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Scott Free DVD
A Chat with DVD Producer Charles de Lauzirika

Legend, Gladiator and a better Blade Runner... coming to DVD.

If there's one thing you can say about DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika, it's that he's a major film fan. And that's a very good thing, because in his position for Scott Free, Charlie is responsible for supervising the effort to bring some of director Ridley Scott's biggest and best films to the DVD format. Charlie is also a talented writer and director, who has been involved in the business for many years. He's been working with Scott since starting at the director's company as a USC film school intern. Through the years, he's also directed a number of commercials, music videos and short films, as well as interning or working for several production companies such as Lucasfilm Ltd., Lightstorm Entertainment and Silver Pictures. We discussed his background and first DVD effort last year when we previewed Fox's Alien: 20th Anniversary Edition. These days, Ridley is keeping Charlie very busy, working on such great upcoming special edition discs as Legend, Gladiator and next year's Blade Runner: SE. There's a lot of great information contained in this interview, so thanks to Charles and the staff at Scott Free, as well as everyone involved at DreamWorks and Warner Bros., for all their help.

[Editor's Note: Universal has promised to provide us with official details on their Legend DVD very soon, so we will be following up on this title in the next week or two. Stay tuned...]

Bill Hunt (The Digital Bits): So Charlie, when last we talked for the Bits, you were just finishing up work on Fox's Alien: 20th Anniversary Edition. Let's take a minute and wrap that up before we move on to the other DVD projects you've been working on. How do you feel about the final disc, after all those months of work?

Charles de Lauzirika (Scott Free): I think the final result was pretty damn good. I mean, it's not perfect. There are little problems I see and hear on the disc which really drive me up the wall. But I think that's just because I was involved with it for such an intense period of time... watching the movie over and over, navigating the menus over and over, going through the supplements... you know? There are just little things that most people wouldn't notice or care about... or little changes I wanted that we didn't have the time or space for. Those things drive me nuts.

Bill Hunt: What would you do differently?

Charles de Lauzirika: In a perfect world, I would love for it to have been a two-disc set, with absolutely everything included. And there are some picture and sound flaws which would be nice to fix at some point. But at the time, given the circumstances and the timetable we had, I think Alien turned out great. You have to remember that this was long before Fox was the amazing presence in DVD that they are now. This was back when they were still taking their first steps into special edition DVDs. I don't mean that technically or creatively, because Fox was already a leading force on laserdisc. But from a marketing standpoint, and in terms of their commitment to DVD, this was their first really big project. And I think everyone at Fox deserves a lot of credit for making it all happen. That goes for the several other companies and individuals who contributed to the disc as well.

Bill Hunt: What was Ridley's reaction to the disc?

Charles de Lauzirika: We only spoke about it a couple of times, but I know he was happy with the transfer and the menus. He doesn't really seem to have the time or desire to dwell on his past work. He tends to move on to the next thing once he's done with the project at hand. So I think he just sampled the disc to get a feeling for it, but he seemed pleased. I guess if he wasn't, I wouldn't be doing this for him anymore.

Bill Hunt: Have you heard from Fox as to how the disc is selling?

Charles de Lauzirika: I haven't heard any numbers in a while, but I've been told that it's done well, especially for what is now a 21-year-old movie.

Bill Hunt: A lot of people have asked us about the hour-long Alien Legacy documentary, which was made available for a limited time on DVD through a special mail offer to those who purchased the Alien boxed set. Can you talk a little about why it had to be included on a separate disc?

Charles de Lauzirika: Yeah, that's a real can of worms, isn't it? The whole fifth disc debacle basically came about because of the fact that there's only so much room on a single DVD - even a dual-layered one. I mean, there was no sinister conspiracy to screw people out of their money. It wasn't some evil marketing plan to boost sales of the box set. It was simply a tough decision that came extremely late into the process... a decision which caught us all off-guard but had to be made. Considering that the only other alternative given to us would have been to drop the documentary entirely, I think that the path we choose was the lesser of two evils. I was actually in the meeting at Fox when it was decided to bump the documentary to a fifth disc, and I can tell you that no one was happy about it. But it was either that or nothing.

