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Great interviews with "The DVD Makers" on bringing classics to dvd.

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Great interviews with "The DVD Makers" on bringing classics to dvd.

Old 03-15-05, 04:24 PM
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Great interviews with "The DVD Makers" on bringing classics to dvd.


George Feltenstein

George Feltenstein, the Senior Vice President in charge of Warner Home Video's classic catalog,
has been responsible for some of the most exciting DVD releases of recent years, from magnificent double-disc editions of seminal films like Casablanca and Citizen Kane to smartly packaged box sets like last year's Film Noir Classic Collection and this year's Warner Bros. Pictures Gangster set. Warner has become the model of how a big-studio home-video company should operate: Its catalog is unassailable, its discs are packed with classy special features, and the product keeps coming, month after month.

The Onion: This year already, you've released the Gangster Collection and the Classic Comedies Collection, and you've got the box sets Broadway To Hollywood and Controversial Classics coming up. Some of these groupings of movies are natural, and some are a little odd. What's the advantage of handling your catalog titles this way?

George Feltenstein: It's something I've been doing for years, going back to putting classics out on videocassette. You provide a value to the consumer if they can buy a five- or six-title box for the same price as three single titles. It's turned out to be a huge success. It's not like the promotions are created along the lines of "Let's have a box to do this," it's more like, "We have these titles to release. How best can we release them?"

O: Do you brainstorm themes based on what you know is in the catalog and what's due to be released?

GF: Yeah, I basically make the decisions in this regard. For instance, the Controversial Classics: I had a bunch of titles that I needed to find a way to bring out. It's a looser thread than, let's say, the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection, or the Film Noir box, or The Marx Brothers. The Controversial Classics are films that are very disparate in how they were made and their sensibility, but each one of them was progressive in its time.

O: You've got I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang in that set, and Fury, two of the best films of the '30s.

GF: And on the other side, from the '60s, we've got The Americanization Of Emily, which is a very early anti-war satire. It's more topical now than ever. There's a four-page article about it in this month's Vanity Fair, questioning why it's not on DVD. And here we are, laughing. [Laughs.] Yeah, I'm very, very excited about that. And then A Face In The Crowd, which is a masterpiece that was too ahead of its time. They're great films. All of the films, in both of the boxes.

We keep a very loaded schedule, with a lot of product and a great deal of care for each release. Everything is remastered and restored. We put a tremendous amount of effort into the packaging and the marketing. We spend money to advertise. We don't just throw these films out there and expect people to naturally gravitate to them at the store. It's harder to sell these films then it is to sell a brand-new movie, or something like Bambi, which is preprocessed and prepackaged, and it's Disney and people buy it regardless of what the movie is. It's a lot harder to do, but the net benefits have been tremendous.

O: That Bambi DVD includes a very innovative featurette that allows viewers to see the movie along with a lot of the background sketches and notes and tests that went into making it. Do you pay attention to what other companies do in terms of special features like that?

GF: Oh yeah. I haven't bought that disc yet. I have something against that movie, because they killed his mother off. [Laughs.] That scarred me as a child. No Bambi for George. But no, I buy a lot of product from our competitors. I love movies. I watch what everybody does. But though I don't mean to sound egotistical in a corporate sense, I think we're kind of in a class by ourselves, in terms of what we're doing right now with the classic American motion pictures. We're approaching them with a lot of care. And we're not selling something necessarily that's like Bambi. The Disney features are the Disney features, and there's nothing else like them. They get put away for seven years, then brought back out, and you know, they live forever. We have a very different strategy. But we're also the home of Gone With The Wind and The Wizard Of Oz and Casablanca and Citizen Kane and Singin' In The Rain. We have I think, the greatest classic live-action film library. [Laughs.]

But to get back to your question, of course it's important to be aware of what everyone else is doing in terms of how special features are presented. But we've done things that I think are innovative too, like the "Warner Night At The Movies" feature, where we recreate the movie-going experience of a given year with a short and a cartoon and a feature and so forth. And we create mini-documentaries.

O: How far ahead do you plan for special features? For example, if you have a director or actor in for a recording session for one title that's coming out in six months, do you go ahead and get his thoughts on films that might not be coming out for years?

