I dutifully listen to every DVD commentary track I can. Some are great (This Is Spinal Tap, Godfather III), some are not so great (almost everything else). Here are some do's and a few don't's that will help you record an interesting and informative DVD commentary track that can make even a subpar film worth watching twice.
DON'T tell me about the weather. Unless there's a frightfully HIGH-larious anecdote attached to your weather report, I don't care if it was raining or not on the day of shooting. I don't care how cold it was, or how hot it was, or how just right it was, Baby Bear. The weather is a conversation topic for people who don't have anything interesting to say, and you just made a MOVIE, for crying out loud! Get to the good stuff.
DON'T tell me how great everybody who worked on the film is/was. I understand the instinct: everyone enjoys giving and receiving praise. But for the sake of brevity, let's assume that you liked and admired everybody you just worked with and skip ahead. If it so happens that there was someone you didn't like, well THAT I want to hear about. Dish, dish.
DON'T just sit and watch your movie. Again, I understand the instinct: I read and re-read these blog entries over and over just to admire my superb craftsmanship. But you're in the DVD commentary booth to talk. So talk. If I want you to shut up, I'll push the button.
DO bring something to the party. Have a take on things. Grind an axe. Defend yourself if you think you need defending. Treat it all as a lark, if you want. Some of the best commentaries have very little to do with what's on the screen. Goof on the film. Offer in-depth analysis. Have a sock hop. Anything.
DO make an effort to be in the same room with the other people doing the commentary. I know, everyone's busy and schedules conflict and these things have to meet their drop dates. But if it's at all possible, get together in one place and sit down for two hours and talk together. It's always better when the commentaries are provided by people who can talk to each other, as well as to us.
DO be excited. I can understand how these things might be a little rote for actors and filmmakers who've just lived the movie for the last year or two, but the people who tune into the DVD commentary (ME!) do so because they really like your stuff. Care. It's not as hard as it sounds.
On Pop Culture America with John and Dave a few months back, I made a Top Ten list of great DVD commentaries. Here are a few that can serve as a template for a worthwhile track. They all do what they do in different ways.
The English Patient -- Director Anthony Minghella's commentary is a model for insightful, useful, serious analysis. It's like getting an entire film-school course for $12.99.
Citizen Kane -- With commentaries by Roger Ebert and Peter Bogdanovich, you can learn all you'll ever need to know about film criticism (courtesy of Roger) and Orson Welles (from Peter). A great two-fer value.
Bound -- The best chatty commentary ever. The pre-Matrix Wachowskis host a slumber party with appearances by Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano and others. I never wanted to be in a recording booth so much.
Blood Simple -- The Director's Cut DVD of the Coen's first film features a sham commentary by a pretend expert (actually actor and comedian Jim Piddock). It's so deadpan and straight-faced I thought it was the real deal for far longer than I should have. One of the few commentaries worth a repeat listen.
Zero Effect -- Jake Kasdan huffs about how no one will ever listen to the DVD commentary on his directorial debut, then provides some of the most interesting commentary ever. He even makes up a little game to keep you listening to the end; a game I am not giving away here. Someday, I hope to collect on the prize.
Starship Troopers -- Paul Verhoeven attacks those who attacked his movie with the kind of joy and spirit that only vengeance can provide. He also all but admits that he cast the leads because they can't act.
Bandidas -- A disappointing film, mainly because the only nudity is provided by Steve Zahn. But Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz deliver great girl talk on the commentary. Like listening at your sister's bedroom door when her sexy friend comes to visit.
There. Now I expect all these things to be better.