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Adding Value to DVD: From Featurettes to Web Connectivity

The DVD-Video format may be just two years old, but already it seems poisedto move from the realm of early adopters into the living rooms ofmainstream consumers. With reportedly vigorous holiday sales under itsbelt, DVD seems well on its way. DVD sales account for at least ten percentof major title revenues from distributors such as Warner Home Video.

The first-glance elements of DVD’s appeal are obvious: sharper picture,clearer audio, and surround sound. But the major studios know it takes morethan better quality to earn a place in the average home entertainmentcenter, especially when competing against a ubiquitous (and recordable)format like VHS. As the emphasis in DVD-Video production moves beyondsimply having enough titles to fill the launch pipeline, the format’s”added-value” capabilities become crucial to sustaining DVD’s growthmomentum.

“The trend is definitely toward more goodies on top of the featureprogram,” says Randy Berg, business development manager at RainmakerDigital Pictures in Burbank, California. “As the consumer market for DVDVideo and ROM grows, higher unit sales provide greater financial incentiveto make higher-value products. They attract a great deal more press andword of mouth exposure, leading to free promotion and higher sales.”

Produced or AcquiredProducers are adding a wide variety of materials to DVD-Video releases,using techniques ranging from multiple angles to Web connectivity (seesidebar, “Web/DVD Synergy”). Bolstering sales is obviously the bottom-linemotivation, but a variety of approaches lies within that general purpose.Some materials educate or entertain, and others serve a more blatantmarketing purpose. It is up to the “added-value producer” to strike abalance that complements a given title’s feature presentation while meetingthe studio’s commercial goals.

“There are two types of added-value content: the material that we produceinternally and the content that we acquire either through licensing orgifts from talent,” says Mike Mulvihill, director of operations forpostproduction at New Line Cinema in Los Angeles. Mulvihill, who overseesNew Line’s added-value producers, cites Rush Hour as an example of arelease that is “acquisition-intensive,” involving licensing of a studentfilm and two music videos by the director.

“By contrast,” Mulvihill says, “Blade is a production-intensive title.There are four featurettes and two audio commentary tracks, and all of thatadded content was produced by New Line. We made a special effectsfeaturette and one looking at the story’s development process. Then thereis a documentary called The Origins of Blade that traces the way that comicbooks have influenced motion pictures, especially the ‘dark comics’ likeBlade that came out starting in the 1980s. And lastly we have The BloodTide, which looks at Vampire mythology throughout the ages with a bloodexpert talking about the science of blood and a priest talking about therituals of blood.” The featurettes are each about 10 minutes long.

Columbia TriStar’s Ghostbusters, due for DVD release this summer, alsoincludes multiple featurettes. “We are creating two original featurettesmade specifically for this DVD,” says Alita Holly, a senior consultant onDVD and producer of the Ghostbusters title. “One is a 12 to 15 minutedocumentary centered on a sort of reunion of 13 of the original members ofthe special effects team, including Richard Edlund, founder of Boss Films.”Other featurettes intersplice interviews with Dan Aykroyd, co-writer HaroldRamis, and director Ivan Reitman.

Ghostbusters also takes advantage of DVD’s technical features to provide alook at how the film came together. “We have several deleted scenes fromthe rough cut that shows the film without the final visual effects,” Hollysays, “and we are going to use the multiple-angle feature of DVD to allowthe viewer to toggle back and forth between looking at the scenes withspecial effects and without. We also have a series of storyboards, and weare making motion footage of them, creating a sort of animation. The viewercan see these juxtaposed against the final scenes as they were actuallyshot.”

The Criterion Collection’s DVD release of Silence of the Lambs alsofeatures a storyboard comparison, which synchronizes the original drawingsto the finished footage, says Jeff Stabenau, president of authoring houseCrush Digital in New York. Crush has also produced the same kind ofcommentary tracks for DVD that were a staple of LaserDisc releases. Forexample, the DVD release of film classic Lord of the Flies includes anextra audio channel with readings from the novel that correspond to theon-screen action.

Featurettes can also add a humorous touch. For Earth Girls Are Easy, DVDproducers picked up on a story point in the film. “The aliens learn Englishfrom all these silly television programs that were made for the film,”explains Michael Visler, who was a member of Artisan’s DVD production teamfor two years and is now director of DVD pre-mastering at Crest National,Hollywood. “But in the film you only see a few seconds of each show-liketwo Swedish girls running in bikinis or a terrible soap opera, stuff likethat. On the DVD we created a television interface, so the user could flipthrough the channels and see the whole show.”

