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Studios Reducing/Ending Retail DVDs of Classics - Warner Interview


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#1 of 132 OFFLINE   Steve...O

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Posted August 06 2009 - 03:51 PM

A very sobering article here that discusses the realities of why classic film lovers no longer have a plethora of new releases to choose from at retail.  Some insightful comments from Mr. Feltenstein are included throughout.  A sample:


Quote:
 Though DVD sales are down, current movies are still guaranteed a DVD release. But for anything made earlier, collectors may be out of luck. Most of the studios have trimmed their schedule of classic movies on DVD to almost nothing; 20th Century Fox recently eliminated its Fox Classics website after cancelling plans for unreleased classics like A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Even the prestigious Criterion Collection has cut back the number of classic foreign movies it releases, and brought out a much-derided current film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, to make extra money. George Feltenstein, a senior vice-president at Warner Home Video (which still has some classics scheduled), says that “most of the studios have pretty much said ‘Screw it, we’re out of here, we’re not going to do this.’ ”
 


Quote:
 (regarding the Archive)....classic movie releases won’t be as great-looking as they used to be; Feltenstein says that while the response to the archive “has been extraordinarily positive,” there are some complaints from fans who have been trained by DVD to “want everything now, and everything in the best possible quality.” Still, most movie lovers seem like they’ll be happy to get these films in any form...
 

Interestingly the article does not mention the nice work that Sony has done recently with some of the Columbia films.  However even those releases may be ending after the Stooges run their course.  Earlier reports of collections devoted to films like JUNGLE JIM and LONE WOLF have given way to silence.




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#2 of 132 OFFLINE   SilverWook

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Posted August 06 2009 - 04:29 PM

Benjamin Button was a "much-derided" film? By whom and in what universe?

And Criterion has been doing "current" movies since the good old Laserdisc days. Nothing new about that.


#3 of 132 OFFLINE   MichaelEl

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Posted August 06 2009 - 06:51 PM

The article talks about new releases, but what's the future for titles that are currently available online at Amazon and other retailers? Are the studios just going to allow everything to go OOP? 

#4 of 132 OFFLINE   cineMANIAC

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Posted August 07 2009 - 12:27 AM

If Best Buy got rid of all that direct-to-video junk they now sell and reduced the number of copies of Hollywood flops that they carry perhaps there'll be more room for the good stuff, no? There needs to be a dedicated outlet for movies - I can't remember the last time I was in a BB or Circuit Shitty (Rest in Pieces) to buy a movie; past experiences were so frustrating I just gave up on them.
 

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#5 of 132 OFFLINE   Simon Howson

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Posted August 07 2009 - 01:52 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by SilverWook 

Benjamin Button was a "much-derided" film? By whom and in what universe?

And Criterion has been doing "current" movies since the good old Laserdisc days. Nothing new about that.
Yeah I agree with you on that point. I suspect Criterion did the DVD simply because David Fincher was allowed by the studio to get them to do it.



#6 of 132 OFFLINE   jdee28

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Posted August 07 2009 - 02:09 AM

It's a sobering article. Feltenstein basically confirms that the Archive titles will not be getting new telecines anytime soon. Sounds like the new mantra is "classic movies -- not as great looking as they used to be." They're not as cheap as they used to be either. Classic movies definitely have taken a few steps back, both in quality and affordability, and that's sad.

Another reason the article gives for the decline of classic movies on DVD is poor choice in the movies that were released:
Quote:
And during the DVD boom years, some studios may have made matters worse by spending lots of money to release movies that were old, but not classic. A “Joan Collins Collection” featured several movies the Dynasty star had made for Fox in the ’50s, offering mostly mediocre films for a high price. Feltenstein thinks that “irresponsible releases” contributed to the collapse of the market: such discs “did terribly and caused the retailers to return the product.”
If this is true, I would point to Warners as a contributor to these "irresponsible releases." Take their box sets; stuff like The Busby Berkeley set Volume 2, or those 4 box sets devoted to "camp classics." Even with box sets devoted to stars, Warner would never release all the great films associated with that star. For each set, they'd keep it to at the most 2 or 3 great films, with the rest being lesser entries, more obscure. Hence, in the Cagney set, we got "The West Point Story" over "The Strawberry Blonde." Warner also seemed to be using these sets as a way to combat the bootlegger, by trying to include some films that had never been released before on video, but were popular on the bootleg market, films like "Old Acquaintance," "A Slight Case of Murder," "Torrid Zone," "Picture Snatcher." All this was fine, but often times, it took the place of a more deserving film that had been released on video, a film now, years later, ends up in the Archive, unrestored, available only from a 20 + year old video master; a film that, if included, might have increased sales.
Edited by jdee28 - 8/7/2009 at 02:21 pm GMT
Edited by jdee28 - 8/7/2009 at 02:22 pm GMT
Edited by jdee28 - 8/7/2009 at 02:23 pm GMT
Edited by jdee28 - 8/7/2009 at 02:23 pm GMT
Edited by jdee28 - 8/7/2009 at 02:26 pm GMT

