on the new Alien DVD:
An Interview with Charles de Lauzirika
The Digital Bits had the
opportunity to sit down with filmmaker Charles de Lauzirika, to talk
with him about his involvement on 20th Century Fox Home
Entertainment's new DVD version of Alien.
As we all know, Alien has long
been one of the most highly-demanded titles that DVD fans crave to
see released on the format. When the time came to prepare the disc,
director Ridley Scott asked Charlie to act as his eyes and ears on
the project. So for several weeks now, Charlie has been right there
in the thick of things, making sure that the DVD is everything both
Scott, and you the fans, want it to be.
I'm very pleased to have met Charlie through all of this. He's a
great guy, and I'm proud to say that he's become a good friend in
the course of recent weeks. We at the Digital
Bits would like to thank him for allowing us to follow
the progress of his work on the Alien
disc. Charlie had a lot of very interesting things to say about Alien,
and the process of making the DVD, so without further ado, here's
the transcript of our interview. Enjoy!
Bill Hunt - The Digital Bits:
Charlie, tell us a little bit about your background, and how you
came to find yourself working with director Ridley Scott?
Charlie de Lauzirika: I had
been working on and off for Ridley's production company (Scott Free,
which he co-owns with brother Tony Scott) since film school, when I
started as an intern. I then moved into development. Ridley and Tony
seemed to trust my opinions, so I became more active with the
company. All the while, I managed to write a few scripts and even
make a short film. Ridley and Tony liked it and were very
supportive. And eventually that led to landing an agent and getting
meetings and all that great stuff a million other struggling
filmmakers go through. Then, under the wing of music video director
Joseph Kahn, I got to direct a series of commercials, followed by my
first music video for R&B singer Montell Jordan, which featured
Billy Dee Williams. Being a hardcore Star
Wars geek, it was kind of surreal directing Lando
Calrissian in my first music video. And all throughout, Ridley has
been very encouraging.
Bill: Given that background,
how did you then come to be involved with the production of this new
DVD version of Alien?
Charlie: Strangely enough, I
have The Digital Bits to thank
for that. I read a
Mill item months ago which reported that Fox was prepping
DVDs for all four Alien
movies. I got word to Ridley. Then he contacted Bill Mechanic at
Fox. And soon, Fox Home Entertainment came to meet Ridley at Scott
Free about contributing to the DVD. Before that meeting, I sat down
with him to go over the possibilities of making a really exciting
DVD. Ridley had been very impressed by the Tomorrow
Never Dies: Special Edition and wanted the Alien
DVD to be just as spectacular, if not more. But he was about to
leave for England to begin production on Gladiator,
so he just kind of plainly said, "Is this something you could
supervise while I'm gone?" Naturally, I said "yes."
Bill: Wow - that must have
been a good feeling to have Ridley place that kind of trust in you.
And let me just briefly say, that I'm very happy that the Bits
could, in some small way, help to make this come about. Now then,
let's talk about the work - that's what everyone wants to know.
What's your official position on the Alien
DVD project, and what are your responsibilities?
Charlie: I'm not sure about
the official wording, but it'll probably be something like "Creative
Supervisor for Ridley Scott." From the beginning, my
involvement has covered a lot of different territory, but in varying
degrees of participation -- I've done everything from supervising
the all-new high definition transfer of the film, all the way down
to the minutia of figuring out whether The Company's name in Alien
should be spelled "Weylan Yutani" or "Weyland Yutani."
Basically, my sole focus has been, "What would make Ridley
happy?" and then, "What would the fans want?" And 9
times out of 10, the answers to those two questions have been in
total agreement with each other.
Bill: So have you done any
consulting on the DVDs of the other films in the series?
Charlie: Mostly, I'm focused
entirely on Alien. The only
times I've even discussed the sequels has been when it involves the
first film -- usually regarding the packaging of the four-disc box
set, which is based on the 20th Anniversary of the original Alien.
Bill: That actually brings up
my next question. What were some of your (and Ridley's) thoughts and
concerns, going into this project, given that it was planned to
commemorate the 20th anniversary of the original film? Was there
anything specific that you wanted to accomplish with this DVD?
Charlie: Well, it's always
been about presenting Alien in
its best possible light. There have been a few challenges to that
agenda throughout the process, but most of them have been overcome.