Bill Hunt: I know that part of the problem with the whole thing, is that a lot of people have told us that they didn't receive the Legacy disc, even after mailing in their coupon for it. Do you think Fox would ever consider making it available separately for a small price, perhaps online?

Charles de Lauzirika: That's not a bad idea. But if you didn't get the documentary disc this time around, I wouldn't be surprised if it pops up again at some point down the road.

Bill Hunt: You mentioned the problem of there being only so much room on a DVD, and I know that I've heard that complaint from other producers as well. Can you talk that a little bit more - the challenges of producing for the format?

Charles de Lauzirika: Well, there are basically three mindsets you have to juggle when you're producing a DVD with a studio: creative, technical and legal, with marketing considerations being a factor in all three. And if a problem develops in any one of those three areas, your whole battle plan for the disc is suddenly in jeopardy. I've heard horror stories from friends about legal issues on other discs. Fortunately, we didn't really have too many legal headaches on Alien. The big problems occurred in the creative and technical realms. But ultimately, no matter what you've got or want to include on a DVD, it all boils down to disc capacity and your "bit budget". You can play with things, trying to fit things together in different configurations, trying to shoehorn in every possible asset, but eventually, you're going to hit a brick wall. And because the film's the thing, you can't sacrifice the quality of the video and audio just to slap on a few more supplements. I know it always looks great when you've got all these bullet points of extras listed on the packaging, but picture and sound quality has to take priority. And that's the point of view Fox and Scott Free took on Alien.

Bill Hunt: Very cool. All right… let's talk Blade Runner. By now, everyone should also be aware that Warner is planning a new Special Edition DVD of Blade Runner. Given that the film was one of the very first titles to appear on the DVD format, an SE is LONG overdue. In fact, Blade Runner was actually the first DVD I ever purchased, even before I had a player...

Charles de Lauzirika: Yeah, it was my very first DVD as well, also before I had a player.

Bill Hunt: Can you tell us a little about the project and how it's progressing?

Charles de Lauzirika: Well, it's still quite a ways off, but it's definitely in the planning stages. Ridley and I met with Warner Bros. some months back to talk about it. I think it's going to be far and away the most challenging of Ridley's films to produce as a special edition, because there are just so many possibilities for it and such high expectations. But the most important thing to know about the work currently being done on Blade Runner is that, first and foremost, it's all about restoring the film and creating an archival negative, once and for all. Mike Arrick, who was in charge of putting together the 1992 Director's Cut, is currently working on the final restoration with Warner Bros. Everything else will follow in the wake of that effort. Blade Runner is arguably Ridley's signature film, so everything about it has to be done right, both the restoration and the DVD.

The only other probable element of the upcoming DVD that I can really talk about at the moment is the recent documentary called On The Edge of Blade Runner, which was created by Andrew Abbott and Mark Kermode. It comes from a lot of the same people who put together The Fear of God, that great documentary on The Exorcist, which appeared on the special edition DVD of that film. It's really above and beyond the usual marketing fluff pieces that you see done on a lot of films. We recently screened it at the San Diego Comic Con, and it was great seeing it with a big audience - hearing the laughs and applause. Rutger Hauer's comment about what Deckard does to a dishwasher brought the house down. I'm really happy for Andrew and Mark. Their team did a great job.

Bill Hunt: Were you involved at all in this Blade Runner documentary?