Games are another popular option. New Line marketing manager Donald Evansseeks out multimedia companies that are interested in custom-creating gamesfor inclusion on the DVD. At DVD house AIX Media Group in Los Angeles,president Mark Waldrep points to a game as one of his favorite added-valuefeatures on the discs his company has authored. “The ability to unlockadditional movies elements after finishing a trivia test on Morgan Creek’sWrongfully Accused is very cool,” he says.

Producers may also choose to link text relating to the content or theproduction of the film to the main feature. “In More Tales of the City forDVD International, we included a section called ‘From the Page’ thatcontained scanned letters and notes between the author, the director, andthe screenwriter,” says Cindi Banach, feature film DVD producer at ZumaDigital in New York. “Each group of correspondence relates to a particularscene, and the viewer is able to read the correspondence, hear the authorspeak about the scene, and then see that scene.”

Budgets and BitsNot surprisingly, budget partially determines what goes on a DVD. Producersadd text, such as biographies or filmographies, to almost all releasesbecause these are the least expensive to research, write, and include,notes Banach. “The higher-cost items like commentary tracks are relegatedto higher-budget titles.”

In many cases, however, the DVD producer can take advantage of materialscreated for other purposes to keep the DVD budget in line. So muchinformation is generated in the launch and promotion of a film, like theEPK and interviews with the stars, says Crest’s Vislar. “These are actuallycontent pieces that can be utilized on the DVD. They go from being a onetime piece to something that adds value to a DVD.” Even where suchmaterials are available, however, Columbia TriStar’s Holly cautions thatrights acquisition is very important. “You want to be sure that you getpermission to use material before you spend the time to include it. Witholder material, the legal department has to go back to the original talentcontracts and see if the rights are there, and, if not, they have to goback to the talent.”

Aside from the money budget, DVD producers have to consider a title’s “bitbudget.” A main feature plus featurettes and other content can easily addup to more bits than a basic single-sided, single-layer DVD-5 (4.7GB) canaccommodate. Reducing video compression bit rates makes more room, butover-compression erodes image quality and undermines DVD’s quality edge.The producer may have to decide whether some of the added features areworth the jump in manufacturing costs that comes from moving to largercapacity DVD-9 (single-sided, dual-layer) or DVD-10 (dual-sided,single-layer) formats.

Timing is another crucial factor. “You need to consider how much time isavailable from asset availability to street date,” Berg says. “All thebest-designed plans can be for naught if the marketing people give you onlytwo months to prepare four months worth of work.”

The evolution of the market may end up giving producers more lead time toacquire or produce the assets they need. “Most of the features we haveworked on to date have been older classics,” Berg says, citing releasessuch as High Noon and It’s a Wonderful Life that incorporate 23-minute”Making Of…” featurettes originally produced for television by filmcritic Leonard Maltin. “But as many of the best older films are done, wesee a shift to newer fare. So we get involved up front, and the suggestionswe make can be acted upon while filming is in progress, while access toeveryone and everything is easier.”

AIX’s Waldrep also sees a move toward involvement during production. “We’recurrently working on a project called Redstone,” he says, “about the spaceprogram. It’s being shot at Edwards Air Force Base, and we are shooting DVDmaterial during the production of the film.”

The same trend is at work at Columbia TriStar. “Now that we know some ofthe cool things you can do with DVD,” Holly says, “we’ve begun taking someof our ideas into the production phase of our films. There are a lot of DVDfeatures that can make a film interactive, and if we get in on thebeginning of the production, we can utilize those features.”

Navigating the ProcessEven when producers have not planned special production-phase materials, itis crucial that they start the title preparation process as early aspossible to meet release dates. “When the picture is locked,” Mulvihillsays, “we know the content of the film, the director’s overall experiencemaking it, and what deleted scenes are available. The added-value producer,the marketing manager, and I have an initial meeting with the film’sdirector where we try to identify the compelling points of the film, whatwill have the greatest impact, and what will give you further insight intothe creative process. It all varies from title to title. Then we bring ourideas back to a larger group that includes people from other departments,such as publicity and sales, and boil it down to the points that we want tomove forward on.”

