DVD extras

 I love to watch these. Having them must enhance DVD saleability. If you are not interested, you don’t have to see them and rarely pay more for them, unless it is a deluxe edition. But it means that for those wanting to learn more about the film, that there is something in the DVD that is not to be had in the cinematic experience. A DVD without extras is, to paraphrase the musical Annie, a night without a star. It is not something I will buy or even borrow.

I often find these extras disappointing and frustrating. I wish I could feed this back to film distributors so I am writing it here.

I guess that like other viewers, I watch extras right after I’ve seen the film, or perhaps the next day. When you’ve seen a film you are then in the mood to hear more. Perhaps you have to take it back to a video shop or library soon. I’m not going to load up a DVD to see a few minutes of a featurette on its own, especially as getting the DVD player warmed up and sitting through the pre menu screen adverts takes 5 mins. Having sat through trailers at the cinema, I do not expect to do so again at home – it’s what a DVD (as opposed to watching it broadcast on television) is about. These actually serve to annoy audiences into not watching DVDs. Although this is not a personal admission of it, I wonder if this fuels piracy, where presumably adverts and trailers are absent.

So why do DVD extras have so much of the film in and why do they share so much of the same material? This is not the synoptic problem of the gospels – we are not hypothesising about the existence of Q source here. I’m simply asking, why bother your audience with extended sequences that they have just seen, and have three featurettes using the same quotes and clips? It assumes we’ve forgotten the film or the previous featurette and it assumes we must watch them over an interval of time, which is unlikely.

Perhaps most viewers have not been on a film set, but we have all seen these action behind the scene shots of people rushing round with cameras and fluffy booms. We also know that this is not a real fly on the wall insight into how a film is made or what working on that particular set was like. Such images take up valuable space and time and add nothing to our understanding of the film or TV series. What I like to see is a coherent explanation of the film’s genesis. Featurettes are often jumbled, not really explaining where the idea came from. I am interested in the historical research behind films and why choices have been made to depict in that way.

I’ve listened to many commentaries and been impressed by few, often giving up. There seems two kinds of commentary. The first is a group of cast and crew being silly together, talking over each other and praising each other. There is little value in these. Then there is the solo commentary. But this has the danger of being a monotone. Lectures and speeches are usually shorter than a feature, and the speaker on DVD extras often aren’t gifted at engaging us with a monologue. Often it’s the director giving the one person commentary, and there’s often self indulgence there which is chief reason I’ve heard that people switch off. Directors often say inaccurate statements – eg the King’s Speech’s Tom Hooper speaks of a major location being in a Georgian building, which for anyone who knows about architecture, is blatantly not. We come to what is the function of a commentary, and there may be at least two answers. Perhaps there needs to be two on a DVD: the anecdotal or technical one, and one which is more a commentary in the scriptural or literary sense. I want to know what’s really going on in the scene – what’s the subtext I missed? How does all the elements of the scene (known as mis en scene) help build up an image or message? Like a good cryptic crossword nothing should be wasted and the choices of clothes, framing, music and set design will all enhance the mood, character, emphasis and perhaps even plot. Partly, I want to make sure I don’t miss anything, and also I like to fully appreciate the work of all the departments.

 In film, too much is made of the director. Producers are very keen to appear in DVD extras as their role is less recognised to the audience. It feels they are desperate to come to the camera and make their efforts known. Harshly, I don’t often share that, especially as they take screen time away from other departments. Film is collaboration and it is what each person brings that has made that film what it is. I like it when each team or head of department can introduce themselves and their vision. But it would be better to have documentaries broken down into chapters, or just have shorter ones. I hate starting a featurette, unsure if this is six minutes or an hour, and having no idea what it will cover. The most important person of the crew is the one that most gets overlooked. The King’s Speech is an example of how the writer was featured so little that I couldn’t work out his accent. It’s the script that attracts the talent and money to make a film. Although the final product will be down to all those contributing and ultimately overseen by the director, the script is the basis of all they do. It is also likely to be the part that has taken the longest, being written rewritten and developed long before the preproduction starts, having been fought to be made perhaps over many years, and then rewritten again, even to the last minute. And yet the scriptwriter is not the name attached to the film we as an audience will know.

So I would like:

no trailers at the start

clear timings of each extra and what it includes, breaking long ones down; no clips unless it illustrates a point

no footage of filming unless it clearly shows something particular and informative to allow all departments to speak, especially the writer

Commentaries with different purposes, and an awareness that silly repartee has little interest to those outside

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