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DVD Producers Lament Time Crunch

22 Jul, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

The Gladiator special edition will reveal how CGI filled in Oliver Reed's performance after he died.

SAN DIEGO — If some DVD producers had their druthers, all new releases would come out “Lord of the Rings” style — that is, a simple edition released in a normal theatrical-to-video window with a more in-depth version following later.

So said high-profile DVD producers talking about their craft at a panel hosted by Thedigitalbits.com July 14 at Comic-Con.

Unfortunately, declining box office revenue and a downturn in DVD sales have added to shrinking video windows and created a crushing schedule for DVD production, they said.

The early days of DVD producers creating special-edition content for catalog titles are over, panelists said. Now they're on the set creating content alongside the film, trying to grab precious moments with directors and actors for DVD footage.

It can affect the quality of the edition, panelists said.

“I've had materials due three days before a theatrical release,” said Robby Huckell, manager of DVD programming for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “It's hard to tell the director, ‘Hey, I know you've got to go to the premiere and do Letterman and all that, but could you take a look at this gag reel?’

The “Lord of the Rings” dual-release method is the best way to ensure a definitive edition, said Robert Meyer Burnett, who has worked on DVDs for The Usual Suspects and X-Men 1.5, and is working on Superman Returns and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. “You mix and match content, make both disc versions desirable,” he said.

Charles de Lauzirika, who's worked on Spider-Man 2, The Alien Quadrilogy and the upcoming Kingdom of Heaven and Gladiator special edition, agreed.

“I know people don't like the double dip, but it gives us some time to create a special edition, and it gives the film time to breathe,” he said.

Even putting the “Lord of the Rings” extended editions together was tight, said Susie Lee, who worked on all the New Line Home Entertainment releases with director Peter Jackson and is archiving the filmmaking process for Jackson's King Kong. Often, people were watching incomplete rough cuts of the “Lord of the Rings” movies while recording audio commentaries, and the documentary crew still had to battle for time with filmmakers and stars during principal filming.

“You lose a bit of the retrospective quality in those cases,” Lee said.

A shockingly svelte Peter Jackson recorded a special video message from New Zealand for the panel's audience.

Jackson, who was in a flurry of production activity for subsequent releases in the trilogy when the extended DVDs were being put together, said he looks forward to taking the hundreds and hundreds of as-yet-unseen hours of behind-the-scenes footage and one day making a personal documentary of what making the “LOTR” trilogy meant to him.

“We've always thought that at some point there will be a super-uber boxed set that approaches the making-of the films from a totally different perspective,” he said.

DVD producers must stand prepared for next-generation product whether HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc. Panelists said they're recording footage in high definition as often as budgets allow, even if that means shrinking the content for now for standard DVD or broadcast release.

They're looking forward to the increased capacity of next-generation discs, but not to a format war, panelists said. Backward-compatibility will be important, some noted.

There's no worry about filling the increased amounts of digital space on next-gen discs, Lee said.

Still, as much as DVD producers love their job, there is a point of overkill for extras, Burnett said.

“I'm hoping high-def releases will devote a great deal of space to the film itself, to get the best, uncompressed version available,” he said.

JM Kenny, who works almost exclusively with Blu-ray supporter SPHE on discs such as the upcoming Stealth, was quick to tout Blu-ray.

“If you take the best possible standard DVD version and play it on the best possible display, and put it next to Blu-ray technology — that DVD looks like it's out of focus. That's how big of a difference it is,” he said.

A panel of DVD producers on the first day of the convention commented on their upcoming DVDs:

• Charles de Lauzirika showed a clip from the three hour and 20 minute making-of documentary for DreamWorks Home Entertainment's upcoming three-disc edition of Gladiator.

He's also in the thick of working on the Kingdom of Heaven DVD with Scott. He turned the documentary for this film into an interactive extra. Viewers can organize segments to create a unique documentary, he said.

• Robert Meyer Burnett dropped an “X-Men” hint.

“You know we did a special edition release X-Men 1.5 right?… You know X-Men 3 comes out next year right?” he said, adding that there was a ton of material leftover from the X-Men 2 DVD.

And, he's got carte blanche on the set of Superman Returns, with full access to director Bryan Singer.

“I even filmed him getting a blood test,” Burnett said. “Bryan, he's like Madonna, he doesn't want to live off camera.”

• Robby Huckell, who works in house at SPHE, brought footage from the upcoming Lords of Dogtown DVD.

It's a section showing versions of a couple of scenes filmmakers created to see what might get past the Motion Picture Association of America ratings committee. The young actors involved had plenty of fun coming up with colorful dialogue options.

He also said SPHE is going to be creating a Cary Grant boxed set that will include the DVD debut of Holiday and a much-needed new transfer for The Awful Truth.

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