Once everyone determines the added-value content, producers coordinate thecreation of new materials such as featurettes and commentary tracks andcompute the bit budget. Then developers make an organizational scheme thatallows the viewer easy access to extra elements without making it lessconvenient to simply play the main feature.

Holly says it is important to avoid segregating the added-value material.”On Ghostbusters,” she says, “we allow access to the cool features fromseveral different directions, so you can’t miss them. It’s a web ofpathways, so you can wander around without coming to a dead end.” The mainmenu, itself, is a 3D animation intended to invite exploration. “That way,”says Holly, “you get more people actually finding the extras you havecreated.”

New Line took a similar tack with Blade, where, Mulvihill says, “the menuitself is a piece of content.” But he cautions that while this approach fitBlade’s over-the-top action style, it was not appropriate for a film suchas Pleasantville, which he says has “a very understated menu.”

“Our basic navigation strategy,” Berg offers, “is to keep things as simpleas possible. The viewer wants to be entertained, not to suffer through aremote-control exercise. Keep all selectable features and options as close to the main menu page as you can. Most pages should have a ‘Return to Main Menu’button to quickly escape from sub-menus.” Rainmaker formalizes thesegeneral principles into a “logic diagram” that serves as a blueprint foreach title.

Developers actually implement the blueprint during the authoring phase ofthe project. Authoring involves integrating all of the media elements andnavigational options into a finished disc image. Depending on the systemused, authoring may proceed in parallel with or after asset preparation,which involves both the conversion of existing assets into DVD-supportedformats (such as MPEG-2 for video and PCM or Dolby Digital for audio) andthe creation of new assets such as menu graphics and subtitles. Manyauthoring houses find they need to vary their authoring tools depending onthe project. “We use both Daikin Scenarist and Spruce DVDMaestro systems atRainmaker,” Berg says. “Scenarist is called on for heavy-duty programmingbecause it addresses all the functionality of the DVD-Video specification.DVDMaestro is used for fast and less-complicated jobs.” AIX, meanwhile, hasfour Daikin systems and two from Sonic Solutions.

Unleashing DVD’s interactive potential can be the most creative part of theauthoring process. Zuma, for instance, which uses a Sonic DVD Creatornetworked workgroup, came up with a feature called ZoomLinks whileauthoring the The Unknown Marx Brothers. “A small icon appears onscreenduring parts of the main program that lets the viewer seamlessly branch tothematically related scenes from a separate outtake section on the disc,”Banach explains.

Given all the options in terms of both underlying material and interactivenavigation, perhaps an added-value producer’s biggest challenge is to besure that the extra features support the DVD’s featured attraction. “Themost important thing is to create an individual identity for each title,”Mulvihill says. “There are generic value-added options, but we need to givethem personality to invite the viewer deeper into a particular film. It’simportant that when consumers see that a title has a featurette, they don’tassume they are going to get the same kind of thing they got on the lasttitle they bought. So we all need to look for ways to break the mold andkeep this stuff fresh.”

“The inclusion of Web links is currently the number one request from ourDVD authoring clients,” says Rainmaker’s Randy Berg. In feature filmDVD-Videos, the links are enabled by a custom application residing on theDVD-ROM portion of a “hybrid DVD,” a disc containing content in both itsDVD-Video and DVD-ROM “zones.” When the disc is in the DVD-ROM drive of amodem-equipped computer, the application typically launches the user’sbrowser, which then dials up the user’s ISP (internet service provider) andautomatically connects to the target Web site.

A film’s promotional site often uses Web links to expose users to marketingand merchandising efforts. But such links may also add to a DVD’sentertainment value by creating synergistic experiences that might not beavailable with either DVD or the Web alone. “The inclusion of Web links isa great way to utilize the multi-platform capabilities of the DVD disc,”says Jeff Stabenau of Crush Digital. In a recent Mickey Hart project Crushcreated for Palm Pictures and Rykodisc, users were rewarded for linking tothe site with special key instructions that allowed them to unlock a hiddenmusical bonus track on the DVD.

New Line Cinema took a similar tack with a game on the Rush Hour DVD thatlinks to the film’s Web site. “In the ‘Don’t Blow It’ game,” says NewLine’s Mike Mulvihill, “you need to find someone who has a bomb before itblows up. If you win, you unlock a little ‘Easter egg’ treat that we haveon the DVD, a short that the director shot in his apartment building withhis camcorder and some of his friends when he was growing up in Miami.”