#7 of 132 OFFLINE   Simon Howson

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Posted August 07 2009 - 02:10 AM


Quote:
A “Joan Collins Collection” featured several movies the Dynasty star had made for Fox in the ’50s, offering mostly mediocre films for a high price. Feltenstein thinks that “irresponsible releases” contributed to the collapse of the market: such discs “did terribly and caused the retailers to return the product.”
Well, I disagree with this point too. What constitutes a good or bad film is in the eye of the viewer, but more to the point, the article is supposedly lamenting the fact that lesser old films aren't being released. Well, the Fox Studio Classics Joan Collins collection is a perfect example of classic films properly released with excellent quality transfers and some nice extras. It wasn't expensive at all, the cost for me was AUD$10.50 per film (about US$8) including postage! I think that Stopover Tokyo and The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing are excellent films, and Rally 'Round the Flag Boys and Seven Thieves are very good, the only one I didn't really like was Sea Wife.

I do appreciate the over all point though that Fox probably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars making this DVD set, even though it most likely had a small potential market.



#8 of 132 OFFLINE   Simon Howson

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Posted August 07 2009 - 02:20 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by jdee28 

It's a sobering article. Feltenstein basically confirms that the Archive titles will not be getting new telecines anytime soon.

Yeah this quote is quite chilling:
Quote:
Feltenstein says, “If the economy of the world had not deteriorated, our release schedule would still be less than it was.”
So Warner's mantra about "full steam ahead" for classic releases was a bit of spin (to put it politely).

Another curious comment is this one:
Quote:

But older movies are particularly vulnerable because the cost of restoration is growing, and their fan base is shrinking.
I'm far from a restoration expert, but I find it surprising that restoration costs are increasing, I thought digital technologies would be reducing costs, while increasing quality?


#9 of 132 OFFLINE   jdee28

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Posted August 07 2009 - 02:31 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Simon Howson View Post


Another curious comment is this one:

Quote:
But older movies are particularly vulnerable because the cost of restoration is growing, and their fan base is shrinking.


I'm far from a restoration expert, but I find it surprising that restoration costs are increasing, I thought digital technologies would be reducing costs, while increasing quality?
 

I find that quote curious too. You'd think modern technology and new equipment would make it cheaper. I wonder if the author of the article really did his research, and if in fact the cost of restoration is truly growing.




#10 of 132 OFFLINE   Jaime_Weinman

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Posted August 07 2009 - 02:45 AM

Hi: Re "Costs of restoration," I didn't phrase it clearly enough, but the idea was that the expected quality of home video releases keeps increasing and therefore increases the cost. The amount of cleaning-up and restoration you had to do for VHS and laserdisc was less than what was expected for DVD, and hi-def in turn sometimes demands a whole new restoration. It is true that the cost of restoration shrank (or at least were controlled) with the development of new technology, and that that's one of the reasons we were able to see better-quality releases on DVD than we did on VHS.

The "much-derided" line about Benjamin Button refers to a number of things, particularly the outrage/arguments over on the Criterion forum, but obviously it doesn't mean that nobody has a right to like the movie. It's "much-derided" in the sense that Indiana Jones IV is "much-derided" -- that movie actually got pretty good reviews overall, but is a target of a lot of internet derision (though at least Benjamin Button never appeared on South Park).


#11 of 132 OFFLINE   Marcel H.

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Posted August 07 2009 - 02:53 AM

The easiest way to proof those guys wrong is: buy the stuff that's being released on standard DVD because all those Home Entertainment reps will recognize this and that's what I'm doing. I'll be buying nearly all of Sony's upcoming titles, some are already preordered and I'll be buying Universal's Backlot titles and I'll continue buying Warner's standard releases and I'm looking forward to the next Flynn set for example and I really hope, some of the big names like Bogart or Davis will get another set.

Edit:


@Jaime_Weinman

Did you got the chance to talk with Mr. Feltenstein about upcoming projects on standard DVD?


