The Audio Commentary Bible

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Shane Gralaw, Dec 30, 2004.

  1. Shane Gralaw

    Shane Gralaw Second Unit

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    I love audio commentaries and try to listen to all of them, but am often frustrated by them. It seems that many participants doing commentaries are either new to it, or don't really understand what an audience expects or appreciates in a commentary. So I submit to them (and you)....

    The Audio Commentary Bible

    1) The commentary should be (mostly) scene-specific.

    2) The commentary should continue throughout the film/ television episode and SHOULD NOT be intermittant (I am looking at you Scorsese box set).

    3 )For multiple participants in a commentary, they should all be together in the same room viewing the film, or not at all. If some are together, the person or persons not with them should not be recorded and edited in later as this grinds the flow of the commentary to a halt.

    4) Tangents are fine and should be encouraged, but if a major story point is flowed over, the commentator should back-track to cover it.

    5) Participants in a commentary should take the time to review the film BEFORE commenting on it so they can gather their thoughts and provide some meaningful insights.

    6) When the commentators refer to specific dialogue, that dialogue should be audible to the audience. The listener should not have to rewind, turn the commentary off, listen, then rejoin the commentary.

    7) All DVDs should have the option of switching to the commentary, and back, on the fly, without having to negotiate through the DVD menu screens (this goes for subtitling on the film as well- some of us like to view the commentary with the subtitles on so that we don't miss the dialogue).

    8) Try to keep the self-congratulatory butt-kissing to a minimum. And if you made a total stink-bomb of a movie, don't insult us by trying to cover it up with your self-deluded sense of brilliance, but rather try to examine what went wrong as this makes for a far more interesting commentary.

    Anything else you would like to add to this?
     
  2. WillG

    WillG Producer

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    Commentaries should be recorded after the film hits theaters, not before.
     
  3. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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    And again I totally disagree. If well edited, you would never hear a problem: Look at the LOTR tracks, specifically the actors-- they were recorded exactly as you complain: one group and several singles- yet the editing is perfect and creates wonderful flow.

    On the other hand, the track on the Goonies, while fun - is a fucking mess with 10 people in the same room talking over each other... any interesting point gets lost and interrupted by someone pointing out a relative on screen.

    I would counter that commentaries, unless well moderated, do not work with more than 3-4 people in a room at a time. While interaction can be an interesting element-- more often than not the side conversations of the participants have little to do with the film.

    My addition

    - Do not talk about great deleted moments that do not appear on the DVD. Don't talk about the blooper reel from the wrap party if you're not going to include it.

    - Could we cut down on the superlatives, or maybe come up with 2-3 new ones? I honestly think there must be a shortage of the word "amazing" in Hollywood since commentary tracks have started, as the word is used 100 times in every commentary I have heard-- there must not be any left for normal conversation.

    I don't mind being in awe of the work of your fellow movie makers (ESPECIALLY when an actor is actually noticing the hard work and creativity of a crew member)--- but goodness, come up with some new vocabulary.

    - All commentaries should be recorded twice and edited by ana talented audio editor. The first pass often gets some good raw info, but the second usually yields much more polished and introspective thoughts.

    The best tracks, without a doubt, are ones where they do 2 passes and edit the best material together. Another great method is to let the participants watch the movie and do a track and then leave the tape rolling and interview them after. You can get a great track by editing this stuff in over less interesting passages of the screen specific stuff.

    - Commentary participants should be smart enough to realize that no one will watch it for the first time with the commentary on. I can't count the number of people who avoid certain topics or don't tell certain stories because they don't want to ruin the ending of the movie for the listener: MORONIC. Everyone listening has already seen the movie, or if the haven't- they don't care anyway.
     
  4. richardWI

    richardWI Second Unit

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    Thou shall avoid narrating onscreen action as much as possible.

    Thou shall refrain from such twaddle as "remember the day we shot this?" or "remember what you said to me that morning?"


    My latest pet peeve is "on the day". The Last Samurai is the worst offender. The director keeps saying, "when we showed up, on the day, the lighting wasn't right" "you can plan, but when you show up, on the day, other things happen." "I remember when Tom Cruise showed up.. on the day.." etc. When you hear it 10 times in a row you're ready to hang yourself on the 11th time. It's even creeping into Sir Ridley Scott's vernacular. grrr.
     
  5. Ray H

    Ray H Producer

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    Word.

    These days extras are produced simultaneously with the film. The disadvantage is that if a commentary is recorded before the film hits theaters, there's no opportunity for the commentator to reflect on the film he's made. He doesn't know the reaction that the film may get so he doesn't know where to address certain problems.
     
  6. MarkHarrison

    MarkHarrison Supporting Actor

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    I like your guidelines in general, except for this one. If the commentators don't have enough interesting material to talk about for the duration of the movie, then I'd prefer they not just throw out filler. And if they aren't going to talk for the entire movie, I'd prefer they cut it like the Scorsese set. Better that than having to listen to long stretches of silence.
     
  7. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    I'm also not a fan of this requirement. In fact, the "roomful of commentators" often leads to nothing more than prattle. And in addition to Vince's citing of "LotR", many excellent Criterion commentaries are edited together from separate recording sessions, and these are among the very best I've heard.
     
  8. Alistair_M

    Alistair_M Second Unit

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  9. Casey Trowbridg

    Casey Trowbridg Lead Actor

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    Thou shalt not make a comment about how nobody listens to audio commentaries during an audio commentary.

    Whenever this happens, it really bugs me, despite what some may say, some of us actually do bother to take the time to listen to them.

    Thou shalt not talk about how boring your commentary is, that is for the listener to decide.

    I also don't agree that the commentaries should be scene specific, if you do that, then you miss out on such things as the Walt Disney commentary for Snow White.

