I had the smeg-tastic priviledge of having an e-chinwag with Andrew Ellard, best known as the writer & co-ordinator of the off...
Well, screw down my diodes and call me Frank! Another member of the illustrious Grant Naylor Productions (GNP) crew graciously granted me a second interview regarding the long-awaited Red Dwarf TV Series DVDs, to which I almost fainted like Rimmer on his thirteenth attempt at the Astro-Navigational exam (this is because I was still in the process of transcribing the first interview with Doug Naylor at the time - talk about busy!). I had the smeg-tastic priviledge of having an e-chinwag with Andrew Ellard, best known as the writer & co-ordinator of the official Red Dwarf website and having been recently appointed to the position of DVD Associate Producer for GNP.
Now it's one thing to write, film and produce an entire television show based on the smallest genre of all, the Science-Fiction Comedy, but it's a-whole-nother matter to bring together all of the archival material that pertains to it. This was the 'challenge' faced by the guy who pretty much had every single DVD element go through him just like a Hologram, so his mission was to swallow as much curry-flavoured Red Dwarf supplementals as he could muster, then spit it all out into something that would resemble a Triplicated Angelic Pot-Noodle. Of course, nothing could ever taste as good as this (never) - but if a pot-noodle could age well over time, then Andrew and the GNP crew hoped that the wait would be just as divine for the DVDs. Now then, time for those Haiku readings!
DVDActive: So were you a Dwarfer before you came onboard to Grant Naylor Productions and what are your first memories from the time you came across this TV show (hehe, and which series did you see first)?
I was given Fan Club membership as a birthday present when I was sixteen - God, that's a decade ago! I used to send in letters, articles, pictures, fiction, all that stuff ... this was right after Series V went out. I ended up editing the club magazine and, when GNP were looking for someone to write and co-ordinate the website, they asked me. I'm a writer anyway, so it was only the internet stuff that was a stretch!
DVDActive: So how much contact did you have with the cast & crew before (and during) the DVD production schedule and what was it like dealing with them, especially the actors?
You have to bear in mind that a DVD is a retrospective thing, especially one for a show made in 1987. Production, which is where the cast are involved, is very much over! That said, it was great to get hold of Craig, Chris, Danny and Norman for the commentaries - it's hard to get those guys in a room at the same time, they're so busy.
Chris and Craig also came in to do interviews for our new documentary, Launching Red Dwarf. It was one of those, 'are they free tomorrow?' things, and thankfully they were. Doug interviewed them both, I just heckled occasionally ... and then interviewed Doug for the same documentary, as well as a second piece for Series II.
DVDActive: What exactly is your role in the development of the DVDs and will most of the same people (including yourself) be involved in all eight of them?
We've made sure to include credits on the DVDs, because the people involved really do deserve to take credit for what they did. It's been really collaborative, so we need to name-check the important people. The producer for Grant Naylor was Helen Norman. She and Ross McGinley at BBC Worldwide are the ones who find and spend the money, and make sure it's all legal and above-board. Ross is also the guy who trawled the BBC archives for 14 year-old trailers and skutter designs - from the BBC end, it's been very much his thing.
Ross also got us together with Digital Deluxe, the team who created the awesome animated menus. They've done an amazing job - we've got roaming Skutters! And, as a fan, I get to sit there and say things like, 'That prop didn't appear until Series II' in a whiney voice...and they fix it!
My role was ... a lot of everything. I co-designed the cover art, came up with content, consulted on the menus, picked deleted scenes, and have been publicising it all in a production diary on reddwarf.co.uk. The joke is that all that's left now for me is to be selling them down the market.
Sorry, I haven't really answered your question. There's another six series to go, we're getting ready on three and four already. But I hope most of the key people stay where they are. It's hard to say, it's a four year project. I know I want to see them through.
DVDActive: Did you have any previous experience in creating DVDs, and if not, were there any similarities in doing this with what you have done before (say in terms of organising the material for display on a multimedia platform, like a website etc)?
That's a good point. Yeah, it is kind of like the website, I guess. I've never worked on DVDs before, but I'm a avid purchaser. So you draw on the really basic instinct of 'What would I like to see?'. That's why the site takes so many hits, I think - it's a real balance of news and information coupled, I hope, with some funny stuff, too. If I were visiting a Dwarf website, reddwarf.co.uk is what I'd want to see.
