David Prior: Part Two
We catch up again with DVD producer David Prior, to talk about the latest, greatest DVD set to hit the streets - Blade 2. He discu...
DVDActive: Given the cult following of the original Blade, did you feel under any extra pressure when preparing this release?
There certainly wasn't any undue pressure from outside. New Line was very relaxed and supportive throughout the process. The greatest pressure I feel on any given project is usually imposed by myself. I'm not trying to be glib here, it's just that succumbing to stress or third-party expectations is the surest way I can think of to fail, so I tend to ignore things like that.
DVDActive: With Blade II being a sequel did you have to treat the way you approach the DVD differently?
Other than acknowledging that there was a first film that informed the sequel, no. I think the same is true of the movie itself. It succeeds or fails based on its own merits. It's not an extension of the first film as much as a riff on it, by a different artist, in a different key.
DVDActive: What was the atmosphere like while making the DVD? Was it relaxed? What sort of co-operation did you get from the filmmakers?
There were a few all-nighters and there's always a mad rush or two to be dealt with. As far as the filmmakers go, Guillermo was nothing but trouble -- he was like the Jewish mother I never had. He's a hectoring, meddling ass and you can tell him I said so. Okay, I'm kidding. Guillermo made himself completely available, but he's also smart enough not to micro-manage; he let me do the job. In fact, the primary reason I did the project was to meet him. I'm such a fan of intelligent, personal horror films and that field is very small right now. Guillermo is a king. All the filmmakers were big helps when I needed them. Peter Frankfurt was very involved and helped a lot in getting the commentary tracks scheduled and clearing some legal hurdles. All things considered, it really was a breeze, and an important contributing factor to that was the team at New Line. I'm in danger of tossing a bouquet or two here, something I always hate in interviews, commentary tracks, etc., but people like Jesse Torres and Joe Yamamoto deserve all the credit they can get. But the champ will always be Mike Mulvihill. If you read stories about film executives from the old days, the most praiseworthy were the ones who managed with a relaxed hand. The ones who looked at it as their job to provide a buffer between the hectic chaos that swarms the shore of any project and the artists or craftsman they have hired. That's Mike. There probably was a great deal of wringing-of-hands and gnashing-of-teeth going on, but as far as I knew it was wine and roses.
DVDActive: Just what standard does a disc have to achieve to earn the tag “Platinum Edition”?
That's New Line's classification and I don't know how strict the criteria is. But we all agreed early on that this wasn't "Infinifilm" material, so we went with Platinum Edition.
DVDActive: With Blade II forming part of the Platinum Edition, did you have to take a different approach to the disc from a standard release?
Platinum Edition, Superbit, Five Star Collection, these are just marketing strategies that don't have any direct connection with what's on the disc and I don't pay any attention to them. In fact, I think it's my job to ignore them. The goal is to create the best disc possible in the time frame allowed. Whatever banner appears on the cover isn't under my control anyway. Actually, I prefer clean covers -- just artwork with no critical blurbs.
DVDActive: What do you think about Mac users being unable to view the DVD-ROM content on the disc?
I'm not a big user of ROM content. I probably won't be until a new generation of players comes along that allows you to access ROM content from a set top player. I do think that if it's going to be there, it ought to be accessible from any computer. But if Mac users had one less reason to feel persecuted, what would happen to their messianic complexes?
DVDActive: Blade II features an excellent soundtrack, featuring collaborations between many famous dance and hip-hop artists. Given that the disc features an isolated score, was an isolated soundtrack ever considered, or were their licensing issues the prevented the inclusion of such a track?
This actually speaks to an issue I think is very important. The whole point of having an isolated score is to provide a forum for the increased appreciation and understanding of the film composer's art. It's not to undermine record sales (a commonly cited problem which I do not believe exists) nor is it to call into question the importance of dialogue and sound effects. Film music is written expressly to accompany a film. Listening to an album on its own is great, I have an enormous collection of soundtrack albums, but if you want to understand a composer's process then you're missing the key component. Since the 80's, trends in sound mixes for films have increased the tension between music and effects near the breaking point, so providing a track in which the music is given priority can in some cases be the only way to really hear what the composer was doing. (By it's very nature, an isolated score, tied to the timings of a film, does not provide a listening experience anything like a CD of the score, which is usually edited and re-sequenced to create a more cohesive, stand-alone work).
With that as a given, pre-recorded songs are not as important. They're usually available separately, were not written expressly for the film, and except in rare cases (Peter Weir and Michael Mann come to mind) are more often than not plugged into the movie by some marketing-minded executive in a mis-guided desire to sell records. I'm not saying that was the case in Blade II -- I honestly don't know the whole story on the song cuts. But I don't rue their absence from the isolated score track.
DVDActive: The disc features two commentary tracks, from director Guillermo Del Toro/producer Peter Frankfurt and Wesley Snipes/writer David Goyer, instead of one track featuring all four participants. Was this a conscious decision, or did the availability of the participants necessitate it?