GF: Actually, we just did something like that. Vincent Sherman, who directed Mr. Skeffington with Bette Davis and The Damned Don't Cry with Joan Crawford. He came in to do commentary tracks for those, because they'll be coming out at some point in the near future. He's 98, and has total recall, bless him. So while he was in, I had him do some of the other Warner pictures he directed, some of which are somewhat obscure and we might not put out for a couple of years. But... he's 98. [Laughs.] The other thing that we do which is very important isówe've had, since the early '90s, an archival project of filming interviews with anyone who ever worked for Warner or MGM or RKO. We have over 300 people who've done oral histories. We use those in our documentaries, and in the special features on our DVD. It's something we've been doing now for 12 years and continue to do. We do four shoots a year, and we shoot these people on film, not on videotape, because videotape is not a preservation medium.

O: When you're planning your upcoming-release schedule, how much of a role does the preservation process play? Do you wait for films to be restored by independent agencies, or instigate restorations yourself?

GF: We won't put anything out on DVD unless there's a new master of DVD quality. The masters used for VHS and laserdisc are unacceptable. Because DVD is such a huge improvement in quality over those old mediums, we've got to put out the best possible master. That means, usually, doing a photochemical film restoration first, making new film elements off the original negative, and then a new telecine and so forth. So it's very expensive and very time-consuming, and very much a part of the overall quality of the presentation. We have developed, in recent years, a reputation for very high quality. People are generally saying, "Well, if Warner's putting it out, we know it's going to be good." Certainly we're not perfect. Some films are limited by what available film elements there are, especially in terms of the RKO library, which changed hands so many times that a lot of the original negatives were destroyed. But we put so much care and thought and time into it. People will say, "How come you haven't released any Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies?" Because they all have to be restored! And we're doing that, and they're all going to be coming out by the end of the year. That's the other great thing. Because we have such a rich and varied library, while a lot of our competitors are digging through the rubble of what's left, we've still got A titles that haven't come out yet.

O: Does fan input play a role in what you release? You have websites like The Digital Bits that keep people updated on what's coming out, but that also advocate and educate.

GF: To a large degree, yes. I constantly monitor all those sites and forums. But that represents only part of the voice of the consumer. You're dealing with the extreme enthusiasts, and they may not be numerous enough to support the release of a specific title. You need more of a broad appeal than just niche fans. But we participate in live chats with them, and we'll explain sometimes why a particular title isn't available yet, whether it's legal problems, or looking for elements, or something like that. You know it took us literally until just a couple of months ago to get a proper element on King Kong, which is like one of the ultimate, perfect DVD releases. Everybody thinks we held off because Peter Jackson is remaking the movie, but that's just a coincidence. There was an element in Europe that we wanted to get our hands on, and it took a lot of negotiation with the archive that had it. We finally got it, and the restoration is under way. People always think there's some kind of conspiracy. [Laughs.]

O: Is there any title you'd like to put out, but you know there's just not a market for it right now?

GF: I wouldn't know where to start. There's hundreds of them. We have a 6,600-title library, and I'm a film fanatic. The expense of putting a movie on DVD is far greater than it was on VHS, or even laserdisc, and because of that, we have a responsibility to our shareholders and to our company to be as profitable as we can be. To find that balance between commerce and art has been a big battle. I'm very proud that we've been able to do things like the Film Noir Collection last year, which was so successful that we're going to do another one this year instead of next year. We can find ways to do stuff, but there's always going to be titles that take a while to get to DVD, because it's a very expensive process.

O: As a film fan, does it eat you up when you see some of your competitors dumping classics onto DVD without any special features or a clean-up job?

GF: In some cases, it's understandable, because they're making a financial decision. As a home-video executive, I understand it. But in other cases, it represents sheer ignorance and a lack of care. There's a title that came out just last week which I won't name, but it's a prominent film, not that old, and there were some very famous sequences that were cut out before the movie was released. And the studio didn't even make an attempt to find the missing footage. And they didn't even put a trailer on the DVD. It's just the movie. You know, they should try a little harder. [Laughs.] The problem is that most of the people at the studios who are making these decisions know nothing about film. There are exceptions, but a lot of them may as well be selling shoe polish or potatoes or toothpaste. They're strictly thinking of it as a packaged-goods business, and not looking at it as selling entertainment. But the other side of that is that most people who are cinephiles and film enthusiasts don't have any sense of business. They'd run you right into the red ink, driven by their passion, not looking after the purse strings. You have to have a balance. And if you can do that, and be profitable, and achieve something artistically successful, and something great for the film community... that's the goal.