New Line has been very active in exploring the cross-promotional benefitsof linking DVD to the Web in titles such as Lost In Space, which Mulvihillcalls “our most Web-centric title to date.” The title included links to twothreaded discussion groups revolving around characters Penny Robinson andthe evil Dr. Smith. Another link called “Create Your Own Planet” on the DVDlets users define the conditions-atmosphere, surface composition, andtemperature-of a planet that could be a new home for the wanderingRobinsons. The conditions are submitted to the site and evaluated, and amessage is e-mailed back to users that says whether their planet would behabitable and gives hints on how to improve it.

“Starting with Lost In Space,” Mulvihill says, “we created a productionmodel where we work closely with Gordon Paddison from our theatricalmarketing department. Gordon oversees the creation of all of our Web sitesand takes advantage of all the opportunities for promoting the films on theWeb.”

Coordination with Paddison allows closer integration of the Web componentsinto the DVD. “For Rush Hour,” Mulvihill says, “the menus for the DVD-Videowere designed by the same company that designed the promotional Web sitefor the film’s theatrical release. So when they conceptualized what theywere going to do with the site, they were also thinking beyond that towardwhat would work on the DVD. They did everything they needed to do to createa compelling Web experience but also kept in mind that a significantportion of that would be repurposed and enhanced for the DVD.” OnceMulvihill and his team designed the Web portion, they began work on theDVD-Video menus and the DVD-ROM material that would serve as a portal tothe linked content on the Web.

Digital entertainment formats have as much to fear from unauthorizedduplication as their analog predecessors. That is why studios and equipmentmanufacturers are working hard to establish copy protection standards toprevent illegal copying.

For the time being, the easiest way to duplicate DVDs remains the simpleanalog track: copying from DVD to VCR. This issue was first addressed acouple of years ago when Macrovision Corporation of Sunnyvale, California,perfected a technology to prevent VCRs from making clean copies of DVDs.

Macrovision, which has been offering videotape copy protection solutionssince the early 1980s (and more recently, CD-ROM protection), has createdwhat has essentially become the industry standard for DVD protection,thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which President Clintonsigned into law late last year. The law states that starting in March 2000,new VCRs sold in the United States must include Macrovision technology toprevent them from duplicating DVDs. The law also outlaws the creation orimportation of devices designed to circumvent that technology.

“When you consider that DVD represents the first pre-recorded format inhistory, which serves as a widely distributed, digital quality masterplaced directly into consumer hands, you realize content owners haveextreme concerns over how to protect that content,” says Andy Pillsbury,Macrovision’s marketing director. “Since before the launch of the DVDformat in 1997, the studios were negotiating with electronics manufacturersand PC companies on how to protect DVDs from VCRs. They eventually decidedthat our circuitry should be included in all DVD players and DVD-ROMplayers with video-out capability, and now all VCRs will have thetechnology, as well.”

Macrovision’s process, in essence, encodes data control bits directly ontothe DVD’s master digital tape at the product’s authoring facility. Whenthat master is replicated, those control bits are replicated along with it.When consumers play the disc at home, those codes instruct the DVD player,with its built-in Macrovision circuitry, to add copy protection to anyoutgoing video. That video is encoded to play normally on a television setduring routine use of the DVD, but the outgoing video is degraded whencaptured by a VCR.

“The technology takes advantage of the differences in how TVs and VCRs aredesigned,” says Pillsbury. “TheVCR interprets the signal at extremely highvideo levels, and it turns down its gain as far as it can, so the copy endsup at no more than 25 percent of the strength it could be. It also addswhat we call ‘Colorstripe’ to it, further degrading the picture, making itessentially unusable for entertainment purposes.”

The next big hurdle on the copy protection road, of course, is protectingdigital content from digital recorders as they move into consumer homes.Macrovision, in partnership with Philips and Digimarc, is involved in oneof the three partnerships currently developing technologies to serve as astandard solution to this problem. A sub-committee formed by Hollywoodstudios, consumer electronic manufacturers, and PC makers has asked itsgroup and the two others (IBM in partnership with NEC and anotherpartnership involving Sony, Hitachi, and Pioneer) to propose solutionsinvolving the use of digital watermarks on discs. Pillsbury expects adecision on the digital-to-digital problem to be made within the next year.