Hunt interviews DVD producer
David Britten Prior
Editor's Note: After our
original interview, we received a number of follow-up questions from
our readers about the contents of the Fight
Club: Special Edition DVD, and David was kind enough to
answer them for us. The new information appears at the end of this
interview - click here to go there now.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with David Britten Prior,
who produced the Fight Club
DVD special edition for director David Fincher and Fox Home
Entertainment. David also produced Fox's Ravenous
disc, and is currently working on a number of other DVD projects for
the studio. He had plenty to say about Fight
Club, so let's get right to it, shall we?
Bill Hunt (The Digital Bits):
let me just start by saying well done, David. This
is an impressive piece of work, and you've got to be very happy with
David Prior: Thanks.
Bill Hunt: How did you come to
be involved in the effort to bring Fight
Club to DVD?
David Prior: Well, it came up
right around the time I was finishing Ravenous,
I think. I'd been a huge fan of David Fincher's films for a long
time. When I saw this on Fox's release schedule, "Hey
who's doing that one?" It turns out they hadn't started on it
yet, so I put together a proposal, and that's how it all began.
Bill Hunt: And so based on the
strength of your previous DVD work for Fox, they said we'd love to
have you do it
David Prior: I hope that's the
reason. I think they really liked the proposal too, and what I had
in mind for it.
Bill Hunt: So after Fox gave
you the green-light, I'm sure the next step was to approach Fincher.
How was that? What was his initial response to your proposal?
David Prior: As I recall, he
was very open to it. At the time, I don't think he was planning a
special edition of it. It took a little time to get him on the
phone, of course. But by the time I finally got to him, he was very
receptive. And he had a lot of ideas. I think he'd already given it
some thought, you know. He's a special edition guy from way back
Bill Hunt: His work with
Criterion you mean?
David Prior: Yes. So the idea
certainly wasn't new to him.
Bill Hunt: In terms of your
original proposal for the DVD, how much of it were you able to get
on the disc in the end?
David Prior: Pretty much
everything. In fact, actually a lot more. What happens is that when
you're doing the proposal, you don't always know what assets exist.
You're just sort of speculating. I knew there were some things, like
the PSA's and all the trailers and promotional material and things
like that, but then all the footage that John Dorsey shot came in.
He works with Fincher, and he'd shot over fifteen hours of video
during the production. And so that really became the spine of what
the supplements were going to be about. Once I got that stuff, it
became a question of, "How am I gonna be able to use as much of
this as possible?"
One of the best supplement sections I've seen in a long, long time
on DVD was Martin Scorsese's home movie footage from The
Last Temptation of Christ. It's uninflected, unadorned
you are there, on location with Martin Scorsese. It doesn't have
that kind of EPK, corporate, studio feel, which is what you usually
Bill Hunt: You get the
filmmaker's perspective unfiltered.
David Prior: Exactly. The day
by day, moment by moment of being on the set. And I wanted to get
that same feel on Fight Club.
I wanted to use as much of Dorsey's footage as possible. And then it
was a matter of figuring out how to do that - what kind of format
could I come up with.
Bill Hunt: When you started to
realize just how much material there was, did you start think that
this was just going to have to be a two-disc set?
David Prior: You know, it's
funny - I don't remember exactly when it became a two-disc set. It
was definitely a Fox decision, and I think they wanted it pretty
early on. Fox was definitely behind doing this. They knew that they
wanted to make this title special.
Bill Hunt: It's interesting
you say that Fox was really gung-ho about it, because Fight
Club is a pretty daring movie in the first place. And
just for them to have gotten behind this movie as they did - it
sounds as if right from the get-go, they were big on this movie.
David Prior: They were. And
I'm sure Brad Pitt and David Fincher had a lot to do with that. But
they were really very supportive of it, and of me.
Bill Hunt: So you've got
Fincher on board and the studio's behind you. The real coup of this
disc, I think, is the commentary tracks. Because so often, when you
talk to producers about DVD special editions, you hear all these
stories like: "Oh, we wanted to get such and such an actor, but
they backed out at the last minute
" or, "There just
wasn't time to pull it all together". But you were actually
able to get not only all of the major actors in this, but the
director, all of the major production people and even the writers.
