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Behind-the-scenes on the new Alien DVD:
An Interview with Charles de Lauzirika

The Alien Legacy logo

Recently, 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 Rumor 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 philosophy?

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 wishes.

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 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.

Charlie: Absolutely. 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 films.

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.

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