& A with Steven Gustafson
of DreamWorks DVD
think most of us would agree that DreamWorks has been setting a high
standard for DVD quality with their titles thus far. Recently,
DreamWorks DVD producer Steven Gustafson offered to answer some of
our questions about their upcoming DVD release of Saving
Private Ryan, and their DVD work in general. Eager to
make the most of the opportunity, we submitted a long list of
questions that we knew readers of The
Digital Bits would like answered. Some of them, including
questions pertaining to director Steven Spielberg and his position
on the DVD format, he was understandably unable to answer (of
course, we had to give it the old college try anyway!). But he was
able to provide a number of interesting insights into the production
of the upcoming Private Ryan
disc, and the approach that DreamWorks takes with DVD. He also gave
us a bit of a sneak peak at what they've got coming in the months
ahead. We think you'll find what he has to say very interesting.
Bill Hunt - The Digital Bits:
Steve, let's start off by having you tell our readers a little bit
Steve Gustafson - DreamWorks:
Sure. I'm part of the DreamWorks DVD producing team, and I've been
working on our DVD's for a year (since our launch).
Bill Hunt: What is DreamWorks'
basic DVD philosophy? When you start work on a new title, for
example, do you have specific goals in mind that you want to
accomplish with the disc? Or does it depend on an individual title?
How do you go about deciding what to include on a disc?
Steve Gustafson: I think when
you look at our releases to date, you can see a desire to treat each
film according to its individual needs. Signature Selections and
standard releases are given equal care, even though the standard
releases are not as "program heavy" as Signature Selection
titles. What's included varies/depends on what's available, and
whether or not it adds value to the overall experience of the movie.
In some cases (as it was with ANTZ),
we actually created new segments just for the DVD, that we felt were
compelling, and that offered an entertaining as well as educational
look at the CGI process. It's ultimately about creating well-rounded
and well-balanced bonus programming, not about putting stuff on the
disc just to take up space.
Bill Hunt: Given that your
previous DVD releases have been so well-rounded, in terms of quality
and extras, how important do you think the overall presentation is
for the success of a DVD release? I'm thinking in terms of the look
and feel of the menu screens, and the ease navigation of a disc,
Steve Gustafson: With DVD
being such a high quality format, we believe that it requires a high
quality presentation. Menu design has become something of a
signature for us, and we have strived to create interesting,
entertaining and functional interfaces that viewers can enjoy
watching, just as much as the features themselves. They're the first
thing you see, and they should set the tone for what's to come.
Navigation should allow the viewer the ability to maneuver with ease
in a logical fashion.
Bill Hunt: How important are
lots of extras and supplemental materials on a given DVD from
DreamWorks? Do you find that there's a lot of value in putting them
Steve Gustafson: As I
mentioned, supplemental material should have a reason for being
there. As a DVD consumer myself, I look for programming that is
compelling and informative. Show me something I haven't seen before,
or give me an inside look into the production. Good programming
should leave you with the desire to come back to the film again with
a fresh perspective, and an appreciation for the effort that went
into creating it.
Bill Hunt: What's been your
experience working with talent on your DVD projects? Are directors
and actors very interested in the DVD versions of their work, and
are they willing to participate in creating the disc?
Steve Gustafson: Everyone we
have worked with has been extremely enthusiastic. Most of the
directors who have been involved in our releases are very supportive
of the DVD format, and are more than willing to participate. Joe
Dante (on Small Soldiers) was
very involved in the telecine process, and Tim Johnson and Eric
Darnell (ANTZ) gave us a
terrific commentary, as well as supplying us with tons of visuals to
create new segments with. Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon
Wells (The Prince of Egypt)
gave us great insight into the animation process with their film
commentary and close look at the chariot race sequence. We have even
started work on American Beauty
thanks to director Sam Mendes, who is a huge DVD supporter, and who
has already recorded a very insightful commentary along with writer
Alan Ball. Everybody has really been terrific to work with.
Bill Hunt: Now let's talk
specifically about Saving Private Ryan.
How long have you been working on this title, both in anticipation
of, and following, the green light from Spielberg on the DVD? And
when did the official green light finally come?
Steve Gustafson: We actually
started work as far back as last February. Preliminary menu design
and programming recommendations were considered, and tests were run
to determine the best way to make it look and sound great. We pretty
much got the official green light around the same time the
announcement went out, and releasing along with the VHS made perfect
sense. The installed player base is really climbing, so now seemed
like a good time to make it available.
Bill Hunt: Given the
importance of the title, both as a Spielberg film theatrically and
on DVD, what were your goals going into the making of the disc?
Steve Gustafson: This film is
a treasure. It's important both for its historical accounting, as
well as for its cultural impact. I don't know anyone who wasn't
affected on some level by this film, and who didn't walk away with a
new appreciation for what the men of D-Day did for this country. It
was with this in mind, that we wanted... we needed... to treat this
film on DVD with the same care and respect that went into its
creation. Picture and sound quality needed to be the best they could
be, along with menu designs that reflected the power and emotion of
the subject matter. Though it would have been tempting to try a more
elaborate approach with the interfaces, this was a case of "less
is more". Simple, sophisticated, and elegant are words that
came to mind during the design process, and I believe that's what we
Bill Hunt: Tell us about the
process of working on this disc. Describe the various stages the
project went through, and how they may be different from a typical
DreamWorks DVD project.