The thing I campaigned hardest for DVD-wise was the deleted scenes. I REALLY wanted those more than anything else. I think they're the most important for the fans. But it was so long ago, and I know Doug was unsure that there would be much of worth left among the outtakes. But we've got twenty minutes for both Series I and Series II - so despite the hours I spent in the dark, watching the rough edits and waiting for a line I didn't recognise, it's been really worthwhile. Some really interesting 'lost' moments.
DVDActive: According to your interview with Mr Flibble, you're the kind of guy who prefers content over flashiness ... so what things did you want to try and avoid (or include) when making the Red Dwarf DVDs and do you feel you were relatively successful in this?
"Content over flashiness" - that's accurate, I guess. Except maybe when it comes to strippers ...
Yeah, I think we were successful. It would have been very easy to have done cool animated menus leading to just six episodes and a trailer. But Doug would have been appalled if we'd done that, and so would I. It's why we didn't churn them out the moment DVD became big. We've waited until now so the expertise was in place to do the show justice, and give the fans something they'd be glad to own.
DVDActive: How did you (and the other team members) managed to scrounge up all the extra stuff for the DVDs you wanted, were you looking for things in particular that were hard to source, and did you actually come across any hidden gems that you probably didn't know even existed or thought would never come to light?
Well, see the answer about deleted scenes. I never thought we'd find the old footage, much less find so much to use. The trailers were a hell of a find, too - kudos to the McGinley detective skills. But there's not much lost that we didn't know about. Helen's been with GNP for ten years, so she knows where all the bodies are buried, and I've been an avid fan for the same length of time. Between us we kind of have both the major angles covered - an encyclopaedic knowledge!
DVDActive: You once said to me that you pretty much saw every single piece of material that could have gone into the DVDs ... how easy or difficult was it to disect and filter down everything you had available to you, yet still retain as much quality and quantity as possible to satisfy even the most demanding of Red Dwarf fans?
It's not too tough, actually. For example, we originally had a very long 'raw effects footage' reel. It's all great stuff, but after 10 minutes of silent models, you really do lose the will to live. So we had that tightened up - nothing was lost, but seeing the same shot done three times takes the edge off it a bit.
I'm missing out two really important people, actually. All the editing for GNP was done by Mark Wybourn, with Jim Skinner assisting. Mark did a great job on the documentary, and he and Jim put the 'Drunk' featurette together SO well. It's quirky, it's funny, and we have a similar one for Series II. Of course, having had the idea, it's left to the sad fan here to come up with a list of EVERY clip in the show where the cast are seen drinking or drunk!
We surprised ourselves. We haven't had to put any 'padding' on, it's all really good or interesting stuff, even the Easter Eggs. We were expecting it to be a nightmare - nobody in 1987 was filming behind the scene footage - after all, nobody knew what kind of success Red Dwarf was going to be.
DVDActive: Still, even with this amount of extra material to sort through, can you tell us if there's anything that has not ended up on the DVD that you regret not being able to include, or have you been able to nail down everything you've wanted?
There's not much that got away, just because there was never much stuff from that time in the first place.
DVDActive: Were there any little knick-knacks of footage that you or Doug knew existed but had absolutely no time to locate (such as even some silly things like 'Best Christmas Wishes' fillers for TV broadcasts)?
Again, there just isn't anything like that for the early series. International sales were some way off, so there was nothing like the PBS idents the cast now do. But keep your eyes peeled for the later series DVDs, because I'm sure that kind of stuff will be showing up.
DVDActive: Was there any consideration to include information regarding the CGI-remastered Series 1, 2 & 3, for example some documentation as to how and why they were developed, and maybe even showing a comparison of the footage itself as an extra (video or still)?
I think those would only have been relevant if we'd included both original and remastered versions for the release. I know the fans talked a lot about this, but Doug had always said there was no way we'd want to release anything other than the original versions for our first DVDs. Plus I don't think anyone would have been pleased to pay the extra for a THIRD disc!
DVDActive: As for the bloopers and outtakes (known as Smeg-Ups/Outs to fans), did you manage to find a lot more footage than what was previously released on VHS, and indeed did you include every last little fluff-up that you had available to you (or did you just cut it down to an 'entertaining length')?
