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page created: 5/11/00
updated: 5/18/00

Bill 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.

Fight Club on DVD
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): First off… 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 it.

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 get.

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 great.

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 correct?

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 own?

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 flowing.

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 Club?

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, didn't you?

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, 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… clearly 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 DVD.

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 multi-angle too.

Bill Hunt: It must have been difficult to try to map that all out, and plan it in terms of DVD authoring.

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 standpoint?

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 or another.

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… really 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.

5/18/00 Update

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 Fight Club on DVD, as well as Todd Doogan's interview with director David Fincher.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Bill Hunt, Editor
The Digital Bits
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