Exclusive Interview: Director Robert B. Weide

     January 5, 2009

Written by Matt Goldberg

This past Saturday, we reported on an unusual storywhere star Simon Pegg and director Robert B. Weide were asking fans NOTto buy the R1 version of the DVD for “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People”. After running the story, Mr. Weide was good enough to speak with me over the phone about this decision and how it’s more a continuation of a troubling trend that began once the film entered the post-production and publicity stages. You can read the interview Weide did with Norman Sweetzer covering the troubles of post-production and publicity here.

Below you’ll find my interview with Weide and he elaborates on the whole debacle. Hopefully you’ll find it an interesting look into the complications involved when bringing a movie you like on to the DVD you’ll buy.

So of the stuff that’s not going to make it into the R1 version, what stings the most?

Robert B. Weide: If you look at the link that I gave you to the interview on my website, you’ll read about scenes that I really didn’t want to be cut and just resigned myself that at least they would be seen on the DVD. And as hard as I fought for some of those things, I would have fought that much harder had I known that they would screw up and not release the scenes on the U.S. DVD. And now I just feel betrayed, even though there were different parties involved at those two junctures. It wasn’t anything conspiratorial at all. And if Simon and I could have done a two-DVD set we would have done a lot more. I think what’s on the UK DVD is a reasonable amount of special features for a single disc.

Is there going to be a Blu-Ray DVD of the film?

Weide: Yes, as far as I know. When I went to Amazon.com, they were advertising both standard and a Blu-Ray.

Because it seems like with Blu-Ray they go out of their way to get special features because the discs can hold so much material.

Weide: That’s the frustrating thing about this. It was never a matter of what they couldfit or what they could clear. They just screwed up. I was so outraged by this that I did an investigation and called all the different parties involved and said, “Tell me, from your understanding, what happened?” AndI told Simon, “It’s Kafka meets the Keystone Cops.” It was just this domino effect of one mistake snowballing. It wasn’t anybody making a decision not to use the material. The irony is that once I discovered what had happened, and had contacted all the parties (maybe five different entities involved), each one claimed that they wouldliked to haveincluded all the bonus material. It was just sloppiness and apathy. And the double-irony is that I kept sending out e-mails asking “Do you have everything you need? Have you cleared everything? Is there anything I can do to help?” And the reaction was “Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine, everything’s okay,” until finally I got one very specific e-mail from one of the parties saying “It’s alright, we’ve got everything in hand.”

Until nothing was in hand.

Weide: Right.

So have any of these parties responded to your request that fans not purchase the Region 1 version of the DVD?

Weide: Once I found out what was going on, I told the distributors, “Look, I feel like I have no choice but to let the fans know. Simon’s going to feel the same way… to let them know they’re not going to get the bonus material we prepared.” And the distributor asked, “Why would you do that?” because no one would understand why you would willingly impact your own income. And he thought I was just saying this to be vengeful and I said, “No, there are two products on the market and one is clearly superior to the other and the fans deserve to know where they can get the better product, if they haveregion-free players (and a lot of film buffs do now).” And like I said in the release, if there were a widescreen and a pan-and-scan, I would be directing them to the widescreen so they could see the film as it was meant to be seen. And in the big picture of life, none of this matters, but it is how I make my living and Simon and I are invested in this. Like Simon said, the stuff he’s done with Edgar, they just jam it full of special features because if you’re going to ask someone to pay $25 for a DVD, give ’em as much bang for their buck as you can. And it could all be there but they blew it.

I know it’s a long-shot but are there any plans to release any of this material online?

Weide: The video diaries are online on YouTube and this woman, Harmony Carrigan, who created Peggster.net, she created an account on YouTube that collects all the video diaries together. But those were specifically created as DVD material. The deleted scenes I can’t imagine ever being online unless someone takes them off the DVD and posts that.

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone did that.

Weide: I wouldn’t encourage them but I wouldn’t be upset to see that stuff available. But you would never get the audio commentaries for the deleted scenes. There’s one scene in particular, that you’ll read about in that interview, where I really drew a line in the sand and said “That scene cannot be cut,” and it got cut despite my best efforts. And as I recall I was fairly vocal on the audio commentary about that scene being cut.

But the video diaries were a bit of a production expense and that was Simon andme really convincing the producer to let us put this expense in the budget because we thought it was such good material and we thought the fans would really like it. So that’s really a shame.

It seems like you really ran the gauntlet on the film once it entered post-production and I was wondering, when you ran into these troubles, were you expecting that somewhere further down the line these troubles may reoccur when it came time to release the DVD.

