Interview With DVD Producer Jeffrey Schwarz

We at DVD Times are very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to interview DVD Producer Jeffrey Schwarz, the creative talent behind such Special Edition DVDs as Basic Instinct, Hollow Man, Silence Of The Lambs, The Princess Bride and many others. Schwarz talks to Raphael Pour-Hashemi.

Jeffrey Schwarz is one of the leading DVD Producers in the field, and has often broken new ground with his innovative Special Editions for such titles as Heavy Metal, This Is Spinal Tap, Hollow Man, Basic Instinct, Silence Of The Lambs, The Princess Bride and many other contemporary classics. Not only is he one of the most sought-after DVD producers, he is also one of the nicest guys you could meet. His company Automat pictures are continually working on a number of Special Edition DVDs. Below is an interview with Jeffrey Schwarz conducted by Raphael Pour-Hashemi on behalf of DVD TIMES:

Above: Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (1997)

DVD TIMES: You are obviously very enthusiastic about producing DVDs. Just how enjoyable is your job, and what brings you the most satisfaction?

JEFFREY SCHWARZ: I feel extremely lucky to be doing this kind of work, and each of these things has to be done right. Doing these Special Editions could be the only opportunity to get everyone on board for a retrospective look at an older film. So there’s a sense of responsibility to these films, their creators, and wanting to represent their legacy for future generations. We felt that particularly with films like Blue Velvet or The Silence of the Lambs which are world famous, seminal films. We have the utmost respect for these films, and we feel obligated to do justice to them. Everyone on our team feels the same way. The biggest satisfaction comes from getting a phone call from Joe Dante or Paul Verhoeven or David Lynch saying they liked what we did.

DVD TIMES: Nowadays, they say that DJ’s are the new rock stars. Do you think that one day we will see DVD producers mentioned in the same breath as the films and filmmakers themselves? For example, will consumers be rushing to the shops to buy a DVD purely because it has extras produced by XXXX?

JEFFREY SCHWARZ: I don’t know that people are buying titles just because of the DVD producer, but hopefully they’ll start to realise that some of us are going the extra mile. I think the DVD audience knows who the different producers are, but the general audience only wants to be entertained and enlightened. However we’re trying to create a sort of brand name of quality with Automat so that people know they’re getting something special if we’re on the case. It also has a lot with the studio and the tone that they set. Some studios are completely supportive of supplements and making the DVD experience as rich as it can possibly be. They support our ideas and bring their own ideas to the table and give us the means to bring them to life. Other studios don’t really care about extras, which is a shame.

DVD TIMES: Out of all the titles you have worked on, which one would you take out of the cabinet to show friends if you only had time to show them one title, and why?

JEFFREY SCHWARZ: It’s hard to choose cause I’m proud of all of them. I’ll just say Starship Troopers, which hasn’t come out just yet. I think that’s an example of a rich DVD experience. It enhances your appreciation of the film on multiple levels. It examines the film’s themes and relates them to 20th Century history, but it also gets into the nitty-gritty of the special effects and all the bugs. Actually one of my favourite featurettes is called “Julie Strain: Supergoddess” which is on the Heavy Metal 2000 DVD. It was a low profile film, but the Strain piece is definitely a personal favourite.

Above: Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986)

DVD TIMES: How helpful are studios when you come to produce DVDs, and are some studios more helpful than others?

JEFFREY SCHWARZ: The studios hire us because they know their films are will be in good hands, and once the ideas are approved, they pretty much leave us alone until they see the first cut. Then we work very closely with the legal departments to make sure we’ve cleared everything to their specifications. I can’t say that some are better than others, but they each have their own ways of doing things. We have three years of history with the same studios, so we know the ins and outs pretty well at this point.

DVD TIMES: At the moment, there seems to be an uneven balance of DVDs in which some classic films lack extras and some uninspiring films are given full two-disc Special Editions etc etc. What do you think studio’s current policies are towards Special Editions, and are there any films that are gathering dust that you’d love to work on for a DVD release?

JEFFREY SCHWARZ: The studios want to sell DVDs, and they determine the amount of extras on a DVD, if any, by how many they project they can sell. It’s all about economics, and it’s disappointing that some of the older titles are neglected in this model. It is a little strange that the Brittney Spears movie gets a ton of extras and Kiss Me Deadly has nothing but it’s understandable from a marketing perspective. I think we all have dream projects. I’m dying to do Showgirls and Mulholland Drive but it’s not really up to me!

DVD TIMES: Outside of the titles you have worked on, which DVD release has impressed you the most, and why?

JEFFREY SCHWARZ: I have to say I really liked Anchor Bay’s Maniac. It’s a sleazy little movie, but I respected the fact that they tried to put you in the milieu of 80s Times Square by including all the ad campaigns. I also loved the Joe Spinell documentary and the commentary is really entertaining. I know that’s a pretty obscure example, but it achieved what it set out to do successfully and I can get behind that.

DVD TIMES: Are they any extra features that you know exist but have been unable to use for any titles that you worked on?

JEFFREY SCHWARZ: Usually it all comes down to not being able to clear something with the legal department. We were unable to include the music video for The Princess Bride which David Fincher directed because of legal restrictions. I wanted to include a fascinating Paul Verhoeven military documentary he made in the 60s with Starship Troopers but we weren’t able to. It was disappointing not being able to find the deleted scenes for Blue Velvet but we came up with a creative solution for that.

Above: Reiner’s The Princess Bride (1987)

DVD TIMES: You’ve worked on an extremely varied range of projects, from sci-fi (Total Recall, Hollow Man) to Blaxpoitation (Black Caeser, Foxy Brown, Coffey). Is it an absolute necessity that as a DVD producer you must worship the film you are working on for its DVD release, or is it possible to still be committed to the job one hundred-percent even if you hated the film you are working on?

JEFFREY SCHWARZ: It’s not necessary to worship the movie, but having an enthusiasm for the film will always result in a better product. It makes you want to work harder and get it right. Sometimes it’s even a hindrance to love the movie because there’s that extra pressure. And with something like Blue Velvet you know your work is going to be scrutinised for years to come by fans who have some VERY strong opinions. You’ll never please everybody. I have worked on projects where I’ve not been too crazy about the movie, but that really shouldn’t matter. The end result still has our name on it, so it’s in nobody’s best interest to do a shoddy job.

DVD TIMES: When purchasing a DVD, which factor influences you the most – the picture, sound or extras quality, and why?

Above: Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992)

JEFFREY SCHWARZ: It’s usually the movie itself. I’m not really an audiophile, so the sound isn’t really a selling point for me. I was bummed there were no extras on Mulholland Drive and Can’t Stop the Music but I bought them anyway. Having extras is always an incentive to buy a title if you’re on the fence. I don’t think I would have bought Hannibal or The Phantom Menace if it weren’t for the extras.

DVD TIMES: And finally, can you give us a hint as to what releases we can expect to see from you shortly?

JEFFREY SCHWARZ: We’ve got some big titles coming up such as the Rambo Box Set from Artisan which my partner Laura Nix did an incredible job producing. We’ve also got Men in Black 2, Jason X, Starship Troopers, The Fog, Resident Evil, John Q, and a bunch of others coming out this year as well. I hope your readers will keep an eye out for these and let the studios know you support extras by buying them!

Tremendous thanks go to Jeffrey Schwarz, and to Alexander Larman for ‘Council Assistance’.

Raphael Pour-Hashemi

Updated: May 14, 2002

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