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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

DVDoing it Better

A quick post here. Melanie at Words for Pictures has posted an open question:

Are there any specific DVD special features which were especially helpful to you in learning something new about screenwriting or film/television production?

Well, I watch a decent number of DVDs, and love the extra features. But I'm not sure how many of them have specifically taught me more about screenwriting. I always love watching extra deleted scenes (the DVD for This is Spinal Tap has long been a favorite of mine for having an hour or so of deleted scenes!). Sometimes these can help you learn more about what the writer had in mind.

I don't frequently watch a movie with the audio commentary, but I'd like to. It's just that I wouldn't do it the first time around, and there are so many new movies for me to watch that I don't usually end up rewatching one on my own (often with friends though, but they won't want the commentary). Plus, screenwriters are unfortunately rarely featured in such commentaries anyway. "Making of" featurettes often are interesting, but also tend to ignore writers. So in truth, I can't say I learn that much about writing from these features.

Still, I thought it was an interesting question, so figured I'd point y'all to it, and see if you had other interesting stuff to add.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Joel-

Your blog is terrific. Good info and fun to read. I have seen my fair share of dvd extras -- the commentary ed burns does for the brothers mcmullen is fabulous. it's informative and interesting; and to the opposite spectrum, the commentary for king pin (two hours of the farrelly's pointing out everyone in every scene "see him? he's a friend of ours..." "see him? we love him..."). read the script for there's something about mary and move on. i actually liked the commentay for paycheck. um, and the one for moonlight mile was good, too.
i think what makes a good commentary is one where the audience gets a portal into the experience of making the movie, and tips on how the production went and what could have improved. save yourself from the kevin smith commentaries (i even liked mallrats, so i'm a fan, but...) and instead listen to the commentary for fight club.

5:03 AM  
Blogger Melanie said...

Thanks for pointing some eyes my way, Joel.

One of the things I noticed about my own answer was that almost all the titles were TV DVDs. Not surprising since I am a TV junkie, but once I read your comment about how film featurettes tend to "ignore writers," I wonder if the distinction might have something to do with why I have learned so much from DVDs.

I've always heard that television is kinder to its writers than film--where the director is king--so maybe that's why TV DVDs have more extra features that I find useful.

5:29 AM  
Anonymous Phillip Vargas said...

The commentary and dvd extras with Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio on Pirates of the Caribbean were very informative. I also enjoyed Akiva Goldsman's commentary on A Beautiful Mind.

7:35 PM  
Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

The most helpful DVD feature to a writer is, of course, a commentary by the film's writers, but only if the writers discuss WRITING. My all time favorite commentary is still POTC with Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Jay Wolpert and Stuart Beattie. But while Ted and Terry discussed scene elements and development, Jay said things along the lines of "Johnny Depp, a performer as much as an actor." Not only do I not know what that means, but it has no value to me as a screenwriter. If you tell me the guy is sharp because he knew when he was given exposition and he made interesting dialogue suggestions, fine. That is interesting to me as a writer. But if I want to hear somebody gush over actors, I'll just sit behind a group of teenage girls in the theatre.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Hailey said...

My screenwriting instructor said that the movie Collateral has tons of special features, and it's like a film course in and of itself. I bought it, and it sits there beckoning on the shelf, but haven't had time to watch it. I don't know how much of it applies to screenwriting.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Shawna said...

Robert Rodriguez has great commentaries and extra features on his movies. I really like the 'film school' stuff on El Mariachi and Desperado.

For writing commentaries, I second the "Pirates" nod.

The commentaries on the 'Firefly' box set are good stuff (particularly if it includes Tim Minear and Joss Whedon). Joss did a commentary on 'Sereinity' which was interesting, but not necessarily instructive.

Ron Moore's podcasts for Battlestar Galactica are a goldmine of information.

I'll have to think on some of the other commentaries I've liked on films. Some are better for those thinking about directing, some are fun when it is the cast just having a blast (Fellowship of the Ring and Ocean's 11 come to mind here). Some earlier DVDs even have the script available through DVD-ROM...a rare but good feature if you can find it.

Good topic Fun Joel!

9:54 PM  
Blogger s.warren said...

I don't know if I'd consider it a teaching tool, but the commentary on "The Limey" is a good listen. It features Stephen Soderbergh and Lem Dobbs and has a very confrontational tone. Dobbs points out a lot of things that were dropped from his script and even takes on a critic that negatively reviewed the film because the script was weak. You get a sense that the recording session is providing a nice catharsis for Dobbs.

11:24 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

I look for DVD commentaries from writer/directors. Those are often better (as a writing learning tool) than from directors who didn't write the script.

On another note, check out the podcasts from creative screenwriting magazine. Those are excellent learning tools.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

the MI-5 sets have good commentaries for themost part and feature interviews about the productions...

As noted, the Robert Rodriguez commentaries are great and an inspiration...

The first two BLADE movies have good commentaries...


DOCTOR WHO has podcasts now...

I am looking forward to the Ray Harryhausen commentary on the KING KONG reissue...

12:24 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I think DVD commentaries helped me come to the decision to pursue screenwriting. The best ones (mostly by the directors) really walk you through the thought process of how the story was constructed, what stayed in, what was left out, and why. I think they've been great for demistifying much of the "wizard behind the curtain" stuff about filmmaking. For me personally, they've been as valuable as any "Screenwriting in Ten Easy Steps" type book for basic film structure and how to develop a story for the screen.

12:50 AM  
Blogger Danny Stack said...

I adore commentaries. Directors get them all the time, which is fine, but if they're by writers, all the better.

Alan Ball & Alan Poul (from Six Feet Under) give good commentaries and I've learned some valuable directing tips.

Steven Soderbergh also gives good commentary (in Ocean's Eleven, this small, glib piece of advice is actually crucial: "god, inserts, that's what filmmaking is, shooting lots of inserts"), and more notably on The Limey with writer Lem Dobbs who gives him a hard time for taking all the credit.

Also, the writers of Monsters Inc phone up one of the writers who's not there and ask him why they went with a particular plot decision instead of the other way... nice.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello --

I also liked the commentary for Out of Sight - featuring soderbergh and the writer, scott frank. excellent movie. excellent commentary.

-- sascha

5:54 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Panic Room (the 3x disc set) has a great commentary by David Koepp and William Goldman. It's a great listen. The Limey commentary with Dobbs is good too.

6:18 PM  
Blogger jefe said...

Robert Rodriguez has great commentaries and extra features on his movies. I really like the 'film school' stuff on El Mariachi and Desperado.

I second this. The one on Once Upon A Time in Mexico was great. And there was also a tour of his home/editing/music studio, and a cooking lesson to boot. Good stuff.

7:32 AM  
Blogger stu willis said...

From a writing perspective, I think TV Show DVDs tend to offer more than DVDs for features. I tend to think this because the New Rennassiance of Television has largely been driven by a newfound empahsis on writing.

In particular, I've learnt a lot about writing (and well crafted, literal, television directing) from both Six Feet Under and Buffy commentaries...

5:51 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Thank you ALL for these suggestions. Sounds great. I think the overriding points here are two:

-- TV commentaries better than Film, and film writers only get to talk when they are A-Listers or Writer-Directors.

-- I really should be watching more of the "Commentary" features on my DVDs!

11:43 PM  

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