Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Questions

It’s Friday Question Day. I’m thinking of starting a restaurant -- TGIFridayQD. What do you think?

Dana Gabbard gets us started:

What should a newcomer look for in an agent? And what should raise alarm bells to avoid one?

I’ll answer the second part first. It’s hard for new writers to be choosy. Getting any agent is not easy. But if the agent wants money from you up front, if the agent wants you to take off your clothes, if the agent says he has an in on THE MUNSTERS, if his mailing address is Chino prison, or he’s not a WGA signatory I would avoid him.

Assuming you’re in the lucky position that more than one agent wants to represent you, see which one seems more eager, more willing to work for you. See which agent is more connected in the business, has the most contacts. See how many other clients he has. How much time will he have for you?

Get out your bullshit detector. Try to determine which agent is being more honest. Are his promises realistic? “I can get you in a room with the story editor of MODERN FAMILY” is realistic. “I can get you in a room with Spielberg” is not.

From David (not Isaacs):

Do you have a favorite Cheers season as a whole? One you think is the strongest from the first to last episode?

The first season. I would put the first season of CHEERS up against the best season of any sitcom. It’s rare that a first season would be the best. Usually a sitcom needs a season or two to really find its groove. But CHEERS had such great texture, sexual chemistry, and inspired writing by the Charles Brothers that it came out of the gate blazing.

Also, Shelley was amazing that season.

I remember being on the stage the night we shot the season finale – the episode where Sam & Diane finally kiss. The audience went absolutely insane. I turned to my partner David and said, “We’ve peaked. There’s nothing we can ever do with these characters that will elicit that kind of reaction again.”

I was right.

Some of the funniest and best individual episodes of the series took place in subsequent seasons but on the whole, nothing compared with year one. And of course, our ratings were never worse than they were year one.

Ironically, another show that I thought had its best season right at the very beginning of its long run was FRASIER.

Dawn Marie wants to know:

Have you ever done any DVD commentary tracks for any of your shows? And of course, if so which ones so I can rent them? Also, do you ever listen to DVD commentaries? What do you think of them, in general (given that the quality does vary)?

Yes, David and I did commentary tracks on our two SIMPSONS episodes – “Dancin’ Homer” and “Saturdays of Thunder”. Both are rent or buyable.

I listen to DVD commentaries sometimes but rarely find them insightful. Usually they’re just directors pointing out exactly what you’re seeing. “There I thought he should duck behind that car.” Wow! Who needs film school? Actor tracks tend to be the worst. They just joke around with each other, offering nothing, and you making you feel excluded.

You guys tell me, what are some great director commentary tracks?

And finally, two questions from Timothy:

First, whats the deal with the unseen announcer on MASH? Why wasn't it a regular character (like Radar or Klinger)? They even had those characters doing announcements from time to time.

The concept was taken from the movie. I think it just added to the strangeness of the place. I liked it actually.

My second question goes along with your failures theater. I recently stumbled across "The Fighting Nightingales", but could only find some archived reviews from obscure websites that told very little. Do you know anything more about it?

It was CBS and 20th’s attempt to do a female MASH. Sort of the like THE GIRL FROM UNCLE but with the Korean War. The Fighting Nightingales were MASH nurses. It starred large-breasted Adrienne Barbeau. Don’t remember her name on the show but if Alan Alda was “Hawkeye” she could have been “Twin Peaks”.

The pilot aired once and was a casualty of television war.

What’s your question?


Bradley said...

Moon Over Broadway has the best director commentary I've ever heard. I love the documentary itself, which is a compelling look into the making of a Broadway show. However, playing it with commentary is like watching an entirely new film. Two for one, if you will. Lots of insight into the writing process especially. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Hamid said...

Richard Donner does some of the most entertaining commentary tracks. I love listening to him. His commentaries for The Omen, The Goonies and Superman, among others, are a lot of fun. He combines humor with the technical stuff and stories from the set and isn't just describing what's on screen or making the viewer feel excluded. He's got a reputation as a nice guy, which definitely comes through in his commentaries.

Pat Reeder said...