Recently bought: Tracy & Hepburn the Definitive Coll., The Mountain, Rope of Sand, Taxi Driver (BD), Heroes of Telemark, Night of the Generals
Pre-Order: Knock on Any Door, The Outlaw Josey Wales (BD), The Man Who Would Be King (BD), Night Flight, The Hustler (BD)...
My Collection
 

#12 of 132 OFFLINE   mdnitoil

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Posted August 07 2009 - 04:30 AM

Well, if this truly is an accurate take on what's happening in the market, then those folks who are waiting for title "X" on blu are in for a nasty surprise.  it's not like the market is going to magically come roaring back in 5 years.  If you can't make it cost effective on SD then we might as well forget about it.  Looks like they're ultimately positioning for some sort of digital delivery and we're entering a transition period.

#13 of 132 OFFLINE   Matthew Brown

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Posted August 07 2009 - 05:05 AM

We've heard the argument before that new releases are always guaranteed.  Of course the materials are in better shape plus the sales can ride on the publicity of the theatrical run.  Besides for some movies, they only hit the theater to advertise that the DVD will be coming out.

I do wonder if older movies will be lost forever.  If they aren't restored for DVD or Blu Ray, will they bother for broadcast TV?  Won't Joe Six pack figure out in a few years that the older movies don't look so good on the new TV?  Will these be restored?  If so, why not on Blu Ray or DVD?  Are we going to see less older movies on TV as well? 

Maybe everything will just become "On Demand".   This is why I'm not upgrading from standard DVD just yet. 


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#14 of 132 OFFLINE   Rob_Ray

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Posted August 07 2009 - 05:22 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Matthew Brown View Post

Are we going to see less older movies on TV as well? 

Maybe everything will just become "On Demand".   This is why I'm not upgrading from standard DVD just yet. 

 
We've already had an entire generation of seeing less older movies on TV and this is the result.  It's now been about 20 years since "The Maltese Falcon," "Casablanca," the Busby Berkeley films, the Preston Sturges films and more used to play in prime-time on local independent stations such as Los Angeles' Channel 5.  In addition, the lesser classics were all over the dial on virtually every station filling all the non-prime slots now taken by infomercials.   Now, a generation later, few people under 30 know anything about movies made before 1980 because they haven't had this high visibility.

TCM is something of a golden ghetto for old movies.  The prints are run intact with no commercial interruptions and in transfers far superior to what local stations were using.  But new generations aren't going to accidentally stumble upon TCM when flipping through the hundreds of TV options as they did when those options could be counted on two hands.  So now, the chickens have come home to roost. 

I only hope that projects like the Warner Archive can get their act together and provide a reasonable alternative source for the titles we used to find in places like Tower Records.

#15 of 132 OFFLINE   Rob_Kozlowski

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Posted August 07 2009 - 05:52 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob_Ray 




We've already had an entire generation of seeing less older movies on TV and this is the result.  It's now been about 20 years since "The Maltese Falcon," "Casablanca," the Busby Berkeley films, the Preston Sturges films and more used to play in prime-time on local independent stations such as Los Angeles' Channel 5.  In addition, the lesser classics were all over the dial on virtually every station filling all the non-prime slots now taken by infomercials.   Now, a generation later, few people under 30 know anything about movies made before 1980 because they haven't had this high visibility.

TCM is something of a golden ghetto for old movies.  The prints are run intact with no commercial interruptions and in transfers far superior to what local stations were using.  But new generations aren't going to accidentally stumble upon TCM when flipping through the hundreds of TV options as they did when those options could be counted on two hands.  So now, the chickens have come home to roost. 

I only hope that projects like the Warner Archive can get their act together and provide a reasonable alternative source for the titles we used to find in places like Tower Records.
Exactly, Rob. I grew up with old movies on all the local Chicago broadcast channels, and now I teach at a film school where 90% of the students have never even HEARD of the Marx Brothers. Fortunately, they were delighted by a clip from DUCK SOUP.  Still, there was offered a Films of the 1930s class this fall and exactly ZERO students signed up. And now, TCM is the only channel really showing any movies made before 1990. The Godfather is pretty much the oldest movie of which these kids are aware and I'm sure in another 20 years, young people will have no knowledge of films that lack CGI and graphic scenes of torture.


#16 of 132 OFFLINE   Brandon Conway

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Posted August 07 2009 - 06:08 AM

It's not impossible for someone 30 or under (like myself) to find a great interest in classic films despite not seeing them on TV growing up. However, the general audience is definitely shrinking, and the older the film gets the less it will be revisited. The 80s is "old" to most of the target media purchasing demographic of teenager and young adults.

