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DVD Producer - Van Ling

DVD Press Conference
September 7, 2001

JW - Jim Ward
VL - Van Ling
RM - Rick McCallum
PH - Pablo Helman
RD - Rick Dean
JS - Jon Shenk

JW: Ok everyone I think we're ready to start. Welcome back again, I hope lunch was good and everyone has now come together. Just a couple reminders again on the ground rules. First keep your questions as brief as possible because everyone's going to have a lot and we want to get in as many people as possible. And again we're all here to discuss the Episode I Phantom Menace DVD. So let's keep everything focused on that. Also, we were going to be obviously recording this, and for transcription purposes so we can get this out to you. I'm going to repeat the questions so that the person that has to actually do the transcription can actually hear the questions. So I apologize, it's not that I can't hear you but I'm going to repeat it so that everyone else can hear you and also that the person that does the transcription can hear you as well. OK? So let's get this thing going. We 're really going to kind of go through as I mentioned the ensemble cast that was put together to create this great DVD. And the first person up is a gentleman by the name of Van Ling who I am sure is very familiar to most of you. Van was the Producer on the Episode I Phantom Menace DVD. We wanted to get the best and the brightest to work on this and Van certainly is the leader in the field and that's who we got. So, Van Ling. OK, so we'll just do this by raising your hands, and I'll kind of pan back and forth and get to you. Van can answer questions about production of the DVD, the menu design, the authoring the compression-all that sort of thing Van can talk to you about. So, any questions for Van?

JW: When did you come on the project and what were the processes in terms of putting this together?

VL: I came on the project in about October of 2000. I was asked to come in and do a proposal on the disc. And with great trepidation but a lot of enthusiasm I came on project and I really wanted to do a good job. I've been a big Star Wars fan for most of my teen and adult life, so it was quite a dream come true.

JW: For the DVD menus how much of it was custom generated versus existing already in the film?

VL: It was about half and half but I have to stress that all of the material started off as material that was provided by Lucasfilm and by Industrial Light & Magic. I was able to take photographs and basically extrude them into 3-D to generate so that the images were of actual footage in a number of cases. And in other cases we used material straight from the height of transfer of the film and then worked away to make it longer. And then in some other cases we did generate things entirely from scratch. But, really tried to maintain the look and feel of the Star Wars universe.

JW: What other DVD discs has Van worked on and how does this disc differ from those?

VL: Well I produced and did the menus for Terminator II The Ultimate Edition, The Abyss Special Edition and Independence Day Special Edition. And this, in terms of approach and design and challenge, was far and away the most challenging disc that I've undertaken. And also in many cases the smoothest I have undertaken taken because I had, the filmmaking side really behind the projects. In a lot of cases the filmmaker is off working on other movies, they're not able to really participate more than cursorily on the disc. And in this particular instance everybody really took the time to be there and be part of it and be in the decision making process and so it was never a question of my thinking are they going to like this? In this particular instance everybody was really involved and that's one of the things that made this far and away different from other discs that I've done. Also on those other discs I was able to actually work on production of those films at that time. So that had a different approach to it. Here I had the benefit of the entire team at Lucasfilm and at THX to provide me with all the materials that we needed to make a great disc.

JW: How many Easter eggs in this project, and Van just so you know I've already told them we're not going to tell them.

JW: How conscious were you of setting a new standard in terms of technology and entertainment value on this DVD?

VL: I try to take the same approach that most filmmakers do on that kind of question, which is we try not to be conscious of it at all. What we're conscious of is trying to create the vision or to put together the vision or to, in this particular case for me, maintain the vision of the Star Wars universe. And whatever it takes to do that is what we try to do. And oftentimes that does involve being on the cutting edge or straying into territory that hasn't been really explored before in terms of the technology.

JW: The adjunct to that too I might add is that very early on we sat down with Van and we made it very clear, we're not out there trying to just do technology for technology's sake. We were very much into let's make what we think is the best thing for our fans and for the consumer out there, so let' s not load this with wacky stuff that nobody ever uses or goofy technology and interactive games and all this kind of stuff. Let's just do what we think is cool and what we think the fans will like. And Van definitely led us down that path very well.

VL: The key is to take care of the movie first, that's the most important thing about the disc. You know as much as we all love doing the bonus materials, we want to take care of the movie first. And everything builds around that.

JW: What kind of input and discussion did you have around the vision of the disc?

