#CoffeeDate No. 2, Video Village

It’s a little over a year to the day since our last #coffeedate. And oh my, it’s been a year.

If we were having coffee…

We’d be sitting at video village, in the parking lot of an apartment complex in northeast Atlanta. It’s 7:00PM, and there’s something very comforting about being on set.

We’re surrounded by dozens of people, and tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, a lot of which I have no idea how it works. Everyone is working away – like a hive, each job different but no less important to the final product – a terabyte or so of digital information, sent away to another group of equally important worker bees.

Controlled chaos. And we’re sitting in the center.

I’m right in the middle of a move to the Big Peach – for work – and while I’ve been dragging my feet about it for a few years, now it’s all happening as if to make up for the lost time. But sitting here, right now, I’m at peace. My budget is taking quite a hit – cost of living is going up quite a bit. But sitting here, in a director’s chair under a tent in a parking lot at 7:00PM with a cup of coffee – I’m exactly where I want to be.

Let’s go.




Behind the Scenes: The Making of Special Features

So I’m on set the other night, you know, just living the dream, and lo! EPK! Here to shoot future promotional material. And it got me thinking…

Over the past two decades, as DVD (and now Blu-ray) outstripped VHS in quality, longevity, and popularity, the additional storage capacity of the medium has also popularized the now common addition to your home viewing experience: the special feature.

**Note: “EPK” stands for “Electronic Press Kit”. It’s the term used to refer to behind-the-scenes crew and the things they document: interviews, special makeup applications, post-production processes, explosions (yes!), and various other scenes of life making movie magic.

The first time I ever saw one of these was on the Extended Edition VHS (oh yeah, double cassettes baby) of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. On the second tape – a single 13-minute feature called, “A Day in the Life of a Hobbit,” about the experiences of the actors applying and wearing their adorable Hobbit feet. It was cute; it was funny; and it made me realize that this thing that I loved was a part of something bigger…an entire industry…where people worked…where *I* could work.

It was a lightbulb moment for me, and I haven’t looked back since.

(Before that, I alternately wanted to be a paleontologist, a historian, and a cellist – all stemming from what I have recognized as my l-o-v-e-e-e of movies. It makes sense now.)

Special features allow filmmakers to explore and explain their projects while giving unprecedented access on filmmaking processes to us amateurs and enthusiasts. It’s not a bad marketing tool, either.

However, in my experience, making these things can be a gigantic pain in the ass. And here’s why:

1. When EPK is present, production must absorb the impact of having additional people on and around the set, as well making time in the day’s work for their needs.

Normally, EPK is not directly affiliated with the production company. This may not seem like a big deal, but the thing about film sets is that they are incredibly compartmentalized. Each department has very defined and highly specific duties; every person a cog that helps turn the wheels of the Production Machine. It’s something I love about movie-making.

Thus, anyone who is not part of the shooting crew (also called the “working” crew, take note) tends to stick out. The EPK crew is doing what they’re supposed to be doing – what they are hired to do – but in the eyes of the shooting crew, they are outsiders; who are not contributing toward the immediate production needs. That many more people are eating lunch and craft service, needing parking and space on set for their gear, asking questions, etc. – which leads me to my next point:

2. At best, EPK is distracting – to the actors going in and out of character between shooting and interviews, and to the crew who must work around these new faces, no matter how unobtrusive. At worst, EPK can disrupt production entirely.

Conflict arises when the needs of the EPK crew begin to negatively affect production. Now, usually EPK are incredibly gracious in working with production to get what they need. But any number of things can and do happen that affect the precisely tuned and delicate balance of a film set, and EPK is just one of them.

Because EPK is not directly connected to production, they generally arrive long AFTER the shooting schedule has been released. This is a huge deal; let me count the ways:

  • In addition to alerting the below personally, the ADs make a note on the daily callsheet when EPK will be present, so that everyone on the crew, not to mention the actor’s agents and set security, are aware that there will be additional people on set doing work.
  • The execs and their assistants must plan to be on set when EPK is there (or make the decision not to be there) in addition to their normal hectic day.
  • The actors will have to prepare to be interviewed about the project. EPK likes the good stuff – i.e. the scenes with lots of action, camerawork, special effects, stunts, etc. While all of this is very exciting to shoot, it also signals some of the busiest days for the actors. Adding an OOC interview on top of that can be jarring for talent on an already intense day.
  • Most of the time, a good crew works like a well-oiled machine, each doing their part. Adding an unforeseen (read: unscheduled) element can throw a wrench in the works. For an example, a special makeup process – let’s say, turning a man into a walrus – might take an hour and a half to do. This time is painstakingly researched and built into the day’s schedule. When the EPK crew goes into the makeup trailer, all of sudden, this process take two hours.

To make a different metaphor, EPK is like throwing a rock in a lake. With skill, one can skip the rock across and make serene, beautiful waves. If one mis-throws, it creates a giant splash that shakes up the immediate surroundings and ripples outward to whatever end.

3. It’s nobody’s fault.

It’s simply that the Machine, with the addition of a new task: 1) doing the job; and 2) doing the job on camera as well as answering questions in a manner that satisfies the camera – takes longer to complete the work. Needs must.

But those 30 minutes, which don’t seem like much, put the entire day, and the entire company, 30 minutes behind. And as we all well know, time is $$$. How much does 30 minutes of work time cost? Multiple it by a 100-person crew. By 150. By 200 (for a tentpole, easy). Since we’re behind, how much is 30 minutes of overtime for each of those people?

That’s the crux of it. Be it time in the trailer or an interview running long, the possibility to disrupt shooting can happen so easily, and each minute lost so costly, that it can become a true nightmare. I’ve been witness to both in my relatively short career and so far, I have nothing but good things to say about everyone involved in making these damn things, BECAUSE-

4. Special features are amazing.

Now more than ever, we have so much power at our fingertips. With the click of a button, we can access and learn almost anything. I can’t deny the weight special features have to those like me, hungry for information and amazed at how much is out there. And so, despite the hassle, I look on (with a hint of nostalgia; and trepidation – as I’m keeping track of the talent on this particular project), excited and intrigued at the prospect that what I’m watching happen will inspire someone else. Fingers crossed.