David Prior: Part One
We interview one of the best known and most talented DVD producers in the business today, one David Prior. David has worked on a n...
David Prior has worked on a number of classic DVD packages over the last few years, most recently the Special Editions of the Die Hard series. He's also the man behind the DVD's for Fight Club, Titus, Rocky Horror Picture Show and Big Trouble In Little China. Now David Prior is working on 2 of the major blockbusters of this year, Planet of the Apes and Pearl Harbor, so DVDActive thought it would be great to catch up with him, and find out a little about him.
DVDActive: Firstly David, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions regarding your upcoming releases. To start off, could you give our readers a little bit of background about what you do as a DVD Producer, and which projects you are currently working on?
David Prior: DVD producing is a difficult job to describe because it changes from person to person and project to project. I tend to take an overall approach and try to control as much of the process as possible, which can include supervising the transfer of the film, designing the overall approach to the supplements and then shooting and editing them, conceptualizing the menus and packaging, recording and editing the commentaries, the list goes on. In amongst that is hours of those necessary evils, research and paperwork. I don't always get to control as many elements as I'd like, but that's the way it goes.
Currently I'm wrapping up Planet of the Apes (2001) and Pearl Harbor. I've got a few other projects on deck, but I haven't decided which I'll do next just yet.
DVDActive: The first DVD I purchased which you had produced was Fight Club starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. For such a big release, did you feel under a lot of pressure? Where the hell do you start, as I would imagine for such a recent release there would be bucket loads of material to look at?
David Prior: There's always pressure, I guess, but I love Fight Club and felt very strongly that I was the right person at the right time for that project. I'm pretty hard to please, so the greatest pressure came from myself. I started by reading the book and the script, combing through hours of video tape and editor's logs and just sort of finding it from there. In truth, the supplements were made up as I went along, which is how I prefer to work.
DVDActive: When putting together a DVD, how do you make decisions on what to include and what not to include, how hard do you work to get the best available features and commentaries?
David Prior: The philosophy behind any successful Special Edition is to create a living archive of the film that is as in-depth and informative as possible. Within that you try to make it entertaining as well, but honestly that's a secondary concern. I think it has to be. Special Editions have their roots in film scholarship, which presumes that the hows and whys of filmmaking are entertaining in and of themselves. In the Laserdisc days that was the accepted mode because by and large the only people taking the time to create Special Editions were movie fanatics. But as the studios discover the market possibilities there, we can see how the more 'film centric' approach is fast giving way to "Access Hollywood" type of slick, commercialized entertainments. My approach will always be the former, so that informs the choices about what to include. For example, when having to choose between an alternate edit of a scene and a theatrical featurette, I'll opt for the alternate scene since that's directly related to the body of the film. As for your second question, I work very hard.
DVDActive: What is the average length of time that a DVD takes to construct from start to finish, from the initial planning up until duplication? Which DVD that you have worked on has taken the most time up to now?
David Prior: It varies greatly upon numerous things. Filmmaker interest and availability, studio marketing plans, the age of the film, etc. There really is no formula. Planet of the Apes has come together in about four months (although it could have been faster if we had started after the film was completed) and Die Hard took close to a year. Not a year of solid work,
mind you. But we experienced a lot of snags and delays that forced us to keep pushing the schedule. Even so, there still wasn't enough time. There never is. But a deluxe, two-disc Special Edition will seldom take less than four months.
DVDActive: Lately, a hot topic on a number of forums and newsgroups has been the decision by some distributors to issue Pan&Scan transfers only for some large DVD releases including the recently announced Cats&Dogs and Willy Wonka. What are your opinions on Pan&Scan, and do you believe that Pan&Scan releases could become a more common trend?
David Prior: I will never work on a project that includes a Pan & Scan release. I don't even care if there's a Pan Scan on one side of the disc and a Widescreen on the other. Movies are not shoes and should not be subjected to consumer preference. If the film was shot in widescreen, that's what you get at home. If you don't like it, put it on your tough-shit list and send it to your chaplain.
DVDActive: Your latest projects are Planet of the Apes 2001, and the recently announced Pearl Harbor discs, and the next few questions are in regard to these. Firstly, regarding the director's cut DVD of Pearl Harbor, will it feature the original theatrical version as well as the directors cut via a branching method, or will fans of the film be forced to buy 2 separate DVD versions of the film?
David Prior: Due to many considerations, not the least of which is the running time of the movie, a seamless branching version on DVD has proved impractical. But Michael Bay and I have insisted from the beginning that if two versions were going out, then consumers must know in advance so they can pick the one they want. Additionally, we're including a rebate coupon in the first release that will allow you to buy the director's cut at a reduced price. I think this is the best way to make both versions available without compromising the quality of either.
