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DVD Producers Say Job is Great, But Getting a Little Tougher

23 Jul, 2004 By: Jessica Wolf

SAN DIEGO — A panel of DVD producers speaking at the 2004 Comic-Con International Convention admitted they have the best job in the world, but they said their jobs are a little tougher these days due to crunched theatrical-to-DVD windows and a greater level of pressure and involvement from studio legal departments and retail giants.

Bill Hunt and Todd Doogan, editors of The Digital Bits, moderated the panel.

“A lot of people are saying DVD has been ‘dumbed down' for Wal-Mart, and to an extent I agree,” said Charles de Lauzirika, whose DVD work includes Gladiator, Legend, Black Hawk Down Special Edition, The Alien Quadrilogy and the upcoming Spider-Man 2. “I almost liked it better when DVD was a more underground product, like laserdisc, and you could really do anything you wanted with it. But now, sometimes it seems there are just too many cooks in the kitchen.”

Robert Meyers Burnett, DVD producer for The Usual Suspects and X-Men 2 agreed: “In 2002 I could have put anything I wanted on The Usual Suspects, and I did, but there's no way that would happen now.” Burnett shared a story about putting together the X-Men 2 DVD and a certain moment where a lighting trick made it look like Hugh Jackman was running around with a bare bum. The studio wouldn't let it on the DVD.

The hundreds of avid fans in attendance cheered the producers when they mentioned upcoming projects and plied the panel with questions about “double-dipping” (releasing a film on DVD and a follow-up special edition a few months later), the dearth of isolated soundtrack scores on discs and the demand for anamorphic film transfers on DVD.

Consumer expectations are higher than ever, said Hellboy DVD producer Javier Soto, who works almost exclusively with director Guillermo Del Toro, which is also a challenge because that has to be balanced with the needs and demands and legal issues of the studios.

In some ways, the job is easier these days because you don't have to explain what DVD is to a director anymore, said Susie Lee, who's spent the past three-and-a-half years working with Michael Pellerin and New Line on “The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition” DVDs and before that worked on Disney's line of special-edition product. But DVD producers spend more time in meetings and hammering out legal details than ever before, she said.

At the mention of street dates, all the panelists cringed at the shrinking time frame, noting that sometimes DVD content has to be ready before the film even hits theaters.

“I don't understand how we're supposed to deliver elements of a film when it hasn't been filmed yet,” Soto said. “Sometimes I think if the studios had their way they'd be selling the DVD in the lobby of the theater,” he joked.

Another challenge DVD producers face is working with content that the studios have employed from Electronic Press Kit (EPK) companies to garner from a movie's filming. The interview footage created for EPK material is usually generic, short and unrealistic, panelists said, as it's designed for promoting the movie or providing media soundbytes, which doesn't tell the story of a film.

One way around that, said Burnett, who is working extensively in New Zealand on the upcoming Chronicles of Narnia film, is to work closely with the EPK company and direct that progress. Burnett is already deeply entrenched in developing DVD content for the beloved children's series currently being set to film, which won't hit theaters until Christmas 2005.

“The studios are allowing people like myself to get involved as early as possible,” he said. “I will shoot every minute of every day of this production schedule.”

“[Chronicles of Narnia] doesn't come out for 18 months, but we started working on the DVD eight months ago,” Burnett added.

Hooking up with the right director can make all the difference in the job and the final product, panelists agreed, especially Soto and Lee.

“Your greatest ally is the director,” Soto said. “‘Lord of the Rings' is what it is because of Peter Jackson.”

“I have the greatest job in the world, because I work for the biggest DVD geek in the word, “ he added. “Guillermo Del Toro has more DVDs than a video store.”

Even old-school directors who once left much of the DVD process to their DVD producers are more involved these days, like Ridley Scott, said Lauzirika.

Lauzirika said, as Scott is working on his massive production Kingdom of Heaven, the director is saving elements specifically for the DVD.

“He is thinking more about the DVD than ever,” Lauzirika said.

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