I usually don't listen to commentary tracks, but I highly recommend Roger Ebert's on "Citizen Kane." And the hilarious commentary track on "Spinal Tap," featuring the three stars in character as the dim-witted rockers commenting on themselves, is like getting a sequel, only with the same visuals.

Jeff Quest said...

Oddly enough, the actor Bruce Campbell does great commentaries. He basically turns it into a two hour interview with whoever he's talking with. Makes it much more interesting and I don't know why they don't have a moderator on all commentaries. That would truly make for some interesting listens.

Snoskred said...

I loved the Ghostbusters commentary track with Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman and AP Joe Meduck. Certainly one of the best I've heard. So many great stories and these guys are hilarious.

Also the one Harold did on his own for Groundhog Day was pretty awesome. The fact that we can still listen to these now he is no longer with us is something very precious IMO.

I also loved the two very different commentary tracks for Apollo 13. Jim and Marilyn Lovell have one and getting to spend time in their company is just beautiful. Also there is one by Ron Howard - any commentary track by Ron Howard is very interesting.

I loved the commentary John Hughes did for Ferris Bueller though it has been a while since I listened to it. I'll have to have a re-listen.

Extra bonus - this is not a commentary track but it is must listen to - the official podcasts done by Vince Gilligan and Kelley Dixon with often cast, crew, and special guests, for Breaking Bad. A lot of people don't know they exist but they are fantastic and really add to the show.

I wonder why TV shows do not do this more often - it doesn't take up a huge amount of time or effort but the true fans of the show deeply appreciate the effort.

If you only listen to one of the podcasts, I strongly recommend season 2 episode 13 "ABQ" - the story of a shot Vince tried to get with a (rented!) camera attached to balloons is an epic tale, but do not be eating or drinking while listening to it - that would be dangerous! :)

Carol said...

Best commentary track is the musical track, called Commentary! That was on the Doctor Horrible DVD. Absolutely brilliant.

Best song is 'It's All About Me' where all the people who had bit parts in the movie sang about how really they were very important actually.'

bob melonosky said...

I agree that Ghostbusters was fun.

Also, Mel Brooks gives great commentary on Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

C. A. Bridges said...

"Commentary!" on the "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" DVD, hands down.

Not only does it bring back the creators and all of the cast, it has 14 brand new songs which (largely) match what's on screen while beautifully parodying DVD commentaries at the same time, leading up to Joss Whedon's song, "Heart Broken." Sample verse:

Homer’s Odyssey was swell
A bunch of guys that went through hell
He told the tale but didn’t tell
The audience why
He didn’t say, here’s what it means
And here’s a few deleted scenes
Charybdis tested well with teens
He’s not the story
He’s just a door we open if
Our lives need lifting

Sheldrake said...

Great commentary tracks (for comedy):

Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel on SOME LIKE IT HOT (MGM) -- their favorite film -- where they break down each scene in detail.

Christopher Guest and Michael McKean on SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (Criterion): real insight and appreciation of Preston Sturges's genius.

And (very rare) Sydney Pollack on TOOTSIE. This only exists on the 1991 Criterion Laserdisc(!) version, but there's an audio track online that some Googling will take you to, which you can then sync with your Tootsie DVD.
It's a master class on directing comedy, and Pollack keeps stressing the importance of PLAYING THE STAKES FOR REAL.

trail of bread said...

Tony Wilson on 24 hour party people. A rare example of the subject of a biopic doing a commentary. He was also in the unusual position of writing the novelisation of the film of his life...

Dan Ball said...


When I was reading Ken's answer, Donner's SUPERMAN commentary came to mind as being pretty insightful.

I also really enjoyed John Milius's commentaries for THE WIND AND THE LION (the most underrated Connery film) and CONAN THE BARBARIAN.

Scott Cooley said...

William Friedkin does a great job with commentary and has just the right amount of egotism about his projects. The track on The Exorcist is really interesting.

Mel Brooks is also fun, as you might expect. And he's quick to give credit to his collaborators (Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder etc...).

VincentS said...