    I also agree that when you have more than say 5 people in a room doing a commentary it should probably be well moderated, unless the people involved are well experienced in doing commentaries. I think that for as fun and seemingly random some of the Futurama commentaries are, if you pay enough attention I think whether purposefully or not David X. Cohen is serving as a defacto moderator. By asking people to tell a specific story or by asking people to do a specific voice.

    I also think that a commentary should be recorded twice and when possible the first one should be listened to by the commentator before the second one is recorded. I'm hoping that this would cut down on those instances where someone starts to tell a story, and is either interupted by something on screen or interupted by someone else, and then never picks up where they left off in the story. These instances are rare, but they do happen.
     
  10. Colin Jacobson

    Colin Jacobson Producer

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    These are simply attempts by the parties involved to be self-effacing, I think. It's connected to insecurity - you worry that no one will listen or they'll think you're boring, so you mock yourself to feel better. It also opens them up to easy compliments from the folks who DID listen to the commentaries - they can tell the self-effacing participants that a) they did listen, and b) they were interesting.

    I don't think there are any hard and fast rules for commentaries, so I don't think we need a "bible" - too many exceptions to any potential rules. Well, except for these two:

    -dead air = bad thing. Would I prefer a commentary ala Frankenheimer's for Manchurian Candidate - in which he speaks infrequently but is always interesting - to something in which the participant(s) prattle incessantly but tell us nothing useful? Yeah, but it's rare that a track with significant dead air doesn't stink.

    -too much happy talk = bad thing. Again, I've encountered many that still toss out lots of good info, but the "that's great/he's great/she's great/we're great" gets really old. Often it's the crummiest movies that include the highest percentage of happy talk.

    Otherwise, I don't believe there are any good rules for commentaries.
     
  11. WillG

    WillG Producer

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    I get annoyed when a commentary ends without any indication that is has indeed ended. I hate scanning through the end titles wondering if there are more contents. I fast forward, stop and hear talking so then I have to go back to the beginning of the comments. I wish more people doing commentary would indicate that it was the end. Or, at the very least a subtitle that indicates when the commentary has ended. An idea even on top of that would be to have a subtitle track alongside the commentary that indicates dead spots if they occur and lets us know at what point on the commentary resumes.

    Also, I think a good feature which is painfully underused is a commentary index screen that shows what is being spoken about at each chapter a la "Alien" 20th Anniversary and Gladiator.
     
  12. Scott_MacD

    Scott_MacD Supporting Actor

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    Criterion uses this menu index feature extensively, too..

    If thou choosest to appear in an audio commentary, Thou shalt be enthusiastic about talking about the movie in question. Enthusiasm + Information = great commentary.
     
  13. Casey Trowbridg

    Casey Trowbridg Lead Actor

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    This may be true, but for me its a lot like hearing a joke for the 100th time. Its just not as funny as it was the first.

    One other thing, and this applies to television shows more than anything especially when commentaries for episodes are recorded out of sequence over a substantial period of time.

    I notice that in early seasons of the simpsons comments from one track would be repeated on another track often by the same person. I think this has to due in part with the fact that the 2 tracks might have been recorded days or weeks apart.

    So someone should be listening in on these things and taking good notes of particular comments and stories that are told so the commentators can reference them later if they forget. I don't know that this doesn't already happen, and actually noticed that with season 5 of the Simpsons they actually talk about how they might have commented on a certain point in a different track. But anything to cut down on repetition.
     
  14. MarkHastings

    MarkHastings Executive Producer

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    Agreed. I hate when they trail off and just sit and watch the movie. WAKE UP GUYS!
     
  15. Jeff D Han

    Jeff D Han Supporting Actor

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    Vince, I couldn't agree with you more about your comment
    on the Goonies track. It's an awful track because everybody
    talks at the same time, or some of them talk over others,
    so all the viewer hears is a bunch of valueless noise.

    Good commandment, Scott. The Mel Gibson track for Braveheart
    really breaks this commandment. I felt that he just didn't want to bother with the commentary, and there was long gaps
    of dead air between his vapid comments. Terrible track.

    Commentaries don't have to be screen-specific. They have
    to have people that are enthusiastic and want to have a
    little fun telling their stories.
     
  16. WillG

    WillG Producer

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    I think commentaries need to be more carefully edited as well to expunge any references to things that go unexplained. The Goonies track is a perfect example. Sean Astin was trying to get a story out about an encounter with Cindi Lauper one day on the set, but everyone kept talking over him. To Corey Feldman's credit, he did try to get everyone to shut up so Astin could tell his story, but to no avail. Halfway through the commentary Astin disappears (probably because he was pissed about not being able to get a word in. Something that bugs the hell out of me in multi-person conversations) Anyway, the point is the story goes totally unexplained. They should have edited out that whole thing out of the commentary. I wish there was also a Donner only track on that disc as well.
     
  17. MarkHastings

    MarkHastings Executive Producer

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    WillG, that reminded me of another commentary (but I forget which movie) where the Director says "remind me to tell you a story about..." (whatever the scene was) and he never ended up telling that story.

    You think someone would have QC'd it and either took that comment out or had the director add it in later on.
     
  18. Kevin M

    Kevin M Producer

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    Thou shalt speak up! Do not mumble info in a nyquil-esk manner that requires volume adjustment every two minutes!! (thunder crash)

    There is a feature that may or may not help but I would like to see it implemented more then it is anyway, a subtile track for the commentary. It would help me to understand what the hell some of these people are saying.....on the other hand if the subtitle track transcriber can't understand what the hell they are saying either then I guess it wouldn't help at all![​IMG]
    Nonetheless it could be akin to the standard text commentary we all know, an alternate way of viewing the commentary without turning off the films soundtrack. This has been done on a few discs but very rarely here in R1.
     

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