Charles de Lauzirika: Whenever Scott Free is approached by an outside documentary team, I'm always willing to help out. If they want or need me, I'm there for them. If they don't, I step out of the way. It's entirely up to them. Having said that, it's been a great experience to have such positive, open relationships with J.M. Kenny (the producer on Universal's Legend) and Andrew on Blade Runner. And again, in this case, it's a completely supportive role. Early on, I discovered that there were a few different Blade Runner documentaries gearing up, in addition to Andrew and Mark's. And this was causing some confusion among the cast, because there was one particularly aggressive crew out there claiming to be producing the authorized documentary, which was untrue. I mean, it's a free country - go shoot whatever you want. But going around claiming to have the blessing of both Warner Bros. and Scott Free was not very cool. So I had to contact some of the cast members to let them know which documentary had official approval. Aside from that, after Andrew and Mark had the bulk of their interviews shot, and they had to head back to Scotland, two more cast interview opportunities popped up here in L.A., so I conducted those interviews at Scott Free for them, and we forwarded the tapes. It was pretty harmless, and a lot of fun.

Bill Hunt: As fans know, there have been at least two different versions of this film released in the past, the original theatrical cut (with voice-over narration) and the 1992 Director's Cut you just mentioned, which is what was released on DVD. But I understand that you're using a new cut of the film for this new special edition. Why don't you talk a little about it - what makes it new and unique or better?

Charles de Lauzirika: Actually, there have been several versions of the film. Depending on how picky you are, I think there have been something like five or even more versions shown to the public. It's all in Paul Sammon's book, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. Paul covers all the minute differences between the various cut of the film in wonderfully fanatical detail.

Having said that, there's really not much I can say about any "new" cut of the film at the moment, because it doesn't really exist yet. Mike Arrick is still working on the restoration, and there are several elements that need to be in place before Ridley can really start to approve things that could possibly get added back in. Mike did come in to show Ridley some of the extra footage that's potentially available, so the three of us sat down and went through these little bits and pieces, including the infamous hospital scene with Deckard and Holden. As a longtime Blade Runner fanatic, I can tell you that it was wonderful to see these lost scenes after all this time, but they're in need of some work. It's not just a matter of dropping these bits back into the film and calling it a day. Mike still has to do some significant picture and sound restoration before we can even begin to talk about adding footage back in. And, to be honest, I'm not even sure if any of that footage will actually make it back into the film, or if it would be presented separately as deleted scenes on the DVD. Just because extra footage exists doesn't mean that it should automatically get added into the film... I mean, some of those scenes were cut out for a reason. And there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome. Going back to what I mentioned about the creative, legal and technical challenges of producing for DVD, Blade Runner is a tangled web of all three. But I hope it all works out for the best because the film, and the fans, deserve it.

Bill Hunt: So it's basically too early to tell what will happen as far as any possible new edit of the film, other than the restoration...

Charles de Lauzirika: Exactly. Once again, the goal of this project is to make Ridley happy with the film once and for all, so it's first and foremost a restoration project. But while that's being done, it's also an opportunity for Ridley to finally get Blade Runner the way he originally wanted it. That can't happen until all the elements he wants are secured, and that's a process which is still on-going. We're hopeful, but we'll have to wait and see. At the very least, it should look and sound better than ever.

Bill Hunt: Is there any hope of including the original theatrical cut of the film on the DVD, to preserve it for the fans, like Criterion did with Brazil?

Charles de Lauzirika: It's still way too early to get specific about that. But rest assured, I'm well aware of the big things that most fans want out of this special edition, because believe me - I'm one of them. Blade Runner has been one of my obsessions since I first saw it opening day in 1982 at the Mann Hollywood. DVD affords a film like Blade Runner a lot of possibilities, and it's my hope that we can explore all of them. I think it's safe to assume that Ridley will want to do a commentary track, and that we'll have the Channel Four documentary on tap. Beyond that, it's all in a very early conceptual stage.

Bill Hunt: I know that you've been doing research on Legend right from the start in regards to background information and what fans would like to see on the disc. And I know that you did the same on Alien. Considering its well-established cult status, are you doing something similar for Blade Runner?

Charles de Lauzirika: Yeah, I've been in contact with Gerry Kissell who created BladeZone, which is probably the best Blade Runner fansite out there... and like Gerry says, it's a community, so there's a passionate sense of loyalty to the film there. And of course, I've been in frequent contact with Paul Sammon, who probably knows more about Blade Runner than any other human being on the planet. If, for nothing else, it's just great to be able to get these guys on the phone to just talk things out and get ideas.

