X-tra: IGN.com: rules for creating a classic commentary
June 26, 2007 – In case you haven’t heard, it’s IGN Commentary Celebration Week. That’s right, we here at IGN are celebrating that very special DVD extra feature known as the audio commentary. The reason for the party? Well, we just recorded our own fan track for the upcoming New Line zombie flick Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane, that’s why. This seminal occasion got us thinking about the whole notion of the audio commentary and what makes this particular special feature worth celebrating. Because the fact of the matter is, while some commentaries can be very, very good, others can be very, very bad. So here then is a list of rules for all would-be and future commentators as to what to do — and not to do — during your time in front of the mic.
10. Have a few drinks — but don’t embarrass yourself.Flight of the Living Dead is the perfect illustration of this rule: A fun and light movie, one looks to the commentary track for a good time, not some kind of scholarly tutorial. So lighten the mood with a beer or two or three, but don’t get so blottoed that you come away from the experience with a commentator’s hangover. ‘Cause that sucker is going to live on in infamy.
9. Don’t give us a blow-by-blow plot description. If we’ve made it this far, chances are we’ve already seen the movie. So why are you describing the film’s story for us again? We got it the first time. Now, get on with explaining where that story came from, what it means, how it was made for the big screen, and so on.
8. Go ahead and get a little technical. We all know what a greenscreen is by now, that much is certain. So don’t worry about boggling our little minds with some technical details. Chances are, if you understand how it works, so can we.
7. Don’t be too “inside.” Just because you’re on a first-name basis with Brad Grey doesn’t mean we are, so please keep that in mind. Besides, “inside” talk can get grating real fast.
6. Be presentable. In other words, don’t be boring, inflect, intonate, tell a story, command the room! You’ve only got your words to live or die by, and really when you think about it, on a DVD commentary everybody has to be a Morgan Freeman or an Anthony Hopkins. Because nothing sounds worse in 5.1 Dolby Digital than a Long Island accent.
5. Admit your mistakes. Chances are, most of the people listening to the commentary have some interest in the moviemaking process, and the last thing they want to hear is an EPK-style two-hour puff piece about how great it was to work with this actor or that writer. You made the movie, you know its faults and its strengths — tell us about them. That’s why we’re listening…
4. Scholars, don’t be too scholarly. Listen, we’re never going to get to hear Orson Welles’ commentary for Citizen Kane (not in this lifetime, anyway), so we’ll have to leave it to the film scholars of the world to cover that sort of terrain. But a commentary is supposed to be entertaining as well as informative, so listen up, Professor Cinema, and keep things from becoming too stodgy. In fact, Roger Ebert himself — the common man’s film scholar — handles the audio track on Citizen Kane. And he hits this balance perfectly.
3. Share the love, don’t hog the mic. Sure, it’s easy to start gabbing when that microphone is in front of you, especially when it’s about a project you’ve just spent the past several years working on. But remember, it takes many chefs to cook up a movie, and frankly, you’re probably not interesting enough to fill the whole two hours anyway.
2. Don’t try to be funny, just be funny. That last part is easier said than done, sure, but there’s nothing worse than forced attempts at humor without a laugh track to back them up. And last we checked, they don’t use laugh tracks on audio commentaries. Keep it real.
1. Speak, don’t watch. How many times have you seen your own film already? That many? Then please, don’t sit there in silence watching the thing while we wait to hear your intermittent comments about the film. Because not only is it rude and awkward, it doesn’t speak very well to your passion for the project either!