following is a transcript of an interview that Todd and I conducted
a couple of weeks ago with David Prior, who produced the recent Ravenous
DVD for Fox. The interview covers a great deal of ground, from the
Ravenous disc itself, and some
of the difficulties involved in getting it done, to the DVD format,
David's background and history, and film in general. David even
gives us a sneak peek at a pair of very exciting DVDs he's currently
working on for Fox, and I think some of you will be very excited to
hear about them.
Todd and I did this interview tag-team style, and we're pretty
proud of it. We had a great time taking with David, chatting for
nearly two hours on all sorts of subjects, and we think you'll find
this a fascinating read. One word of warning however - if you
haven't seen Ravenous yet, be
aware that this interview contains spoilers, in the context of
discussions about special edition materials that were (and weren't)
included on the DVD. So that said, sit back, relax, and enjoy!
Bill Hunt - The Digital Bits:
Well David, let's start by having you tell our readers a little bit
about yourself - your background, and how you got involved in the
David Prior: Sure. How I got
involved was - normally, when people say that they stumbled into
something, I don't believe it. But in this case, it's about as true
as that statement can get. I was working with Sony on a project
having to do with their telecine. And when I found out that my
friend Charlie de Lauzirika was supervising the DVD of Alien,
I suggested that he bring the telecine to Sony, because at the time,
they had the only pin-registered telecine in the business - it was
easily the best.
Around this time, Ravenous
came out, and in defiance of the advertising, I decided to go see
it, because I figured that anything directed by Antonia Bird, with
that cast, has to be more interesting than the trailers let on. So
my girlfriend and I went, and instantly fell in love with it. We
managed to catch it three or four times before it swiftly
disappeared from theaters. And almost on a lark, I told some of the
people at Fox, who I'd met through Alien,
"Hey, you guys have a really special movie here
about doing a special edition on DVD?" And lo and behold, they
agreed and gave me the job. But before that, I'd been doing
freelance writing, acting here and there, working on movies, art
directing, visual effects - whatever came up - making short
films.... Film is what gets me up in the morning and keeps me up
late at night. It's been like that since I was five years old. My
passion for movies has taken me down some interesting avenues. DVD
is just a new one.
Bill Hunt: So you come on
board with Ravenous - what was
your first experience like with Fox? Did they give you free reign to
do whatever you wanted, or did they have specific ideas for the disc
David Prior: Well, it was
interesting. They were open to ideas to a surprising degree, at
least at first. But the marketing people I was directly working with
hadn't seen the film. [Todd and I laugh] I found out later that
that's not unusual - it's pretty common actually. Most of the
studios work like that.
Todd Doogan - The Digital Bits:
David Prior: Yeah. So often,
at least with smaller films, decisions about marketing are based on
the opinion of the one person in the room who may have caught an
employee screening and said, "Oh, that's terrible
Bill Hunt: [laughing] God,
you've gotta love that
that confirms every aspiring
filmmaker's worst fears.
David Prior: Really. But
something about the film smelled like a cult hit to marketing, and
they decided to let me do it. So I wrote up a proposal. Now I'm a
laserdisc collector, so I'm used to those kind of intensive
Criterion supplements. And I wanted to get as close to that as I
could. So I wrote up this big fat wish list of the things I wanted
to do, but they very quickly started getting shot down, most of
them. With a big red pencil, "No, we're not gonna do this,
we're not gonna do that
" So a lot of the early phases
were just trying to figure out how long my leash was. Most of the
time I honestly didn't understand the reasoning, so I questioned a
lot of the decisions and that led to a few arguments. It would be
dishonest to say that the project was all smooth sailing. There were
problems, personality conflicts, etc. But those problems were
primarily coming from one person, who is no longer at Fox. Other
than her, I had a lot of support. Karen Fromel, who's now a manager
in DVD, has been a God-send. She and Sven Davison in marketing are
top-notch people, who really know what they're doing and, I think,
are doing it for the right reasons. During some of the problem
periods, they were the only people keeping me sane. But back to the
supplements: The only thing that I was certain off the top was okay,
were the commentary tracks. And so that became - I actually ended up
going to England to record three of them. Or two of the tracks, with
three of the people. And then the other one was done here at Jeffrey
And then as the thing got farther along, I started fighting for
things. I just wanted everyone to love the movie and be as excited
about it as I was. In hindsight, I guess I'm glad I fought as hard
as I did, but at the time it was pretty rough. In the end, more
stuff got onto the disc than they were going to initially allow.