"And now the reprimand, from an American critic. He reproaches me for using film as a sacred & lasting medium, like a painting or a book. He does not believe that filmmaking is an inferior art, but he believes, and quite rightly, that a reel goes quickly, that the public are looking above all for relaxation, that film is fragile and that it is pretentious to express the power of one's soul by such ephemeral and delicate means, that Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's first films can only be seen on very rare and badly spoiled prints. I add that the cinema is making daily progress and that eventually films that we consider marvelous today will soon be forgotten because of new dimensions & colour. This is true. But for 4 weeks this film [The Blood of a Poet] has been shown to audiences that have been so attentive, so eager & so warm, that I wonder after all there is not an anonymous public who are looking for more than relaxation in the cinema." - Jean Cocteau, 1932


#17 of 132 OFFLINE   Brandon Conway

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Posted August 07 2009 - 06:08 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Luisito34 

If Best Buy got rid of all that direct-to-video junk they now sell and reduced the number of copies of Hollywood flops that they carry perhaps there'll be more room for the good stuff, no?
The DTV stuff sells much, much better than classic films.

"And now the reprimand, from an American critic. He reproaches me for using film as a sacred & lasting medium, like a painting or a book. He does not believe that filmmaking is an inferior art, but he believes, and quite rightly, that a reel goes quickly, that the public are looking above all for relaxation, that film is fragile and that it is pretentious to express the power of one's soul by such ephemeral and delicate means, that Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's first films can only be seen on very rare and badly spoiled prints. I add that the cinema is making daily progress and that eventually films that we consider marvelous today will soon be forgotten because of new dimensions & colour. This is true. But for 4 weeks this film [The Blood of a Poet] has been shown to audiences that have been so attentive, so eager & so warm, that I wonder after all there is not an anonymous public who are looking for more than relaxation in the cinema." - Jean Cocteau, 1932


#18 of 132 OFFLINE   Paul Penna

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Posted August 07 2009 - 08:10 AM

 Why this should come as a surprise to so many, or so difficult to accept, is beyond me. It hasn't taken much reading between the lines over the past few years (decades, actually) to realize that the market for older films has shrunk dramatically, or that it's not a result of studio mismanagement of the market. The market for everything old has shrunk - you see the same thing with music and literature and just about every other aspect of the culture of the past. You could give this stuff as much exposure as you like, easily available and in the best possible form and still the vast majority of people today just wouldn't care. It's a cultural phenomenon, not a marketing thing. The attitudes, values and cultural perceptions that are reflected in the films of the past are increasingly alien to today's audiences, who, at best, regard them as quaint, but more frequently, simply irrelevant. Add to that the differences in film construction, particularly their pace, and you wind up with an audience that's just plain bored. Ideas of both what is entertaining and what makes something entertaining have changed. A Blu-Ray disc that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce and that tanked in the marketplace isn't going to make a particle of difference to today's typical movie viewer.

This isn't just the vast, unwashed, Joe Sixpack masses I'm talking about, either. Just last week, a couple of my acquaintance talked of having rented The Third Man on Blu-Ray. They're both intelligent, culturally-aware musician-artists in their late thirties. The guy told me his wife had managed to make it halfway through the film.

And yet we have people continuing to insist that if the studios went on just as they had in the past, spending vast amounts of money on things virtually guaranteed to not even recoup their expense, that things would be different.

#19 of 132 OFFLINE   Pete York

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Posted August 07 2009 - 08:23 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by jdee28 

Another reason the article gives for the decline of classic movies on DVD is poor choice in the movies that were released:


If this is true, I would point to Warners as a contributor to these "irresponsible releases." Take their box sets; stuff like The Busby Berkeley set Volume 2, or those 4 box sets devoted to "camp classics." Even with box sets devoted to stars, Warner would never release all the great films associated with that star. For each set, they'd keep it to at the most 2 or 3 great films, with the rest being lesser entries, more obscure. Hence, in the Cagney set, we got "The West Point Story" over "The Strawberry Blonde." Warner also seemed to be using these sets as a way to combat the bootlegger, by trying to include some films that had never been released before on video, but were popular on the bootleg market, films like "Old Acquaintance," "A Slight Case of Murder," "Torrid Zone," "Picture Snatcher." All this was fine, but often times, it took the place of a more deserving film that had been released on video, a film now, years later, ends up in the Archive, unrestored, available only from a 20 + year old video master; a film that, if included, might have increased sales.

