty minutes - you get the idea. The film on this disc, by the way, is available in both full frame and anamorphic widescreen. [Editor's note: This DVD was originally slated to be released with anamorphic widescreen video. Unfortunately, in a colossally bad move on Warner's part, it's been revealed that the final disc will be full frame only.] There are also several songs that are sing-along, so kids can interact with it. Warner's approach all along was to make this disc very family oriented. This is the studio's biggest family title, so it's going to be launched on DVD with a huge marketing campaign. You're going to see a lot of publicity on this title in the next couple of months. So that's Wonka. I hope you have the chance to pick it up. Thanks. (applause)

Bill Hunt: Van, why don't you come up and get our last preview DVD ready. And in the meantime, David, why don't you tell us about some of the projects you're working on now.

[Van steps up to the podium and prepares the disc.]

David Prior: Well… as I mentioned I'm in the last stages of Planet of the Apes, which I'll be finished with in the next couple of weeks. And then I'm also working on Pearl Harbor, which is huge. Again, another major deadline crunch, but the supplements will be really great. They had over three hundred hours of video taken on the set, which is a record I think. On Apes, they had like ninety I think, which I thought was a lot. And then after that is David Fincher's Panic Room - the movie doesn't come out until next year, but we're already getting ready to start working on the DVD release. And that's all I've got scheduled for right now.

[At this point, the MGM logo appears again on the big screen.]

Bill Hunt: All right, it looks like we're ready with our last disc. This is MGM's Terminator: Special Edition, which streets on October 2nd. (big audience applause)

MGM's Terminator: Special Edition
Click cover to preview DVD
Van Ling: The menus on this disc, I should mention, were done by a really cool company called Georgopolis Design. It's one of the few discs I've produced where I haven't designed the menus. We've got a lot of interesting stuff here for a seventeen year old movie. Remember, this movie was done when James Cameron was just starting out, so he actually has no rights over any of this stuff, and not any of the kind of control that he has had obviously on his subsequent films. So it was kind of an interesting journey to go back to several production companies that are now defunct and were bought up by MGM - I went into storage to find most of this stuff. One of the things that a DVD producer does on catalog titles, is we get to be like Indiana Jones for film historian purposes. We go back into these vaults and warehouses sometimes, that are like what you saw at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and its just boxes and boxes of material. And you're going through it all trying to find stuff for the DVD. So I was cracking open dailies boxes and film cans that had not been opened since 1984 - it was a really interesting experience.

The other interesting thing about this title is, I actually started working on it over a year ago. MGM actually released the version 1.0 of this DVD in Europe, and then they chose to take a little more time with the U.S. domestic release. So that gave me time to add a lot more stuff to the disc. I've put probably another forty minutes of material on for the U.S. version. So anyone from Europe - sorry, you're going to have to pick up the Region 1 version to get it all. (laughter) As you can see, we've got trailers, which were very hard to find for this film. We've got a couple of documentaries, one of which we did with Arnold and Jim back in 1992. That had very limited release in the VHS box set, so I don't think too many people ever saw it. I also did a brand new documentary for this DVD release, for which I was able to talk to a majority of the people who were involved in the show. It's a little over an hour long.

[Van shows a few minutes of the new documentary.]

Bill Hunt: Van, why don't you tell everyone about some of the video and audio restoration that was done for this new DVD.

Van Ling: Sure. As you may know, the original film was mixed in mono - it was a low budget film at the time. And over the years, a lot of people have wanted better quality sound. There have been a few releases with sort of fake stereo, which was done without Jim's authorization. So for this DVD, MGM just really wanted to do a knockout job. They had a new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix done - true 5.1. Lightstorm approved the process and we actually mixed it up at Skywalker Sound. Brad Fidel even came back and re-recorded all the music, because the original music was in mono as well. The challenge there is, how do you preserve the flavor of the original audio feel of the film, while being able to broaden it out and flesh it out and take advantage of all the things you can do with surround sound these days? So we had a mandate to really maintain the original spirit of the film, and say to ourselves, "Okay… if we had had this kind of 5.1 capability back in 1984, how would we have mixed the sound then?" The last thing you want to do is to alter the feel of the film - to take away any of the original appeal. And so we really tried to pay attention to that. Also, you should know that the video on the DVD is a brand new high-def transfer, which is anamorphic widescreen as well. I think they did a knock out job on it - it really looks great.

