Site created 12/15/97.
page created: 12/13/01
A Conversation with Bill
is an exciting time for the DVD format, in that several TV series are finally
being released on disc in complete season sets. These episodes on DVD usually
feature better picture and sound quality than you've ever seen them in before,
along with a host of behind-the-scenes extras. Recently, fans of the Highlander
TV series were thrilled to learn that the entire first season of the show would
soon be released on disc (orders
are being taken now for immediate delivery). I was fortunate enough to sit
down with series producer Bill Panzer and DVD producer Steve Gustafson a few
days ago, at the Burbank offices of CineSite, to talk about the DVD release and
what fans can look forward to in the future. Enjoy...
Bill Hunt: Bill, why don't we start by
having you talk a little bit about your involvement with Highlander
over the years, and what you're currently working on aside from these new DVDs.
Bill Panzer: Sure. I was the executive
producer of the TV series and a producer, with my partner Peter Davis, of all of
the films. I also acted as a consultant on an animated series that came out a
few years ago, which was very successful around the world. Currently, we're
starting development with Miramax on a fifth movie, which is tentatively called
The Source, and we're in development on
another TV series as well. It's a little too soon to talk much about the details
of that yet. It will have the same legend and rules that Highlander
did, but it's going to go in a different direction. It's also going to be a
Bill Hunt: That's true of several of the
different incarnations of Highlander,
isn't it? Each is based on the same idea, but they each re-envision it a little
Bill Panzer: Right - that's true. We're
also working on a massive, multi-player, online game, which has been in
development for about eighteen months. It's probably got another ten months to
go before it's ready, but I think that in future DVD sets - maybe in Season
Two - we'll have some kind of an Easter egg teaser for that. I've
seen a 30 second teaser for it, and it's really amazing.
Bill Hunt: And that's a huge area to move
into. That online multi-player experience is really hot right now.
Bill Panzer: Very much so. We're really
excited about it.
Bill Hunt: Who came up with the legend and
lore of Highlander. We're you involved in
Bill Panzer: I was, but the original story
came from Greg Widen, who was the original writer. He was a student at film
school, and he wrote this as his writing class project. His story was a little
different - it was darker and didn't really have a lot of special effects in it,
but it was essentially the concept. He was apparently travelling through
Scotland on his summer vacation and he was standing in front of a suit of armor,
and he wondered, "What would it be like if that guy was alive today?"
And that's where everything fell into place - the idea that there are Immortals
and they were in conflict with each other, leading secret lives that the rest of
us are unaware of.
Bill Hunt: Now... there were six seasons
of the TV series, is that right?
Bill Panzer: There were six seasons... a
hundred and nineteen hours. They were a French/Canadian co-production - Gaumont
in France, Filmline International in Canada and they were distributed by Rysher
here in the States. We shot half of the shows in Vancouver and the other half in
Paris, which was not unpleasant. (laughs) And we did all the post production in
Vancouver. Gaumont in particular was a great partner. We could never have done
the show in Paris without them, because everything takes a long time there. If
you want a permit to shoot on the streets of Paris, it takes ten days to get
one. Period, no matter who you are. And generally the script isn't finished
until ten days before shooting, so it could get a little dodgy. But having a
strong French partner was very helpful. The show never would have happened
Bill Hunt: When did you first get the idea
to release the series to DVD here in the States? In the last couple of years,
we've just started to see TV stuff finally arriving on DVD, with The
X-Files and Star Trek, but the
idea of bringing TV to DVD is still a little bit new yet in some respects...
Panzer: Well... we felt first of all that the nature of the added
value material that we have - The Watcher Chronicles,
the interviews, the scripts, etc - you couldn't really do on VHS. Plus, there's
the inferior quality of VHS. Only about a half a dozen people ever really saw
what Highlander really looked like - those
of us who saw the production masters. We thought that people who liked the show
and supported it would really respond to having it in a way that would always be
perfect. It would never deteriorate. Because we had a lot of people who bought
two sets of the episodes on VHS - one to watch and one to keep on the shelf in
perfect condition. And we thought everyone would really get a big kick out of
having them on DVD. We've spent a long time rebalancing the color, correcting
the contrast. As you know, in broadcast, the quality is worse than it is on VHS,
and VHS is of far less quality than the original master. The images on these
DVDs are better than those original masters, because of the enhancements that
you can do now with the technology. We think these episodes look as good, if not
better, than any other TV show that's been released on DVD.