Bill Hunt: I understand that Harrison Ford is pretty soured on Blade Runner. Is there ANY hope of his participating in the new DVD by way of an interview or a commentary?

Charles de Lauzirika: I think everyone would love to see him be involved in some aspect of this project. At this point, all we can do is pray.

Bill Hunt: We should make something clear at this point. Warner just released a new "Boxed Collector's Edition" of Blade Runner, but this is still the same DVD we're all familiar with. Our understanding is that the new DVD is at least a year down the road.

Charles de Lauzirika: Right, that collector's box set is the same old 1992 Director's Cut, just repackaged with a lot of other Blade Runner goodies. The last time I spoke with Warner Bros., the Special Edition we've been talking about was looking like a 2001-ish release, or so.

Ridley Scott's Gladiator... coming soon to DVD.
Ridley Scott's Gladiator... coming soon to DVD.

Bill Hunt: Well, here's to hoping that things pan out for it - please keep us all up to date. Now then… everyone's new favorite film is, or course, Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe. And fans will be excited to learn that you've been working hand-in-hand with DreamWorks on the DVD version for a while now. Can we expect it to be one of their Signature Collection discs, or a special edition of some kind?

Charles de Lauzirika: You can expect it to be a fairly-well-loaded two-disc special edition. I was pretty blown away when Mark Atkinson over at DreamWorks sent me their plans for Gladiator a few months back. If all goes well, it's going to be a wonderful set. Every time I go over to DreamWorks, I get energized by their enthusiasm. They've released some very nice DVDs in the past, and I'm glad that we're working with them on Gladiator.

The great thing about putting together a disc set like this, is that Gladiator is still very fresh and new. That's in comparison to a project like Legend, for instance, where you have to do a lot hunting and investigating to find elements. With Gladiator, all of the material you would want is still readily available, for the most part. That means you can concentrate your efforts on more creative pursuits... and that can only help the project.

Bill Hunt: As is par for the course on the Net these days, there are already lots of wildly circulating rumors about a first cut of Gladiator that was more than an hour longer that what we saw in theaters. But the reality is that Ridley's original cut of the film was only about 30 minutes longer.

Charles de Lauzirika: Yeah, that's about right. I saw the first cut of the film almost a year ago, and it was about 165 minutes long without credits, which I think is about 25 minutes longer than the final cut with credits. So this notion that there's an hour of deleted scenes to show is nonsense, much like a lot of the other rumors I've read on the web.

Bill Hunt: Can you talk a little bit about what was deleted? Where did the excised footage fit into the film? And of course, the all-pressing question - how much of that deleted footage will appear on the DVD?

Charles de Lauzirika: Before he left for Italy to work on Hannibal, I met with Pietro Scalia, who edited Gladiator, and we went through all the deleted scenes on his Avid. We worked specifically on a game plan as to how best to present them for the DVD. Some of the trims are simply too short to be considered a coherent scene, but I suggested a way of salvaging them to Pietro, and what he did with those little random bits is beautiful... and actually kind of moving.

And really, this is one of those cases where a number of the full deleted scenes are actually pretty good. In fact, one of my absolute favorite scenes from Gladiator was one of the very first scenes to get cut out. It's this powerful moment where Commodus lays down the law and orders the execution of two of his own Praetorian Guards, following the revelation that Maximus is still alive. It just had this powerful Paths of Glory feel to it, especially when seen in context. But I'd say most of the scenes that were cut fleshed out Commodus' character or added some political intrigue. There are also some extra moments with Oliver Reed as Proximo, which is a nice tribute considering how great he was in the movie. All of the major deleted scenes will be on the supplement disc.

Bill Hunt: I understand that the commentary track for Gladiator was handled a little differently than the other commentaries Ridley has done...