Todd Doogan: Was that later? I
mean, wasn't there a time when they were only going to release a
David Prior: There was
actually a time when they weren't going to put it out at all.
Todd Doogan: [surprised]
David Prior: It was on the
release list when I proposed the special edition, and I promised to
make the commitment as painless for them as possible. But then
somebody in marketing decided that they weren't going to release the
thing, period. And by that time, I had already contacted most of the
people involved - the filmmakers - so I wrote this impassioned
letter about these people who had been stranded in Slovakia making
the film, and then felt like they got screwed when the film was
basically dumped theatrically, and this was a chance to heal those
relationships, blah, blah, blah
And that worked.
Bill Hunt: Now, you were
actually spending your own money to get all this done, right?
David Prior: No, I was out of
pocket for a while, but I was paid. I had other reasons for not
letting it drop. The greatest thing about doing the project at all
was - I mean, anytime you can get a job, it's good. It's good to
work. But to have a job producing a DVD for a film that I really was
it made it really easy to go the extra mile.
And so that's one of the reasons I fought so hard about it. It
wasn't really to maintain my reputation as DVD producer, so much as
that I really wanted to see the film well represented on video, so
people could appreciate it.
Bill Hunt: I think that that's
really the first step to producing a good DVD - people shouldn't be
doing these things unless they enjoy their work. You can really tell
which discs have a lot of TLC invested in them, and which ones have
just been dumped on the market.
David Prior: Absolutely.
Bill Hunt: Now how did you
find the experience of working with the cast and crew? Were they
really willing to participate?
David Prior: They were beyond
willing actually. It made me feel good in a way, because they kinda
felt like, "Ahhhh, somebody finally understands what we were
doing." I mean, they all liked the movie, and they all felt
like they gave of themselves to make something worthwhile. And while
the picture got quite a few rave reviews, I think their perception
was that the Fox theatrical people thought it was a dog, or that it
had no chance of making a return. And so when I came along writing
these letters to them about all these things that I saw in the film,
I think they finally felt like somebody got it.
Bill Hunt: Sort of vindicated
David Prior: Well, it isn't
like they said, "Thank God, at least David Prior likes it, so
it was all worthwhile." But I can imagine how it would feel in
the reverse, so I think it's fair to say they were pleased. They
were all wonderfully willing to help in any way they could. The only
thing that I wasn't able to do - you noticed that Robert Carlyle, on
his track, doesn't talk a lot. Those gaps were supposed to be filled
with Guy Pearce. And I know that he was absolutely ready and willing
to do it... except that he was shooting that William Friedkin
submarine movie, so he couldn't get around the schedule conflicts.
But I know that he wanted to be involved. And everybody else was
Todd Doogan: How about
David Prior: David Arquette
was out of town shooting something, so I didn't even try to contact
him. I talked to his agent, and he was like, forget it.
Bill Hunt: He was probably
doing Scream 3
Todd Doogan: Or getting
David Prior: Or more of those
Bill Hunt: So tell us about
the original list of extras, 'cause I know from talking with you
before, that there were a lot of things you had in mind but didn't
get to do.
Todd Doogan: Yeah, talk about
the stuff that didn't make the disc.
