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Exclusive Hannibal Blu-Ray Producer Cliff Stephenson Interview

Exclusive Hannibal Blu-Ray Producer Cliff Stephenson Interview


It’s been a busy week here at Pop Culture Maven celebrating Hannibal week with the release of the Blu-Ray and DVD from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. I have reviewed the Blu-Ray of Hannibal season 1, Interviewed Producer/Writer Bryan Fuller, reviewed The Silence of the Lambs Blu-Ray and now we close the week off with an interview with Cliff Stephenson who produced the special features for the Blu-Ray and DVD. Cliff has been producing special editions for a number of years now and most recently the Hunger Games with a really great documentary on the film. It takes a lot of time and resources to put special features together. I know first hand when I put the special edition material together for Short Circuit when I worked at Image Entertainment years ago. It’s a really tough job and Cliff has done some really great work. With a very short time frame with Hannibal season 1, Cliff has put together a really nice package and it gives great insight to how the show is put together. In this exclusive interview I asked Cliff about his work on Hannibal and his thoughts about special editions. He even teases that Season 2 Blu-Ray is going to blow you away.


Steven Howearth: So what does a producer of special features do on a project?

Cliff Stephens: The details of that can vary wildly depending on the project, but in its simplest form, the special features producer is tasked with conceptualizing and creating the various bonus features for Blu-Ray’s and DVD. The trick comes from approaching each title on its own and creating features that fit very organically with them, but always aiming high. That’s what the best producers do. Find what makes something interesting and explore that. Whether that takes the form of a 2 hour documentary, a 90 minute video commentary, or a 10 minute featurette depends on what the subject is. 

Steven: What other projects have you worked on?
Cliff: My biggest title to date was The Hunger Games Blu-Ray and DVD last year. I was able to produce a 2 hour documentary and an hour of additional features for that 2 disc set. I’ve also been lucky enough to work on a host of Sylvester Stallone’s more recent films, including Rambo and Expendables 1 & 2. I’m not done with Sly yet. 
Cliff-and-Sly-01Steven: How did you become involved with the Hannibal Blu-Ray?

Cliff: I was asked by Lionsgate at the very, very end of June to produce some features for the season one set. We had a very short window to produce the special features so within just a few days I was on a plane to Washington DC to interview Jose Andres, the culinary consultant for Hannibal and we never really stopped until it was all done.


Steven: Working with Bryan Fuller must have been a real treat. What was it like to work with him?

Cliff: Bryan is great! He was nothing but supportive about all of this. Hannibal means the world to him and so anything that helps the show, he’s a full-time champion of. This extends to the members of his team as well as Martha De Laurentiis and her company and the great people at Gaumont. Everybody, even before I was brought on-board, was all about doing whatever we could to make the Blu-Ray special for the “Fannibals.” This business and the business of special features can sometimes be a bit toxic with a nice disparate mix of egos and apathy, so It’s uncommon to have LITERALLY everyone connected to a title be nothing short of 100% supportive and enthusiastic of the work I might be doing. There was never an idea I threw out that Bryan didn’t greet with fantastic enthusiasm. It was the most enjoyable experience I’ve ever had working on a title and that started at the beginning with Bryan and Martha
Cliff,-Hugh-and-Bryan-01Steven: How do approach a project like Hannibal? Was it any different from other projects?

Cliff: In this case, Bryan really had 3 things he thought we should highlight for season 1. That was the food, the music, and the FX. So I went into this already knowing what we were going to do more than the usual EPK type stuff and I just had to figure out how to approach each of those subjects. But then an interesting thing happened. On the day we were interviewing Bryan and Martha, which also coincidentally was the morning we had to have the feature names and descriptions locked so Lionsgate could put the press release together in time for Comic Con, I came up with a new feature. I felt we weren’t addressing the IDEA of doing Hannibal again. We wouldn’t have anything on the disc to talk about how this incarnation came about or how they were separating it from the films that came before. So 10 minutes before we’re supposed to sit down with Martha, I just sort of added another feature and came up with the questions on the spot. Normally I’ll know exactly what we’re shooting for ahead of time or I might make something new because I find something interesting in the interviews we’ve done that makes a new piece, but this was one of the only times that I was actually producing on the fly. 
Bryan,-Hugh-and-David-01Steven: Would you have liked to do more special features for season 1?

Cliff: Well, the main thing to know is that Lionsgate didn’t get the rights to release Hannibal from Gaumont until the last few days of June this year. So at that point, we’ve got 2 different but intertwined problems. 
1) Season one had long since wrapped, so we didn’t really have the chance to go to set and produce things in a much more specific way. At this point we’re kind of saying, “What do we have and what can we make from it?” That’s really the reason you don’t see any b-roll or on-set stuff in the featurettes aside from stills. Had I been approached at the beginning of the season, we could have strategize a much different plan of attack.
2) Because the deal to release the Blu-Ray and DVD was made SO late, we only had about 6 weeks to figure out what we’re doing, shoot it, edit it, and get an hour’s worth of features delivered. And that timeline included trips to Washington DC, Toronto, Canada, and San Diego, CA. I know there were questions about why there were only 2 commentaries on the set and that was all down to time. We would have loved more, but it can normally take 6 weeks to confirm people, schedule and record those things sometimes and that’s just for a 2 hour film with one or two participants. The Hannibal commentaries were actually recorded in a 2 hour block during San Diego Comic Con where Bryan, Hugh Dancy and director David Slade had barely enough time to get to the studio from the Con, record 2 episodes back to back, and then get back into their car while eating lunch on the go on their way back to the convention center because they were on a panel an hour later. And one other thing I’ll address. Bryan really wanted the stuff on the Blu-ray to be things you couldn’t get anywhere else. We discussed including the Hannibal panel at Comic Con, but Bryan just said, “That stuff’s gonna be up on YouTube 10 minutes after we’re done.” He wanted the Blu-ray features to be special and things you only got when you bought season one. He wanted exclusive.hannibal-sdcc-01Steven: What are some of your favorite Blu-Ray special editions?