The other thing I was able to find in the process of going through all the materials, is a series of deleted scenes, which have never really been seen before. Or "terminated" scenes as I call them. (laughter) There are a number of them, including one that would have taken place at the end of the film, in which you realize that the factory that they're in is actually CyberDyne Systems. There are also a few scenes that were cut that actually set up the second film. There was one in which Sarah actually finds out the address of CyberDyne and says, "We've got to blow up the place." So it shows that the sequel really came out of that. I was also able to get Jim Cameron to talk about these deleted scenes, so you can choose to watch them with his commentary. I managed to trick him into doing that, because he generally does not do commentary for his films. We also have still galleries, sections on how they did the tanker truck explosion with miniatures, and tons of other cool stuff. Hopefully, you'll all enjoy the disc. There's also, I should let you guys know, some forty minutes worth of Easter egg material hidden that you can find. And just so you know, it's all on Side One of the disc. This is what's called a DVD-14 format disc, which means that it's got two sides - one side is single-layered and the other side is dual-layered. So explore, enjoy and see what you can find. Thank you. (applause)

Bill Hunt: And happy hunting. (laughter) We're running a little short of time, so what I want to do is to have everyone else tell us about the projects they're working on now, and then we'll take a few questions from the audience. So Mark, do you want to talk about what you've got in the works?

Mark Rance: We just finished Cast Away and Unbreakable. So we're moving on to the Twin Peaks TV series (big applause) and then, God willing, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor.

Bill Hunt: I know a lot of people are waiting for Twin Peaks. Very cool. Van, can you talk much about Episode I?

Van Ling: It's gonna be cool. (laughter) We've got some classic material, we've got some brand new material that's really amazing in terms of behind-the-scenes material. Steve Sansweet is going to be talking about it a little bit tomorrow in his Star Wars: Connections presentation here at the show, so I encourage you all to go check that out. My shock collar is on high right now, so that's about all I can say. (more laughter) But the Episode I DVD streets on October 16th, and I hope you guys all enjoy it.

[Editor's Note: Steve Sansweet's presentation basically played the now infamous DVD trailer for Episode I, which you can download here (courtesy of The Force.net) if you're interested. We'll have more in-depth coverage of the Episode I DVD here at the Bits in September.]

Bill Hunt: J. M., what have you got going on?

J. M. Kenny: There are a few titles we're working on with MGM for next year, but those are pretty early in development at the moment, so we'll keep that quiet for now. But I'm doing a Jerry Maguire: Special Edition right now for Columbia TriStar, and the original 1960 Ocean's Eleven for Warner Brothers. (applause)

Bill Hunt: Alita?

Alita Holly: Right now I'm working on Rush Hour 2, which will be an Infinifilm release from New Line - a very complex disc. And I'm also doing MADE with Artisan and a couple of other titles that it's too early to talk about yet.

Bill Hunt: (to audience) And you should know that a lot of these titles we're talking about will be out at the very end of this year or the first part of next year.

Alita Holly: Yeah. There's a big push for before Christmas, but you know… that's why we don't sleep very much. (laughter)

Bill Hunt: Very cool. Okay… we only have a few minutes left, and we still have to give all these prizes away. But why don't we take a few questions…

About half of the audience (we literally couldn't fit them all in the picture!).
About half of the audience (we literally couldn't fit them all in the picture!).

Question #1: This question is for Mark. I'm just curious - whatever happened to all the rights for those great Criterion commentaries? What's the process that those just kind of seem to disappear off the face of the Earth?

Mark Rance: The short answer is that Criterion still owns the original materials - the commentaries - but they don't own the movies to which they belong. And for whatever reason, they don't make deals with the studios to reuse any of it for new DVDs, as many times as they've been asked. One of my duties for New Line was to basically recreate discs that I've already done. And basically, just go back and remake Se7en for example. Or to do Boogie Nights over again. So I don't know what they're going to do with any of it. I've always thought it would make a great book - to publish some of the better ones in text format. It's a shame, because they talked to a lot of directors who are no longer with us. At the moment, you really have to just consider it lost material.