Again, we were keen pile on the extras, but not to the point where it bored people. 'Exhaustive' can be exhausting. Add to that the fact that, frankly, every decent smeg-up has already been unearthed for the tapes you mentioned, and really it was better to rely on the great material we already had.
DVDActive: Now the concept of filming models on wires(?) and using things like radio-controlled props (eg skutters) might be old news to some people, but can we expect any footage or discussion on the 'how-to' as well as the 'foul-ups' that used to occur with them?
There's not a lot of 'how to' for Series I! Peter Wragg and his team built the Red Dwarf ship and filmed it using motion control - not 'flying by wires' at all. But there were very few effects. The cast are very funny in the commentary about working with them, and there's a booklet I've written which comes with the set which goes into it a bit more. Once again, there's a lot more to say - and a lot more footage available - for this kind of thing when it comes to the later series.
DVDActive: Just recapping on the DVD menu-system - not only have the various locales and objects been faithfully replicated, but even the different lighting and colour schemes that help to represent the individual production values for each Red Dwarf series are in place as well - a thing that I'm sure only frequent Red Dwarf viewers will be able to pick up on. How many people were ultimately involved with the creation of these menus and how much fun (or even tedium) was this process for you, the creators and the approvers?
See above, and then see the website! The team at Digital Deluxe did wonders. They watched the tapes until their eyes rolled out. I'm really looking forward to seeing what we'll do for the later series, once the sets and lighting started to look really great.
For them I'm sure it was pretty dull. I was providing lists of all the little things worth including. For Series I its things like the piles of white dust, the funeral canisters, the cat's pile of 'Fish' containers. For US it was great fun, for the Deluxe guys ... well, I think they'll be glad of a break. (Laughs)
DVDActive: I've also read that the Skutters were heaps of fun to develop and play with in the menus, could you maybe tell us what else you have in mind for enhancing the menu experience in future series DVDs?
Well, I know what ideas *I* have, but I don't want to spill them out now and have someone tell me it can't be done! Doug and I have talked about it a little, but really it's too early to say. Also, I want to wait until the reviews of the first two series come out, see what people think.
DVDActive: Was the cover art created by the same people as the menus, and who's idea was it to come up with the Red Dwarf logo to 'complete itself' across the spines?
That was one of mine, the spine thing. I love it when your set looks like it belongs together. If you buy the four Alien movies, or the Buffy boxed sets, they look like they SHOULD be on the shelf together.
The cover art was a concept by a great girl called Gina Hinton, who has since moved on to new things. Hers was the silver logo/red background concept. Then I worked it up, put it together, I think maybe put Lister on the back, painting the hull. We passed the whole lot to the BBC with a note that said 'Exactly like this' and that's what they did. We've had the concepts for all the series lined up in the office, already in plastic cases. It's a buzz to look at ... until you remember you've got to work another three years to finish them!
DVDActive: So, since we are given the Japanese-dubbed version of The End episode, have all the Red Dwarf episodes been similarly re-dubbed for the Japanese DVD market (if not into any other language for release around the world)? I was thinking that this might end up being some kind of weird 180 degree spin from when Monkey (Saiyûki) was translated into English over 20 years ago ...
We've been translated all over the shop, the Dwarf's gone global! I love the Japanese version - and it's remastered, which will give people a chance to compare. Doug and I sat and watched it trying to pick which scene to include on the DVD. But we ended up going 'the first scene's really interesting, and so's the next one, and we can't lose Kochanski and the Captain etc' ... until Doug said 'Just whack it all on!'. My favourite's the 'Everybody's dead, Dave' scene. Hearing that in Japanese is a revelation.
Sorry, I digress. The show has recently become incredibly big in Japan. It's just so cool over there right now. They've got all the episodes on TV, of course, but I hear the DVDs are coming out soon. Unlike here there won't be any bonus material or zippy menus. They just want the episodes, sooner rather than later. We couldn't possibly get all eight series out in a single year the way they wanted them - but if they want just the episodes (and they can't get them on video, remember) then why not?
DVDActive: Has Grant Naylor been in discussions to get the U.S. Pilot Episode(s) or the various TV specials such as Can't Smeg, Won't Smeg for inclusion into a future DVD release?
