How DVDs got their commentary tracks, and other stories from Bob Stein
July 30, 2010 5:00 AM   Subscribe

And how did DVDs get commentary tracks? Let Bob tell you: You have to understand how much of this stuff is accidental. I knew the guy who was the curator of films at the LA County Museum of Art, and I brought him to New York to oversee color correction. He’s telling us all these amazing stories, particularly about King Kong, because it’s his favorite film. Someone said, “Gee, we’ve got this extra sound track on the LaserDisc, why don’t you tell these stories?” He was horrified at the idea, but we promised we’d get him super stoned if he did, and he gave this amazing discussion about the making of King Kong, which we released as the second sound track.... [via snarkmarket]

Who the hell is Bob Stein? (6800 fourteen-year-old words from Wired)
posted by cgc373 (21 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Gee, pot sure seems to help a lot of creative people. So if you watch movies, you are probably taking drugs by proxy.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:15 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

"See I think drugs have done some good things for us. If you don't think drugs have done good things for us then do me a favor. Go home tonight and take all of your records,tapes and all your CD's and burn them. Because, you know all those musicians who made all that great music that's enhanced your lives throughout the years? Rrrrrrrreal fucking high on drugs, man." - Bill Hicks
posted by explosion at 6:15 AM on July 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

I did a bit of a double-take on reading the header of that page -- I'm more familiar with the name "Triple Canopy" as a private military company (think Blackwater-that-is-now-Xe). The cognitive dissonance of "mercenaries.. no.. wait.. online literary magazine!?" just about made my morning.

Also, excellent article and presentation! I enjoyed that they've managed to create something with a very designed feel (in the print magazine sense) but without resorting to PDF or "this article is an image," like The Escapist. I kind of cringe to think what it might look like in IE6, though.
posted by Alterscape at 6:16 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

[From the Bob Stein link] Many people believe the CD-ROM market will eventually move decisively into bookstores

I can think of at least two things wrong with that prediction...
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:32 AM on July 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, insanity, or DVDs to anyone, but they've always worked for me.
posted by antihostile at 6:32 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Screw alcohol. But weed is magic.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:35 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is great stuff. I didn't know anything about Bob Stein.

An aside: When I saw that the interviewer was Dan Visel I was shocked the Ronicles of Criddick guy was involved. And then my brain worked.
posted by putzface_dickman at 6:47 AM on July 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

(cries) I have three million pixels on my screen and these goobers want to use most of them for whitespace around a 6x8 inch patch at a font size I can't easily read with the screen at a proper ergonomic distance. I tried to zoom in with my browser but the formatting went to hell.

Hate, hate, hate forced-format sites I can't magnify and scroll through.

... great article though. (squint, blink, squint)
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:02 AM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you're having trouble, to read this, you need to widen or maximize your browser until you see a large + sign on the right, then either click that or press the right-arrow on your keyboard until the text appears.

I do not know if the content is worth it, I was way too annoyed to read it.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:10 AM on July 30, 2010

It is worth it.

What’s essential about a book? What happens when you move that essence into some other medium? And I just woke up one day and realized that if I thought about a book not in terms of its physical properties—ink on paper—but in terms of the way it’s used, that a book was the one medium where the user was in control of the sequence and the pace at which they accessed the material. I started calling books “user-driven media,” in contrast to movies, television, and radio, which were producer-driven. You were in control of a book, but with these other media you weren’t; you just sat in a chair and they happened to you. I realized that once microprocessors got into the mix, what we considered producer-driven was going to be transformed into something user-driven.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:19 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, thanks to Mefi, I never have to complain about a sites layout again.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:23 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Potomac, that's exactly right. Moreover, that's what's behind the changes in journalism today. It's become so user-driven -- not just as consumers but contributors -- that the blips of content grow smaller and smaller in a quest to make each interesting bit a discrete particle that the user can accept or reject.

Up until now, I haven't believed that journalism has been in the tailspin everyone's freaking out about. STORIES are the important part of journalism, not the format in which they're produced. But suddenly I get the feeling that reducing stories to their component parts will preclude a lot of the wonder of discovery: finding a chunk of text that leads you to that amazing long-form magazine piece (like the original "Into the Wild" and others in this post) that makes you sit still and reread each word over and over.