David Prior: Well, I had a
whole gallery of text supplements planned. When I first saw the
movie, I instantly recalled the story of Alfred Packer - sort of an
obscure true-crime story of the old west. He was a charlatan who
passed himself off as a mountain man, and would get these groups of
prospectors together with the promise that he could guide them to
gold. But payment for his services was always upfront, because he
had no idea where to find gold. So in 1873, he led a group of twenty
gold hunters into the San Juans. On the way, they came across an
Indian camp, and the chief, named Ouray, warned them not to go up
into the mountains - it's gonna snow and you're all gonna die. Half
of them turned back, but Packer convinced the others to press on and
sure enough, they got snowbound and ran out of food. He finally made
it back to civilization, alone of course, and told a story a lot
like Colqhoun's story in Ravenous
- they took shelter, he said, and one day while he was out gathering
wood one of the men had been killed for food. He admitted to killing
one man named Shannon Bell, sort of the Colonel Ives of the yarn,
but only in self-defense. His story seemed fishy to a lot of people,
though. Packer started spending too much cash around, and he gave
himself away very quickly. The authorities led him back up into the
woods, but he led them everywhere except to the cabin. Finally,
after trying to kill the man he was shackled to, Packer was sent
back to jail and the lawmen found the cabin on their own. Along with
five cured, partially eaten bodies.
Bill Hunt: So it was pretty
clear that there was deliberateness involved
David Prior: Yeah, they found
the bodies lying in a row out in the snow, where they would be
preserved, and they had been very carefully butchered and stripped
around the chest - he actually had a very particular affinity for
breast meat. And as the story goes - there's a legend in Colorado
that the judge, when he sentenced him said, "Packer, you son of
a bitch! There was only seven Dimmycrats in Hinsdale County, and you
ate five of 'em." So he became the Man Who Ate Democrats. I
asked Ted Griffin about it, and sure enough, that was the
inspiration for the story. So I wrote up a text supplement,
retelling the story with some period photographs, like Packer's
prison mugshot, and some newspaper drawings of the bodies - really
cool, gruesome stuff. None of that stuff made it onto the disc. And
there was a whole retelling of the Donner party incident, which was
also an inspiration for the film, with photographs and drawings and
stuff - and that didn't make it. What else? There was, I think it
was a five or ten minute featurette, recut from the EPK, using music
from the film. And then there was a further selection of trailers
and TV spots - they [Fox] only wanted one of each
Bill Hunt: How many were there
David Prior: I think there
were - there was one other trailer, and I think 10 TV spots. And the
TV spots were surprisingly different, so I tried to pick one that
was as different from the trailer as I could get. I also wanted an
isolated score track, because I think Ravenous
has one of the best, most imaginative scores I've heard in decades,
but that was Virgin Records who kiboshed that. Understandably, I
suppose. And we wanted to put the whole screenplay on the disc,
because it's a great script and the original draft is interestingly
different. It had an opening and closing that took place in present
Todd Doogan: Oh, really?
David Prior: Yeah. I don't
think anybody ever intended to use it. I think Ted wrote it in there
thinking it would help the sale, and nobody ever really wanted to
use it. But I thought it would be interesting to include.
Todd Doogan: Wow - what was
David Prior: It revolved
around a group of skiers who get snowbound, and take shelter in a
cave, and they start telling each other ghost stories to pass the
time. One of them tells the story of Captain Boyd - the legend -
which leads into the movie. Then at the end, a park ranger comes to
rescue them, and it's Boyd - it's Guy Pearce. So his "diet"
has given him this longevity.
Bill Hunt: Oh, right I see -
the lore that you can become stronger and live longer from
David Prior: Right.
Todd Doogan: I like the idea
that he dies.
David Prior: Yeah, I think
it's much better the way it turned out. But it's one of those things
that I think it would have been interesting to be able to compare.