Last edited by HistoryProf; 03-15-05 at 04:33 PM.
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Old 03-15-05, 04:25 PM
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Lee Ferdinand

Lee Ferdinand works as a producer for Home Vision Entertainment,
a boutique video company that puts out an impressive slate of underseen recent foreign films and older titles with cult appeal. Ferdinand's most significant recent project was the six-disc box set The Yakuza Papers: Battles Without Honor & Humanity, a collection of early-'70s Kinji Fukasaku gangster films cited by many as one of last year's best DVD releases. The set's success is largely attributable to Ferdinand's efforts in compiling its sixth disc, an assortment of interviews about the series' significance in Japan and elsewhere.

O: What does a DVD producer do?

Lee Ferdinand: We're integrally involved in every step. We have much more hands-on involvement in the creation of supplements than anything else, but we're the mouthpiece and face of the project all the way through, from packaging to menu design to authoring to securing the supplements that we don't make ourselves.

O: How do you know what you're going to be working on?

LF: That process starts with acquisitions. Home Vision is in kind of an interesting place right now. We have an equal number of new acquisitions that we get by actively going out to film festivals, and we also have a longstanding relationship with a lot of studios around the world, via our relationship with Janus and Criterion, so we put out a number of catalog titles a year. We're getting more away from that just because it's harder to maintain a steady stream of older films, but we've made some headway in cataloguing Asian titles. We're still actively pursuing the kind of '60s Japanese films that we've had successes with.

O: Do you get assignments, or do you get to pick and choose?

LF: These days, I'm pretty much involved in everything. Typically we have two producers here, but one recently left. Ordinarily, though, if Home Vision does 50 titles a year, we split them 25 and 25, and if one of us has a preference, we get that preference.

O: What's a typical project budget?

LF: Depends. Something like The Yakuza Papers, we knew we wanted to sink a lot of time and energy into it because we wanted to build on the awareness of Fukasaku that was just starting to build, via Kill Bill and whatnot. But a typical budget? It varies so much. We could get a new film in that hasn't been damaged in any way and our transfer process goes very smoothly. That's a huge part of the cost of building a DVD. Whereas if we do older titles, we have to do a lot of restoration work. Being a sister company to Criterion, we learned very early on that the quality of the image is the most important thing. So we tend to sink the most resources into that area. Then there's other considerations that go into it, like "How much are we realistically going to sell?" This may be one of the greatest films ever made, but if you can't generate the kind of awareness you need to sell a number of units, your budget's going to be pretty tight.

O: Do you watch what other companies are doing, and try to compete?

LF: Yes and no. I mean, I do a little bit. Every time I get a Criterion DVD, I immediately devour that. I know Warner Brothers for the past year has been doing a lot of really great stuff, so I'm really into their DVDs and seeing how they're changing and what they consider to be important. But in large part, I think we just kind of go about it with our own sort of philosophy. On some level, we think of it as stewardship. We've got these great movies that deserve to be put out on this archival format. In some ways, we're curators. And if there's not a lot of available materials to help this mini-exhibit, then it just stands on the strength of itself. We take a pretty simple approach.

O: Do you see Home Vision as building a brand identity the way Criterion has?

LF: I think so. I mean, we're not building a brand in such specificity as Criterion, where they can sum it up on the back of their packaging: "Film School In A Box." I think what we do is find the classics of tomorrow, and treat them as such. We really try to seek out what's interesting and new in world cinema. At the same time, we try to go after major periods of fissure in world cinema, where something interesting was happening. We're not the canon. Criterion's the canon. We're the people that get left out of the canon.

Last edited by HistoryProf; 03-15-05 at 04:32 PM.
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Old 03-15-05, 04:25 PM
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Mike Vraney

Mike Vraney founded Something Weird Video
around 1990 as an outlet for his vast collection of forgotten exploitation films and nudie loops. On videotape, Vraney's collection reached a small but fervent bunch of connoisseurs, but since making the jump to DVD in 1999, Something Weird has discovered an entirely new audience for quaint old smut, thanks to inexpensive, high-quality discs filled with generous quantities of vintage shorts and trailersómany of which are more entertaining than the features themselves.