Cliff: Obviously Charles de Lauzirika’s Blade Runner set is the pinnacle. That a great example where the studio and the filmmaker got behind the special features producer and allowed him to produce. It’s a producer with a passion for the subject and all those elements come together to make something extraordinary. And more recently I thought the Full Disclosure Edition that Lionsgate put together for Apocalypse Now was astounding. But I’m a documentary guy. I love a good story told well. I was a big LaserDisc guy from the days before studio legal departments and actor approvals kind of diluted the making of. Something like Under Pressure: Making The Abyss could NEVER get made today. 

Steven: If you could do a special edition of any title what would your dream project be and what would you do to make it different?

Cliff: That’s a hard question because everything, for the most part, has been done so it’s hard to keep that in your head as a dream title knowing there’s almost no way that dream will ever come true. I’ll give you an example of a title I REALLY wanted to do and when it did get done I thought it kind of missed the mark… the Lethal Weapon series. It’s not so much what they did as what they didn’t do. There was really no discussion of Michael Kamen and his collaboration with David Sanborn and Eric Clapton and it just kind of rushes through the sequels. I was craving a more rounded, complete overview of the series and that’s what I would have done. As for something I would love to do but I don’t think will ever happen? I’ve really wanted to do a complete Rocky collection that really hit on each film equally. For me, Rocky III is my favorite of that series. Not saying the best, mind you, but my favorite. There are 4 films in there that have never been given any kind of special treatment and given Stallone’s frequent candor about his successes and failures, I think it would be an incredible story. 


Steven: So then what would your guilty pleasure project be?

I approached the Shout Factory guys at Comic Con about producing a 30th Anniversary of Streets of Fire for 2014 for them, but I don’t think I’m the first guy they’ve had approach them with that idea. And seeing as there is a new special edition coming from the UK in about a month with a new 80-minute documentary, it now seems kind of redundant. I’d take Xanadu though. It is a fantastically awful movie that I inexplicably love every bizarre frame of.

Steven: There has been a lot of discussion lately about the death of physical media, yet discs are still selling well. What are your thoughts on the subject.

Cliff: Physical media is doing fine. It’s the death of realistic expectations that has me worried. People have gotten so used to $5 bargain bin catalog titles and making buying decisions based on the prices over the movies themselves and THAT’S what has been the nail in the coffin of catalog titles on Blu-ray and the talk of the death of physical media. Think back about 20 years, before the advent of DVD, when VHS ruled and LaserDisc was the medium of the collector. How many VHS movies did the average consumer own? 10? Maybe 20? And those were mostly Disney titles, a couple of (then) recently released low-priced sell-through, and maybe the Star Wars Trilogy. Most people just didn’t own movies and didn’t have their own libraries. BUT… peek into the collection of a LaserDisc collector 20 years ago and you would find dozens, if not hundreds of movies. These were movies purchased for $40, $50, sometimes $100. That’s also the same place where special features were born. What happened in the ensuing 20 years is that the DVD format made people who were not collectors suddenly collectors. But they weren’t really collectors, they were consumers. They owned many of these discs for no other reason than because the price was so low and not because they were collecting that movie. Now fast forward to today and I would be willing to bet money that the majority of Blu-Ray owners who were VCR owners 20 years ago and buy nearly the same amount of catalog titles on Blu-ray as they did on VHS in ’93. But the LaserDisc collector of 20 years ago? Their catalog purchases are probably 3 or 4 times what they were buying 20 years ago. So I don’t think physical media is in any greater danger than it was 20 years ago. But the studios have gotten themselves into this abyss where they have devalued their catalog in an extreme way to try to keep hold of that mainstream customer while expecting and NEEDING that mainstream customer to be their primary source of income. They’ve got a customer base that is standing in front of them willing to buy more and at a higher price than we’ve been used to, but they don’t see them because they’re looking past them at the masses waiting to buy a movie, any movie it doesn’t matter, once the price goes south of $10.



Steven: Finally are you going to be working on the second season Blu-Ray? And what would you like to do that you were unable to do for the first season due to time constraints.

Cliff: Well… without saying too much at this point, I will say that we’re already looking at season 2 and have even started shooting a little bit of behind the scenes material specifically for the Blu-ray. The intention is certainly there now that we know where we’re going instead of playing a bit of catch up, like we sort of had to on season one. But having said that… I’m really proud of season one and it’s one of the things of my own that I’ve been happiest with, despite any time or other limitations.


Steven: Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me and giving some insight to all of the Hannibal Fannibals out there on the Blu-Ray special edition.


Cliff: My Pleasure Steven

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