Charles de Lauzirika: Yeah, well this time, we had Ridley do the commentary with two of his closest collaborators of late: Pietro Scalia, who I already mentioned, and cinematographer John Mathieson, both of whom worked on Gladiator, and who are both working again on Hannibal. I figured that since Mark and I had to fly out to Virginia, where they were shooting Hannibal, it would be nice to incorporate some of the other Gladiator veterans who were out there. We had discussed doing separate tracks for them, but because room on Disc One was getting eaten up, it proved more economical to have them all do the commentary together - and it turned out great. It was nice to have John and Pietro there to keep the conversation going. There was a little concern that they might get too technical for the layman, but it actually turned out to be very down-to-earth and casual and yet extremely informative... and even fun. They had some great stories to tell.

Bill Hunt: Were there any serious challenges involved in recording a commentary track on location?

Charles de Lauzirika: I was a little concerned up front, but DreamWorks found this recording studio in Richmond called In Your Ear. As soon as I got there, I knew we were in good shape. They had a very professional staff and a classy facility - better than a lot of places you'll find in L.A. The big problem was Mother Nature. There was a major thunderstorm brewing nearby and about midway through the commentary session, we heard a loud pop and a second later, the whole studio went dark. I mean pitch black. We couldn't see a thing, and there's Ridley, Pietro and John stuck in the recording booth unable to see. Turns out an entire power grid went down because of the storm, so we had to break and reconvene a few hours later. It actually turned out for the better because, considering how tight Ridley's schedule was, having him come back at the end of the day allowed us more time so that he could record commentary for the deleted scenes as well. So the storm was a blessing in disguise.

Bill Hunt: While you were there, did you get the chance to see any of the Hannibal filming that was going on?

Charles de Lauzirika: You bet. There's no way I was going to go all that way and not check it out. It was really interesting to be able to hang out behind the video assist, or near the cameras, and just observe. I hadn't been on a big movie set in a while, so it was nice to get that feeling again. And just watching Anthony Hopkins at work, seeing him in the flesh as Lecter, was really a treat and an education. He does so much with so little effort.

Bill Hunt: Before we move on, I should ask something on behalf of our readers. All three of the Ridley films you're involved with right now - Legend, Blade Runner and Gladiator - will appear on DVD in anamorphic widescreen, correct?

Charles de Lauzirika: That's the plan. As far as Ridley is concerned, that's always the plan. Fortunately, all of the studios we've dealt with directly on these special editions seem to feel the same way.

Bill Hunt: The trend - toward the end of this year - seems to be that a lot of major special editions are including DTS sound as well as Dolby Digital. Will Gladiator get any kind of special audio treatment on DVD?

Charles de Lauzirika: Actually, Gladiator will have a DTS ES track on Disc One, as well as the Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 tracks.

Actor Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott on the set of Gladiator.
Actor Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott on the set of Gladiator.

Bill Hunt: That's excellent. Now then… why don't you talk a little bit about the process of working on the Gladiator DVD. You've obviously been associated with Ridley and Scott Free since long before he started work on the film, so you have a unique perspective on things. Tell us a little bit about Ridley as a director, and how that influences you when you work on a DVD of his films.

Charles de Lauzirika: It's a strange position to be in. As I said, Gladiator is still so new. It really hasn't had the time to sink in for me like Ridley's older films. So unlike Alien or Blade Runner, which are films I grew up on, I can't really draw upon the fanboy within me when I'm in the decision-making process on Ridley's behalf for something like Gladiator. It's also different, because Gladiator, in my opinion, at times feels like the kind of personal, artistic film that Ridley can make when he's at his best… but it also has a strong Hollywood popcorn vibe, which is probably why it's his most successful film to date. Traditionally, those two styles have been at odds with each other. So you have to find a way to bring it all together on DVD so that it's fun, and not too pretentious, but still classy and elegant. You have to serve both the artistic and the blockbuster mentalities at the same time.

Bill Hunt: Given that, how involved is Ridley in the project… any of them for that matter? As a director, does he supervise or approve things? Does he keep tabs on the process? How accessible is he to you when you need his input?