Bill Hunt: And I understand that you've
also gone in and done new 5.1 mixes of the soundtracks for each episode...
Bill Panzer: We did. And yet we also offer
the original 2.0 stereo for those who prefer it.
Bill Hunt: When you went into the DVD
project, did you have a particular vision for it, or an idea of the kinds of
things you wanted to include on the discs?
Panzer: DVD was still pretty new for us. We had done the laserdisc
and DVD versions of the films - Highlander
and Highlander II - so we were aware of
what some of the possibilities were technically. We knew that we could improve
the quality. But it was definitely a learning process for me. I had been
involved in color timing all of our features, so we had an idea of what the
process would be like, but getting involved with these guys in terms of what you
could do with the sound, how best to digitally compress the video and what the
best rate was - that was all new.
Panzer in QC with Craig
I should add, though, that when we did the Highlander
IV DVD, the cut we did for that was actually our official extended
director's cut. We were able to create a negative during that process and that's
the version of the film that was shown theatrically in Europe. We did have some
Bill Hunt: So you said that you had all of
this behind-the-scenes material - The Watcher
Chronicles, the character bios, the timelines. DVD is really perfect
for that kind of interactive material.
Bill Panzer: Yes, because The
Watcher Chronicles was originally done for CD-ROM. We then decided
that we would add that to the DVDs, so that when you're watching each episode,
when a particular character comes on screen, you could go out and see who he is,
who his Watcher was - that sort of thing. There's a woman named Donna Letto who
did this stuff, who created The Watcher Chronicles.
And it's absolutely so rich and complex, that in printed form, it's the size of
a telephone book. Fans have really responded to that. They love getting in there
and finding out what kind of sword this guy uses and who was his Watcher in
1750, who it was a hundred years later... all of which was not in the show. We
created the whole mythos of the Watchers in the second season and filled it all
in. It was great fun.
Bill Hunt: SciFi and TV fans really do
tend to love that kind of thing - being able to go more in depth on the
characters and their history...
Bill Panzer: Oh yeah. And then, for the
DVDs, I went up to Vancouver and kind of wandered around some of the locations
where we shot the series at. I did some on-camera talking about some of the fun
things, the crazy things that happened behind-the-scenes on each episode. And we
included that as well.
Bill Hunt: And then the bonus disc has all
the bloopers and other things?
Steve Gustafson: The eighth disc has the
final episode and then the bloopers, the gag reel...
Bill Panzer: And there's also a half-hour
promotional film that was made to present the series, which ran on TV in
1990-something. I forget exactly when. So that's on there. And THEN there's a
bonus disc, which is a CD-ROM that has all twenty-two scripts for the episodes.
These are the final drafts of the scripts - not the "as shot" scripts
which are floating around the marketplace. Those are - basically after you show
the episode, someone goes and creates a new script based on the way you've
actually edited the episode. These are different from that.
Bill Hunt: So there's material in these
scripts that maybe didn't make the final episodes? Dialogue and different
Bill Panzer: Exactly. We think fans will
really enjoy that. And they're actually MY scripts. So hopefully there's nothing
rude written in - little notations. (laughs)
Bill Hunt: When did production actually
begin on this first DVD set?
Panzer and Rik Morgan in
Panzer: Well... we started on Season One
in July. Somewhere in the middle of July. And we finally finished everything up
and sent the masters off to the manufacturers... what, last week?
Steve Gustafson: Yeah, that's right.
They're pressing them as we speak.
Bill Panzer: So it's been about a
four-and-a-half month process to get them all finished.
Bill Hunt: And when do the discs street?