Best DVD Commentary Tracks:
ANY by Mike Nichols or Sidney Lumet. They actually do to into detail about casting, script, editing, etc. They can be both insightful and fun. For example, on the DVD commentary track of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF Mike Nichols talks about how - in this very prestigious film based on a very prestigious play - they tried like hell to get that opening shot of a full moon right but no matter how they did it, their efforts ended in failure. Then the editor found a shot of a full moon from an old werewolf movie and that what they used! Another good track is Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins for BULL DURHAM, if for no other reason but to hear them make several self-conscious noises during the love scenes between Mr. Costner, and Mr. Robbins' (then) real-life wife!

Bradley said...

Sheldrake: Do you have a link to the Tootsie commentary you speak of? I would love to hear that, as it's one of my favorite movies of all time, yet my Google search has come up empty.

Anonymous said...

Ridley Scott does great film class quality commentary. He prepares in advance and will say he'll discuss an issue later so you're aware he's prepared

Anonymous said...

Two commentaries that I thought were very good are Fight Club and Mallrats.

The Fight Club one had the screenwriter and the book author together, and it focuses on how the plot was changed to work on screen. It's quite interesting and the book author raves about some of the changes made for the movie (like meeting Brad Pitt's character on a plane instead of on a nude beach) and how much they improved over the book.

For Mallrats, a commercial failure, the director is really honest about what the studio wanted (basically what American Pie delivered, a sexy comedy), and how he failed in accomplishing that.

Johan said...

I like the Lord of the Rings commentaries. They give great insight in how and why certain choices where made. On the other side of the scale, Paul Greengrass' commentaries for his two Bourne films were pretty useless. He spends the whole time narrating the film, with not a single word on how's and why's. I also enjoyed the commentaries on Apollo 13, but found Ron Howards' constant "this was shot in a studio, this was shot in a plane" a bit tedious.
John McTiernan's commentary on Die Hard is interesting. It shows how much thought went into it, and gives small lessons in film making.

Chris G said...

Another great Ebert commentary appears on the "Dark City" DVD. To hear him delve so deeply into a terrific genre film was an amazing treat.

bill said...

I forget which movie it was now, but in a popular release, there were 3 actors/writers who were giving commentary. Mostly just joking around with each other.

Suddenly in the middle, one of them announced that he had to leave. He had a family matter to attend to. For the next 10 minutes the commentary was the three guys saying goodbye and making plans for when they were going to get together for dinner or some such thing. It was surreal. Why didn't they plan it when everyone could be there. Did they not realize they were being recorded and a paying customer was going to have to listen to their goodbyes and plans for getting together?

Right after the 3rd person left, the other two basically fell silent. Every 10 minutes or so one of them would grunt or laugh at something on the screen. Very weird.

Karl said...

Another possible milestone - You may be the #1 Ken Levine on Google!

I'm terrible at remembering websites and bookmarking, so I usually do a quick Google for sites I visit occasionally. Your name usually comes in second behind a game developer, but today your name came in first. It may just be me, but if it's true all over then congrads!

Rob Larkin said...

Not exactly director's commentaries but...

I found the commentary track for "All About Eve" unintentionally hilarious. It's as if the bitchiness and back-biting of the movie rubbed off on some of the commentators. From Celeste Holm admitting she didn't like Bette Davis to the director's son, Christopher Mankiewicz not saying one positive thing about the movie.

I also enjoyed actor Darryl Hickman's commentary for "Leave Her to Heaven". He played the young man whom Gene Tierney lets drown in the lake. Let's just say he has some lingering resentment against Tierney and director John Stahl, and has his revenge.

Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelder said...

John Frankenheimer did really good commentaries on his films when he was still with us. I recall Manchurian Candidate and Ronin as both being excellent and very entertaining.

Daniel said...

The best commentary track is producer Jon Avnet's for "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" (2004). It does a pretty terrific job explaining the unique and interesting history and development of that film.

I'm glad several people have mentioned Richard Donner's "Superman" (1978) commentary. That one is very good, too. In fact, the big Superman DVD box set from 2006 is pretty amazing in general if you're looking for really good behind the scenes stories. That set also has producer Ilya Salkind's commentary as well, and since Donner didn't get along with the Salkinds, it makes it interesting to compare the two perspectives. Lots of good behind the scenes documentaries on that set, too, that go way beyond your typical EPK fare.

