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As DVD Popularity Grows, So Do Extras

Supplemental material gets ever more creative as sales move beyond 'testosterone driven' titles.

July 15, 1999|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Each month DVDs are becoming even more sophisticated, offering such features as two or more audio tracks, documentaries, outtakes, trailers, scripts and interactive DVD-ROM games.

New Line believes that the supplemental material is what sells its discs. Almost all of its recent theatrical releases have received the "Platinum Series" DVD treatment. For example, the upcoming DVD of the thriller "The Corruptor" (Aug. 10), with Mark Wahlberg and Chow Yun-Fat, includes commentary from director James Foley, music videos from the soundtrack and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

"I think people want extra things," says New Line's Mike Mulvihill, executive director of DVD development. "I think it's really the added-value features that deliver on the promise of DVD more than anything else. It's the supplemental material that you can't get anywhere else."

New Line strives to make each "Platinum Edition" unique. "You should know what you are going to get is something you are not expecting," says Mulvihill.

The studio also has been a trendsetter in including DVD-ROM extras. "DVD-ROM equipment is going to be in many more homes," he says. "What our numbers show is about 20% of the discs bought are being used on PCs."

MGM has divided its vast catalog of titles into three kinds of product: new-release DVDs, catalog DVDs and special editions such as last year's release of the James Bond film "Tomorrow Never Dies."

"In general, we don't spend a lot of time and money loading up features on our catalog releases because we honestly don't think it impacts the sales too much," explains David Miller, DVD marketing manager at MGM. "We find that if people are looking for a movie on DVD, what they really want is the picture and sound quality. The extras are secondary."

But not on new releases. No matter how badly a film performed at the box office, MGM still adds many extras to the DVDs to set them apart from the VHS version. For the upcoming release of "Carrie II," says Miller, MGM has included deleted scenes and an interview with director Katt Shea.

So far, MGM's game plan has worked. " 'Species II' was not well loved [at the box office]," Miller says. "But it did very well on DVD. It's probably our sixth-best-selling title. We had unrated footage and commentary by the director."

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Originally, DVD players were the ultimate boy-toy, and not surprisingly, sci-fi titles sold the best. "Our biggest seller to date is 'Terminator 2,' " says Jeff Fink, president of sales and marketing for Artisan Home Entertainment.

"The sci-fi-oriented films are really what the technology lent itself to in terms of the sound and the video. But as the marketplace has expanded, we have found a growing interest in everything from our Hallmark event family features like 'Merlin' to even new releases like 'Belly' or 'Ringmaster.' "

"In the very beginning, the early [DVD owner] profile was young men with a certain amount of income," says Gail Becker, vice president of publicity for Warner Home Video. "But now that time has gone by and with a base of 1.4 million [DVD] units, it's starting to go beyond that."

"The base is really starting to broaden," echoes Jim Wuthrich, Warner's director of marketing. "The title sales used to be what we called the testosterone-driven titles, but that is starting to change."

Among Warners' more female-driven titles that have performed well are "My Fair Lady," "Gone With the Wind" and the current "You've Got Mail."

Studios are now getting filmmakers involved in the DVD process while the movie is in production. "When they shot 'The Matrix,' we were involved," says Becker. "I know they are shooting 'The Three Kings' now and we are involved in that. Directors are seeing all the possibilities."

"This is really the first home-entertainment opportunity a director has had to have a significant impact on the film while he's making it and once it's in release," says Michael Stradford, executive director of DVD at Columbia TriStar. "There are things that may not make the final cut and the director may know that while they are shooting it, but he knows that he can put it on a DVD."

Director Michael Bay has done two lavish Criterion-produced editions of his box-office hits "The Rock" and "Armageddon."

"It is a cool way for film students and filmphiles to see [a movie] in more depth," he says. "Criterion editions don't make a lot of money. It's really for film buffs."

Bay was thinking about the DVD while making "Armageddon": "We saved certain drawings. When we blew up Paris, we had them shoot the whole making of [the special effects] and we put that on this as additional material."

Though most studios have been involved with the DVD format for two years, DreamWorks and Fox Home Video didn't release their first DVDs until the fall. In the case of DreamWorks, the delay was due to it being a new studio.

"We didn't have any product," says Steve Gustafson, DVD producer. "We wanted to have enough to enter the market with."

DreamWorks' most ambitious DVD has been "Antz," which includes featurettes, trailers and audio commentary from the directors. "Being the very first full-length CGI [computer generated image] animated film ever released on DVD, we really wanted to make it a special deal. It has done very well."

Though Fox has a special edition of its "Alien" films and is planning a special DVD edition of "There's Something About Mary," the studio took its time about jumping on the DVD bandwagon.

"To be honest, we are just really still evaluating [the DVD market] because it is new," says Deborah Mitchell, Fox vice president of marketing. "How we really approach getting into the business is that we didn't just go into it because everyone else did. We really took our time, kind of studying the dynamics of the marketing, evaluating where we thought the market would be five years from now and setting up strategies to get us there before we launched."

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