ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Unfeelies —

In my pile of incoming documentaries and DVDs to watch, I seem to have stumbled onto a new level of scant packaging. I ordered a copy of “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox”, a documentary about Dr. Bronner. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s fine; that’s the whole point of a documentary, to be about something you don’t already know cold and bring you into that world, if possible. Short form, Dr. Bronner was a holocaust survivor who made a soap and beauty products company and put crazy-go-nuts messages on the label. I especially like the completeness of Cecil’s overview of the subject.

This is the sum total of what showed up in my mailbox:

Sara Lamm seems a nice enough kid from her various interviews she’s given in support of this film. And as far as cross-product promotion goes, you have to hand it to her for having a situation where you can actually buy the documentary with some soap from the soap company.

But wow! A piece of cardboard and a disc!

Kudos for making the DVD Region 0 (this means it can be played on any DVD player, anywhere in the world). At this point, the retardation of Region Encoding should be self-evident, but I’m going to say, good job there. Point to the production.

The menu system is enjoyable, the reference to “All One!” on the packaging was cute, and then there’s this ugly over-restrictive copyright line on the packaging declaring you can’t copy it or lend it to anybody, or play it in public. Wow! That sure brings me back to the good old days when people were worried there’d be illegal speakeasy movie theaters, or that someone would cut you out of your cash because they let someone down the hall at the dorm check out your movie. (Yes, I realize “unauthorized lending” likely refers to a library; but that makes it better how?)

I’m positive they threw that bit of yuck on the packaging because it’s always been done that way and it’s a pleasant expected out of date decoration, like the little cornices on the tops of buildings. It’s cute, it’s familiar, it takes you back.

But then, the more I sat there cranked at how weak the packaging is, I started to think about it.

Why am I so fucked up about this?

I mean, it’s only packaging, right? It’s about the movie, the quality of the production, the stuff on the DVD that you get, and that it all got to me at my house safely. Surely, if the packaging is efficient and made of delightful cardboard that’s probably recycled (although the text doesn’t crow about this, which makes me suspicious), then everything’s howdy-dory, right? Why don’t I shut up and enjoy my fuckin’ movie?

In my case, I don’t feel like I was particularly rewarded for buying this. I got punched on when my movie sold for $50, and this one sells for $25. There’s nothing to recommend buying it to get the package. You might as well rent it. And if you rent it, by the way, I think you’re violating the cute little text cornice on the back. But really, if you were renting it you’d just get the little DVD and you’d have gotten well over 60% of the total weight and experience of the original package!

I feel like there’s some serious not-getting-it going on here.

Similarly, I get that ooky feeling reading about the release of AJ Schnack’s new documentary out on DVD. He and I run in very different circles (although we were in the same room once!) and so I can hardly speak for him and act like we’re close buddies or anything. But there’s this sense of distance from his own DVD that bothers me, like it happened “over there” and now it’s finished and there we go. I’m trying to imagine having that level of separation from my projects and I can’t do it. And I’d be on my weblog (AJ started his as support for his newest documentary) yammering off about the technical specs, the process of fitting stuff and what worked and didn’t work. Just serving as a warning to others on what not to do or what to avoid seems pretty cool. I bought a copy of his newest DVD, but I’m having the feeling I’m going to get another little package in the mail, one that doesn’t compliment the work within.

I think of the theatrical run as a little party, and the DVD packaging as a promise. It’s the final work, the total control of the created “product” that you are sending along to people. I’m starting to wonder if I’m totally off book with everybody else. Isn’t that where your work will have the most effect, in someone’s home, their special place where they watch these things? Or is it that critical that you know it’s in a huge commodified popcorn-stank sticky box on the outskirts of town, for a week or two?

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  1. Andy Baio says:

    The theatrical release is the wedding, the DVD is the marriage.

  2. Matt Arnold says:

    All I want is the bits and bytes, personally. Packaging is something I have to store, so I like the cardboard ones. I also like renting for this reason. I rip my purchased DVDs to backup disks and keep them in jewel cases, so my big plastic DVD cases full of mostly air can be stored out of sight.

    However, I also want to not pay as much when there is less packaging, and from the sound of it, they still charged you full price. I wouldn’t like that either.

    Their verbiage about lending reflects a truly screwed up mentality.

  3. Bob F says:

    Ah yes, I somewhat agree with you. Remember the old Army of Darkness DVD? Some of those copies when you bought them came with a ‘book of the living dead’ cover made out of rubber or whatever. Really made that cheap movie stand out.

    I think those that short-change their DVD containers are just trying to minimize their losses. They most likely wanted to create this movie, but didn’t want to pay out the ass if it didn’t sell.

    Maybe they believed it wouldn’t sell all along, so they didn’t shell out the extra money on a polished product. Who knows….