Thursday, May 30, 2013

How to make DVD commentaries interesting

We don't have a television, but we do buy DVDs of films and television series to watch on the computer. One of the benefits of watching DVDs is the extra features they contain, including "making-of" documentaries and commentaries. I have learned a lot about film-making and story-telling from these features.

Originally, it was usually the director who recorded a commentary. Film directors are considered the auteurs of the film, and have overall artistic control. Later, other team members also started recording commentaries, including producers, writers, and actors. As commentaries have become a standard item on so many DVDs, I have found out what sort of things I find interesting, so here is my personal guide to what makes DVD commentaries interesting to me.

First of all, it would be good to know when the commentary was recorded. Sometimes it seems that the DVD commentary was recorded before the film was released, so the makers don't yet know how the film was received by the public. Since the DVD is usually released 6-12 months after the cinematic release, it seems to me worth waiting to see the public's reaction, and then perhaps some of the criticism can be addressed.

A commentary should be both educational and entertaining, telling the audience how the film was created and why certain choices were made. The speaker should remember that the commentary is aimed at the viewing public. In some cases, speakers like to give credit to various members of the cast and crew. This is fine, but it should not turn into a mutual admiration club. Actors in particular seem to love praising each other's performance, and telling viewers what lovely people the other cast members are in person. This is not relevant to the viewers and seems gossipy. Speakers should also have with them at the recording a complete list of the names and functions of everyone involved so they don't have to say they forgot someone's name.

Directors can give the viewer an overview of the entire film, and also discuss various aspects of the film-making process. They are usually capable of explaining the decisions they took in an interesting way, perhaps because throughout their work they have to explain everything to the other team members. Writers can focus on how the story was originally written and constructed, and how the various other elements available in film played into the story-telling. When the story is adapted from a novel or other previous work, it can be interesting to hear in what ways it differs from the original, and the reasons for these differences. Producers are very familiar with decisions regarding things like filming on location or on set, special effects, and how cast and crew were recruited. The role of the producer used to be less well-understood than that of the director, but perhaps these commentaries and documentaries are helping to change this.

Actors are often the least interesting of the speakers on commentaries, and I think they would do well to think in advance of how they wish to present their craft to the viewers. For example, I would be interested in knowing when the script was revised, when certain lines were improvised, and how the actors thought they were portraying their characters. Actors can have some interesting insights into the characters they play and their motivations. In some cases, actors speak in different voices or accents in the film, and then it would be fun to hear how they acquired the necessary accent, whether it involved dialect coaching for this particular film or was something they already knew how to do.

Actors like discussing the locations and sets, their costumes, the weather during filming, and when they were acting to a green screen. It could also be interesting to know what they were actually eating or drinking in scenes involving eating and drinking. Sometimes they have to learn particular specific skills for a film, such as playing an instrument, riding a horse, sword fighting, etc., and viewers might enjoy hearing about their training process and how much is the actor's own performance and how much is a stunt person or double.

To conclude, I would like the speakers to think of the DVD commentary as a chance to educate viewers about their particular crafts and skills, and to explain the roles of various team members, techniques, and other factors in making a complex collaborative piece of art.

I look forward to seeing how commentaries on DVDs evolve in the future.

Friday, May 17, 2013

How others see us

This week I had the opportunity to see how someone else saw me. Her impression of me was based on some memories of the time we spent together, and I was a bit surprised by how imprecise her description of me was.

One of the things we have to learn as we mature is that others don't see us the way we see ourselves. The way others see us often says more about them than about us. Their perception of us is greatly influenced by many factors, such as how similar or different we are to them, the circumstances of our acquaintance, and even trivial things like the associations they may have with our name from knowing other people with the same name.

There are also differences in how important others are to us and how important we are to them. The more sociable people have a larger number of acquaintances in their lives, and consequently, perhaps each of these acquaintances is of lower importance to them, while for people with fewer contacts, each one may play a larger role. We have to accept that apart from life partners and personal friends, there may not be mutual equivalence in the importance of our less close relationships to us and to the other party.

We all want to be understood, and most of us try to present ourselves in a largely honest and genuine manner, perhaps with some tendency to show the more positive sides of ourselves and sometimes conform to expectations. So it can be surprising to discover how easily we can be misunderstood and misrepresented.

Some of these misunderstandings result from people's different values. We all like to assume we are right, and that others think and behave, or should think and behave, the way we do. But we have to be aware that what seems to us like normal behaviour may seem to others very strange. They will interpret it in light of their own values.

In general, the more time people spend with each other the better they should get to know and understand each other, particularly if they want to be friends. This will involve some explaining and discussing of values and motivations. But there are people who are less empathic or less capable of seeing others as they really are, and so it can be difficult to get them to understand you.

We will not be understood by everyone we encounter, nor will we be liked by everyone. The great diversity of human personalities is a source of constant fascination, but it can also be frustrating, particularly when someone views you, for their own reasons, in a negative fashion you consider completely unwarranted.

The question is: how important is it to be seen as we really are? In some situations it can be very important, while in others it might be a waste of energy to try to get someone to understand. Mature people know when to accept that the way others see us is beyond our complete control.