And that's an amazing achievement in itself.
David Prior: Well, the most
amazing thing, I think, was just getting David and Brad and Edward
together at one time. That was something that I had never in a
million years imagined would work out. It was on my list, and David
really wanted to do it, but it took a lot of wrangling. Some of it
was certainly luck, that people were available at the right time. I
think the other thing is, people made themselves available. Everyone
who worked on this film, from the cast to the storyboard guys -
everyone just had this feeling that they were doing something very
special. Michael Kaplan, the costume designer, on the commentary
says that this is one of the only movies that he's ever done that he
actually enjoys watching. So these guys all felt very proud of the
movie, and they went out of their way to support us.
Bill Hunt: That's interesting,
because it's a movie that a lot of people misunderstood. People took
it at face value and didn't look any deeper. When you do, you begin
to realize that there's a whole other layer of meaning in this film.
I think that especially comes out when you listen to Fincher's
commentary, or the writers' track.
David Prior: And the thing
that confuses me, is that even when you take the film just at face
value - I don't understand a lot of the criticisms that were leveled
against it. Some of the more vociferous ones particularly, like this
critic from England. People called this film fascist, which doesn't
make any sense to me at all. I don't know how they could have seen
it that way.
Bill Hunt: You know, I really
love the fact that you took some of those comments, good and bad,
and put them in the booklet that comes with the set.
David Prior: (laughing) Yeah
Bill Hunt: I think that was
David Prior: I actually have
to give most of the credit for that to Fincher. I didn't think he'd
go for it, but he really wanted to do that. I love that about him
Bill Hunt: He seems pretty
ballsy about that sort of thing. Fearless.
David Prior: Definitely.
Bill Hunt: Back to the
commentary for a minute - it's Brad Pitt, Ed Norton and Fincher in
the same room together, and Helena Bonham Carter separately. Is that
David Prior: Well, that track
is a really complicated piece of work, because it was culled
together from five different recorded tracks. We did each one of
them by themselves. So we had a whole track of just David, just
Brad, just Edward and just Helena, and then we had three of them
together. Out of that, we created one single track.
Bill Hunt: The idea being to
bring out interesting comments that each might have made on their
David Prior: Yes. David was
actually the one who wanted to make sure I got them all individually
before we got the three of them together. I think that it lubricated
their thinking - by the time they all got together, they'd already
gone through the process and were in that mode. It got things
Bill Hunt: Then too, I think
that once you get a group of people together like that, sometimes
they start bantering and interacting with each other and they lose
sight of what they're there to talk about.
David Prior: That's exactly
right. And there's also the kind of joking that goes on when you
have three people together, so you're able to get a better balance.
Bill Hunt: How much travelling
did you have to do to get them all recorded?
David Prior: Actually, we
brought Chuck Palahniuk down here from Portland. And Helena was
recorded by remote in London - I wasn't able to supervise that
session. We got her into a room and she recorded it, and we got the
track. But otherwise, everyone was recorded here in L.A., at either
Fox or Universal.
Bill Hunt: Which made it a lot
easier for you.
David Prior: It made it
doable. When you're trying to get that many people together, if it
hadn't been smooth, it would never have happened.
Bill Hunt: This seems to be a
case where every element that could have possibly come together just
did. And that's pretty rare.
David Prior: It's true.
Naturally there are always a few crumbs, with a project of this
scale, that are going to fall through the floorboards. But by and
large... 99% of it worked. That doesn't mean that it didn't take an
incredible amount of work and dedication to hunt it all down and
pull it together. It's going to be a while before I can really sit
down and watch this thing again. But the last couple of times that
I've looked at the check disc, I've been kind of surprised that it
all clicked like it did. It's a bit bewildering.
Bill Hunt: In terms of the
production itself, how long were you working on Fight
David Prior: It's such a blur
- it's been so long. (laughs) I think we began in January, and it
was about four months of solid, 24-hour-a-day kind of work.