O: Given that you have such a huge collection of exploitation ephemera, how do you decide what to release on DVD?

Mike Vraney: Eighty to 90 percent of what I put out on DVD, I've already put out on videotape, so it makes my decision-making pretty easy. When you have a whole bunch of really bad movies, what you do is take the worst of those. They're the most popular. The first ones were the Blood trilogy and the Bettie Page movies. A no-brainer.

For the first 20 or so we put out, I was still learning about "extras." For 10 years, I always filled my tapes up to two hours, because the movies are only 70 minutes, and I have all these great trailers and shorts and weird stuff. I put stuff on there like they were Cracker Jack prizes. Now suddenly they're calling them "extras." I never was involved with laserdiscs, because I didn't like 'em, but once I got involved with DVD, I suddenly understood. They finally made something that I can embrace, because it's a cube, not a flat piece of paper. It's like a time capsule: Fill it up and throw in the kitchen sink. If you put the trailer to the movie and a commentary by the director and you find outtakes and you put together a gallery of stills and advertising and promotional material, then all of that is married to the movie and will never be lost again. People like it now, but 25 or 100 years from now, all of this will be kind of important, not just culty, fun, "wheeee!" It'll be like, "Wow, there's this whole world of movies, and all of it was archived and presented correctly and married together."

So it's easy for us to pick what we put out. We take the most extreme things put on the face of the earth, match 'em up, put 'em all together, and make it look as consumer-friendly as humanly possible. So far, nobody's asked for their money back. [Laughs.] The thing about DVD that's different from my video business is that I've crossed over, consumer-wise. All of a sudden I'm in Best Buy. I shake my head every month, going, "I can't believe I released that, and people bought it." It's all a joy to me.

O: What's your opinion of the movies you put out? Are they neglected classics? Kitsch?

MV: No, I actually look at them as a window into an era. The best ones are the ones where they rented the gear on Friday and returned it on Monday, and they have a finished movie. Because of that, they captured trends and fads that were happening at the moment more accurately than movies that took a year to make. I'm just fascinated with the whole genre. I don't think I have any "classics," but as a genre, it's important that these movies aren't lost. When I got in this business, everybody told me, "Yeah, all those movies of the '50s and '60s, there were barely any prints made, and they were all thrown away and they're all gone!" How can that be? That's like a weird crime. That fueled my fire. Plus, the movies kick ass. Barely any of them hold up on their own individually, but collectively, they're fascinating. That's why so many people collect virtually everything I put out, because it's all interrelated. It's a weird little world.

O: How much preservation is involved when you put these on DVD?

MV: Oh God. First off, I'm a negative fanatic. In the world I represent, the majority of the men would make a movie, have the negative struck, and at the most, they'd have 15 prints made. And those 15 prints would go out first-run, and then they'd go out second-run, and then they'd get retitled, and they just kept playing them to death. They ended up in shreds. By 1985, the drive-ins disappeared and these films started getting thrown away. They actually started getting thrown away the minute pornography became legal in the early '70s. By the middle '70s, people were already wandering why anyone would want to watch naked girls with giant hair and guys in their socks and underwear. So I got really lucky when I discovered negatives. Most people who make a film, it's like their baby. Nine out of 10 never throw anything away, and they have that negative in their basement or in a garage or whatnot.

I started collecting negatives when it was ridiculously expensive to transfer them. At the beginning point of the company, all I cared about was getting it on tape, and then later I learned about how things can be made pretty with color-correction and all this. So we were doing that long before DVD came along, because we were getting negatives, and I thought it would be cool if, you know, here are the worst movies ever made and they look like Ted Turner put 'em out. [Laughs.]

Plus, you take a really bad movie and you give it a scene-to-scene transfer, you make it sparkle, and they become better than you would ever imagine. They play much better when they're transferred correctly. When DVD came along, it was hard to realize that I had to start all over again from scratch. It was a horrible feeling: "God, I've got to pull this movie again, and it costs 10 times what it cost before to transfer it." But we do tons and tons of new scene-to-scene work, and I do scene-to-scene work on ridiculous things too, like 8mm loops. We went crazy with our DVD line.