Bill Hunt: And didn't you say
that there was a deleted scene - one in particular that didn't make
David Prior: Oh yeah. There
was one deleted scene that, of all of them, Antonia said in her
commentary should have been in the film. It was just after General
Slauson arrives for the first time. He's about to leave the fort,
and everyone's out in the courtyard - he goes up to Carlyle and
says, "Boyd has a problem with you, and if you want me to take
him with me and put him in jail, I will." And Carlyle looks at
him and says, "No let him stay. The only way he's going to work
it out is if he stays here." It was kind of funny. And then
Slauson goes to Boyd, and says, "If you really wanna get out of
here, I'll take you with me." And Boyd looks at Martha, and
Cleaves, and Knox, and realizes that if he leaves, he's leaving them
like lambs with the wolf. And so he decides that he's going to stay
and protect them, and it becomes the first turning point of his
character towards selflessness.
Bill Hunt: That's a pretty
David Prior: It was a very
heavy moment, and it's a very well done scene. Most of it is just
one very well choreographed Steadicam shot. And it was a technical
thing, where they [Fox] said that they couldn't recognize one of the
extras in the scene and get a release from him. So it was rejected
on a legal hiccup, that I actually went to great lengths to clear
up. But in the end - well, let's not get into it.
Todd Doogan: Now why - going
back more to that answer - why did more of this stuff not find its
way on the disc?
David Prior: No comment.
[laughs]. It was
well, they usually blamed it on legal. The
legal department at Fox - and this probably isn't more true of Fox
than any of the other studios - but they're just extremely paranoid.
It seems like their job is to say no to everything. On one hand,
it's perfectly understandable. Any big company is in constant danger
of litigation, unfounded or not. But on the other hand, what are we
in this business to do? In the featurette, for example, there was a
lot of footage from the Mexican war scenes that were cut. Really
amazing, spectacular stuff - I think there's a still frame in the
gallery that hints at it. Where you see this huge field of bodies,
and two Mexicans going around piling them on the dead cart. It was
just amazing the scope of the thing. And it was full of battle
scenes and stunts, and so the legal department said, "Absolutely
not. There are stunts all over the place, and we'd have to repay the
stuntman's union for each of these players, and it's not going on
the disc." But the truth was, they were all Mexican stunt men
Bill Hunt: Ahhh, so they
David Prior: Exactly. There
was no legal concern. I don't mean harp on the troubles, because I
had a great time doing the project and I'm very proud of it. But in
my darker, more paranoid moments, it felt as if some of these
decisions were being made out of spite. Okay, lock me up now.
Bill Hunt: [laughing] No, I
believe it. I know exactly what and who you're talking about.
Believe me, I know there were also some scary moments on the Alien
DVD, and it was tough going sometimes
David Prior: Yeah, but the
great thing with Alien is that
it's a tent-pole film for the studio...
Bill Hunt: So it's easier to
David Prior: Right. You can
call Ridley, and get him involved. With something like Ravenous,
because it's such an underdog movie, it's a much harder row to hoe.
Bill Hunt: And I'm sure
Antonia Bird doesn't have a whole lot of pull at Fox
David Prior: That would be an
understatement. But at the same time, I have to take my hat off to
Fox for putting this DVD out in the first place. It's really hard
for a studio that has such enormous overhead to seriously commit to
a film that didn't make a penny for them. So the fact that they got
behind this project as much as they did deserves commendation. I
mean, a smaller company that has to get behind everything they've
got - that's one thing. But Fox has so many projects on their
corporate plate, that I'm just glad they let me do this at all. The
fact that the Ravenous DVD has
doubled its shipping expectations makes me feel a lot better. After
all, it's their money and it's very important to me that whatever I
do with them makes a good return.
Bill Hunt: And who knows -
seeing that it's worth it means that maybe they'll want to come back
and revisit it sometime
David Prior: Right. I hope so.
Because there were other deleted shots that I didn't know about when
I did this. There's a shot at the end that Antonia mentions, where
the camera pulls away from the two men in the bear trap, and goes
out the barn and over the mountains into the sky, and the credits
roll on this beautiful shot of the Sierras. It sounds a little
strange - not really in keeping with a horror film - but when you
have this really graceful music over it, it just gives everything a
bit more weight. And I think that if I had known about it, and had
more time, I could have restored that shot, which Antonia really
wanted. Maybe someday we can do a restored director's cut. And the
other day, I talked to the Fox archive people - who I didn't even
know existed - and they have reams of material on Ravenous.
