Spirit Of ’76

Wednesday, November 23 2016
Spirit Of ’76

In an age of digital HD, with broadband times further speeding up, more and more pressur eon time, and a housing crisis that means no-one’s got room left for any kind of storage, especially not for a sizeable collection, whither the extras-laden physical home entertainment release?

Does anyone have time to sit down and watch a whole raft of DVD extras as well as the film? Do consumers really want to go through the whole thing again, only this time with a commentary?

And once they’ve bought it, where are they going to put it? Remarks on social media and below the line in comments sections of the entertainment and culture pages of newspaper and magazines suggest that some punters are ditching their collections.

There is still a demand – the reaction to the ongoing releases from the kind of labels featured heavily in The Raygun newsletter suggest that there’s still demand for physical product that’s packed with additional material and comes wrapped in a gorgeous package with sumptuous artwork. The ongoing Steelbook boom and boxset successes also show that it’s still there.

But what about filmmakers?

Are they still bothered about how their films are released? Is there still an allure to physical product?

And what’s it like finally getting a finished product in your hands?

Jon Spira is an aspirant filmmaker whose second feature length outing, the excellent documentary Elstree 1976, which charts the other actors involved in the making of a then unknown science fiction film called Star Wars to the north of London in the summer in question (the ones not called Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill, basically, including a whole cast of extras).

It’s a cracking documentary, one that Spira and his team crowdfunded to complete and one that has had a lengthy and meandering to market, finally arriving sometime after it was completed.

And here it is, looking resplendent in an O-ring (the slipcase thingy, for the uninitiated in packaging terminology), with a smart sleeve and wealth of extras alongside the feature, including a commentary from Spira.

Having met Jon and spoken to him a few times, having charted the film’s slow journey to stores, The Raygun felt a certain smidgeon of pride. As we’ve oft stated before, we’ve met scores of people in the business who are wannabe filmmakers, who’ve actually completed anything – but this is different. This is a physical product that you can hold in your sweaty palms.

What then, must it have been like for him?

“I was surprised at how emotional it made me,” he says. “This is a film we made independently, we never took it for granted that it would get a commercial release. To see it looking so slick, with the cardboard outer sleeve and the BBFC certificate was a little overwhelming. Also, to have the Soda logo on there. I’m a film geek, Soda are one of those labels you dream about working with. It’s amazing.”

He further praises the work with Soda in terms of the design work, the packaging and the menus. As he says: “Soda used the poster image we designed as the front cover and they designed the back cover with a little input from us. They made a really great animated menu for the DVD too.” 

He is “ecstatic” with the end result. “You hear horror stories about distributors creating really crappy design work to make it more commercial or visually striking,” Spira says. “not that we ever expected Soda to do anything crass. I bought the gorgeous Steelbook they put out for The Reflecting Skin, which is one of the best looking pieces of packaging I’ve ever seen so I knew we were in safe hands.”

It’s good too, to see a company – and director – working on added value on the disc too. “I think DVD extras are vital to filmmakers who give a shit about what they’re doing,” he says. “The reality of making a documentary is that the shooting ratio is crazy – we must have shot at least 30 hours of interview footage for Elstree 1976 – and in editing that down to 90 minutes, you obviously have to cut out a lot of great material. For the past couple of decades, that has been less stressful to do as you’ve known that you’ll be able to whack it all on the DVD for people who are interested in having a greater depth of knowledge or understanding.

“Personally, I always listen to directors commentaries and I enjoy doing them for my own films. The story behind the making of a film is usually as interesting as the film itself, so I’m a great fan of them. For a generation of filmmakers, DVD extras demystified the process of making films and, I think, made it a more attainable goal and allowed them to enter the industry with a pre-existing basic comprehension of what’s going on.”

Spira’s past-life – he used to work in Blockbuster (and penned a piece for us about his time there http://www.theraygun.co.uk/?p=6285 ) and later running his own store – gives it an extra personal satisfaction. What was it like, as a filmmaker, getting a copy in his mitts? “Haha. As a filmmaker, I don’t know, but as a guy who spent his twenties working in indie video shops and his thirties owning them, it feels like one of the most validating things that has ever happened to me. I’ve put off visiting Fopp today as I’m pretty sure swing it on the shelf there is going to make me cry.”

From his perspective, physical should have a future: “Film is becoming too disposable,” Spira concludes. “VOD, download and streaming are great and are clearly the future but there’s something so tangible about a physical product. Also I’m sad that the newer formats have moved largely away from extras and commentaries and all the fun stuff. Honestly, I’m just so happy that I have had at least one film released on DVD, though.”

• Elstree 1976 is out now on DVD from Soda Pictures.

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