Tom Swofford said...

Why did Ken's phrase "large breasted Adrienne Barbeau" and his description of her possible nickname as "Twin Peaks" make me wince? Was it because his description is sexist, or have I just become so gunshy of any description of a woman's physicality (especially in light of the Yes All Women hashtag) that my default mode is now set to "oh oh, don't go there".

It's a complicated world.

jeremy said...

The great irish sitcom Father Ted has the best commentary I have heard. Tons of tips on screenwriting and show production from the writers of the show.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy Joss Whedon's commentary - especially on Avengers and Buffy.

Rinaldo said...

Moon over Broadway is a great example. The commentary digs out the sublayer of interactions and resentment among the participants (beyond what was seen onscreen, which was plenty). Someday there should be a second commentary track, with everyone's reactions to what was said about them in the first commentary.

Anthony Minghella's commentary on The Talented Mr. Ripley (an underappreciated great film, in my view) is like a master class in a director-adapter's choices and methods.

All 5 seasons of Leverage DVDs have commentary for every episode, including producer-creators, almost always the director, often the writer, and occasionally an actor. There's a minimum of "this is 2 people crossing a street" narration, and maximum of insight into the whys and hows.

Robert Pierce said...

Well Ken, I thought about your question on getting into the restaurant business and came up with a list of questions you should be asking yourself before you take the plunge into ownership.

I hope this helps you in the decision process:

- Are you a newly arrived immigrant to this country?
- If so, do you have an enormous fortune that you rarely want others to know about?
- Do you have your face on the currency of your former nation?
- And are you not just considered to be, but are an actual member of the royal family of said nation?
* Then you should consider taking an entry level position at a minority owned knockoff of a famous fast food establishment before moving into franchise ownership.

- Do you enjoy casual workplace nudity?
- Do you take pride in your poor customer service skills?
- Do you think sexual harassment should be one of the benefits listed in the job positing?
- Do you think food is better served with a side of "loogie"?
* Then look at starting out at a Bennigans knockoff before moving into ownership.

- Do you enjoy singing?
- Do you have a food costume fetish?
- Have a desire to work in an organization that has been steadily losing popularity over the past 20 years?
* Then consider working with Justin Timberlake when he's in New York City before opening that "Omeletteville" restaurant.

- Do you enjoy wearing lots of flare?
- Do you really enjoy wearing lots of flare?
- Do you want to wear more flare than the minimum?
- Do you really want to wear more flare than the minimum?
- Do you care if the Nazi's made Jewish people wear flare?
* Then consider starting out as a server at your nearing TGIF knockoff (next to an office park) before making the transition into ownership. Note - Your boss must have a douchey mustache.

- Do you like to tend bar?
- Do you wonder why some regulars never seem to interact with the other regulars, but you'd want to do nothing about it?
- Do you like the idea of owning an Irish Bar that never shows off it's Irishness?
- And do you like the idea of continuously answering other customers complaints about the one group of regulars who never leave that one specific booth?
* Then consider buying a below ground Irish named bar in Manhattan.

- Are you an alcoholic?
- Have you previously played for or worked for a professional baseball team?
- Do you have trust, sexual, emotional, intellectual, and other mental issues with women both in and out of the workplace?
- Do you enjoy telling extremely detailed tales about the women you have previously bedded?
- Does your best friend and former co-worker not know what the word "threshold" means?
* Then move to Boston and buy your own historic bar. - Note - You must not collect on bar tabs, the bar must have a whore house previously, and you must fall both in and out of love with multiple waitresses in your employ.

I hope these questions helped you out on your potential move into restaurant ownership.

Coming To America, Waiting, SNL's Omeletteville Skit, Office Space, HIMYM, Cheers.

VincentS said...

...and thanks for the Adrienne Barbeau picture!

Touch-and-go Bullethead said...

I have given up on expecting insights from commentary tracks, but I do occasionally turn to them in hope of getting particular questions answered.