Bill Hunt: Really?
David Prior: They have
pre-production paintings, storyboards, and hand props, and dummy
bodies, fake heads
Todd Doogan: Yeah, but you
wouldn't have been able to get it on the disc anyway.
David Prior: [laughs] It
probably would have been another fight.
Bill Hunt: But at some point,
the difficulty in dealing with Fox went away
David Prior: Yeah, it went
away when this particular person left Fox. And I can tell you, and I
think this will reassure a lot of DVD fans, that the people who are
in charge of DVD now at Fox are just great people. They love DVD,
and they know DVD, and they've got their hearts in the right place.
They're savvy, and they're a joy to work with. So with the main
obstacle out of the way, things did get much easier. I wasn't
unfortunately able to restore everything, because by that time, the
DLTs were already done. But, for example, on the menu screens - I
personally wasn't really very happy with them. But I was able to
restore most of the "Trail of the Donner party" Easter Egg
that I'd made. While I initially had much more elaborate plans for
it - it was going to be more like a daily log book - I'm glad that's
it's in there in any form. I also got to do the beef jerky Easter
Egg, which had been cut.
Todd Doogan: We want some of
those Jerky Treats, by the way. [everyone laughs]
Bill Hunt: We'll have to see
if we can get a scan of one of those for this interview when we post
David Prior: [laughs] Perfect.
So anyway, I was able to go back and do a few things, just not all
the things that I would have liked.
Bill Hunt: I suppose that most
of the interactivity had been finished at that point...
David Prior: The compression
of the film on DLT had been done - all the video side was done. So I
could still tinker with the menus at that point, but I couldn't do
anything that would affect the compression. If I had added another
trailer or the featurette, we would have had to recompress
Bill Hunt: It seems like
there's a definite formula - you have to have a list of everything
you want on the disc, and the compression rates and content all has
to be balanced based on what you want, and what will fit.
David Prior: Exactly. And the
other thing is layer breaks. I've seen some pretty graceless layer
breaks. But it's usually the necessities of compression - you just
can't have it past or before a certain point.
Bill Hunt: So there's just a
range where it has to go, and you do the best you can.
David Prior: It's usually
halfway through a movie, unless you don't have a lot of supplements,
and then you can get away with shifting it around a bit.
Todd Doogan: How long did the
production of the disc take?
David Prior: I would say - it
was originally going to be two weeks. That was all there was at the
outset, but thank God the release date moved, and I gained an extra
month. So I guess about a month and a half.
Todd Doogan: And what about
for the project you're working on now? I know you can't talk about
it too much at the moment
David Prior: Well, actually, I
did get clearance from Fox to mention a couple of things on the
record now. I'm producing the DVD version of David Fincher's Fight
Club at the moment, and I can tell you that it will be
anamorphic. And as a result of Ravenous
exceeding expectations, Fox is doing a special edition of Best
Laid Plans, Ted Griffin's other film, which came out a
few months ago. Again, another movie which lasted about thirty
seconds in theaters. So I'll be doing that next, and that will be
anamorphic as well. We're still figuring out the extras so I can't
go on the record just yet, but we can talk about that more later
Bill Hunt: No problem. And we
can do another interview specifically about Fight
Club when you and Fox are ready. In any case, that's good
news for DVD fans.
Todd Doogan: That's great
news. And it seems like they're giving you a lot of time to work on
Fight Club. The movie's not
even out yet, and you're already working on this.
David Prior: Yes, but the
whole notion of doing it came up sooner in the release cycle than
Ravenous. I didn't even
propose the Ravenous disc
until after the release date had been set. That was the reason for
the truncated schedule. But with Fight
Club, even though the disc probably won't come out until
next year, the holidays are coming up, and the facilities and
vendors close up shop. Their schedules are already locked in for
early next year, so we need to have a certain amount done beforehand
in order to be ready to go when they reopen.