We had a lot of, very short, conversations about Red Dwarf USA, but the truth is that I don't think we'll ever see a home release for it. It's bogged down in a decade's-worth of red tape and ownership questions, which isn't helped by the fact that it was never INTENDED for public broadcast. It was only ever meant to be seen by the people you sold the show to. I sometimes think that might be the same reason Joss Whedon hasn't included the Buffy pilot on any DVD release. As for the others, we'll see how it goes.
DVDActive: Since we hope to see all the Red Dwarf series released eventually, are you considering making a mega-box set with all the DVDs and possibly any other bonus stuff (like a 9th extras-only disc or even some sort of special offer for purchasers of the DVDs)?
I wish I could say we had the capacity to be THAT organised! This release won't be completely out until February 2006, so smeg knows where the franchise will be at that point. The movie's going to revolutionise Red Dwarf. If I were a gambling man, I'd bet on some kind of offer, simply because it's worked so well for things like the Bond movies. But it's simply too far off to speculate.
DVDActive: So is the Series 2 DVD in the digital can, or are you still waiting on any last minute material to, uh, materialise?
Thankfully, we're pretty much done on Series II. We're going through the animated menus - we've got cowboy and Indian skutters in these! - and then we'll be ready for the final simulation. We'll be posting full details on reddwarf.co.uk early in the New Year.
DVDActive: As for the Red Dwarf movie (and its inevitable DVD release), how will you be involved and what do you hope to get from the experience?
I'm really looking forward to the film. I'm going to be writing the 'Making Of' book, which we have great plans for. That'll run alongside the website's coverage, of course, which we want to make truly comprehensive. I should be on-set and on-location all the way through - and with better access than any journalist will get.
As for the DVD release, it's a bit early to think about, though I know we'll be sure to get as much material as we can during production because it's always useful. Behind the scenes things, Making Of' stuff, interviews, all that. I'd like to work on the DVD, but they really need to shoot the film first.
DVDActive: (This is just to clear up a slight bit of confusion here) ... The website states that there is a possible November / February scheduling for every series on DVD - do you mean to say that each series will appear every Nov & Feb of each year, or that it will then follow onto May & Aug as well (the plan at least)?
No no, you were right the first time. We're aiming for November and February for four years, fingers crossed. We're working on them in pairs, which roughly fits the way the series go together.
Amazingly, people are complaining about the schedule - they want them all NOW which I understand, because I've wanted them all ever since we lined those test boxes up on the shelf! But, as I said with Japan, you can have them quick or you can have them great. We've always said that we would rather take the time and get it right. And I hope the releases in November and February prove that we've made the right decision.
Well, when it comes to organising supplemental material for a DVD most of us wouldn't even contemplate on who actually collates, categorises and exhibits all these stocking-filler extras into a user-friendly medium. The last thing anyone were to utter would be the fans, because isn't this typically the responsibility of those who headed the project in the first place? But then who better qualified for this task than the person who has ultimately seen everything from both sides of the fence? To this end, Andrew Ellard is the fan's fan of Red Dwarf and I couldn't think of a better Space Corps representative to navigate us through the White Hole (or light at the end of the tunnel) for this show. But I tell you what, it sure feels like 3 million years since we first heard about the DVDs, doesn't it?
And I apologise for leading all of you smee-hee's down the path of Nodnol before, I do stand corrected on my previous statement regarding the schedule for all future Red Dwarf Series DVDs to come. The plan is indeed to release every two series worth of DVDs in November & February each, not every three months as I had wrongly surmised before. The thing was that I was at a point where I had to choose from one interpretation of the official text or the other ... and silly me picked the other. Of course, with the final DVD aiming for a 2006 release at this stage, I'd say that the Red Dwarf TV Series has now become the second-most eagerly anticipated set of DVDs next to the original Star Wars Trilogy - but then, I am a fan of both! Although I doubt I can wait yet another 871 Selim before Kryten (Robert Llewellyn's version of course) finally gets the DVD treatment he so richly deserves, can you? But since GNP and Co would rather give us the ultimate version of Red Dwarf, I guess it's better dead than smeg!
Editorial by Warwick Gaetjens
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