As DVD grew into a consumer phenomenon during the early part of the decade, an entire creative industry dedicated to making bonus disc content burgeoned right along with it.
This energized movement was led by an elite group of indie filmmakers who were handpicked in many cases by top helmers to adapt their iconic films into so-called “special edition” releases.
Now, 10 years after the introduction of the DVD, studios have established efficient production operations for the creation of bonus material so that even new releases with lukewarm critical and commercial success get the special-edition treatment.
Meanwhile, many denizens of the bonus biz are now plying their creativity and innovation to high-def formats that may never achieve wide-scale consumer acceptance instead of thinking up new ways to freshen up the product that’s already achieved unprecedented levels of popularity.
Have DVD’s supplemental possibilities — which once seemed so limitless — settled into mechanized production processes churning out a never-ending cycle of deleted scenes, commentaries and making-of featurettes?
Like good things in Hollywood tend to do, the success generated by fresh, innovative bonus features has led to an unwarranted proliferation of “collectors editions,” DVD creatives concede.
George Feltenstein, senior VP of theatrical catalog marketing for Warner Home Video, says too many unremarkable movies get the special-edition treatment these days and that some applications are so egregious they’re “an abomination against man and God. It was intended for movies like ‘Citizen Kane,’ ” he adds. “Changing the color of the box and adding one extra feature is called ripping off the public.”
“When I started, there were no limitations,” says Laurent Bouzereau, an acclaimed DVD producer whose credits number well over 200. Those credits include Sony’s about-to-be-released 30th anniversary “Ultimate Edition” of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
On many releases today, Bouzereau says, the bonus materials have degraded to a “forgettable aspect of the DVD. It’s hard to keep up with so many movies coming out. A lot of (supplemental content) has lost its artistic integrity.”
For their part, the studios have very good reasons for loading their discs with materials.
“In terms of measuring whether extras sell more units, I’ve not seen any studies that give a definitive answer,” says Mike Mulvihill, senior VP of content development for New Line Home Entertainment. “But the sense we get is that if a consumer is on the fence between two titles, and one has extras and the other doesn’t, the extras will win the argument.”
Even today, Feltenstein says, “some people will buy a DVD specifically for the extras.”
The need to pack discs with added value has been juxtaposed with blossoming release schedules that have slowed down only recently, with the number of catalog titles not already put out on standard-def DVD — some several times — finally dwindling.
To meet these stringent production demands, the more freewheeling methodologies that defined the earlier days of the DVD creative medium had to give way to more hardcore studio scheduling.
For several years now, on newly released films or TV programs, bonus materials are often determined during the pre-production stage, and their execution is planned out in detail and in lockstep.
“We’ve developed a process that allows us to be involved in the entire production,” says Andy Siditsky, senior veep of worldwide DVD production and creative services for Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. “We work really closely with theatrical. The evolution of bonus features is that it’s become a lot more integrated into the production itself. We’re involved at the beginning of the production, given a lot more access, whether it’s a movie or TV. That, of course, allows for the capturing of far more interesting and intriguing materials for DVD.”
Adds Jeff Raedoycis, senior VP of worldwide DVD production for Paramount: “It’s all about logistics: We’ve been doing this for 10 years now, and we know how to schedule everything out.”
With today’s careful production planning, few big new releases slip by without the helmer and key cast members offering their commentary, and the gathering of behind-the-scenes docus has almost become routine.
This production synergy has allowed filmmakers and showrunners to be directly involved with the production in a way they couldn’t be before.
Still, with the novelty of established extras wearing thin, even the studios themselves are hoping that their DVD production partners will surprise them with something a little different than a blooper reel.
“They’re pushing us to come up with something new in the standard-definition world beyond the behind-the-scenes featurette,” notes Mike Meadows, president of home entertainment for New Wave Entertainment. “They want us to be a little more creative and original.”
At the same time, however, New Wave’s studio clients are pushing the company and its competitors to imagine brand-new experiences that can be delivered to viewers via Blu-ray and HD DVD, which offer far more interactive potential than traditional DVD technology.
So far, what DVD creatives have come up with in regard to these new formats has been largely underwhelming — mostly it’s just the same old docus and commentaries, only you can run them simultaneously with the film.
But it’s early in the game for both HD DVD and Blu-ray, and cooler stuff is coming, notes Meadows, who must now spread his creative energy across three platforms.
“(Blu-ray and HD DVD) have put more pressure on us,” he concedes. “We sometimes have to come up with three different features for the same title.”
For his part, Meadows and other DVD creatives seem re-energized by this pressure.
“The adventurous new thinking that defined the Wild West days of DVD is now in the HD world,” he explains. “It’s the new frontier. … It’s a fun time to be in the DVD business.”