Track record

Last week I recorded a director’s commentary track for the Etiquette DVD. I really enjoyed doing the one for my first film Gardening and other crimes.

Commentary tracks are interesting and seem to polarize people. I suspect unless you are a filmy type or the film is of particular interest then they mostly get ignored.

On one hand you get people who love doing them (for example Peter Jackson who recorded multiple tracks for his Lord of the Rings films. Edgar Wright joked that they wanted to record more tracks for Shaun of the dead just so they could beat his record. Peter Jackson turns up in a small cameo as Santa in Hot Fuzz). I guess I fall into this category.

At the other end of the spectrum you get people such as Steven Spielberg who refuses to do them at all (a big shame!). Or you get the directors who just sit there not really giving any insight. Plenty of these tracks around!

Part of my reasoning for doing a commentary track was that I have a very limited presence in the DVD extras otherwise. I believe it’s important for the director to have “some” sort of presence. I’d love to record a brief “interview”, but it’s all about timing.

How did I fare this time around? I have to be perfectly honest and say whilst I enjoyed doing it – the major drawback was the fact that Etiquette only runs for 8 minutes. Pesky timing again! Gardening and other crimes ran for over 20 minutes and I found it much easier to cram anecdotes in on that track. The Etiquette track feels more restless and rushed. There were a few things I would have liked to cover, but 8 minutes just flies by. This is something to bear in mind on my next project “Spare Change” which is likely to have an even shorter run-time. I may not even bother with that one!

So how did I prepare for the track?

Firstly I watched the film and scribbled down a few notes or points I wanted to mention. I feel this is essential! Far too many people who give commentaries don’t do this and it generally makes for a rather dull experience. I didn’t use the notes religiously, but it jogged my memory if I clammed up. The track was recorded using a trust Rode VideoMic in a quiet environment. I was listening to the track via headphones so that only the commentary was recorded and I then mixed it over the top of the film playing at a much lower volume. A couple of things I was planning to cover but I didn’t have the time:

  • The shoes story. Mentioned this in-joke on a previous blog entry. Especially as they were cut out at the 11th hour. The shoes were also the only focus pull shot we did in the film. In some ways I am happy we didn’t just do shallow DOF focus-pull shots for the sake of it. There is a time and a place for them and I find them somewhat cliché in a lot of DSLR work being produced right now. I didn’t feel they were right for this project.
  • The dropping of the “door opening” scene for Aunt Ethel. Basically we couldn’t get it to work, even though some of the footage was shot (and can be seen in the original cut). This does mean that a lot of the cat props I sourced for the character were essentially eliminated. I had this idea that she was a mix of Blofeld in the Bond movies and mad cat woman from The Simpsons. In the film she is having a cup of tea with her cat mug/cat tea-pot reading a genuine book called The Devious Book for Cats by Fluffy bonkers (a prop I am definitely keeping).
  • I don’t feel I conveyed Alex’s improvisation from “good day” to “good neigh” to horse-loving character Alison particularly well on the commentary.  Ah well!
  • I didn’t mention that we hoped to get the original Trevor (Ross Sullivan) to play alongside Layla at the end. He was game but sadly the schedule didn’t work out. He did come to our premiere however. I was also hoping to get Brian from my last film playing a character called “good Samaritan”, who comes over to help  at the end. Again, scheduling issues.

Anyway, would love to hear some feedback about people’s favourite commentary tracks – so please leave a comment below if you know of any good ones in your DVD collection!

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2 responses to “Track record

  1. I don’t bother listening to them unless it’s a film I’m really into. I’m not sure it’s really worth doing a commentary for an 8-minute film but it’s the director’s prerogative 😉

    • As I said – I probably won’t bother on the next project as it’s too short. I tend to lose interest in a lot of commentary tracks after the first 20 or so minutes, which obviously worked out okay on the last one. But I hope you do listen to (and enjoy) the one I did for Etiquette. 🙂 To be honest recording a commentary track is easy and very low maintenance compared to say editing a bunch of interviews recorded on location (can you guess what I am doing right now?).

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