But I don't worry about it so much because I'm the kind of reader who looks for those sorts of things. As long as people like me continue to be users, we'll drive the need for that kind of content. I'll just have to work really hard to remember which page on my Kindle had the funny part on it :P
posted by Madamina at 7:34 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Now get him to explain why most directors fill their DVD commentary tracks with lazy, half-assed crap.
posted by Paul Slade at 8:07 AM on July 30, 2010

I just wished directors and producers realized how much something as simple as a commentary track influenced my buying decisions. It is absolutely trivial for me to wait for a movie to come to cable or stream it from Netflix, and it's only the extras on a DVD that will inspire me to actually buy it.

Now, I may be in a minority of people who watch things like the commentary, but with the number of people that work on any given film, who are excited about the process and willing to talk about it, it's absurd that more filmmakers don't make use of this resource and put out movies with nothing but the film on the disc.
posted by quin at 8:17 AM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Now get him to explain why most directors fill their DVD commentary tracks with lazy, half-assed crap.

Well, most of them fill the rest of the DVD with lazy, half-assed crap, so...
posted by dirigibleman at 8:18 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wow, that brings back memories. I worked at Kaleida in the early 90s. We were creating multimedia software for CD-ROM titles, and even worked with Robert Winter, who did the Beethoven CD-ROM mentioned in the article. He was producing "Crazy for Ragtime," a history of the ragtime era with text, video, and a music playback synthesizer that let you play the rags in a variety of voices and tempos. You could even see the notes highlighted on the score as the played.

The system Kaleida built was called ScriptX. ScriptX wasn't as easy to use as HyperCard, but it had a lot more multimedia capabilities, and unlike HyperCard, the same code ran on the Mac and the PC.

With the advent of tablets like the iPad, it would be nice to see a resurgence of some kind of multimedia development tools that are more than HTML and Javascript. Here are some links to the other authoring languages mentioned: TK3 and Sophie.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:19 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Francis Ford Coppola does the best DVD commentaries.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2010

LaserDisc? Oh, you mean DiscoVision.

posted by NortonDC at 9:29 AM on July 30, 2010

I can remember that I had to reboot my computer just before making this comment. The air conditioner was just coming on, and the office was starting to cool down, so I was not nearly as grouchy as I might have been. My fingernails needed trimming, and this effected my typing of "k" and "i." If you are watching the blu-ray version of this comment, you might notice that.

Still, I deleted a couple of comments (that you, dear viewer, can see in the deleted comments section) before finally getting the take I wanted.

It was great to be cast with Madamina, Norton, and quin. They are a lot of laughs.
posted by Danf at 10:52 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ugh. Videodisc, specifically interactive videodisc (IVD). The technology that destroyed my chance at a decent career. I spent the late 80's and early 90's working on an authoring system and later on production of IVD's just as the technology crashed and burned.

The problem with videodisc was the density of the disc wasn't high enough to get 90, much less 120, minutes of video on a side. So most of the movies came out on two sides. This was a major problem selling the format since videotape could play all the way through an entire film.

There were a lot of other problems, too. One was that many authoring systems didn't have hardware support for all the different play control formats. There was no attempt at standardization, even within just one manufacturer like Panasonic. So if you were working in interactive (computer controlled) videodiscs, the software would be tied to one particular player. It was OK for government work, where the whole package was part of a single purchasing contract, but it was the kiss of death for getting out into the real world.

The problem with no support for interoperability was so huge that Kris Bruland made a quick and dirty translator that intercepted standardized commands sent to a printer port and translated them into the special control codes used by each model of serial-controlled player. The need for this was so huge that he made a nice piece of money in about six months. Two years later, nobody was making players at all.

Other abortive bridge technologies - does anybody remember the CDi (??)

At one point, I developed and delivered a non-linear narrative engine using IVD. It was very cute, but drove the people on the development team insane. It was very very very hard to think non-linearly and keep track of all the branches and loops in the potential story line. The videodisc had to be optimized so the scenes would be placed in physical proximity based on the probability they would be linked on the fly. The video editor said it was the worst experience of his entire life.

I just hope I don't end up dreaming of this horrid debacle.
posted by warbaby at 11:17 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I remember going to a CDi demo at the Library of Congress with my father (an IT guy) in the mid 90s. They had a bunch of gaming and educational CDis on display including that Sega "Tunnel Rat" game, and some sort of interactive Richard Scary's Busy World thing. Preteen me thought it was pretty spiffy, and I remember begging to get a CDi player. At this point, I'm pretty glad I didn't.

The Forte VFX-1 was a cool thing to have around the house, though. Shame it only worked with ISA video cards..
posted by Alterscape at 11:31 AM on July 30, 2010

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