Steve Gustafson: Even though
the process of working on Saving Private
Ryan was the same as it had been with other titles, it
was the material and what it represented that made it different this
time around. We all knew the importance of this film, and what this
release on DVD meant to the consumer. So great care went into its
creation. It may look simple and straightforward upon viewing, but
sometimes that's the hardest goal to achieve. It's easy to make
things complicated. It's not so easy to keep it simple, yet give the
impression of great detail. That was the hardest part of putting it
all together. We spent as much time scrutinizing details with Saving
Private Ryan as we did with The
Prince of Egypt, and you know how involved that DVD is!
Bill Hunt: Will there be any
big promotional events to support Saving
Private Ryan coming to sell-through VHS and DVD? Will
this be any different than what you would normally do for one of
your DVD releases?
Steve Gustafson: Actually
there may be something special planned, something significant, but I
can't divulge what it is just yet. I'll let you know more about this
"event" when we get closer to street date.
Bill Hunt: How many projects
are you typically working on at a given time, and how long does a
typical DVD project take, from start to finish?
Steve Gustafson: We average
two titles at a time, sometimes three, and typically it takes about
3 to 4 months from the time we start working on a title, to the time
we can deliver DLT's to the replication facility.
Bill Hunt: What are you
working on for DVD at the moment? With such marquee titles as The
Road to El Dorado and Chicken
Run headed for theaters next year, can you give us a
sneak peak at anything you might be planning for DVD for 2000?
Steve Gustafson: Well, we've
just wrapped things up on The Haunting
and The Love Letter. And as I
mentioned, we've begun some preliminary work on American
Beauty. El Dorado &
Chicken Run won't hit theaters
till next year, so it will be a while before we actually start
getting down to the nitty gritty with those titles. That doesn't
mean, of course, that we aren't already coming up with ideas and
gathering assets. The more lead time we have, the better prepared we
are when it comes time to put everything together.
Bill Hunt: Can you tell us a
little bit about your upcoming DVD versions of The
Love Letter and The Haunting?
What extras can we expect to find on those discs?
Steve Gustafson: The
Haunting will be a Signature Selection, and will include
a 1/2 hour "making of", 2 theatrical trailers, bios,
production notes, and some way-cool menus. The
Love Letter is a standard release, but has some really
fun deleted and improvised scenes, the theatrical trailer, bios,
production notes and again, some nifty menus.
Bill Hunt: Of all of the
DreamWorks DVDs you've produced thus far, which one are you most
proud of, and why?
Steve Gustafson: We're proud
of all of them! I think each one stands out in the format in its own
unique way. But, if I had to pick one (or two) that I feel best
represent what the DVD team at DreamWorks excels at, it would have
to be The Prince of Egypt and
ANTZ. The very nature of
Animation gives us a much more broad palette to work from, in terms
of overall design, functionality and programming considerations. It
also helps that we're based right here at the Animation studio,
where we have constant access to materials, and even animators, if
we want to do something specific for the disc. It really becomes a
collaborative effort with these kinds of films.
Bill Hunt: What's you favorite
Steve Gustafson: That's a
tough one. I think Blade is an
excellent disc, as well as The Matrix
and Dark City. What
Dreams May Come is also one that comes to mind, but it's
hard to make comparisons. All the studios have their own style of
doing things and have, at one point or another, put out titles that
they should be proud of. The format is still growing, and we are
only beginning to touch on all the possibilities it has to offer. I
think you're going to see some amazing stuff coming from everyone as
it continues to grow.
Bill Hunt: Finally, what's the
most important thing you want people to know about DreamWorks' DVD
work, and your stand on the format, both now and in the future?
Steve Gustafson: I believe
it's about quality. It's important to us to give our films the best
presentation possible, whether it's theatrical, DVD, VHS or
otherwise. The fact that we're a small studio allows us to
personally manage each and every one our titles, in a way that
allows that quality and attention to detail to come through. We want
people to come away from watching our discs with a smile on their
face, and a sense that they've been given a complete entertainment
experience. DVD has a way of re-vitalizing older films, as well
enhancing newer ones. And whether the overall experience is purely
entertaining, or even sometimes educational, the best discs are the
ones that push new ground, offer true added value, and give you a
better understanding of both the films they showcase, and what it
takes to produce them. We aim to hit that criteria with each and
every one of our releases. To date, I think we've done that and look
forward to continuing the tradition on all of our exciting upcoming
Editor's Note: We'd like to
thank to Steve Gustafson for taking the time to answer some of our
questions. Those of you who would like to read more about the Saving
Private Ryan DVD itself, should check out our recent,
review of the disc. We hope you all enjoyed the chat. Thanks