VL: I think again coming into this, a lot of the previous discs that I'd done have been whether or not correctly so, have been formally called Van Ling discs because they have a particular kind of approach. And I was very adamant on this disc, as is correct, to make sure that this was never perceived as a Van Ling disc. This is a Star Wars disc, and this is a Lucasfilm disc. And the most important thing there is to make sure that it doesn't overshadow any of the content and the quality of the presentation. So that was one of my most important personal goals on the disc was to make sure that when people look at it they think this is a Star Wars disc, this is exactly what we want from a Star Wars disc. And from that standpoint it was a matter of reviewing the materials that Lucasfilm and George and Rick and everybody wanted to put on the disc and work with them to create the best presentation that maintained it as a Star Wars disc. I tried my best to kind of be "behind the scenes" as their producer, as their consultant on the project and never get in the way of the vision.

JW: Was there anything remnant from the laser disc or was this all ground up from the beginning?

VL: From the Japanese laser disc are we talking about? Which laserdisc are you talking about?

RM?: The pirated one I think. (all laugh)

VL: From the VCD? No we didn't use anything from the VCD..

Q: I'm taking this question form a member of our community who is obviously a collector and they're referring to the laserdisc version that is out there as a supreme high standard audio sound and so forth, but.

VL: the Japanese have one laserdisc, that's the only laserdisc that has been available for the show. No we didn't take anything from that. We started from scratch with height of transfer and all sorts of things. Nothing came from the laserdisc that we used.

JW: On some DVDs you can tell the special effects I believe because of the digital nature of the DVD and the way it was transferred. Did it seem to be this way for Episode I so how did you handle this?

VL: I let ILM's work shine. Because I didn't have to do anything in that particular instance because the transfer that was done was perfect. If you do your effects right, as ILM does, you don't have that problem. What you' re referring to is that sometimes like older films, with optical films you' ll see in the video transfer the matte lines will appear. Or other artifacts that say this is a special effects shot. Well that's how seamless ILM's work is. It's phenomenal work and so there wasn't any problem with that.

JW: In essence what was the process in which the transfer was made and what source material was used for DVD?

VL: There was a very conscious decision to go from the print rather than from the digital files. And I think part of that is that this is a film, and we wanted to maintain the spirit. This is part of the style of colors and look that we wanted to maintain with the picture. And we didn't want it to feel like perhaps A Bug's Life. Or something where it has that kind of digital edge to it, which works great for those movies. But we wanted to really say this is a film.

Q: The question is, given the big budget on the disc was there any materials that didn't unfortunately make it onto the disc?

VL: The answer to that question is always yes. There's hundreds of hours of material that as a film geek and a completist I would love to see on the disc but that's not really what the process is about. Like making a film you don't put in all your dailies. What you do is you hone it down to the things that are most effective, most entertaining and that you think people are going to enjoy. And people are going to watch. And so that's kind of what we concentrated on. But we jam packed the disc, it is filled to the brim.

JW: Van did a great job in guiding us quite honestly because we were the ones that really wanted to explore the boundaries of that. And Van was very good with us on the bit budgets and explaining to us well if we do this this is the consequence, etc. So we had to make some tough decisions and there are a number of EPKs and other things that we had to cut back on. One of you guys mentioned yesterday those other tone poems, there is a lot of that kind of thing that just couldn't go on and we did have to make some harsh choices.

Q: I just wondered in the deleted scenes section George Lucas talks about the air tax scene I think, that that actually looked so good he put it back into the film, that's on the DVD. First of all was that something that you were involved, that process? And is there other scenes that are added to the film as well?

JW: I'm going to take that one. Van wasn't involved in that and that scene was reincorporated and as I said I think we all have to get your check disc and go check it out for yourself.

JW: Did we ever consider using the digital prints that were made since we used that to showcase the film in four cities?

VL: Basically we considered it, but we decided we actually wanted to go with the film print because it gave us the look that we were looking for.

JW: Were the deleted scenes ever taken to film? Or transferred.

VL: Absolutely, they were finished on film. All 300 of those shots were finished on film and put together for the DVD.

JW: What are you most impressed with on the disc, your favorite part?

VL: That I'm still standing. Because this was probably the most challenging disc I've ever done. And probably one of the most satisfying. I'm really proud of the way the whole disc came together as an integral whole, that's one of the most important things that we were all striving for that it felt like it wasn't just a collection of odds and ends, which, unfortunately, a lot of what people call Special Editions today seem to be. They tend to just be a lot of materials that were collected and thrown on a disc. We really tried to make it an integral experience. And the other thing I'm most proud of is that we were able to work together to do that. As I said earlier, sometimes you're out there alone as a DVD producer doing stuff, and other times the studios or the filmmakers can tend to be very limiting. And that was absolutely not the case here.

JW: How much time did you spend on this disc, was it a full-time job?

VL: They paid me for about half my work, so. Because it was a heck of a lot for a full-time job. It was a lifestyle, actually.

JW: Thanks a lot Van.

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