Bill Hunt: And you went
through a pretty intense month when you were doing the commentaries,
David Prior: Yeah. And as is
always the case when you're doing these kinds of things, no matter
how much prep you try to do, you always end up with this enormous
11th-hour crunch. Things don't come together like you expected, or
things crop up at the last moment. Or you discover cool little
things that you'd like to include late in the game.
Bill Hunt: One of the things
that really impresses me about this disc is - well, for example,
take The Abyss. The
Abyss is a cool disc, with a tremendous amount of
content. But the transfer wasn't anamorphic, the audio wasn't 5.1
and a lot of the interactivity was very slideshowish. You get these
pages of text on a blue background, and you're skipping, skipping,
. Fight Club
just seems to be much more interactive and in tune with the film.
David Prior: You know, someone
asked me if audiences were going to be against that kind of
interactivity, as opposed to just sitting down to watch an hour-long
documentary. And I don't really know the answer to that, except that
movies are really important to us culturally. I don't know if
they're more important to us that they were to Depression-era
audiences, but the actual nuts and bolts of moviemaking is now, for
better or worse, really important to late 20th Century audiences. It
used to be that you'd know a third cousin who was trying to make a
movie, and now it's everybody's sister. So the tools of getting
movies made are more accessible. And when you have the chance to
present behind-the-scenes material like this on DVD, where it's just
unadorned, I think it ends up being a little like film school in a
box. And that's an interesting thing. And the way to really bring
that out is through interactivity. You don't want to do that with a
movie - I mean, people still want to be told a story. When a child
wants to hear a bedtime story, they don't want to have to decide if
Goldilocks is going to eat the porridge or not. All that hype a
while back about how interactive movies were going to take over -
it's just never going to happen.
Bill Hunt: Well
it's a curiosity, but by and large, people just weren't interested.
David Prior: Sure. People want
to be taken on a journey. But with supplements, there is something
attractive and fun about being able to navigate through things and
make choices. I think this is a good place to experiment.
Bill Hunt: And I think that
the way these extras are laid out on this disc is very intuitive.
It's very easy to find what you're looking for. You can access
things from multiple areas and yet you're constantly in that "mode"
of the film with the animated menus. It's all well thought out.
Given the amount of material here, it's very user friendly. And it's
still damn sexy looking too. For whatever reason, that's rare on a
David Prior: I think part of
that is that I'm lucky enough to be doing a disc that I, myself, am
part of the target audience for. So I just kind of do what makes
sense to me, and what I like, and hopefully it will work well for
other people too.
Bill Hunt: I think it does.
And the way this disc is structured, it really plays to the
strengths of the DVD format. You've got multi-angle, you've got
alternate audio tracks
David Prior: Six of the
behind-the-scenes clips use multi-angle, and the rest have multiple
audio as well. And then there's a couple of deleted scenes that use
Bill Hunt: It must have been
difficult to try to map that all out, and plan it in terms of DVD
David Prior: It actually meant
a great deal of conversations with DVCC about how to assemble it all
and make sure they were able to use what I was giving them. But the
actual programming is simple - it's all well within the DVD spec.
Each piece of video has the exact same time code, so you can match
them up and so they'll run at the exact same time in sync. As long
as you do that, it's no problem. There was some concern and
bewildered looks when I delivered all this stuff to the programmers.
They were afraid it would be a QC nightmare. But it never really
happened. It all came together very quickly.
Bill Hunt: Was there anything
about the disc that was technically tricky, or was there any
material that you didn't know if you could include from a legal
David Prior: Nothing that
jumps to mind. There were no serious problems. We were very well
supported all the way through. And if we did have a question, it was
just a matter of talking to the right person.
Bill Hunt: That's amazing.
Usually when you talk to someone that's working on a DVD, it's
usually that clearance issue that shuts everything down at one point
David Prior: There were
certainly some minor things that came up, but then David Fincher
made a few calls and the problem when away. That's what comes from
being an A-list director.