Question #2: This is sort of for everybody. Are there any sort of obstacles to producing DVDs that have an edited version of the film as an added feature - like the airline edit or the TV version? Is there any reason why we haven't seen that yet?

Charlie de Lauzirika: Would you really want to see a censored version of the film? (applause) I'm just asking, because I think no one's ever figured anyone would want that…

Van Ling: You're talking about a parental lock feature, or an alternate version of a film that's available by password?

Question #2 (follow-up): Well… when you have kids, it would be nice to be able to watch a film with them and not have to cringe all the time at what they're hearing and seeing…

David Prior: I recommend maybe just getting some G-rated films. (applause)

Bill Hunt: It's interesting that you ask that question, because DVD players - the DVD format does have a parental lock option, but I don't think any studio's ever really used it in their discs.

J. M. Kenny: The attitude with the studios is that they really try to make these special editions the "be-all, end-all" versions of the film. And I think that from a film purist standpoint, anything that's edited, for whatever reason, is really not something the director intended to be released. The theatrical release is often their "director's cut" if you will. And that's what they ultimately want to end up on home video, so you have to respect that I think.

Van Ling: David, didn't you do a G-rated version of Fight Club, and it was like just a trailer? (laughter)

David Prior: Yeah, but nobody liked it. (more laughter)

Question #3: DVD transfer quality seems to really differ - some companies do a better on transferring their films for DVD. So do you find that certain studios have preferences for which companies they want doing their transfer work?

Mark Rance: Well, the studios each use their own standards for determining quality, and they each have their own telecine facilities that they work with and their own marketing plans. In the case of Se7en, David Fincher decided to go back to his original camera negative to do the transfer - he felt he never really liked the original prints of the film. Other directors are seizing this opportunity to use the high-definition transfer as one form of archiving their film. But then you look at older films, and there just may not be a good negative left to transfer from, so the studio may have to use an older transfer done for a previous laserdisc or VHS release. Some studios are even using actual theatrical show prints. So I think the quality varies for a lot more reasons than just who did the actual transfer work.

Van Ling: I think that to the studios' credit, they are becoming a lot more aware these days of the benefits of doing new transfers of old films, and it's because of fans and consumers like you. People who have said, "Hey… we don't want bad quality anymore. If this is DVD, let's have the best high-definition transfers and let's take advantage of the medium." The studios do listen to what you have to say. They do pay attention to the websites and the newsgroups. So your feedback is very important. These films are their future after all, so they have a big investment in making sure they look great.

J. M. Kenny: I think also, we're very fortunate now. Some titles that I did early on, for example Blues Brothers and Animal House - any footage that was not deemed important to be kept by the studio was simply destroyed. Just thrown out. That was in the days before home video - before there was a real perceived benefit to keeping it all safe and in good condition. But the studios now are very good about saving everything. Anything post 1985, there's still often material available. But anything before that time, good luck finding anything associated with the original production. That seems really outrageous at first glance. But you have to understand that anything the studio decides to save and to store, there's a dollar value attached that. It costs money to keep this stuff around at every step of the way. So before home video came along, there was no reason to justify the cost of keeping stuff around. But now they try to keep everything and to catalog it as best they can.

Question #4: Given that the DVD experience is different than the theatrical experience, do you guys feel any responsibility to try to preserve the original theatrical experience of the film?

Mark Rance: The original Criterion agenda was to recreate the theatrical experience, first by careful transfer of the film, and then by presenting the correct aspect ratio. Don't forget that VHS is dead, and film is in the process of dying. So these new digital transfers - this is really the way people will be watching these films in the future. If we don't preserve it now, it will be lost as an experience.