Charles de Lauzirika: Ridley does whatever he can. When he has the time, he's there. And when he doesn't have the time, he tries to make the time. He's extremely interested in the process and cares deeply about how his work is presented. But, you know, he's also a very busy man with far more than just movies on his agenda. So that's where someone like me comes in, to look out for his interests. But when I need his guidance or input, he definitely makes himself available. It's just a little bit tough, because he went off and did two huge movies back-to-back while we're trying to get all of these DVDs done. [laughs]

Bill Hunt: Getting back to Hannibal, have you started thinking in terms of the eventual DVD version of that film? Are there any special plans to gather material for the DVD during the film's production?

Charles de Lauzirika: I haven't heard anything official regarding the Hannibal DVD yet. I'm guessing it's still a little ways off. But in the meantime, I've scanned and archived some early material for the disc, just in case. I would love to do something special on-set for a future DVD, but I don't think that will really happen until after Hannibal. When Ridley gets back, I would love for him to sit down and really go through the Fight Club DVD as an example of what you can do on-set, especially in terms of interactivity with the B-roll footage. And maybe David O. Russell's video journal from Three Kings too. Hopefully, when he sees that kind of raw, you-are-there approach and sees what the possibilities are for creating DVD material on the set, we can talk about some ideas as to how to attack his next project after Hannibal.

Bill Hunt: I wanted to ask about possible DVDs of some of Ridley's other films. Obviously, MGM has already released Thelma and Louise on DVD with a director's commentary track. Black Rain was released by Paramount as a movie-only disc, as were White Squall and G.I. Jane by Buena Vista. But notably missing from DVD are 1492: Conquest of Paradise and The Duellists. Are there any plans to bring them out on disc in the form of more deluxe editions?

Charles de Lauzirika: I'm not sure about deluxe editions, but 1492 and The Duellists are both Paramount titles. I recently spoke with some people at Paramount, just to test the water. If all goes well, there might be hope for these films after all, but probably not in the immediate future. And even further down the road, it would be great to revisit Black Rain, since that one was released with a non-anamorphic transfer and only a trailer. There are some interesting deleted scenes and an alternate ending from Black Rain that would be great to show. But personally, I'm dying to get The Duellists on DVD. The very last shot in The Duellists is one of my all time favorite Ridley Scott shots. It's a beautiful film. Aside from those two titles, once all the stuff we're working on hits DVD over the next year or two, you're looking at pretty much everything.

Bill Hunt: You know what would be cool? I bet fans would love to see Ridley's 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial on DVD. That'd make a great Easter egg… hint, hint...

Charles de Lauzirika: One way or another, I have very little doubt that it'll end up on a DVD sometime in the future. Just which DVD… that's the mystery.

Bill Hunt: Not that you don't have enough going on already, but are there any other DVD projects you're working on now, or in the near future?

Charles de Lauzirika: Yeah... I've started to moonlight a little bit, just to stay busy between Ridley discs. I'm working with David Prior on a couple of pretty exciting DVD projects for Fox and New Line. We're both really busy right now, but in the wake of the Fight Club DVD, David is outrageously busy. I mean, you just wouldn't believe the huge discs and insane delivery dates he's facing. But since we've been friends for over 15 years now, I think we have a nice shorthand and a similar sense of what's good and what's bad. He was a big help on the Alien DVD, so it's been nice to see him become one of the top two or three DVD producers out there. The funny thing is, I think he and I both really want to get back into features and get out of doing DVDs as soon as possible. But it's hard to turn down work that is this much fun. Well, most of the time, anyway. [laughs]

Bill Hunt: Charlie, it's been a blast chatting again. Thanks for your time and all your hard work.

Charles de Lauzirika: It's my pleasure.

---end---

The staff of The Digital Bits would like to thank Charles for taking time to speak with us about his DVD work. And, once again, our sincere thanks also to everyone Scott Free, DreamWorks and Warner Bros. for their kind support.

Stay tuned...

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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