For example, in "Analyze This," there is a scene in which Robert DeNiro shakes hands with various people at church. One of these people looks a lot like Martin Scorsese. DeNiro and Scorsese being old friends, one can easily suppose that the latter might have dropped in on the set to visit the former, and got talked into appearing in the scene. A minor matter, but it stuck in my mind, so I was interested to hear the director point this out on the commentary track (apparently, a lot of people had asked him about it) and explain, no, it was not Scorsese, only an extra who happened to look like him.

DwWashburn said...

Commentary for both the Simpsons and the Looney Tunes Golden Collection are enjoyable. The only problem with the latter is that commentaries are not available for each cartoon.

Doug said...

Surprised that nobody mentions The Godfather commentary with Coppola. It leaves me wanting more insight, but he still provides a good amount. I particularly like how he describes casting Abe Vigoda through open auditions. He praised that process, which many directors wouldnt use, because you never know who might pop up. Abe Vigoda owes whatever measure of fame he has to an open audition, and he was terrific in the movie. "Can ya get me outta this, Tom, for old times sake?"

Anonymous said...

I second Friedkin -- even on films that aren't his own. I could listen to him for hours. Steven Soderbergh, interviewing an arrogant version of himself about SCHIZOPOLIS is hilarious. The movie is not for everyone, but the commentary is easily found on YouTube.

Sharon said...

I think the commentary on RETURN TO ME by Bonnie Hunt is terrific. Not only is she funny, but she explains many of her writing and directing choices, as well as some of the notes from the studio that she fought and won!

Ellen said...

"Ghostbusters" and "Apollo 13" have both already been mentioned here, solid choices I totally agree with.

"Love Actually" is a pretty fun one, its a couple of the actors and the director (and Hugh Grant spends a bunch of it joking about Colin Firth, quite entertaining).

"Under the Tuscan Sun" was a surprisingly good one, both about adapting a nonfiction work to make a related fiction movie, dealing with Disney notes, and the joys/ challenges of shooting in Italy.

"The Simpsons" episode commentaries are good for the earlier seasons but a bit hit-or-miss as an overall set, though there are some absolute classics in there ("The Simpsons Spin-off Showcase" sticks out in my mind as being amazing).

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" was entertaining, you had the five "kids" back as adults discussing making the film (the German actor who played Augustus Gloop gets kind of shortchanged here).

Rob said...

Couldn't agree more about Cheers 1st season. The best season of my all time favorite sitcom. I would match the first five years with Shelley Long up against any sitcom's best five years, but definitely the 1st year was the nuts (sorry, I'm a poker player).

I love that you credit Shelley and I know you've done so in the past. I don't think she gets enough credit for the show being so great right out of the gate. She made what was basically a very unlikeable character absolutely loveable. I can't think of any actor whose ever accomplished that so well. And of course her chemistry with Ted Danson was otherwordly.

Speaking of the season 1 season finale, I just watched it recently so here's a Friday question. Right before that kiss, Sam actually threatens Diane with physical violence, threatening to pop her one and also bounce her off all the walls in his office. In fact, those kind of threats continued in the Season 2 opener before they finally manage to get into bed.

Question: That seems so politically incorrect today. Do you think you would be able to get away with that same storyline in today's world? Or would it have to be rewritten?

Largo161 said...

+1 to Ebert's CITIZEN KANE commentary. Really made me appreciate all that Welles accomplished.

RyderDA said...

I don't understand the idea of commentaries; you have to have watched the movie so much you basically have it memorized in order to want to watch them; otherwise they just disturb the movie.

That having been said, I have watched one, and it was fun: THE THOMAS CROWNE AFFAIR (1999). Director John McTiernan is fun to listen to, and it's entertain know that was his tractor.

Richard said...

Cheers is my far and away favorite show of all time. Am I the only one who prefers Rebecca episodes over Diane episodes? I really think that show got better the second half the run.

mmryan314 said...

@Richard- I don't think you are the only one who prefers the Rebecca years- many people do. For me though, I "dropped" into the bar occasionally after Shelley Long left. It was still a fun place to go but it's heart seemed to have disappeared.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Rob Larkin: the most interesting thing in the ALL ABOUT EVE commentary, which for me was worth the trouble, was the comment that the movie would have made more sense if it had been about the movie business, because in theater actors work much more as a team and it's a much more (of necessity - you're out there, in fron tof the audience in real time) collaborative effort.