Van Ling: I think also what you're asking is if these new "special edition" cuts of films, with added scenes and longer material - if these are what will be preserved exclusively, and the original theatrical versions will be lost. I don't think most directors see it that way. You know, they are relieved because they realize that with DVD, many of the scenes that they loved but had to cut will get seen finally and preserved. Or they feel like they finally have the opportunity to finish the film the way they always meant to, but just ran out of time or money, or the technology at the time just didn't let them get things as they wanted. So I'm a firm believe in these director's editions. But at the same time, I still consider the theatrical version to be the original version, and I think the studios do as well.

Question #5: Because of its place in cinema history as being the first feature film to be shot on video tape, does MGM have any plans to release Frank Zappa's 200 Motels. And, if so, will you be including the making of documentary that he did called The Story of 200 Motels? (laughter)

Bill Hunt: Well, we have MGM in the audience. Guys… yeah or neigh? Maybe? You'll look into it? (laughter) They'll look into it.

Van Ling: Actually, again… it's requests from people like you that help the studios decide what they release on DVD. They really do listen, so keep sending them your feedback.

J. M. Kenny: If you hang out after, we'll give you their home addresses… (laughter)

Bill Hunt: And if you drop them a big check, you never know. (laughter) Okay… last question.

Question #6: Will DVD-ROM extras in the future be less platform-specific. Because I love movies, but I'm a Mac person and having to have PCs running Windows sucks. (big laughter and applause)

Van Ling: I'm a Mac person as well, and I can't even look at half of the DVD-ROM materials on the discs that I work on. It pains me to have to do menus were I have to put, "This DVD will not work on an Apple Macintosh." I hope that's gonna be changing soon. Apple is really finally starting to get their feet wet on the DVD side. We hope.

Charles de Lauzirika: Usually whenever a DVD-ROM issue comes up on one of Ridley's titles, the first thing I say is that we really should try to put some kind of Mac access on the disc. I'm also a Mac user, personally. But Ridley directed the infamous 1984 commercial which really put Macintosh on the map. And it would be great if we had Mac access on his DVDs. (laughter)

Van Ling: On the ID4 DVD, I included that TV spot about the Power Book that saved the world. And I kept thinking, "Isn't it ironic that the Power Book that saved the world can't play the DVD-ROM on this disc?" (more laughter) Hopefully that will change soon.

Bill Hunt: And with that, we've got to cut things off, I'm afraid. We've got another presentation that's coming into the room here in a few minutes - we're very tight on time. And we still have all these cool prizes to give away, so everybody get your tickets ready. But before we do that, I want to thank everyone up here - all our DVD producers - for participating in the panel. I wish we had more time, because we could really talk for hours about DVD, and we've barely scratched the surface. So please give them all a round of applause. (big cheers) And thanks to all of you for coming down here and making this fun for us. Have a great day at Comic-Con. (applause)

---end---

The DVD Producers 2001 Panel (click here for panelist bios)
The DVD Producers 2001 Panel
(Top L to R): David Prior, Charles de Lauzirika, Van Ling, Alita Holly
(Bottom): Digital Bits editor Bill Hunt, J. M. Kenny, Mark Rance
(click the image for panelist bios)

Everyone who attended the event was given raffle tickets as they entered the auditorium. After the Q & A period, we held a quick drawing and gave away a number of prizes, including great Fox DVDs (for the record: X-Men, Fight Club, The Abyss, Independence Day, The Alien Legacy box set, The Die Hard Collection box set, Planet of the Apes: The Evolution box set, a Schwarzenegger box set, The Omen Collection box set and all three complete seasons of The X-Files on DVD) as well as an RCA 5215 DVD Player. As they say, a good time was had by all.

The Digital Bits would like to thank everyone at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment for sponsoring the panel (especially Peter Staddon!), and all our friends at DVD Planet for providing the player to give away. Thanks also to Gary Sassaman and everyone at Comic-Con for helping us to stage the event, and to MGM and Warner for the preview discs. And we'd especially like to thank Mark, Van, Charlie, David, Alita and J. M. for driving down to San Diego from L.A. at 6 AM on a Friday morning to spend a little over an hour talking shop in front of a packed house of DVD fans. Anyone up for doing it again next year? Maybe we'll see you at Comic-Con 2002. ;-)

As always, I welcome your comments.

Bill Hunt, Editor
The Digital Bits
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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