We were sort ofhoping fora make-good with the DVD and the deleted scenes were very important to me. I had alsobeen sending out e-mails asking to see the American artwork for the DVD. And had been talking to Paramount here in the states, offering suggestions, and they even let me re-write the synopsis on the back. They were very, very open to us. Now these were the people doing the UK release. But they were in LAand were referring to it as an “International Release” so I thought they meant US and UK and so after they took all my suggestions and made this really lovely DVD jacket, they then told me that they weren’thandlingthe U.S. release so I had to hunt down the person responsible for the U.S release. And after I finally found them I said, “Please send me the artwork right away so I can look at it!” And it took a couple of weeks and finally they sent it and it was the artwork of Simon pouringbeer on Megan and it looks like he’s peeing on her. Except now they had made it even “funnier” because they had taken off his pants and had him in jockey shorts.


Weide: And they had him wearing a t-shirt with the words “Friends” and “People” with a line through it. And Simon and I just looked at it and were like “Aw, shit. They’re at it again.” So we put up a big fuss but then they just reverted back to the crappy American artwork. And I asked, “Why are you doing this? We have much better artwork out of England!” And they said again, “Oh, it’s too late,” So I offered to get them the UK artwork that night and they said “Send us what you got.” So I sent them a PDF of the UK artwork and they were like “Oh yeah, that’s much better.” Now why is it up to the director to do all this? I don’t know, but it was. So then I called Paramount and asked them to please e-mail the mechanicals to MGM tonight and at least I got the artwork replaced.

But the irony was, once I got that to them, and thought “Okay, now everything’s fine,” they sent me what they had and on the back sleeve under the special features I saw that everything was missing. I just thought it was a mistake. That’s when I realized that they did not have the bonus materials. And I tried to tell them to stop the presses but the next day I got an e-mail saying it was too late and they had already begun the replications.

So you came on to this film as a “hired gun”. Were you expecting to be this involved this far down the line with stuff like DVD artwork?

Weide: Well, I expected to be this invested. I didn’t expect to be this disappointed. I think directors who care about their work should be invested. I’ll tell you what a nut I am—I asked Paramount to send me the transcripts for the subtitling because I wanted to check it for errors. That’s how much I care.On “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, I remember that sometime in Season 3, there was a Yiddish phrase, “Kinahura”, and a friend of mine who was Jewish said that the closed captioningsaid “Can of Hurrah”. And I thought “Oh, God.” I never had bothered to see the transcriptsbut from that point on, all the transcripts had to come to me and I checked them. That’s just my nature. So when I called all these people askingto seematerials, I’m not trying to be an artiste and I’m not trying to be obstinate. I just care about the end product and if I were on the other end, and the director was trying to do all this, I would be thrilled. And these people aren’t in minimum-wage jobs either. These people get paid well and these are jobs that a lot of people would like to have. But as I said, the people at Paramount who were handling the UK release were thrilled that I gave them a better quote for the cover and pointed out that the synopsis on the back was kind of dull and offered to re-write it. That’s a great attitude and everyone gets along fine so I don’t think of myself as a difficult guy who’s trying to make everyone’s life miserable. I’m trying toimprove the product they’re selling.

Going forward with any future features, can you see yourself not working as a producer and not having this control over the publicity and DVD materials.

Weide: Well it’s a very good question and it remains to be seen. I am a little wary of entering another situation where I would just be another director for hire and I’ve been doing this in one form or another since I was twenty-two doing documentaries for PBS and HBO. When you’re working in documentaries, no one really bothers you that much (at least that was my experience). Then “Curb Your Enthusiasm” was six years of working on a show where HBO was never on the set and never gave us notes. They saw the outlines before we shot and then they saw the final show. And that had nothing to do with me; that was Larry David being the 800-pound gorilla. But I got to enjoy the creative freedom of that. So this was the first time where I had very little control and had to deal with people that just didn’t want my input. Yeah, the question does remain of whether I’ll allow myself to get into this situation again.

It remains to be seen what feature I’ll direct next — hopefully an indie script I wrote prior to the whole London adventure. But one thing that the conflict on this last picture made me realize is how happy I was on my documentaries, where I was truly a one-man band. At most, it was me and an editor in a room together, without any outside interference. So I had decided a little while ago to return to my roots, so to speak, and finally reactivate my 20-year documentary on Kurt Vonnegut that’s been simmering on the back burner for several years. Although I can’t promise with any certainty, I’m hoping to complete production by the end of ’09 and hit the festival circuit prior to a limited theatrical release and a cable sale.

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