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Directors Love DVD

12 Jul, 2002 By: Jessica Wolf

Those nifty special features and interactive menus DVD buyers love aren't just born there, they are the DVD producers' labor of love.

More directors are working closely with DVD producers to develop special content for their DVD releases, and studios and filmmakers are planning ahead for, and devoting more resources to, DVD content, according to a panel of DVD producers speaking June 28 at the “DVD at 5” conference.

This sampling of professionals from one of Hollywood's hottest new careers also said it's important to focus on a given DVD's target audience when developing those special features.

Panelists included Laurent Bouzerau, documentarian and filmmaker who has worked on DVDs of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence for DreamWorks Home Entertainment and the upcoming E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial for Universal Studios Home Video; Rob Burnett, who served as DVD producer for MGM Home Entertainment's The Usual Suspects DVD and is working on New Line Home Entertainment's The Lord of the Rings DVD releases; Paul Hemstreet, VP of DVD special features for Warner Home Video; Mark Rowan, who produced DreamWorks' monster DVD hit Shrek; and Michael Stradford, VP of the added value department at Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, who is already working on the Spider-Man DVD. The panel was moderated by media consultant Bruce Apar.

These days, when DVD producers put out the call for ideas from film directors, they tend to wind up with more feedback than they can handle -- a far cry from the early days when they often had to explain DVD concepts or technology to filmmakers, panelists said.

“The biggest challenge is the timeline,” Hemstreet said. “Oftentimes, we need input from the filmmakers three to four months before the [theatrical] release, which is right when they're busiest.

“But filmmakers are starting to recognize the need to set aside time,” he added. “More and more people are looking at the DVD as an extension of the film and not something you think about later.”

For Stradford, a self-proclaimed comic book fan, putting together the Spider-Man disc is more like fun than work, but it's work that started a month before Sam Raimi even finished filming the movie. Stradford said he and the studio have been working closely with Marvel Comics to develop a distinctive look for the menus and features on what should be one of this year's most anticipated DVD releases.

“I feel confident that this will be a textbook DVD for all movies based on comic books,” Stradford said.

The power of DVD has allowed documentarians like Bouzerau more resources and time on film sets -- more than the standard few days it takes to gather footage for electronic press kits -- to capture behind-the-scenes moments, making-of footage and interviews with cast and filmmakers.

“I think it doesn't really make sense to do a commentary when you can get all the same information through interviews and do a really great visual evaluation of a movie,” Bouzerau said.

The DVD producers agreed that the film and its fans -- potential or established -- are what drive the content of any disc's special features.

“You've got to look at each film individually,” said DreamWorks' Rowan. “We try to look at whatever we put on a disc as enhancing that film experience. The Shrek DVD was fun because the movie was fun. With A.I., on the other hand, the features were all about filmmaking. We had the premier filmmakers working on a film, why not feature them?”

Burnett said as a DVD producer you have to be a bit of everything -- a filmmaker, an archivist, a designer and a marketer.

“But I'm really a film fan,” he said. “I want to create something that people can look back on in 50 years and say ‘I know everything I ever wanted to know about that movie.’

For kids' titles, the objective is a little different, with the trend being extras that take advantage of set-top and DVD-ROM technologies.

Warner's Hemstreet said the studio has a one-year contract with One Voice technologies to provide features like the voice-activated menus on the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone DVD. Look for more One Voice features on upcoming hits like Scooby-Doo.

Overall, panelists said there is a friendly camaraderie among the folks charged with the task of making sure that a favorite film makes it into a quality DVD package.

“You love to see another studio come out with a great disc -- maybe not on your street date -- but it's a really collaborative industry, and that's exciting for us,” Hemstreet said.

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