Secondly, Ridley wanted a DVD that pushed the envelope in terms of
concept and design -- and I think when he sees the final product
he'll be very happy. And finally, we wanted to get as much
supplemental material on the disc as possible without compromising
the quality of the film itself.
Bill: When did work officially
begin on the project, and at what stage is it currently?
Charlie: Work officially began
on the project before my involvement -- but since the Bits
broke the story, you'd probably know that better than I. Currently,
we're finishing everything up -- the new hi-def master is being
cleaned-up. The menus are in the final stages, and they look
absolutely phenomenal. We're putting together the various
supplements, finalizing the packaging and getting ready to do the
final compression and encoding.
Bill: I understand that you've
got some very special things planned in terms of content on the Alien
DVD. Without giving away too many secrets, can you talk a little bit
about that? How much of what is on the Alien
laserdisc boxed set will make it to the DVD?
Charlie: Well, from the
beginning, we've been trying to find a nice balance between old and
new material. We didn't want to just rehash the laserdisc box set --
that would have been rather boring and lazy, given the possibilities
of DVD. I mean, the laserdisc box set has some wonderful supplements
on it, but in the wake of DVD, it's about as much fun to navigate as
a tax form. We're still working out the details, but we're
attempting to take supplements from the laserdisc box set, add some
new features (like Ridley's commentary track, for example) and a few
more surprises that only a handful of people on the project even
know about -- and then present all of that within a fully-immersive
experience that only DVD can provide. Plus, it looks like we'll have
some DVD-ROM material on it as well.
Bill: How would you say
Ridley's new commentary track compares to his other commentaries, or
that of other directors?
Charlie: It caught me
off-guard. It's surprisingly casual and even a bit fun. I tend to
enjoy commentaries that really get into the nuts and bolts of
filmmaking, much like David Fincher's commentaries for Criterion's
Seven and The
Game LDs. But I also enjoy commentary tracks where the
participants seem to be having fun just watching their movie again,
like they're in your home shooting the breeze. Ridley's commentary
tackles some in-depth and insightful topics, but on the whole, it's
refreshingly laid-back. I won't give much away, but you'll get to
hear him talk about a wide variety of topics including the influence
of the late great Stanley Kubrick on the Nostromo's look, the power
of Jerry Goldsmith's score, and even Ridley's off-hand story idea
for a possible Alien 5.
Bill: I understand that work
had already begun on the menus for these DVDs when you came into the
project, and that you suggested a new approach to them. Given that
interactivity is so important on DVD, and this is such a highly
demanded film by the fans, how did that affect the design
Charlie: 1k Studios is
creating the menus for all four Alien
films. We started out with Fox wanting to create some kind of
graphic unity among the films. I had another idea which I presented,
then 1k came back with their take on it, and then I came back with
my take on their take, and after a few rounds of brainstorming we
came up with the concept we have now, which I'm not going to reveal
just yet. But I will say that I can't wait to get the finished DVD,
just so that I can put it in my player and have the main menu loop
over and over again...
Bill: Hhmmm... very
intriguing. As you've said, the Alien
disc will feature a brand new, high-definition transfer of the film,
and I understand that much attention is being paid to cleaning and
restoring it for DVD? Can you talk a little bit about the process
involved? Is this true of all four films?
Charlie: As far as I know,
both Alien and Aliens
will have new high definition transfers.
In terms of restoration, we simply don't have the time to venture
into a complete overhaul of Alien
at this point, but I will say that it's looking better than it ever
has before. Past home video and laserdisc releases have been too
warm and saturated, so in keeping with Ridley's wishes, we've cooled
off the look of the film a bit. After all, this isn't What
Dreams May Come. It's Alien
-- it's a used future, with worn-out machinery and moody lighting.
For instance, Mother's interface chamber was actually off-white with
some slight warmth coming from the tiny pinpoints of light
throughout the room, giving it a subdued golden feel. However, some
of the video releases have timed that scene into this oversaturated
blaze of orange. When we'd come up against a serious discrepancy
between the IP (interpositive) and the previous D1 master, I'd write
up a note to Ridley, have it faxed to his location in Morocco, and
the next day I'd get back hand-written notes from him detailing his
The hi-def transfer took place for about a week at the Sony
Pictures HD Center, with Kevin O'Connor as our colorist. Kevin
worked on the transfer for The Fifth
Element, which I still think is one of the absolute
best-looking DVDs out there. Sony also went in to extract damaged or
dirty frames and then digitally cleaned up as many of them as
humanly possible given our tight schedule. So far, the new hi-def
master looks stunning. I've actually been kind of spoiled watching
Alien on an HD monitor for a
whole week -- going back to NTSC is gonna be tough.
