Dos and Don'ts for DVD commentaries

And now for something a little different: Dos and Don'ts for DVD commentaries. I enjoy them but it seems somes producers need help.

  • DO include commentaries, unless it's a DVD set of some television show that just can't sustain interesting commentary for an entire season. (For example, Friends, which correctly only includes commentaries for three or four episodes per season, which based on my sampling is almost three or four commentaries too many. I don't mean this as a crack at Friends, which I've come to enjoy, there just isn't enough to say about it per episode.) They are cheap (I assume) and add a lot of value for the True Fans; this is especially important if you have a franchise.
  • DO include the original audio track under the commentary, having it drop quieter when the commentators talk and coming back when they stop. It is spooky to watch a movie with no audio coming from it at all. It also gives the commentators a chance to refer to things in the video and have us actually hear them if they want.
  • DO NOT be afraid of spoiling the current video; you may safely assume we are fans if we're listening to the commentary and we've seen the video already. DO NOT spoil any other video (other movies, future or even past episodes).
  • DO NOT narrate the action. Again, you may safely assume we've seen the video, and I don't need to turn on the director's commentary to find out what is happening or what is about to happen. Exception: You may refer to a scene to set context if you intend to discuss it slightly before it occurs, e.g.: "In the next scene, Johnny accidentally sets off the bomb. This posed special challenges because...", narrated on top of a scene you otherwise have nothing to say about.
  • DO discuss: Experiences you had during filming, inside jokes, cameos, alternate scripts or actor's ad-libbing, original and unused ideas for the script, what was cut and why, mistakes left in the final product, interesting history surrounding the release ("We had to delay this episode a year because of 9-11").
  • DO NOT discuss special effects, unless they are extremely novel or involved novel challenges for the actors. It may still be better to save it for a featurette. Computers have done a lot of unification of special effects techniques, and as a result, they've made almost all special effect featurettes sound virtually identical. Exception: Movies from before the modern special effects era: I find early 80's or late 70's (TRON, Star Trek: The Motion Picture) special effects discussions really interesting because of how wildly different they are from modern techniques.
  • DO have at least a sketch of a plan for you want to talk about.
  • DO make sure that if you are going to crack jokes that they are actually funny.
  • DO NOT spend a whole lot of time praising somebody you happened to work with. Yes, it seems to be part of Hollywood culture to praise someone up the wazoo everytime you mention them, but the praises are stereotypical and unconvincing, especially if you praise a lot of people. Stick with their role and at most a quick adjective.
  • DO NOT be afraid to do some mimimal editing to the commentary tracks; if you crack up in laughter, make a comment to your sound guy, please edit it out. If you're not sure if someone is coming into the commentary later or if something is coming in this episode or the next, please pause the commentary and check. (It seems silly when the series creator or movie directer is mumbling something like "Does this happen in the next scene, or fifteen minutes from now?").
  • DO NOT be afraid to say something negative, if you can get away with it. If the studio bothered you somehow, say so. If the actor was half drunk, go ahead and say so. Obviously, the commentary track should not be a whine tasting, and you need to consider the potential other costs rationally, but this is your best chance to say something to your True Fans, and we like a little bit of dirt sometimes.
  • DO NOT include multiple commentary tracks unless the tracks add value; I recall here the American Pie commentary track with a few of the actors, which largely consisted of the actors laughing at their on-screen antics, a sort of small-audience laugh track. This does not add value. If a purchaser cares enough about the commentary tracks, then they care enough to want a quality track.
  • DO drop me a line if you use this list in making a DVD commentary. ;-)