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Hollywood Still Making Its Presence Felt at Comic-Con

22 Jul, 2011 By: John Latchem

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Comic-Con International, taking place July 21-24, offered plenty of thrills for DVD and Blu-ray fans.

This year's Comic-Con included a huge “Star Wars” presence to promote the Sept. 16 saga-edition Blu-ray, with one booth treating fans to preview footage and another featuring comic book artist Ken Lashley drawing “Star Wars” art on a 2012 Volkswagen Passat.

In another booth, Anchor Bay showed off an extra for its Sept. 13 Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Blu-ray, featuring a battle scene converted to 3D. And while Marvel Studios didn't have any panels to promote its upcoming Avengers film, it did have a huge Avengers booth, with screens promoting Paramount's Sept. 13 DVD and Blu-ray of Thor.

Fox took a different approach to promote the new DVD and Blu-ray of Limitless, sponsoring a special cafe for members of the press at the Arts & Cinema Center Presented by Nintendo.

And “South Park” celebrated its 15th season with its first major Comic-Con presence, as Comedy Central set up a huge interactive “South Park” fan experience and filmed fans recording their “South Park” memories for use on future DVDs and Blu-rays.

While many panels were for shows and movies and dealt indirectly with home video, the panel that most directly focused on the subject was 's “The Golden Age of Blu-ray” panel July 21.

The panel was moderated by Bill Hunt, who was joined by his TheDigitalBits.com cohorts Todd Doogan and Adam Jahnke, disc producers Charles de Lauzirika (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Amazing Spider-Man, Prometheus) and Cliff Stephenson (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, The Hunger Games), and Warner SVP of theatrical catalog marketing George Feltenstein.

The topic of conversation quickly turned to the consumer perception of Blu-ray versus reality, with Feltenstein decrying press coverage that seems to suggest Blu-ray is a flop.

“For new releases, Blu-ray is smoking hot,” Feltenstein said. “Out in the press is a lot of BS. Blu-ray is a growth industry for new release. Catalog is the challenge.”

One issue, the panel concluded, was that the explosion of special editions led to a lack of quality control.

“I think part of the problem, especially with catalog, is they seem to have so many horrible supplements,” Stephenson said. “It costs the studio as much to produce, but they’re just cranking them out factory style. If we can get the great special editions for the movies that deserve them, we can get the people to buy them.”

According to de Lauzirika, extras have to be more than simple EPK-style featurettes.

“It would be great to find new ways to present this stuff,” de Lauzirika said. “You have to create cutting-edge content, and there’s a way to enjoy that content. Find a deeper meaning to the film and the supplemental material. Find the story behind the story.”

Extras are also important, Feltenstein said, because they distinguishes a new version of a title from what has been released before.

“We as a studio have to create a compelling reason for you to buy it again,” Feltenstein said.

For example, he indicated a lot of care has been put into the upcoming Blu-ray release of Ben-Hur, with an 8K transfer of the original negative.

“It cost an ungodly amount of money, and every penny is on the screen,” Feltenstein said. “I don’t think anyone will look at this and not be in awe.”

Feltenstein said the nature of the industry has changed a lot since he started working in home entertainment.

“It was 23 years ago I risked my life to put Ben-Hur on laserdisc in widescreen, and everyone thought I was a maniac,” Feltenstein said.

But he also joked about the industry trend of anniversary re-releases, especially with Blade Runner’s 30th anniversary next year.

The panelists also discussed how streaming has hurt disc sales, but seemed to dismiss it as a fad.

“I’ve watched stuff on the Internet,” Stephenson said. “Streaming sucks. I like having the disc. It’s dependable. You don’t have to worry about the Internet going down.”

Hunt noted that the streaming industry might face a logistical problem soon as relates to the cost of Internet service versus what people actually pay companies such as Netflix for digital access.

“People aren’t paying for the bandwidth they’re actually using,” Hunt said. “That’s one of the most difficult things people are going to have to deal with going forward.”

Feltenstein said people want a choice for viewing movies, but lamented that part of the reason so many people turned to streaming was that the industry was too focused on what type of disc would replace DVD.

“Digital technology is wonderful for providing access,” Feltenstein said. “But we as an industry have not succeeding in conveying to the consumer how wonderful Blu-ray is. The industry was fighting a format war when we should have been united behind promoting how great Blu-ray Disc is. It’s upsetting to me how many executives at the studios still don’t have a Blu-ray player. It’s like, why are you in this business?”

