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DVD Producers Lament Time Crunch to Make Product

15 Jul, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

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.

A panel hosted by TheDigitalBits.com July 14 at the Comic-Con Convention in San Diego featured some of the most high-profile DVD producers in the industry talking about their craft.

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 the disc when DVD producers had time to dive into creating special-edition content for catalog titles are over, panelists said. Now they are 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 there is a definitive edition, said Robert Myer Burnett, who has worked on DVDs for The Usual Suspects, X-Men 1.5 and currently Superman Returns and 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 discs like Spider-Man 2, The Alien Quadrilogy, 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's worked on all the New Line Home Entertainment releases with director Peter Jackson and is currently archiving the filmmaking process for King Kong. Often, people were watching incomplete rough cuts of the “Lord of the Rings” movies film while recording audio commentaries and the documentary crew still had to battle for time with filmmakers and stars during principal filming.

“You loose 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 very personal documentary of what making “Lord of the Rings” 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.

Another component of the maturing DVD market is DVD producers must stand prepared for next-generation product whether it turns out to be HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc technology. Panelists said they are recording footage in high-def as often as budgets allow, even if that means dithering down 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 an important component of which format prevails, some noted.

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

“If you have the space you will fill it,” she said. “If we have 10 hours of space and the budget and the studio agrees, we'll fill it and we'll probably be going ‘oh, I wish we had two more hours.’

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

“I'm hoping that high-def releases will devote a great deal of the space on the disc 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 on that front.

“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 its out of focus, that's how big of a difference it is,” he said.

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