In my experience with commentary tracks, two is company, any more is a crowd. There are exceptions, but even if scheduling had allowed it (which it wouldn't have) I still would have opted for two two-ways rather than one four-way (sounds filthy, eh?)
DVDActive: Some of the CGI work in the film has been criticised for looking slightly “fake”. Do you think the visual clarity of the DVD medium can have an adverse affect on CGI effects, such as those found in Blade 2?
If I know the shots you're talking about, they looked fake in theatrically, too. But there's a false perception that DVD is "super clear." It's not. It's just much clearer than what we're used to. Some of our old cheats which used to fly don't anymore. I still remember people suggesting that the reason soap operas look so weird is that they're too clean, too life-like. Now, you don't need to be a tech-head to know that's just hooey. But it points up the subjectivity of seeing. What is "fake?"
But, if you'll permit a small digression, it also points up the dire state of affairs in film release printing. People like George Lucas are running around proclaiming the arrival of a new, improved digital age when the simple fact is that digital acquisition and exhibition, while sometimes cheaper, is qualitatively so far beneath film that I find it surreal we're even having the discussion. The problem is not, as some would have us think, that digital is better. It's not. Color fidelity, exposure latitude, resolution -- comparatively digital fails every important criteria in all areas except one -- release printing. Every year that goes by sees a re-definition of what a wide release is. 10 years ago a wide release was near 1000 theaters. Now movies are released on as many as 7000 screens. And in the 70's, this was absolutely unheard of. This is due to the increasing demand for instant returns -- the all important opening weekend. It's usually impossible for labs to fulfill orders of this magnitude, so jobs are farmed out to Canada, or sub-standard labs in the states, where quality controls are lax -- how many times have you seen dirt, scratches or splices in a film on opening weekend? Dupes are run on super high speed printers, IP's are used well past the point they should, gates and baths aren't properly cleaned. And all this gets passed on to you, the consumer (paying ever increasing ticket prices), in the form of milky blacks, desaturated colors, printer mis-times, increased grain, gate weave and dirty prints. Decades of this have completely eroded audience expectations of how films ought to look theatrically. So along comes something like Episode One and hell, it's a rock steady image, there's no dirt. So what if it looks like you're watching a giant-screen TV? Audiences don't remember what a well-crafted film print looks like. In order to remind them, release patterns would have to change, opening weekend grosses would have to be considered less important than the overall run, and release prints would have to be made with an emphasis on quality over quantity. All this background is to point out that the push for the adoption of digital standards for acquisition and exhibition has everything to do with economics and nothing to do with quality.
DVDActive: In an ideal world, what other material would you have liked to include on the Blade II disc?
You mean this isn't an ideal world? I'm very pleased with the DVD. If the DVD spec was more flexible I may have presented things in slightly different ways, but overall it hits the points I wanted to hit.
DVDActive: Do you feel that DVDs can have too many supplemental features? Some releases can be almost overwhelming; for example, the Pearl Harbor: Vista Series and the forthcoming Lord of the Rings Special Edition packages contain four discs worth of material!
As producer of the Pearl Harbor 4 disc set, I feel I should perhaps recuse myself, but as a movie fanatic and DVD collector, I say there's no such thing as too many supplements, only badly produced (or badly presented) ones. It's not like having too many mashed potatoes, where your only choices are gluttony or waste. DVD supplements are there for you to refer to again and again. I've seen the 4 disc Pearl Harbor, a mammoth project which consumed 8 months of my life, selling for $21.95. If anyone wants to scream and yell that they're getting too much value for their money, they can bite me.
DVDActive: How does the production process vary between different studios? For example, do some studios have large, devoted teams to help out with production?
Most of the studios don't vary in ways that are terribly interesting. It's just about getting the job done. The best managers in any corporation hire a person to do the job, and then get out of the way and let them do it. Some studios are very efficient, well-staffed and focus on the right things (Fox, New Line), others are grossly inefficient, meddling and wasteful (Disney). I'll leave it to you to surmise which of those two examples has "large, devoted teams to 'help out' with production." (Hint -- it's Disney).
DVDActive: Can you tell us what projects are you currently working on, or will be working on in the future?
A special edition of Panic Room is still in the works and I'm circling a couple of other projects with directors I greatly admire, people like Steven Soderberg and Peter Weir. That's the one great blessing about doing this job -- getting to meet people who's work moves me, watch them do their thing, and steal ideas from them. That's pretty cool.
DVDActive: Does the interactive nature of the main documentary on the disc complicate the production process? Is it significantly more expensive, or does it involve delays?
No, the interactive component of the doc came about simply because after I'd shaped the story, I had all these little jewels left over that I couldn't bear to leave on the cutting room floor. That's one thing I love about DVD, and (in my humble opinion) a smart use of the interactive capabilities of the format: I was able to go deeper on those subjects, and preserve some cool shit, without having to blow the structure of the main doc.
Editorial by Tom Woodward
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