Well, if there was a Vol. 2 of something that means Vol. 1 sold well enough to make it possible, so that's tough to categorize as an "irresponsible release".  As for the inclusion of certain titles in a box, Warner has often said that the state of existing materials was a factor.  I wouldn't necessarily chalk it up to holding back more notable titles to fill out a box or holding something back for future use.  Of course now, except for certain cases, that's no longer a worry.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Simon Howson 


Well, I disagree with this point too. What constitutes a good or bad film is in the eye of the viewer, but more to the point, the article is supposedly lamenting the fact that lesser old films aren't being released. Well, the Fox Studio Classics Joan Collins collection is a perfect example of classic films properly released with excellent quality transfers and some nice extras. It wasn't expensive at all, the cost for me was AUD$10.50 per film (about US$8) including postage! I think that Stopover Tokyo and The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing are excellent films, and Rally 'Round the Flag Boys and Seven Thieves are very good, the only one I didn't really like was Sea Wife.

I do appreciate the over all point though that Fox probably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars making this DVD set, even though it most likely had a small potential market.
 
What constitutes a good business decision, however, is not in the eye of the beholder as it is right there on a balance sheet.  What is implied here is that Fox did not get its return on the Joan Collins collection, irrespective of the films' quality, and probably for the reasons you cite as making it well worth it to you.  Multiply that a few times and Feltenstein's point stands.  I'm reminded of Fox putting millions into THE BLACK SWAN, which I purchased right after its release for $8.  They have my gratitude and my money, but I don't know how happy the bean counters were with that.      

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcel H. 

The easiest way to proof those guys wrong is: buy the stuff that's being released on standard DVD because all those Home Entertainment reps will recognize this and that's what I'm doing. I'll be buying nearly all of Sony's upcoming titles, some are already preordered and I'll be buying Universal's Backlot titles and I'll continue buying Warner's standard releases and I'm looking forward to the next Flynn set for example and I really hope, some of the big names like Bogart or Davis will get another set.
 
It will be interesting to see what Sony and Universal are doing beyond this year.  If they're still in the business of classics in 2010 we should be very grateful.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brandon Conway 

It's not impossible for someone 30 or under (like myself) to find a great interest in classic films despite not seeing them on TV growing up. However, the general audience is definitely shrinking, and the older the film gets the less it will be revisited. The 80s is "old" to most of the target media purchasing demographic of teenager and young adults.
Not impossible, but highly, highly, highly improbable.  And while the demographic is shrinking, money can always be made off a targeted, niche audience.  I don't see why there can't be room in these studio empires for a small, but money-making, operation.    

I would just add one small tweak to Paul Penna's point; older films have more awareness today than, say, 15 years ago, no (TCM, DVD, etc.)? So at some point the market did grow and there is perhaps a larger market now being ignored than in 1994.  And the bigger the market is, the less sense it makes to ignore it.   



#20 of 132 OFFLINE   Brandon Conway

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Posted August 07 2009 - 08:56 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete York 

It will be interesting to see what Sony and Universal are doing beyond this year.  If they're still in the business of classics in 2010 we should be very grateful.

Not impossible, but highly, highly, highly improbable.  And while the demographic is shrinking, money can always be made off a targeted, niche audience.  I don't see why there can't be room in these studio empires for a small, but money-making, operation.  
 
Sony, even prior to the Warner Archive was announced, had a press release or a statement in an article discussing the same type of distribution, so that wouldn't shock me for them. But Sony is also benefiting from winning the HD format war, so they may be in a slightly better position financially than other studios.

The money will still be made off the niche audience, but that's also exactly why the Warner Archive titles are $20, which has solicited complaints from those who were buying classics on DVD much cheaper over the last 10 years, rightly or wrongly.


"And now the reprimand, from an American critic. He reproaches me for using film as a sacred & lasting medium, like a painting or a book. He does not believe that filmmaking is an inferior art, but he believes, and quite rightly, that a reel goes quickly, that the public are looking above all for relaxation, that film is fragile and that it is pretentious to express the power of one's soul by such ephemeral and delicate means, that Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's first films can only be seen on very rare and badly spoiled prints. I add that the cinema is making daily progress and that eventually films that we consider marvelous today will soon be forgotten because of new dimensions & colour. This is true. But for 4 weeks this film [The Blood of a Poet] has been shown to audiences that have been so attentive, so eager & so warm, that I wonder after all there is not an anonymous public who are looking for more than relaxation in the cinema." - Jean Cocteau, 1932