I listen to at least some of almost all the commentaries on the DVDs I buy. Joss Whedon is usually interesting. My favorite, though, was the director of THE OPPOSITE OF SEX, who sat there pointing out all the stuff he was dissatisfied with and explaining why it happened (budget constraints, inexperience, lack of knowledge...).

Ebert's DVD commentaries were notable. At the 2012 Ebertfest, he played CITIZEN KANE with his commentary because he longed to hear his own voice in that theater one last time (and it really was the last time - he died a couple of weeks before the 2013 festival), and the producer of that DVD said when it was recorded Ebert came in with no notes and just did the whole thing.

They were also notable because the commentaries were the only audio tracks of his voice that were clean enough to use for the project to create a text-to-speech synthesizer for him based on his own actual voice.

I find the MAD MEN commentaries pretty interesting, too - it was big disappointment that none were included on the S6 DVDs.


Rich said...

Jim and Marilyn Lovell do a great commentary on Apollo 13. Very insightful.

The Criterion Collection Armageddon release (stop laughing) has a funny commentary where Bruce Willis makes fun of Ben Affleck and Affleck gives back - but both were recorded separately. Affleck: "This is the type of shot where you have a helicopter for on reason and it's only because you're a big-budget movie".

I second the comment on Mel Brooks and Young Frankenstein. Ghostbusters as well, and I'll add in Groundhog Day.

CRL said...

Ken, are you sure no one is making another run at The Munsters? It seems to me that someone always is....

john brown said...

The only commentary I ever sat through was Garry Marshall on Runaway Bride. He was way funnier than the movie.

Dad Solo said...

Mr. Show with Bob and David is probably not this crowd's cup of tea, but those DVD commentaries are flat-out hilarious.

Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are great on the Sideways commentary.

MikeN said...

Braveheart is good commentary.
The Firefly set is good.
My favorite is perhaps Buffy.
In one of the earlier episodes, I think Seth Green and Josh Whedon are among the commentators.
S:"You know, all in all, I think we have a pretty good show here."
J:"Yeah. It's no Charmed, but it's OK."

Tim W. said...

There are only two DVD commentaries I've ever listened to more than once.

The Usual Suspects, with both Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie (The director and writer). It's hilarious and insightful at the same time. the fact that they're old friends makes it better.

Good Will Hunting, with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon was also hilarious and insightful.

One of the worst was for Braveheart. Considering it was Mel Gibson (when he was still liked), I figured it would include lots of humorous stories and anecdotes, but it featured VERY long pauses where he said nothing, and then would comment on something briefly every once in a while.

Most of the best I've heard involve two people, who are basically having a conversation throughout, and you're along for the ride.

LouOCNY said...

The commentary track on A CHRISTMAS STORY is very special - as it is a now grown up and film insider Peter Billingsley and Bob Clark. Billingsley is able to both reminisce, and ask Clark just the right questions to jog Clark's memory in going over the movie details. It was not too long after they did the commentary that Clark got killed in that senseless car accident...

James Blight said...

Recommended director's commentaries - the Pilot and Second Season premiere episode of "The Incredible Hulk" by writer/director Kenneth Johnson.

Rich D said...

Although I haven't listened to it in probably close to 15 years, but the commentary track to the 1998 big screen adaptation of LOST IN SPACE featuring writer Akiva Goldsman and director Stephen Hopkins was pretty candid with the pair talking about the problems the film had with its third act.

Marty Fufkin said...

I logged in to make a note about Roger Ebert's commentary on Citizen Kane, but I notice that three others had the same idea before me. Let me just cast my vote. For anyone who's seen that film and wondered, "What's supposed to be so great about it anyway?", Ebert explains in entertaining detail just how ahead of its time and audacious the film was. Even if you still don't care for the film afterwards, you'll get the historical context. You'll rarely hear a commentary track that's so entertaining and well informed.

Drew said...

I always liked the Firefly commentaries. I always listen to the commentaries; it's my favourite 'extras' feature. I find there are less commentaries, and extras in general, on DVDs now which is unfortunate. I was disappointed when Becker didn't have extras at all, not even a blooper reel.