Bill: You mentioned earlier
that the two questions you've kept in mind as you worked on this
DVD, are "What would make Ridley happy?" and then, "What
would the fans want?" Just how much consideration is being
given to the fans during the production process? How much thought is
being given as to what they might like to see on the DVD?
Charlie: As a huge fan of the
film myself, I'd say it's a very important consideration. Along the
way, people have asked me what I did on the original Alien,
assuming that I must have worked on it. I would respond with, "Um,
I was in elementary school when I saw Alien
the first time." So, having been a fan of the film for 20 years
now, I've really pushed for a DVD experience that the fans can truly
appreciate. There are lots of details within the menus, for
instance, that only true fans will probably get.
And I've also listened to the fans in regards to this DVD. For
example, a few days ago, I read a post made in alt.video.dvd by
Philip Renda regarding the serious sound problems of the last
laserdisc release. I printed his post out, took it to Fox and
strongly urged that we fix it. The next day, I was down at the
mixing stage with the folks from THX, listening to the correct
tracks -- and it was a huge improvement. Gone from the DVD will be
the butchering of Goldsmith's score during the planet approach
sequence, the fake "Hello, Mother" line, and even some
other unwanted differences we noticed. I hope that the enthusiasm
that Fox and the rest of us have for this project should be apparent
when you see the final product.
Bill: How important was it (to
you and Ridley) that these films be released in anamorphic
widescreen on DVD?
Charlie: VERY important. Now
that we're all friends with the folks at Fox Home Entertainment, I
can admit that Ridley and I went into that first meeting expecting
to have to fight tooth-and-nail for a 16:9 transfer, as well as
other extras. Then they handed us their proposal, and the first
feature at the top of their list was "16:9 High Definition
Transfer." I let out a huge sigh of relief and said "THANK
YOU." It was then that I realized that Fox was about to really
turn around and make a renewed commitment to DVD.
Bill: I think I can speak for
all DVD fans, when I say that this is terrific news indeed. I'll
admit, I've been somewhat critical of the studio's DVD work, largely
due to the lack of 16x9 support. But I'd always suspected that they
would come around eventually.
Truthfully, I've really enjoyed working with everyone at Fox on
this. We've faced some serious challenges together on this project,
but even when things looked hopeless, somehow, Fox made the
impossible happen. Like most avid DVD collectors, I was somewhat
worried by Fox's initial entry into the format, especially
considering how many great titles they have in their library. But I
think with the Die Hard Trilogy,
you're already starting to see the beginning of the "new"
Fox attitude towards DVD. And The Alien
Legacy will reinforce that enthusiasm even more.
Bill: So who are some of the
other parties involved in creating these DVDs, and how have they
been to work with?
Charlie: Well, I've already
mentioned the Sony Pictures HD Center, and everyone down there has
been a pleasure to work with. Most of the supplements were again
compiled by the same team that worked on the special edition
laserdisc box set.
But I think the big star of this DVD release will be 1k Studios,
who, as I said, are creating the menus for all four films. I've had
nothing but fun working with them on the menus and just hanging out
at their studio. They've created over 350 DVD menus, including the
Tomorrow Never Dies: Special Edition.
I have no idea how they'll ever top themselves after Alien,
but if anyone can, it's 1k. I'd love to work with 1k Studios again,
as well as Sony and Fox.
Bill: Now then, let's put
aside all the technical stuff, and ask maybe the most important
question. It's been my experience, that the best DVDs arise when the
folks who create them are enjoying themselves. So how much fun are
you having on this project?
Charlie: On the whole, it's
been a wonderful experience. I really have to thank Ridley for
giving me the opportunity, and Fox for going the extra mile on this
one. It's also been a pleasure to rediscover the greatness of Alien.
I had taken it for granted all these years, but now that I've had to
watch it over and over again the last few weeks, I've been reminded
of just how strong this film really is. It's still far and away my
favorite of all the Alien
Bill: Charlie, it's been a
pleasure talking with you. Thanks very much for that, and for all
the hard work on the Alien
DVD. I'm certain the fans will appreciate it.