As you may have read in my review of 'The Silencer', the review copy I was sent contains two excellent commentary tracks. I was then subsequently informed by Steve Lawson that the UK distributor deemed it necessary to remove the commentaries from the official UK release of the DVD because the BBFC requires itself to re-review the film (and thus re-bill for the reviewing) for each commentary track, which means that this would effectively treble the price the distributor would have to pay to get their film certified by the BBFC and thus be legal to sell in the UK.
You can check the rule out here.
I've reproduced the pertinent part below.
The BBFC received legal advice on 17th October 2007 on the issue of audio commentaries. Our advice is that audio commentaries will almost always constitute new video works and consequently require classification.
You should see what they have to say about DVD seamless branching as well!
UK filmmaker Pat Higgins has devoted one of his 'Fake Blood On The Lens' video diaries (always worth a watch, for the uninitiated) to the topic, comparing the UK release of his film 'The Devil's Music' to the US release. He hits the nail bang on the head, and I'd encourage you to watch it to see exactly what I'm talking about.
Now, I can understand the need to certify the commentary tracks to make sure they contain nothing untoward, or more specifically nothing which is not in keeping with the certificate bestowed upon the original film...for example, imagine the latest family-friendly all ages extravaganza with a commentary laden with expletives and anecdotes about which actress blew which producer to get the role, who was constantly disappearing to their trailer and doing coke or whatever, etc. That's simply not going to fly, and understandably so.
Still, perhaps a compromise solution could be reached which neither a) financially punishes smaller independent producers or b) deprives DVD-buying British customers of DVD extras, which of course provide something of a purchase incentive and thus dissuade piracy/illegal downloading to an extent.
My suggestion would be that the filmmakers should be able to simply submit a transcript of their commentary tracks, which could be reviewed for a flat fee. If submitted in a digital format, it could simply be scanned for various offensive words and certified accordingly.
I'm also perplexed at how the BBFC demands a separate certification for each soundtrack, but does not charge for two certifications of the original film...after all, surely watching it with no sound at all constitutes a 'different soundtrack', so surely two separate reviews would be called for? It's a definite inconsistency, but on the other hand, I certainly don't want to be giving them ideas.
The inevitable outcome of the policy is a simple and obvious one, UK consumers, particularly those of niche/genre cinema, will steadily begin to gravitate towards sourcing their films either from overseas (in the case of finished article hard-copy discs) or watching them online in various digital formats. This means a loss of custom and thus revenue for retailers and distributors, and ultimately filmmakers as well.
To punish filmmakers for wanting to give the paying customer value for money is simply illogical and tantamount to commercial sabotage. I recently watched the Norwegian film 'Cold Prey' on DVD, and was surprised that given that it was a fairly professionally made and well-budgeted piece, there was an absolute paucity of extras on the disc. Now, a Norwegian commentary would be of little use to most English-speaking viewers (though I actually found the dialogue suprisingly easy to follow), so you think they'd compensate by adding some other extras, but no dice. Perhaps the necessity of removing foreign-language commentaries actually makes them more appealing to English distributors?
Who knows...it is just baffling to me that British filmmakers and British customers have to suffer at the hands of the British censor, whilst everyone else gets to enjoy all the goodies that have had to be stripped off the UK version not for censorship reasons, but instead for financial ones. The only beneficiary I see from this current state of affairs is the big multinational companies like Universal, Warner Brothers, Paramount, etc., whilst the 'little guy' has to carry the can again.
Well, I guess I can stop wondering why certain films from UK filmmakers (like James Eaves' 'Bane') come out overseas long before they are released in the UK. With this nonsensical policy, the BBFC have lurched from being a begrudgingly tolerated part of 'the cost of doing business' in the British film industry firmly into the realm of aiding and abetting the phenomenon known colloquially as 'Rip Off Britain'.
If this sort of crap continues, you'll be lucky to get one commentary or any extras on future independent DVDs. Perhaps some sort of campaign is in order to encourage them to rethink this policy? Any ideas would be gratefully received...
The only possible 'out' that springs to mind is for producers to make the commentary tracks available as MP3s for download, and then people can play them on their stereo whilst watching the movie with the sound off. It's a bit of unnecessary hassle, but it could work. Of course, does this not open up a whole new can of worms? What if I decide to watch 'Toy Story' whilst listening to Satanic Death Metal or expletive-ridden Gangsta Rap? Obviously, that would be 'my choice' if I chose to do that, and thus could not be legislated against, but then surely choosing to listen to the film with one of the alternate soundtracks/commentaries is also 'my choice' too...it's not as if James Cameron is going to burst into your house and force you to watch and listen to all the extra features on his latest film at gunpoint, is it? Ergo, it is entirely a matter of personal choice whether the commentaries are listened to or not. This new 'recorded work' is made by the actions of the end user...they must operate the DVD remote to select the option and commit to it to make it happen. Exactly the same is true of my example of watching Toy Story whilst listening to Cannibal Corpse or something.
Also, if I'm watching a nailed-on 18 certificate film, such as a gory horror or high-bodycount action movie, one wonders how the choice of words used in the commentary can in any way make the depicted onscreen violence any 'worse' or potentially more 'psychologically damaging', especially if it involves the filmmakers or cast members simply discussing the experience of shooting it?
Clearly, like so many Government edicts, this whole notion is laughably half-baked. What's not laughable is that it is very much a reality that independent filmmakers in the UK have to deal with.