Todd Doogan: Well getting back
to Ravenous, I'm glad that you
fought so hard on it, because it's a disc that probably would have
gotten lost otherwise. I probably wouldn't have even watched it if
it didn't have special edition materials on it. But I watched it,
and thought, "This is such a great, fun movie." And it
made me want to learn more about it. And I wish that all DVDs had
these kind of extras on them, because there's so much interesting
stuff to these films.
David Prior: Thanks, and I
agree. But it's an interesting kind of double-edged sword I think,
the supplements. Because you know, as a kid, I remember when VHS
wasn't even around. But if DVD had been around, this is exactly the
kind of stuff I would have wanted. I wanted to immerse myself in
movies, and I collected all the magazines. But there is a part of me
that wonders if it affects the mystery.
Bill Hunt: Takes away from the
David Prior: Yeah. I don't
really know. For your average consumers - I mean obviously for film
nuts, it's a foregone conclusion - but for your average moviegoer, I
wonder what the supplements really do for them, and if they should
even be interested as much as they seem to be these days.
Bill Hunt: Well... you know,
it's an argument that a lot of filmmakers have been having.
Spielberg, for example, has never done a commentary track. And
talking to people who've worked with him, they say that reason is
that he just doesn't want to break that fourth wall - he doesn't
want to take you out of that movie experience, and he wants the
image and sound to speak for itself.
David Prior: And I understand
that point of view, and I'm probably right in the middle of it.
We're all so media-obsessed these days. It's fun and exciting, but I
don't know how good for us it all is, all that distraction. Except I
have to say, that I really love a well done supplemental section.
Bill Hunt: Well, and
particularly when you've got things like production sketches, and
things that really help to give you a sense of the making of the
film. Because I think that's what is really interesting to people -
that idea of, "here's what we started with, and here's how the
process works, and this is the result."
David Prior: And the plus side
is, like you were saying, particularly for a film that didn't get
the respect it might deserve, it can deepen someone's appreciation,
once you see the effort and the hard work. I know so many people,
for example, that were convinced that Fort Spencer was just this
shackey old building that they found somewhere. And once they
realize that the whole thing was built from scratch - even something
as technical as that enhances your appreciation for the effort
Todd Doogan: It's kind of
ironic that you say that, because I just recently had a conversation
with Bill about the same subject. I was looking at - a friend of
mine had all these French cinema magazines, and a magazine called
Film and Filming from the
'60s, and I'm looking at these pictures in them, and all of a sudden
it hits me that this is pre-video. Then you weren't able to go see a
film unless it was playing in the theaters. And so a lot of future
filmmakers, or people who were making films at the time, would see
photographs in the magazines, and say, "I like the lighting in
" and gain insight or inspiration from a
photo, rather than from seeing the film itself. And then the video
culture had the same effect - I'm thinking of the famous Reservoir
Dogs opening, where Tarantino says he based that on The
Wild Bunch. But he really didn't
David Prior: [laughing] Right.
Todd Doogan: He based it on
the VHS version of Wild Bunch,
where it was panned and scanned from the widescreen, so they had to
cut to each person, just so that you knew they were all walking down
the street. So now that there's widescreen, and it's always going to
be widescreen [with HDTV], that reference is lost forever.
David Prior: That's an
interesting point. Our view of movies got smaller when home video
Bill Hunt: And so now you have
contemporary filmmakers making references that aren't valid anymore.
Todd Doogan: Yeah, and that's
funny. I mean, even the cutting back and forth that directors do now
for TV - that wasn't going on. So when you see Guess
Who's Coming to Dinner on TV, and Spencer Tracy and
Hepburn are having a conversation, and someone later says they got
their idea from the cutting of that scene
David Prior: It's not really
from the cutting of the film
Todd Doogan: Yeah - it's the
scanning back and forth because that's the way they modified the
film for TV.