If your new year’s resolution is to get out and make a film, perhaps you need a bit of inspiration to get you going. For the past decade, one of my biggest sources of both inspiration and knowledge of the craft has been DVD extras. The days of DVDs may be numbered, but that does mean you can pick them up cheaply, so there’s no excuse. Here’s my run-down of the most interesting extras out there.
Without doubt the most comprehensive set of extras I’ve ever seen is that on TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. Although a lot of it is text, it leaves absolutely no stone unturned, covering every part of the process from scripting and scheduling through to marketing, release prints, telecine and foreign dubbing. It also breaks down every single VFX shot and special make-up gag in the movie.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST includes a fascinating feature-length documentary following the huge cast and crew as they island-hop with ships full of equipment, building roads as they go to get to some of the remote locations, and weathering a storm that nearly destroys their picture boats. At one point an AD gives some staggering statistics about the shoot; you will not believe how many walkie talkies went missing during production.
The Tarantino-Rodriguez collaboration FROM DUSK TILL DAWN comes with an unusual feature-length doc called Full Tilt Boogie. Rather than dwelling on the action on set, director Sarah Kelly interviews many of the crew – right down to the PAs and runners – to get a unique set of perspectives on the production. Throw in a dispute with the union and the result is a much more revealing doc than we’ve come to expect.
LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS is a movie with a unique look, using traditional techniques like forced perspective and painted backdrops to create its fantasy world. A DVD documentary called A Woeful World explores the incredible artistry that went into this sorely underrated film.
Viewers of the FIGHT CLUB DVD get to come along on the tech scouts – detailed recces where the director tells his heads of department everything he’s going to need at that location so that all the logistical problems can be anticipated.
TITANIC’s four-disc release includes interesting featurettes on previz, the process of creating moving storyboards. Although previz is a CG thing these days, there is much to be learnt from the military precision with which James Cameron plans his deep dives to the shipwreck using miniatures.
For an unedited, fly-on-the-wall view of a small portion of a shooting day on a Hollywood movie (albeit one shot in New Zealand), Peter Jackson’s THE FRIGHTENERS is the place to go.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 has a good set of featurettes on the film’s varied stunt sequences, including one which reveals the terrifying way the knife-coming-towards-Tom-Cruise’s-eye shot was achieved.
If cinematography’s your thing, you could do worse than listen to DP John Schwartzman’s commentary track on ARMAGEDDON, where you can learn how to shoot under UV tubes, how to light half a desert and how to make Liv Tyler look her best when she’s on her period.
For a fascinating look at the construction and on-set operation of puppets and animatronics – from little chest-bursters to the huge alien queen – look no further than the ALIENS DVD.
THE MATRIX: REVOLUTIONS’ DVD includes an interesting featurette on the specific use of miniatures for a crash shot in a film which mainly relied on CGI to create its illusions.
Staying with traditional FX, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE includes a great documentary on how they made us believe a man could fly before the digital days with such classic techniques as front projection and optical compositing.
But if the digital era floats your boat, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING has a nice featurette on digital colour timing (a very new process at the time). In general, THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy has a remarkable plethora of extras on all aspects of the blockbuster-making process.
Finally, I’m not sure any DVD extra has yet fully explored the world of post-production sound, but Sound & Music on the bonus disc of SPIDER-MAN 2 gives a nice glimpse. Legendary foley artist Gary Hecker takes us through some of the ingenious combinations of mundane items he used to make such sounds as Spidey’s shooting web and Doc Ock’s claws ripping open a bank vault.
Any good ones I’ve missed? Comment and let me know!