The problem, he said, is industry-wide.

“When people go to see HD at a Best Buy, and they see a 1.33:1 image stretched out and nobody knows the difference. It’s scary,” Feltenstein said. “It’s our job as an industry to educate them.”

Feltenstein compared the issue with the music industry.

“People don’t realize that when they listen to music on iTunes, it’s compressed,” Feltenstein said. “And they don’t really care. We have to make sure people care about their audio and their video. If we can’t sell them on Blu-ray, how do we sell them on something better that comes along?”

Another problem, Feltenstein said, is that people don’t always realize what “high-definition” actually means.

“DirecTV advertises 1080p broadcasts of movies that we don’t have 1080p masters of,” Feltenstein said. “When you buy Blu-ray, you are getting the real deal. When you download, you’re getting something that’s chopped, compressed and bound to be inferior.”

Indeed, with so many formats available, people have become somewhat spoiled when it comes to Blu-ray.

“People don’t understand the conditions in which films were made,” Stephenson said. “They think everything should look like Avatar. So they see an old movie and might say that it’s a horrible Blu-ray, but really it’s a great Blu-ray. It’s just not a good-looking film. Sometimes the best thing they can do is get out of the way and let the film be what it is.”

Another consideration for catalog Blu-ray relates to deciding which movies actually deserve the upgrade, since it can be quite costly.

“Black and white on Blu-ray disc is a scary thing because it usually doesn’t sell,” Feltenstein said. “King Kong didn’t sell. It’s extraordinarily expensive. That’s why A Streetcar Named Desire is a huge risk. But Warner management is very supportive.”

Feltenstein also plugged upcoming Looney Tunes Platinum Collection and Tom & Jerry Golden Collection Blu-ray sets, with cartoons that have been remastered from Technicolor negatives once thought to have been lost in a fire in the 1970s. He said the cartoons would be presented uncut, and that while a lot of the cartoons were previously released in the “Golden Collection” DVDs, a lot of them have never been released before.

This led into a conversation about the released of the rarely seen “Censored 11” cartoons, which have been unseen over the years due to their perceived themes of racism and other sensitive topics. Feltenstein said he has been given permission at the corporate level to explore releasing these cartoons someday.

“We can release them if they are presented in their proper historical context,” Feltenstein said. “How it will happen — on DVD, on Blu-ray — I don’t know. But corporate is open to it and it is being discussed.”

Feltenstein hinted that if the Tom & Jerry Blu-ray does well, he may have some leverage to push a personal favorite of his, a Tex Avery cartoon collection.

“I’m taking a big gamble on [Looney Tunes] and [Tom & Jerry], and I’ve bet my life with management that they sell,” Feltenstein said. “So go buy them.”

The panelists also pondered about the effect of 3D on the industry, as Hunt noted that a one reason new 3D discs don’t sell is that the 3D movies coming out aren’t very good.

“I think it will take off in 10 to 15 years when higher resolution is here and people won’t need to wear glasses,” Hunt said. “It will be a natural evolution, like color.”

“The thing that will push 3D TVs is video games,” Jahnke said. “That’s where it seems to make the most sense.”

Feltenstein indicated that some classic 3D movies are being converted for 3D in the modern format.

“We’re likely to do Dial M for Murder and House of Wax in real 3D,” Feltenstein said. “The problem is the grain. The way they shot 3D in the ’50s it might not have been shot in 3D at all. Those are likely for 2013, if the numbers work. We’re doing tests.”

Hunt asked if manufacture-on-demand programs have helped fill the gap for catalog titles, and Feltenstein said they had.

“We have built it into a very significant business,” Feltenstein said of Warner Archive. “We’re closing in on 1,000 titles.”

For perspective, Feltenstein said that the entire Warner catalog of store-released films amounts to about 1,200 titles since 1997, and Warner Archive has been around only a few years.

“It was meant to be complementary to the retail business,” Feltenstein said. “But the retail business has changed.”

Jahnke said he’s seen a lot of demand for older movies through his Facebook page.

“I’ve got this ‘most wanted’ thing, a list of about 500 titles never on disc,” Jahnke said. “A lot of them are now coming out through Warner Archive or the Sony program or occasionally Criterion. People are constantly requesting titles.”

“People want the discs. They want the high quality,” Feltenstein said. “And it’s our job to give it to them.”

Feltenstein added: “The more consumer-friendly studios can be, and we at Warner strive to be that, the more we can create a better world in which to live.”


About the Author: John Latchem

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