Bill Panzer: Well, the discs are available
right now on Highlander: The Website, and
through a fan club mailing. There are currently no plans for them to be
available in stores - just online. But the discs will be available in ample time
Bill Hunt: When do discs begin shipping
out to people when they order? Is there a specific date that they begin
Bill Panzer: Basically, immediately. The
first batch of them are done and should be here this week. Give or take a few
days, because nothing seems to happen on time in this world. But you'll get
eight discs, in keep cases, with a slipcase to hold them. The packaging isn't
complicated, so it's actually pretty easy to get them done. And we have a DVD
hotline that only deals with this product, so questions, ordering - it's very
Bill Hunt: Now... as you alluded to
earlier, you've already got plans to bring additional seasons to DVD?
Bill Panzer: Yes. Gradually. I think we'll
probably do them maybe one per quarter. I'll start on the next one after the
first of the year.
Bill Hunt: Do you have any plans to expand
the extras, or do some different things on future discs?
Bill Panzer: What I'd like to do is... as
charming and wonderful as my interviews are... I'd like to get some of the other
people who worked on the series involved. David Abramowitz, who was the head
writer of the show, has said that he would do some interviews. And David is
particularly good at talking about this stuff, because he was responsible for
creating most of these characters. I might try to get some of the actors
involved as well. We could do a running commentary, but it's also fun to see
some of them on camera again after all these years. And there are some funny
things that happened in post-production and scoring over the years. We'll try to
sprinkle that over the sets as we go.
Bill Hunt: For you Steve, was there
anything that was particularly challenging about this project? This was the
first TV series DVD release that you've worked on here at CineSite...
Steve Gustafson: Well, TV isn't something
that's really widely being done yet. So it's a slow process. Everyone is sort of
looking at each TV release to see how they sell. I think there have been other
issues involved in bringing TV product to DVD as well, which have to do with
revenue streams and syndication life.
Bill Hunt: I know that one of the problems
people complain about is that American TV shows are being released in Europe, on
Region 2 DVDs say, but they're not out yet here in the States because someone
owns the domestic syndication rights and doesn't want it to happen.
Steve Gustafson: And then you have shows
like The X-Files, which are doing
tremendously well and are also doing well on DVD, because the fans base is so
strong and those people all have DVD players. I think Highlander
is right along those lines. I'm amazed how people react when they learn I'm
working on the Highlander DVDs. People are
just totally excited about it.
Bill Hunt: And as you said, it's really
the same demographic. The people who are the most avid fans of these shows...
many of them were part of the early adopter group of DVD owners.
Steve Gustafson: Sure. The adventure/SciFi
crowd is what really drove DVD for its first few years. And now the format has
broken out into the mainstream.
Bill Hunt: Is there anything that really
stands out for you on the technical side of bringing Highlander
Steve Gustafson: Well... every project has
its own set of challenges. We worked closely with Bill and his people, who have
been very helpful in terms of making suggestions and problem solving. I'm
particularly happy with the decision to go to 5.1 with the audio, because I
think that's really a nice added value feature for the fans, who are now
accustomed to surround sound on DVD. This show really has great sound work - it
adds a richness to the viewing experience. On DVD, I think fans are really going
to love Highlander. And I think a whole
new audience will discover it as well.
Bill Panzer: We really have great fans.
I've been to many of the conventions, along with many of the other people who
worked on the show, and have had a chance to meet these fans. And they're very
passionate about the show - they understand it, they're smart, they're funny.
They come from every different walk of like. And they probably know Highlander
better than we do. It's really rewarding to stand up in front of a group of a
few thousand of them and talk about what I do. You really get to see why you're
doing the work - who it's all for. I want people to know that we're grateful for
all the fan support we've gotten over the years. And I think these DVDs are
really our way of saying thank you. This show has never looked and sounded this
good... ever. We hope everybody enjoys it.
Bill Hunt: Thanks for talking with us,
Bill Panzer & the staff of
CineSite. (L to R Top) Panzer, Chris Espinel,
John DeGroof (kneeling), Rik Morgan and Craig Rudnick.
(Bottom) Steve Gustafson and Dan Agostino.
|Our thanks again
to Bill Panzer, Steve Gustafson and the staff of CineSite for their time and
assistance. If you're interested in ordering The
Highlander: Season One on DVD, be sure to visit
The Official Site. As always, I welcome your comments.