DVDActive: For the planet of the apes DVD, is the famous deleted love scene between Mark Wahlberg and Helena Bonham Carter going to be included?
David Prior: Even if this scene was ever written (which I doubt), it was certainly never shot. The same goes for the numerous rumors about five alternate endings. Tim Burton had a hard enough time completing one ending in time for the release, let alone five. They're just rumors.
DVDActive: You began work on Planet of the Apes months before the theatrical release of the film. How does working on a very much 'work in progress' film, differ from your work on films that have already been released such as Die Hard? Do you prefer working this way?
David Prior: It differs in that you haven't seen the film and so you haven't formed an opinion about it. A lot of what I do arises out of my personal reactions to a film and so until I've seen it and had a chance to think about it, I'm a little at sea. The benefit is that the project is still
fresh in everyone's mind and materials are right at hand. Working on older films is often a bit more like archaeology, which can be alternately rewarding and frustrating. As in most things, a balance between the two would be ideal.
DVDActive: When designing a DVD's navigation system, do you have to consider known limits with hardware that have been caused by cheap imported OEM players to prevent product recalls? I know here in the UK, we often have compatibility problems with discs, which can be very annoying to say the least! If so, is this a major limitation on what you can
do with a DVD?
David Prior: Player compatibility issues are a major concern, but in the end, if a feature is within spec, we'll go with it and leave it up to consumers and hardware manufacturers to make sure their players are fully compliant. We test everything on literally hundreds of different machines so that even if we can't solve all the problems, we'll know what they are and have some solutions in mind before the complaints come rolling in.
DVDActive: Is it difficult to balance the needs of both the usability and design of the menu system? I've noticed that the interfaces on DVD's which you have produced have always been easy to use, yet look great at the same time. Do you consult with a team to decide on the right balance?
David Prior: Thank you, that's a very important issue for me. My feeling is that the content should be aimed at film geeks, but your mother should be able to use the interface. Web surfing has acclimated people to the notion of menu-style navigation, which helps, but personally I get no pleasure out of "cool" interfaces that require a software engineer or a fortune teller to navigate.
DVDActive: Do you often find it difficult sourcing the material for discs, such as outtakes, alternative ending and so on? Or do you simply ask the distributers, director and others involved to provide the material? Do you ever have to rush the extras as a result of studio pressure to release the product early, if so, which ones, and what would have appeared in them?
David Prior: I'm not at liberty to talk about missed opportunities – the studio would have my head. But I have on many occasions worked 150 hour weeks to get those last few features together before it was too late. There are always a few disappointments, and again, there's never enough time, but I have been very satisfied (with the notable exception of my first project) with my discs in this regard.
DVDActive: What sort of work goes into the design of the packaging? Do you have some involvement or is it totally handled by an ad agency? I've noticed that the Pearl Harbor packaging appears particuarly impressive, did you have much input into the design?
David Prior: The "Pearl Harbor" packaging was actually based on a concept of mine, and I put my two cents in "Fight Club," although that was mostly Fincher's idea. I'm talking about the US region 1 here, because more often than not the international packaging is very different. The initial idea with Pearl was to bind it in an actual distressed leather case. I knew this would never fly because of the expense, but the Disney artists have done an outstanding job of replicating the look on paper. I'm very happy with it.
DVDActive: What sort of commentaries do you prefer, those that are edited together or one continuous track with a group of people? Is one more difficult/expensive than the other to produce?
David Prior: Even continuous group-tracks require editing, but the short answer is that group commentaries are exponentially easier to post-produce, but edited tracks tend to be more informative and, to my mind, satisfying.
DVDActive: What do you think about New Line's Infinifilm technology and other new advances in the medium?
David Prior: I'm not sure how much of a technological advance Infinifilm is, but anything that keeps people interested in movies is good by me. We talked about doing something like that for "The Cell," but it was too soon. Studios are always coming up with ways to brand their products and some of it seems a little silly to me, but I really don't care that much.
DVDActive: What is your favourite DVD and why?
David Prior: This seems like a trick question, but I'll tell you my favorites of the ones I've done. Of course "Fight Club" holds a high place, as does "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," not because I'm a big fan of the movie -- I'm not really -- but because the supplements fit the film very well in the sense that it was the first theatrically interactive movie (albeit unintentionally) and an interactively intensive DVD. I'm very fond of the documentary on "Titus" and I like the pieces I've done for "Planet of the Apes" a lot. As far as other people's work, I just watched the supplements on "Hannibal" and thought they were quite good.
DVDActive: If you could work on the DVD release for any film, what would it be?
David Prior: Apart from my own film? That's easy: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
DVDActive: Thankyou for your time David, and I wish you luck with all your future DVD releases.
Editorial by Tom Woodward
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