We also do a lot of galleries and audio crap, which I hate. I hate commentaries with a passion. I've done so many of them, and I can't remember what I said the minute after I say it. But I realize it's part of the archival history, and I'm good with these old jokers. Dave Friedman and I are like the Abbott & Costello of exploitation. I've done, I think, 25 or more commentaries with him. I want him to have more commentaries than anyone else on earth, because he is Grandpa Exploitation America. Plus he's really fun. We get together and he says, "What are we going to do a commentary on, kid?" And I'll say, "How about Marihuana?" And he'll say, "Well I had nothing to do with that." And I'll say, "Perfect. Let's do it." [Laughs.]

O: What, roughly, does it cost to put one of your DVDs together?

MV: It's changed drastically. Through Image, I'm given a creation budget, and for virtually every disc I put out, I spend more than I'm given. Very early on, when we had single features, I went to Image and said, "How much time can you get on these things?" They said, "Well, dual layer, you can get 220-odd minutes, la la la." I said, "Oh. Then I want to do double features." And I pitched it like, you know, my stuff's already a damn hard sell, but if you put two unknown movies with really racy titles and make it look like a fun time? Like a night at the drive-in? They'll sell. And they bit. And thank God, because six months later Universal and MGM started doing double features, and I look like a genius.

I knew I was successful when I got a panicked call from Image: "You've gone over! We've got to take something off this disc because you put too much on it!" I was cheering, going, "Yes! I filled the son-of-a-bitch up!" [Laughs.] Virtually from disc number 22 or 23 to the present, we're solid. The most you can get on a dual-layer disc, every disc. Early on, people said, "Oh, you should do compilations." They were great for video, but they're horrible for this medium, because they go straight to the "Special Interest" section, where nobody can find them. Instead, what we've done really is take movies and put enough extras on them that they're really just compilations disguised as movies.

O: Are you going to run out of material any time soon?

MV: Never. No, no. A couple of times in my life, I've thought, "Oh no, the spigot's going to get turned off." But you know, other people have tried to do what I do, and it doesn't work if you put out just six titles. It only works if you put out a mountain of stuff. I figured that out early on. And now I have the knowledge. I've figured out what exists, what is and isn't out there, what's left to find, who made it, why it's lost, how many prints were made. And now every single month, I don't solicit, but it's like I'm this huge weirdo magnet, and all the film people know, "Oh there's this guy and he'll buy anything with naked people in it." As long as it's not hardcore. And it's old.

Last edited by HistoryProf; 03-15-05 at 04:31 PM.
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Old 03-15-05, 04:42 PM
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good stuff!
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Old 03-15-05, 05:05 PM
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How marvellous to hear George Feltenstein say that Warner Bros ARE to bring the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers RKO classics and BY THE END OF THE YEAR! HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD!!
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Old 03-15-05, 05:19 PM
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That was a really great read -- thanks!
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Old 03-15-05, 09:51 PM
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great read

I want to shake George Feltenstein hand...he wins the brass ring
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Old 03-15-05, 11:45 PM
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Originally Posted by brizz

George Feltenstein

There's a title that came out just last week which I won't name, but it's a prominent film, not that old, and there were some very famous sequences that were cut out before the movie was released. And the studio didn't even make an attempt to find the missing footage. And they didn't even put a trailer on the DVD. It's just the movie. You know, they should try a little harder. [Laughs.]
Just curious, anyone catch what this was?
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Old 03-16-05, 09:26 AM
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Excellent news about King Kong.
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Old 03-18-05, 04:11 AM
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Originally Posted by sleep
Just curious, anyone catch what this was?
I was curious about that as well.....anyone have an idea?
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Old 04-24-05, 10:23 PM
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Originally Posted by brizz
I was curious about that as well.....anyone have an idea?
still no one knows....little help
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Old 04-24-05, 11:06 PM
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This is purely a guess, but I'm thinking On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, which Paramount released on Feb. 22th. See DVD Savant's review about the missing footage:


EDIT: The "Babs" fans over at HTF go into more detail about the possible missing scenes and musical numbers in the below thread:


Last edited by RevKarl; 04-25-05 at 01:56 AM.
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Old 04-25-05, 01:52 AM
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that seems like a good guess thanks
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