Bill Hunt: Is there anything
you wanted to do that you weren't able to? You mentioned a few
crumbs that slipped through - looking at this disc, it's hard to see
what they might have been.
David Prior: There was nothing
really interesting. I think there was some artwork we wanted to use.
I would have liked to do something more with the storyboards. I
would have liked the "On Location" video to be a bit
longer - it was about 5 ½ minutes, but I wish it was longer.
But that's it. There's enough other behind-the-scenes video
material, that I can't really complain. That was the problem - there
was just so much cool stuff that John Dorsey shot. But as much as
you'd like to use all 15 hours, you just can't. I'm really happy
with how it all came out in the end.
Bill Hunt: You mentioned the
storyboards - how many still images are there on this set? I've been
trying to go through it all, but there's production photos and
poster art and lobby cards and production sketches
David Prior: That number
changed a lot because I added some at the end. But I would have to
guess that it would be in the neighborhood of 1,500 images.
Bill Hunt: Some substantial
content. Changing the subject back to Fincher for a moment, how
involved was he throughout the process?
David Prior: He was great. He
was very involved. He checked stuff out constantly. I ran things by
him. He came by the commentary editing sessions a few times. He was
very hands-on with the booklet. Whenever there was a problem, he was
right there. And he personally supervised the film transfer. Ren
Klyce, his sound designer, personally supervised the audio -
optimizing it for home theaters. And David was here for the QC of
the disc, so he saw the emulation. He was really behind the whole
thing. Thank God.
Bill Hunt: One last question -
how do you follow this up? What's on your plate next for DVD?
David Prior: There are a few
different things. A couple of them are too early to talk about, but
right now, the one that's keeping me most busy is Titus.
I'm very excited about it. It's a great movie and there are a lot of
really interesting supplements. I hope people like it as much as I
do - I'm really happy with it.
Bill Hunt: Well
impressive work, David. I'd have to say that Fight
Club is easily the most impressive DVD special edition
I've seen yet. I mean
you've got anamorphic video, 5.1
surround sound with flags for 6.1 if you can use that. You've got
all these commentaries, the menus are beautiful, the content is
comprehensive, the production quality is first-rate. Even this
custom packaging is cool. I think it's really going to make a lot of
people very happy.
David Prior: Thank you. That
means a lot coming from you guys.
Todd Doogan (The Digital Bits):
David, many of our readers have been wondering why the film's
alternate ending wasn't included on the DVD in the deleted scenes
section? Also, many believe there's a longer/alternate version of
the plane crash sequence, which they expected to be on the disc...
David Prior: There never was
an alternate ending. The ending in the film came out of early script
discussions and stayed that way all through production. This should
be made fairly obvious by watching the FX segment on the scene,
since it was planned and committed to, to the nth degree, over a
year before shooting began. If there had been an alternate ending,
even if only in script form, you can bet it would have been on the
disc. Ditto the plane crash.
Todd Doogan: There were rumors
for a while that there would be yet another commentary track, this
one involving The Dust Brothers. Were those rumors true? If so, what
happened to it?
David Prior: The Dust Brothers
commentary track was something I wanted very early on and I had a
couple of talks with John and Michael about it, but we had a very
hard time hammering out a schedule and when we realized another
audio track would compromise the bit budget, I selected the one
track we hadn't recorded yet to get the axe. It was tough to see it
go, but there really was no choice.
Todd Doogan: Whatever happened
to the infamous Penis Song,
which is something that we've heard was big with the cast & crew
on the set?
David Prior: The Penis
Song was something everyone wanted on the disc. Everyone,
that is, except Frankie Avalon, who wasn't amused by the parody of
his song Venus. He promised to
sue if we used it, so there you are.
The staff of The Digital Bits
would like to thank David for taking the time to chat with us.
Thanks also to Fox Home Video and Dorrit Ragosine. Be sure to read
our full-length review of
Club on DVD, as well as
Doogan's interview with director David Fincher.
As always, I welcome your comments.