By : Erik Gruenwedel | Posted: 25 Mar 2010
In the rapidly evolving home entertainment distribution universe, Blu-ray Disc is considered a key torchbearer bridging the gap between high-definition and digital via BD Live and picture-in-picture (PIP).
To the studios, no bigger Trojan Horse has existed than BD Live, which allows content holders to stay connected to consumers enabling both marketing and creative opportunities.
So what happened? Recent Blu-ray releases appear to have glossed over interactivity, with games, user-generated clips and engaging bonus material seemingly supplanted by the rush to mine 3D gold.
Home Media Magazine asked Laura Gross, president of L.E.G. Productions in Agoura Hills, Calif., to weigh in on BD Live and whether consumers really want to engage with their home entertainment.
The boutique studio has been instrumental in creating BD Live, PIP and related material for numerous Blu-ray and DVD releases, including a documentary and special featurettes for Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s Coraline and 9, respectively.
It also created “Meet the Fairies” and “Rock and Roll Pirate” featurettes for Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s packaged media releases Tinker Bell and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, respectively.
HM: Picture-in-picture and BD Live were considered key elements in the promotion of Blu-ray Discs and high-definition packaged media. Now they seem all but ignored, especially BD Live. What happened?
Gross: A lot of the feedback that we’ve read about the Coraline and 9 Blu-ray releases have praised the PIP tracks, which leads us to believe that the consumer is not completely ignoring this feature. The key is presenting this content in a way that keeps people engaged.
What do people want to see? Our clients are always doing research on which features on Blu-rays and DVDs resonate with their audience, and then we adjust what we’re doing accordingly.
I do think the audience wants immediately accessible content. The first PIP that we created was for Coraline, and we went into the process hoping to minimize the downtime between PIP elements. So we filled the PIP track to the brim with content. At no point in the entire presentation do you ever have to wait more than 20 seconds for the next piece to start.
We were able to do the same thing with our next project, 9. We had been given access to a work-in-progress cut of the movie, so any time we had a space in our PIP track, we were able to fill it, so that the content runs almost wall-to-wall.
What we love about PIP is that it allows us as producers to tell stories in a way that a straight presentation would not, because seeing these pieces framed against the movie is a different viewing experience. For example, in Coraline, we were able to show voice actors recording their lines at the exact same moments that you see the characters saying those lines in the movie. In 9, you can see the filmmakers discussing specific character traits while you’re concurrently seeing examples of those traits happening in the movie. The ability for us to juxtapose our own storytelling with the finished film in creative ways is a great tool that we enjoy playing with.
HM: With the Blu-ray player earmarked as an important CE device linking Internet-delivered entertainment into the home, why aren’t studios doing more with interactive features on Blu-ray?
Gross: I think the studios are pursuing added-value features that the audience has embraced. Yes, Blu-ray allows interactivity, but that isn’t its only strength. With so much interactivity already available on the Web, perhaps the value of Blu-ray is the incredible visual and audio experience, and the quality of its in-depth added-value experience. That’s not to say there isn’t room for interactivity, when it’s appropriate. For movies that skew to a young audience, Java-based games are still popular. And for big event titles, live chats and Q&As can still draw a crowd. It comes down to tailoring the overall experience to the individual title. I do think that the more that Blu-ray players become a regular fixture in people’s homes, the more the blending of online experiences with Blu-ray will grow. And I think that if a bonus feature is smart, entertaining and engaging, it’s of great value with or without interactivity.
HM: Do specific titles and genres lend themselves more toward interactive elements?
Gross: Absolutely. For instance, animated films are so complex to create and the stories of how these filmmakers bring an entire world to life are so interesting that they almost demand more making-of elements on the discs. You just can’t tell these stories quickly and do them justice.
We worked on both Coraline and 9 for almost four years each, and we shot a huge amount of material about how those films were created. Our production team was thrilled that we could do so many extra features on U-Control PIP and BD Live, because it meant that all these hidden gem stories, which would have otherwise been left on the cutting-room floor, now had a life.
It also helps when you have a director who is as enthusiastic about documenting the process as we are. For instance, with Henry Selick and Coraline, we had unprecedented access to the inner workings of a stop-motion animated feature. We shot more than 300 hours of behind-the-scenes footage, which was immensely helpful in allowing us to share so much more of the creation of the film with the audience.
HM: Increasingly, new releases on cable video-on-demand and streaming are offering bonus material. Can any of the interactive elements ever be re-created for digital distribution?
Gross: There are issues of software compatibility that would need to be worked out, but these obstacles are hardly insurmountable. There will always be new ways for material to be repurposed for any form of distribution. But from our standpoint as content producers, the bottom line is storytelling. Our job is to tell a compelling story about how a film was created. How and where our work is displayed will invariably change with the times, but as long as our stories are interesting, then there will always be a place for them.
HM: Does the pending invasion of 3D Blu-ray releases portend an opportunity for studios to reintroduce interactive elements into home entertainment?
Gross: The introduction of new technology is always both a wildly exciting and slightly daunting process. Technically, there’s so much for us, as content providers, to learn and wrap our heads around. But most importantly, the creative opportunities seem to be as limitless as our imaginations. 3D Blu-rays will undoubtedly lend themselves to a true immersive experience, where the viewer can actually enter the world of the movie and interact there. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
3D Blu-ray is a quantum leap forward for the home viewer. We’re readying ourselves for the challenge, and I think we, as both content producers and consumers, have so much to look forward to.
HM: Do consumers still want to engage in their home entertainment experience?
Gross: I do think consumers love the home entertainment experience. Seeing a movie in the theater is great, but at home, the experience can be so much richer and deeper, because of all of the added-value material that Blu-ray and DVD offers. Bonus features can expand the mythology that the movie created, or it can lift the curtain and give you insight into how the film was made.
When we create bonus feature material, we don’t have to step outside of ourselves to imagine, “What would the consumer like to see on this disc?” We are the consumer. Every title we work on, we become close to, become fans of. So we ask, “As someone who loves this movie, what would I like to see on the disc?” And then it’s simply a matter of gathering and creating material that adheres to those sensibilities. If the footage and the stories give us chills, make us laugh, surprise and delight us, then our hope is that it will have the same effect on you.
[Pixar Animation co-founder] John Lasseter once told me that he feels a movie becomes fully entrenched in the culture when people experience it at home, because that’s when it becomes a part of their day-to-day lives. And I think that’s true. There’s an intimacy about sharing a cinematic experience with your family and friends in the comfort of your own home. And no matter how the industry and the technology evolve and change, this will continue to be of core importance to the consumer.