Why the move to streaming movies scares me – Where have all the stories gone?

One of my favorite parts of the DVD experience are the bonus features.  Learning about the process behind how the movie got made, the people behind-the-scenes and their motivations, inspirations and skills, and (especially when it comes to older movies) reminiscences about the time spent woking together and the kind of family that forms when a group of people are working on a project together.

Turtles Interview: Behind the Scenes - 18Although I know we all love the convenience of the ‘select a movie and press play’  that things like Netflix and Hulu provide, as a nerd curious person (and as someone who is working on getting a job capturing these kind of stories), I’m scared that the shift away from physical media will also signal a shift away from things like creator commentaries.

This kind of story-behind-the-thing experiences have been so meaningful to me, from both a consumption standpoint and as a content creator.  In fact, often times these stories just as enjoyable as the movie itself  (Would Lord of the Rings be nearly as impressive without the multi-hour-long documentaries about just how much work went into its creation?  And if you haven’t listened to the commentary track on This Is Spinal Tap, where the main actors tear apart the movie in character, you’ve missed out on what is essentially an improvised sequel)

I just think that hearing people talk about their experiences creating a thing (be it on DVDs, in panels, on podcasts like the ones I made for things like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, or even amongst friends and loved ones) are such a core part of the human experience, and to phase that out for the sake of convenience seems a sad state of affairs.

I really really hope it doesn’t happen.  I want the stories to stay important, not just the finished product.  Let’s not have ‘bonus features’ become synonymous with ‘unnecessary content’

Would you miss them if they went away?

  • First let me get this out of the way: I wouldn’t really be upset if special features disappeared. I rarely watch them, except in the cases where I’m a huge fan (I admit I’m still devouring the extras on the LotR Blu-ray).

    With that said, I think this article accidentally creates a diversion from the real issue – that content creators are no longer making bonus content – and replacing it with a non-issue – that the shift from disc-based media is to blame. Let’s break it down.

    The shift to streaming media really is not a technological hurdle that prevents bonus content from being consumed or produced. Bonus content has existed long before the intartubes, and continues to exist with them. In fact, I’d argue that the digital content delivery opens up a whole new realm of possibilities in the ways that bonus content can be displayed, interacted with, and shared. The very title of this article suggests that stories and storytelling are a lost art, but I’d quickly argue that storytelling is entering a rapid phase of expansion and creation thanks to a whole lot of awesome new storytelling media.

    As for whether content creators are no longer making bonus content, I’d also argue this isn’t true. The Aziz Ansari comedy special released earlier this week via his website includes a zip of bonus material, including hi-res photos from several of his shows, a list of Aziz’s favorite restaurants (which is particularly awesome when you read it in his voice), and a Build-Your-Own-DVD-Cover including fully editable Adobe Illustrator files and instructions written by Aziz. It’s one of the best sets of bonus content I’ve ever seen, and it’s only about 70mb.

    Bonus content isn’t dead, nor is storytelling. It’s just taking on new forms.

    • I agree that the tech isn’t preventing these features form being developed. However, my argument wasn’t that the lack of bonus content is solely ‘to blame’ for the lack of focus on bonus material by studios.

      My point was more about BUNDLING being lost. Sure, someone can do a behind-the-scenes doc about any movie and post it on youtube, but without putting them on the same disc, the likelihood of people exploring the movie further goes down dramatically, and I don’t think anyone could argue that the net effect of this would be anything other than the lack of investment in supplementals. Even if they would continue to create stuff for their website, the fact that the two experiences are being decoupled will cause a change in peoples minds in terms of what they expect for a movie experience, which is a net negative, I believe.

      I would also say that the shift to streaming does in fact greatly de-emphasize everything other than the movie. Additionally, many studios create ‘rental’ versions of DVDs for NetFlix, removing bonus features, I guess in an attempt to force people to purchase the movies to get access.

  • Hetherwick

    What I miss about discs is the easy access to chapters and backing up…. And sub titles I dont believe get streamed… I use subtitles IN ENGLISH as sometimes it isn’t clear what people are saying… When in surround with all the other sonic shit happening…. And it’s great to have the words there. But I do LOVE the INSTANT aspect of streaming and have now given up NETFLIX for discs… GH

  • Ga Droid

    The studio should just put all of the supplemental content on YouTube. Problem solved.

    • That’d definitely be a good first step, but I think a lot of the reason people end up exploring those features is because they are bundled in with the movie as a package experience. separating them out would severely limit the potential audience.  For many, it’s an “impulse watch”

      That said, it’s better than getting rid of them altogether. 

  • Feature Lover

    Yes! Thanks for this rant, it is exactly how I feel. I might add that there’s no real reason they couldn’t use simple dvd-like menus and stream bonus features too, but like you the fact that no one is doing this at all scares me from embracing streaming movies. Even for TV shows like The Simpsons, every DVD set they have released has commentary tracks I enjoy as much as the show.

  • Endless repackaging killed physical media.

    • That may be (though I would argue that there is no one reason and that the reasons are way different for music vs movies), but losing all those stories, behind-the-scenes content and commentary would be quite a shame.

      • Blockbuster film gets released on bare bones dvd, “special edition” comes out 6 months later with all the bells and whistles.

        • Hey Bill- I’m not sure you’re getting my meaning, maybe I was unclear in my post. I’m saying that it would be really unfortunate to lose the types of stories that are contained within these releases as we (somewhat inevitably it would seem) transition from a mostly physical-based media to a streaming one, as it seems like they’re already being neglected.