Repurposing TV shows for DVD: working with television content often means following the same rules for authoring feature films in DVD
Whether it's a recent Ken Burns documentary miniseries or 50-year-old episodes off I Love Lucy, repurposing TV programming for DVD has become a significant growth area for authoring facilities and others figuring into the DVD equation. Those involved in the process say the act they have to follow is I that of feature films. They're providing all the same bells and whistles but point out that things like menus and bonus materials are secondary to quality when the input material dates back as much as half a century.
The advice to program suppliers from Al Gavin, VP of sales and marketing at Audio Plus Video International (www.apvi.com), an Ascent Media company based in Northvale, NJ, is, "if you have a budget to work with, focus on the quality of the program. The bonus materials are nice, but people tend to watch them just once. So the most important thing is the program itself."
Gavin estimates there are probably tens of thousands of hours of TV that have gone onto DVD. This aspect of APVI's DVD department has grown about 50 percent over the last year, he estimates. Projects have ranged from five five-episode volumes so far of I Love Lucy for Columbia House to such Discovery Channel miniseries as The Real Eve and Engineering the Impossible.
"It's similar to working on a feature film." he holds, "because our clients require us to do audio and video restoration prior to authoring." As a video post production facility, APVI has an advantage in attracting authoring work because it offers such additional services as restoration.
Gavin adds, "We can create a DVD from the original film because we offer high definition film-to-tape transfer. We can also create 5.1 audio from any source, whether its two-, four- or six-channel. And we can take anything as simple as a single master tape and from that create menus, 5. I audio and any of the interactive bells and whistles required."
For I Love Lucy, Columbia House had dug up Spanish audio that was of poor quality and not synced to with the masters. That was a significant restoration job for APVI. Aside from that, restoration of the content to its original airing format called for nearly total authenticity. The original credit sequence had been lost, but the son of the original producer was able to describe it so that APVI could make it as close as possible to the original. This included showing a pack of cigarettes -- something that was prohibited in the series' syndication.
APVI has three encoding rooms and two authoring rooms. It is equipped with two Sonic DVD Creators and a Sony encoder.
STRAIGHT TO DVD
At Planet Studio in Atlanta (www.planetstudiocom), president Larnie Higgins observes that the early DVD work on TV programming involved product that previously had been released on tape. Now, he says, companies like Warner Home Video are emphasizing DVDs and are beginning to bypass tape for DVD only. His operation has authored about 200 PBS documentaries, including Ken Burns' The Civil War, along with documentaries from A&E and Discovery Channel and made-for-TV movies from Acorn Media
"The process is very similar to that on a feature film," Higgins states. "You have the core footage and then you have the chapter stops. Some will have a surround sound feature -- like The Civil War, which was originally produced in Dolby 2.1. More common with TV programs is closed captioning.
"These folks want the DVDs to look like movie DVDs, with motion menus and audio beds under the menus. The bonus features are very similar, whether it's bonus tracks, director commentary or behind-the-scenes material,There are also game features."
Planet Studio has been authoring DVDs of the PBS children's series, Sagwa, which has several educational games that draw upon the footage. Meanwhile, development of audible menus for the visually impaired was a special requirement on the miniseries, Lincoln: A House Divided, from public TV station WGBH Boston.
The majority of Planet Studio's work is authored on Sonic Solutions' DVD Creator, but the facility also has a Spruce (now owned by Apple) DVDMaestro.
Higgins observes, "The margins have fallen out of the DVD authoring business because so many people are doing it. I've seen where clients have gone to lower-end houses and have been getting cookie cutter design. Clients like Discovery Channel have come back to us for higher quality, bonus features and menu design that is more theatrical."
ADDING GOLD! NUGGETS
The diversified Henninger Media Services (www.henninger.com) in Arlington, VA, has been authoring its own productions along with those of clients like Time-Life. Projects for the latter include volumes I - I 0 and a holiday special of Fat Albert, and an equal number of volumes of Comic View, stand-up comic programs run originally on BET.
While setting up a scene index, as done for feature films, is a common task, there was an additional element when Henninger worked on its own production, Gold!, a four-hour miniseries originally run on The History Channel. Here Henninger set up a history timeline in the scene index so viewers could jump to a specific time period to gather information on it.
One bonus feature was "Gold Nuggets," tidbits of pertinent information. Another was a section showing the claustrophobic aspect of miners going into a goldmine.
"I've been doing DVDs since 1996," reports Henninger DVD engineer Donald O'Connell, "and the nuances of the work are so embedded that it just comes naturally." He uses the Sonic Solutions DVD Creator as well as the Spruce authoring system.
"They do the same thing," he notes," but Spruce has a copy-and-paste system. You can copy and paste all of your navigational information so you don't have to keep typing in the commands." Meanwhile, he says, DVD Creator offers better control of the programming, which is encoded on the same Macintosh platform.
O'Connell points to the benefit of authoring a program produced in high definition, stating, "The clear and perfect image allows you to record more on a disc because you can encode it at a lower data rate."
FROM 2-INCH TO DISC
It's the older; more difficult material that The Post Group (www.postgroup.com) in Hollywood has been concerned with as it takes TV programs shot on two-inch tape in the '70s and puts them on Digital Betacam so they can be replicated elsewhere on DVD.
Familiar with old-age ailments of 30-yearold, 2-inch tape, he advises, "If you're thinking about DVD, put your programs on Digi Beta now, before the tape breaks down even more.
His facility has been busy compensating for dropout, shedding, noise, holes and creases, along with glue on the foam coating of the tape. At The Post Group, getting down to the nitty gritty is both nitty and gritty, with staffers running into problems that require them to take the tape off the playback machine, unroll it and clean it by hand before it goes back into playback.
Lyons comments, "Sometimes the tape is in such bad condition that you can only get maybe eight minutes to play back before it breaks down. This means that we have to clean the tape and all of the equipment again. Then we start at seven minutes so that we'll have an overlap. We keep on laying it down in pieces and then put it back together in the edit room. There's more than a 50 percent chance that we'll have to use more than one tape."
Tape is sometimes revitalized by heating it, but, if that doesn't work, freezing it is an alternate remedy. In dealing with this vintage material, the cleaning process also addresses a single channel of audio that is replete with background noises, hums, pops and hisses. The Post Group has a proprietary process that cleans up banding, dropouts and head scratches as well as improving on the signal-to-noise ratio.
RELATED ARTICLE: New Wave concentrates on adding value
BURBANK Value-added material and menu design are the concerns of producer Jeffrey Lerner at New Wave Entertainment (www.newwaveenet.com) as he deals with the increased repurposing of TV programming for the DVD market He indicates the added content may be greater than that for a feature film and that compromises have to be made in addressing the product to both the nostalgia market and to those whose first viewing has been more recent
"There's a longterm following of viewers who want to revisit these shows," he points out," and there is comfort in knowing that the shows are there. The challenge is in how you develop the interactivity when those who saw the programs years ago and those who saw them recently have different expectation levels,"
Compared with motion pictures, TV series discs generally have more added content Packaging is generally four 20-minutes episodes or three four-minute episodes. Within them, there are typically video commentaries and often audio commentaries in sync with the episodes that are options to regular dialogue. Lerner says the last disc often is a bonus disc, with interviews, "making of" material and DVD-ROM content.