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The Torch: Bonus material on your DVD — does it add up?

19 August 2008

The Torch: Bonus material on your DVD — does it add up?

I am a passionate consumer, you guessed it, and so it is that I care about my value-for-money ratio when buying a DVD to add to my collection. Admit to yourself, if you are of like mind, that at times it may just be for the sake of collecting, but more often than not the interest is genuine and directed toward the movie itself.

thetorch.jpgYou want to revisit and own the film that touched, entertained, moved, inspired or unsettled you so deeply (or simply made you feel better), and it doesn’t take much deliberating — you just buy. Of course, some of us do this for research, out of professional considerations or just because we missed out on a short-lived theatrical, either way, we will most certainly trouble ourselves to keeping that remote control busy for browsing the menu. So, what does it offer?

This is not an ideal world we live in, obviously, but honestly, for all our experience with it, still, we won’t ever stop having some form of expectation either to be met or frustrated as we go along. In terms of the product we spend our money on, if there is nothing extra on a DVD then you will most likely feel cheated, wanting for more and the whole purchase in hindsight will amount to nothing more than yet another very disappointing bargain.

On seeing what amount of hard work and labour has been invested in making a particular movie, what detail everybody involved in the production concerned themselves with, you are likely to value the outcome more highly. For every filmmaker out there this should be taken as a serious hint at how some of us movie-lovers or part-time critics arrive at our judgments — and cast our votes if it comes to that. So do not underestimate the impact your hard-copy packaging can have on aggregate market results; and by that I mean the relevance of including additional contents as well. Therefore, let’s go through the list item by item of what makes us happy or not (but strictly speaking of non-adult DVDs here, okay?):

I am personally always one to appreciate the effort that went into creating a neat package and a DVD menu that is a fitting visual extension of the feature proper, a thought-through and well designed interface that lets you stay on in the experience, or gets you into the right mood and mind-set prior to pressing the play button. To me this is like the carefully furnished lobby to a classy hotel ushering you in and making you feel comfortable and welcome and also delectably anticipating of the experience in full. On the other hand, if you are a distributor (possibly your own) or product designer, or in whatever way in charge of putting it all together, don’t indulge in over-refinement when programming the navigation. I vividly remember the TARTAN DVD of Wong Kar Wai’s “2046″ for example — so enervating; yes it’s true, there are many kinds of hotels and confusingly different rooms in them, I know…

Speaking of too much, the reverse is also to be avoided, as just a meagre teaser show in our deserved bonuses may be economical from the point of view of production, but it only serves to demonstrate an unforgivable negligence and brazen disregard for the customer. Trailers we want, yes, but like every other item on that disc, they should be optional and free for browsing or skipping, not run in auto mode. And while I’m at it, let’s not forget that most of us (if not all) don’t want to see commercials on our home-use copy, please, because we have already paid the fair tag without pirating of course!

As for behind the scenes footage, naturally it would require a bit of advance planning and inclusion during production so that it can be suspenseful and informative in its own way of relative directness later on. But on this count for once, even a simple hand-held camera will do absolutely fine and even make for that certain Peeping Tom look of indiscretion that some of us find so appealing; so it should be doable for your independent production just as well.

Subtitles there should be — as many as there are (legally) available for the hard-copy release of your film, and dubbing for those who should want them. But with respect to the subs, here’s something I wish for, that they be consistent throughout the DVD’s content, including the bonus material and footage if possible. More often than not this is not the case and really quite irritating with foreign language films in particular.

Deleted scenes tell the story of the movie’s final version being born (and hopefully coming to life) in the editing process, but what’s even more important is the fact that they can give us a perspective of a film as being much less of that unchallenged, monolithic entity like we are made to believe most of the time, but rather shifty and almost foam-born (like Venus actually). While outtakes may be relevant or funny, this too has its limits — extra footage, like featured interviews in particular, can often offer a lot more profound insight into the making and meaning of a movie, bring us closer to cast and director and add to the overall value.

With the now established blue-ray format the field should be cleared, technically at least, to satisfy your consumer’s every wish and appetite for gimmicks at this point — for in all our media entertainment technology’s history and driving its development has always been our need for more data and storage capacity. This is a trend unlikely to abate any time soon but for now and virtually entering us into the digital era, extras like alternate angles and many other interesting things should finally be realized and be released into the public.

In any case, my appeal to those responsible is clear: do deliver, since he who bought the DVD or other has made their choice already and have proven their interest in your movie. The buyer is ready to take their time on a scale that means an honourable obligation to any sincere filmmaker, I should hope. Needless to say, any amount of extra material included in a hard-copy packaging cannot save a failed film, but on some occasions it will be a valuable addition to a particularly challenging piece, enhancing the viewing experience and probably even providing the pivotal push for tipping the scale in a more favourable and lasting direction. It has happened before, so don’t count yourself or your product out too early in the day when in fact there is still some ways to go and the hope alive to connect with your audience if not in cinemas but in their living room — this might be just as meaningful to them and therefore worth your effort.

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