With Man of Steel out on Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack this week, fans of the film can take in the birth of the new cinematic DC Universe once more. But people buy Blu-Rays not just to see their favorite films over and over, they buy them for those vaunted special features.
A lot goes into making those extra documentaries, deleted scenes, and featurettes ready for public consumption. For more on the process, how they’re chosen, and which to look out for in particular on Man Of Steel, we talked with Warner Bros SVP of Special Features Paul Hemstreet.
Newsarama: Paul, how early in the development process of making a film do you get involved in planning the special features that will go on the home release? It seems, especially with behind-the-scenes and making of type features, that you have to plan very early.
Paul Hemstreet: Yeah, we start incredibly early in the process. Ideally, we are starting as soon as the film is going into pre-production. We try to get going as soon as we can around that time. We regularly look at the whole list of studio greenlights and keep monitoring that, because we work very closely with our theatrical counterparts to make sure that we are crewed up with a team to get what we need and what they need throughout shooting of the film.
We look to what our goals and concepts could be that early, so that the crew is on the set and shooting with a purpose. Of course, that does evolve and change, and new ideas come along the way, all throughout the process, but we’re at least thinking along those lines from the beginning.
So for Man of Steel, we were in production on the special features over a couple of years. We had crews on location when they were shooting in Plano, IL [for the Smallville scenes], and at different locations throughout the process.
Nrama: With comic book movies especially, there is a wealth of history to be drawing from, talking about how the comic book ideas come to screen – does that continue to be a focus for you, and is it more of a focus because of the development of DC Entertainment and how much more closely you can work with the comic book division?
Hemstreet: It is something we definitely look at and are interested in. I don’t think it’s grown, because it’s always been something important for our DC related franchises; we’ve always had good relations with DC Comics through the years. I think what may be different is that on a studio-wide level, there’s more synergy, there’s more promotions working in concert between the divisions. As far as what we’re focused on, that’s something that we look to for any Superman movie, any Batman movie. It also depends on the filmmakers and where they’re looking for inspiration.
Now Zack Snyder has always been a huge comic book fan, fan of the DC world, and incredibly knowledgeable. So he always looks to that world directly for inspiration. Same with Chris Nolan on the Batman series, he looked more to the roots of the character in the comic books than to previous film incarnations.
I think that’s true with Man of Steel, in looking back, rather than trying to build on what films had already done, it was looking at the comic book origins, so that was an important story for us to tell.
Nrama: It’s interesting, you’ve done a pretty wide variety – obviously, making of documentaries are common – but how do you track the popularity of each kind of special feature segment and know which ones you want to follow-up on and do for the next films?
Hemstreet: We really look at fan engagement for it, and also critical review. These days, of course, with social media, we get much more immediate feedback on the features and what people are responding to. We follow blogs that give rundowns and reviews of the special features. We look at all that reaction.
What’s important too is what gets traction when they are just announced, where do we get response? Is it getting picked up in the press? Is it getting talked about on social media? So that’s an important part of it. I think there are certain essentials when we come out with a major film that people look to have when they’re buying. Sometimes, we can get social research feedback that is more detailed and lets us dig a little deeper for what people want.
Nrama: You did the big fan event last Saturday, leveraging that social media to let fans ask questions of Zack Snyder and the cast. Is that something, with the ubiquitous nature of Blu-Ray players that are connected to the internet, is that something you’d look into doing through the home edition at all?
Hemstreet: Well, we have done things like that in the past. We have done those BD-Live chats with some success as far as publicity, but it still excludes some people from the experience. With this event last weekend, we really wanted to reach as many people as possible. That’s why it didn’t require a purchase to experience it. We do have some features that depend on streaming, for instance the Xbox Smartglass experience, where they can experience features on a second screen. So we’re looking at new engagements. In international territories we have “My Warner” coming out with time-synced events.
So it’s something we are looking at, and as audiences move to the digital platforms we’ll move more into that.
Nrama: Is the changing technology specifically opening up any new avenues for you right now?
Hemstreet: We’re always looking at what’s coming down the road, we just have to look at organic ways of rolling it out. There are so many competing formats, we can’t create individual experiences for every single platform, because there are so many coming out. We try to think about what is the greatest experience associated with, for instance, Man of Steel, that can then be applied to the different distribution methods. But it’s always what serves the film, what will be the best experience we can bring to consumers, and how we can bring it to different platforms.
Nrama: Any specific feature this time around that you’re very excited for fans to check out?
Hemstreet: Yeah, definitely! “Planet Krypton” is, I think, an exciting piece because it really expands the world. It’s a traditional linear piece, but I think it’s exciting because it carries the story through into the content. You learn more about Krypton, the weapons, the world, the costumes, the history. I think that’s something that fans are really going to love.
The “Journey Into Discovery: Creating Man of Steel,” where you get to watch the movie with Zack Snyder, is a great experience. You get to see the picture-in-picture, walk-ons with Zack; Henry and Amy are in those as well. It’s really an immersive deep-dive. We’ve done those before as well, even with other Snyder films, but I think this one is the richest one we’ve done. I think it’s that type of immersive experience that translates well into the various formats.