That awkwardly leads to my question(s): Can you share more Becker stories? Like where did the idea to have Becker keep cigarettes in the diner register come from? Was there plans to have more Cheers cast on the show? I thought George Wendt as the bartender was perfect. What kind of research did Ted Danson do? I always thought he pulled off a convincing doctor. Thanks!

Chris said...

Seriously, someone posted Leverage already? Seriously? [he said like he was on Leverage.]

I'm going to say that Edgar Wright gives damned good commentary on anything he's done: the Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, World's End), Scott Pilgrim and Spaced (barring some of ones with celebrities). They're very relaxed, convey a lot of information about the film as a whole while also keeping up with what's happening on screen and talking about sight gags, like the names of the pubs in World's End.

I will say, though, that World's End kind of pisses me off just because the Blue-Ray edition comes with some two or three additional tracks that I can't get to because I have a Mac and no TV. Annoying tech detail...

AC said...

Plus one on liking the Mad Men commentaries. Matthew Weiner is really great at them in my opinion and makes a show that I already enjoy even better. I was very upset that there were no commentaries in the most recent season's set. I look forward to them every year and had set aside a weekend to dive in and learn more about the show. I'm still pissed ;-)

In general, I prefer listening to writer commentaries because I always want to know more about how characters were developed, if any of the story lines happened to anyone personally - that type of thing. I get annoyed when the people doing the commentaries haven't prepared and are watching it for the first time in X years and, therefore, tend to get lost in watching instead of commenting.

The worst commentary I ever started listening to was for Vanilla Sky. I was optimistic that with Cameron Crowe and Nancy Wilson I might learn more about the musical aspect of movie making and why they selected certain pieces of music but they seemed totally uninterested in doing an actual commentary. I gave up ten minutes in so maybe it improved.

Kate said...

It may be because Ken often talks about women by their physical attributes, or their "craziness," or "bitchiness." There have been only two or three times in the last year I've been reading when he spoke of a woman's talent in a positive way. Good news if you're Shelley Long, not so good if you're Adrienne Barbeau, or Cobie Smulders.

euphoria0504 said...

One of the funniest commentary tracks is by Joe Berlinger, director of BLAIR WITCH 2: BOOK OF SHADOWS. The film was taken away from him and recut, with some reshooting as well. In the commentary track, Berlinger goes into detail about the war over the movie, and constantly tries to distinguish his choices from the studio's choices. It's sad for him, but hilarious for anyone else.

Ken Levine said...

Hi Kate,

I refer you to this blog post.

The Mutt said...

There is a commentary track for This is Spinal Tap done by the three lead actors in character. It essentially serves as a sequel to the original film. Essential listening.

My favorites are the commentaries for The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China. Old friends John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. Lots of good info, but mainly just the fun of listening to these two guys laugh and tell stories. Fantastic.

Sheldrake said...


Sadly, the blog that used to have that Tootsie commentary track no longer has a working link. But here's the page that used to have it, along with the Gelbart script:

You may want to contact the site host and ask him to repost the commentary track:

Otherwise, that 1991 Criterion Tootsie laserdisc is usually on eBay. (Of course, that means you'd need access to a laserdisc player.)

B Smith said...

The commentary for CATCH-22 is worth listening to - Director Mike Nichols talking with Steven Soderbergh, who is clearly a fan...

Barry Traylor said...

For me it was the commentary of the late director John Frankenheimer. I wish he had done more of them.

John S said...

I deliberately sought out DVDs with directors who were known to be good storytellers to listen to commentary. Mel Brooks is one, Garry Marshall is another. Carl Reiner's commentary for Oh God is great, and it includes Larry Gelbart and Terri Garr. Richard Benjamin's commentaries for The Sunshine Boys and My Favorite Year are very entertaining. My favorite is Bonnie Hunt and her writing partner Don Lake talking about her Return to Me. Wonderful movie, and Bonnie's stories and observations (and pointing out all her family members who played roles in the film) are top-notch

Herbert Jack Rotfeld said...

