Having hauled 2,000+ DVDs to Italy and back again (and then, having hauled them across Dublin as we moved houses), I couldn’t face it again. It’s ridiculous, unnecessary work. I was carrying 20 boxes of discs whose digital information can, for the most part, be grabbed off Netflix. So I got rid of them. Went to the Dublin Flea Market and sold almost all of them.

But it’s not just the stress of moving and storing these things that bothered me. The plain fact is that physical discs, as a medium, are dying. The industry is moving towards digital distribution. Here in Dublin, HMV closed down at the beginning of the year. Since then, it’s become nearly impossible to find blu-ray discs for sale in any brick-and-mortar shop. Likewise, Xtravision have pretty much wound up its business in the Republic. Discs are dead.

And you know what? I’m mostly okay with this. Services like Netflix and iTunes Movies are the convenient future of entertainment in the home1. But my problem with digital distribution is that we’re returning to the VHS era. A situation where you only get the film, no ’extras’. Even Apple, who offers sparse ‘iTunes extras’ on a handful of titles, can’t play these extras through their custom streaming device, the Apple TV. To me, this feels like we’ve gone back 30 years, to before Laserdisc was introduced.

Why do I think this is a problem? Here’s an interview with Paul Thomas Anderson from back in 1997, when Boogie Nights was first released.

My filmmaking education consisted of finding out what filmmakers I liked were watching, then seeing those films. I learned the technical stuff from books and magazines, and with the new technology you can watch entire movies accompanied by audio commentary from the director. You can learn more from John Sturges’ audio track on the ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’ laserdisc than you can in 20 years of film school. Film school is a complete con, because the information is there if you want it.

Technically savvy directors who really want to record a commentary will find a way of getting one out out there. When Warner Bros decided against putting a commentary on the DVD of The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky released his own. Likewise, Rian Johnson released his own commentary for Looper when the film was still in cinemas. But these are the exceptions. How many filmmakers are going to voluntarily sit in a recording booth and talk for two hours? And if we’re moving to digital-only distribution, is there anyone even anyone asking directors to do this?

In a post-Vine world, where making a film is now just a matter of taking out your phone and pushing a goddamn button, a good source of knowledge and education about the process of filmmaking is more important than ever.

  1. I don’t entirely agree with the price stucture of iTunes films – Futureworld is €17 to buy in HD. Fucking Futureworld?! – , but I’ve still bought a couple of films off them. Mostly to test out the service. ↩︎