November 1, 2003

Outtakes Are In: Excised Footage Resurrected on DVD

Packaging for Stephanie Castillo's DVD package 'Cockfighters: The Interviews.' Courtesy of Stephanie Castillo.

How many of us documentary filmmakers have shelves or closets stacked with interviews or portions of interviews that never made it into our films? Or miles of footage that took thousands of dollars and months or years to gather? Or hours of material that had to be shaved down to a few minutes because of that one-hour television programming standard? 

Some of our footage has been around for years, possibly decades. Why don't we have the heart to dump those many boxes? Because that footage is still precious to us.

I've been a full-time independent filmmaker for 14 years, and in that time I have made five television documentaries that have explored history, culture and social issues. My closet and a few vaults of my production partners contain priceless, timeless interviews. Never has the issue of using leftover footage––except maybe as stock––come up for me until now. In the age of the DVD, the promise of a second life for my footage sparked an idea.

The enhanced features capability of DVD technology sent me back to my storage room with some questions: Can I transform some of this into a product? Is there a niche market that would buy these interviews if I produced them? Would distributors, libraries or universities desire such a product? What other potential markets are out there?

In April of this year, I began the production of a DVD for the marketplace. I had 40-plus hours of some 30 interviews and several hours of B-roll shot several years ago on DV-Cam that never got produced for lack of time and money. Some of the footage had been used to produce a 12-minute fundraising short, but the rest of it had been sitting around since the summer of 2000, when I journeyed to 12 states and interviewed more than 30 American cockfighters and game fowl breeders. My Filipino immigrant grandfather had been a "cocker" for 50 years, and I wanted to find out why and to explore his world and my cultural heritage.

Cockers spoke with great candor to me and countered the stigmas and stereotypes that have demonized them in America for a very long time. My "vault" contained a wealth of anthropological and ethnographic information about a subculture known by so few and abhorred by many, yet embraced by some half a million in the US and many millions around the world. Why not produce these interviews and share in-depth the history and tradition of cockfighting? Why not let these "cockers" speak for themselves about their lives and passion for game roosters? 

Convinced that this material, once produced, would sell and take its place among the oral record of American history and culture, I spent ten frenetic weeks building a website.  I also transformed my footage into an eight-hour DVD for the worldwide niche of cockers––a keepsake for them, and a study for cultural anthropologists, historians and ethnographers. 

Cockfighters: The Interviews contains the short fundraising film and 26 interviews of varying lengths. It is packaged as both a four-disc DVD ($99.95) and a four-tape VHS ($79.95). A two-hour film festival version (the short film and six of the best interviews) is used for both press reviews and as a DVD for curious non-cocking folks ($29.95). An official website (http://members.aol.com/cfighters4sale/buy_DVD.htm) markets the product primarily to cockers through Web board postings and banners, while a distributor's website and sub-distributors (such as chicken feed stores and cocker associations) sell one on one. Sales have had a moderate take-off, despite rave reviews, but as marketing efforts widen, I expect sales to ramp up and peak during the holiday season.

If our unused interviews can see the light of the market place, why not? It feels like good stewardship, a way to say to those who gave us that precious footage that we didn't waste their time or their contributions. 

The possibilities of DVD technology just might find you resurrecting that material and throwing yourself into action. In business school, I learned to move quickly and develop business models designed to get a product to market before others follow and dilute my niche. Depending on your available cash or your filmmaker buddies and production house partners who are willing to float your production for a cut of the profits, the DVD medium will allow your product to be as simple or as complicated as you want. 

I call this business model "Filmmakers Who Don't Waste Footage." Its mission: To explore DVD options for precious, unused interviews, and to encourage DVD dreams.   

 

Stephanie J. Castillo received a regional Emmy in 1993 for her first documentary, Simple Courage, which aired nationally on PBS and told the tragic story of Hawaii's leprosy epidemic and the banishment of some 8,000 Native Hawaiians. She can be reached at castillosj@aol.com.

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