This is a question
In your explanation of job titles, what is a "post production supervisor" or "post production coordinator"? Okay, the post product part is obvious enough, but why is this job apart from the original producer, director show runners, etc. along with their own collection of assistants at IMDB?

XJill said...

I've always liked the "Say Anything" commentary with Cameron Crowe, John Cusack and Ione Skye.

The one with Cameron and his Mom on the bootleg addition of "Almost Famous" is great as well.

Wayne said...

Speaking of DVD commentary tracks, the one on "Birth of a Nation" by Donald Sterling and Paula Deen is less than insightful.

Greg Ehrbar said...

I love commentaries -- often the presence of them influences my purchase decision.

Several great ones have already been mentioned, including CITIZEN KANE. One of the impressive things about that is how Ebert points out all the special effects -- so many it rivals STAR WARS.

For young filmmakers, you might want to check out Robert Rodgrigues' commentary for SPY KIDS 2. Not because of the movie, but for his generous explanations of how he makes his movies, and how he can keep down the budget.

Also agree about MAD MEN - it was an outrage that the last set had no commentaries when they were so plentiful and informative before. I may think twice about buying Season Seven if that happens again. The show is accessible in other ways besides Blu-ray and DVD, so taking the things that make the disc so appealing is beyond doofy.

I love hearing John Cleese comment on every episode of FAWLTY TOWERS. It's like hearing Gleason for THE HONEYMOONERS or Lucy & Desi for I LOVE LUCY. Beware of the earlier DVD sets of the series though, unless you want to hear one of the directors eat his lunch.

Speaking of "lesser" commentaries in which participants smack their lips as they eat or -- believe it or not -- take phone calls, the two worst offenders are, so far, DISTURBIA and IRON MAN 3.

Film historians usually do excellent commentaries because they not only know a lot of facts off the top of their head, they usually prepare ahead of time. Leonard Maltin, Jeanine Basinger, Rudy Behlmer and others put forth great effort.

Three favorite commentaries are for BAMBI and FANTASIA, in which Corey Burton does an astonishing Walt Disney voice from the original story notes, and Brian Sibley's work on AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, in which he details every actor who appears -- with mini-biographies -- as they are seen onscreen.

Ryan said...

Commentary tracks have become less common on DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. I suppose as home video sales have deteriorated, the commentary track is an easy cut to make in the budget.

Johnny Walker said...

Commentary tracks are usually the cheapest extra. I hope they don't die off, as they have been some amazing ones over the years (plenty of those mentioned I agree with).

One funny (and rare) ones is Anchorman -- but only the UK DVD version. (The one where it DOESNT start with them swearing/bleeped out for 10 mins.)

MrTact said...

I will lend my vote to all the people that said Firefly, Dr. Horrible -- basically, anything by Joss Whedon.

Also, weirdly, the first Terminator movie. It's fascinating hearing James Cameron talking about being a young unknown and all the tricks they had to employ to get that film made on the cheap.

Dave Olden said...

Agree with so many of the above-cited commentaries, no one yet has mentioned one of my personal favorite commentaries: Nicholas Meyers' for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

So damned articulate.

flurb said...

Peter Ustinov on Criterion's Spartacus. Great raconteur set loose.

jacethecrowl said...

Friday question, and not unrelated to the commentary theme: Have you heard Geoff Tate's podcast (mostly) all about his love for Cheers? It's called "Afternoon Everybody" and so far it's been talk about the show and baseball stuff I don't understand. He mentioned he was looking for insider guests...

PD in Waterloo said...

Someone mentioned Tim Robbins on the "Bull Durham" commentary. I'll add a plug for his commentary on "dead Man Walking." He talks a lot about camera positioning and the designs of shots, as well as discussing the usual stuff in great detail.

Scott Cason said...

Ken, the Lilith and Frasier characters are my favorite all time. Is there one person responsible for their creation or was it a collaborative effort?

David G. said...

Ken, can you clarify one big thing about "Fighting Nightingales": Was this intended as an actual spinoff of "M*A*S*H", or was it just a projected TV series that happened to share the same setting and situation (but not the same universe) as the show that involved Hawkeye and BJ?