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DVD Production

An Overview of DVD from the Edit Bay to the Plant

A DVD consists primarily of visual content, paired with its accompanying audio track or tracks, and a system of navigating through that content. Occasionally extra information is presented, such as still pictures, audio-only information or even data on a ROM partition on the disc – even internet-savvy hyperlinks, but for the most part it’s just a bucket of data for watching video and hearing audio.

This is a light overview of the various stages of the production process intended as a primer for those just getting into (or perhaps being pushed into?) the world of music DVD production. It is a lightly technical guide for those who don’t really want to have to get too much of the techie jargon, but it should prove useful for those who find themselves charged with getting a DVD made with little to no experience.


The first thing to do when beginning a DVD project is to create a checklist. This can be done by asking the following questions of yourself (or your marketing director):

That’s a long list of questions, but the sooner you can answer them, the easier your task of bringing this product to the street is going to be. We’ll go through the checklist question by question (with a few bonus questions thrown in for good measure) in the hopes of making your DVD experience a little easier.


What is my budget for this DVD?

DVDs are relatively cheap to make, compared to the huge costs associated with recording, video shooting, junkets, marketing and touring. Different aspects of costs include remixing, video shoots, video editing, graphic design and authoring. Sometimes the costs of two items can be rolled into one. For example, graphic design from a CD’s packaging can be used for creating DVD menus on the disc. The same is true if a DVD’s packaging art is used on the DVD. This doesn’t mean that there are no costs associated with DVD menu design, but if graphic elements are re-purposed from print graphics, there is a cost savings involved. If new graphic material is used for menus, you can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $5000 more per disc.

For most music DVDs, authoring costs range from $4,000 to $8,000. Occasionally a larger and more complex disc will cost up to $20,000, but that is a rarity in the music business. The most common situations that drive authoring costs up are revisions, re-editing video or audio and getting materials to the authoring house (and subsequently to the plant) late.


What videos are going on the DVD?

You may have a list of the videos that are going on the DVD, or you may have a partial list. You may find that when you look for the videos on that list, there are multiple versions of the same video or that the video hasn’t been shot yet. Perhaps you have a completed music video, but you don’t yet have the Behind the Scenes segment that’s supposed to go along with it. It’s best to know well in advance what’s going on the DVD and which versions you’ll be using. This applies to photo galleries and menus, too. Sometimes the question remains up in the air for a while, perhaps even to the last minute (a live interview segment may not yet have signed waivers from all the audience members yet, for example). This happens. But the sooner you know your final list, the smoother the production process will be.


What is my street date?

This is the first question you should answer after deciding to make a DVD. The street date is the foundation date for the whole production process – everything else is scheduled backwards from this date. It will help you to quickly complete your DVD Production Schedule.


How much video content is going on disc?

It’s helpful to know what the total running time of your DVD is going to be for several reasons: 1) it lets the authoring house know how much time it will take author the disc, 2) it helps you assess any potential publishing issues with the content 3) it helps determine manufacturing costs once the DLT hits the plant. Knowing the total running time of the disc will also force you to step back and inventory at all the assets you need. This is the first step in mapping out the DVD with a Navigational Flowchart.


Who is supplying the video content?

Is the video content coming from the artist? A video editor? The label’s tape library or a third party warehouse, such as Iron Mountain or DVS? Is it coming from a friend of the band? Perhaps you will have multiple sources for all the video content in your project. Asset wrangling can be one of the most challenging aspects of managing a DVD, since timing, quality and clearances directly affect your delivery schedule.


Can they get me the highest possible quality video masters?

There is rarely any point to submitting low-quality video or audio to an authoring house. Remember, DVD is a very good quality consumer format, but in order to make good quality DVDs, we need to start with master quality assets. Master quality assets include DigiBeta, any of the HD tape formats, uncompressed digital video (such as QuickTime files or AVI), and PCM audio. Low-quality QuickTime files, MP3s and pre-compressed DVDs are not useable as master sources. For more information about quality masters, read When Is a Master not a Master?.


Can they get me the video in time to meet our street date?

If you can’t get your videos submitted to authoring in time to meet your street date, your choices are to either take the video off the DVD (and save it for another project) or to move the street date. For a sample production timeline, please see our DVD Production Schedule.


Is the video in widescreen or standard format?

Most videos and concerts today are shot in widescreen (16:9) format. Occasionally, however, some content will be available only in standard (4:3) format, such as behind the scenes footage shot by the band on the tour bus. If you have any influence at all on the video format, we strongly recommend 16:9 widescreen. You will be much happier with the results than with 4:3, especially with the current popularity of widescreen TVs. Never – please – never use letterboxed video if you can at all avoid it. For more information on video formats, please read Anamorphic vs 4:3 vs Letterboxing.


Is the audio in surround sound and stereo, or just in stereo?

Stereo audio usually comes bundled with the video, but on occasion, it needs to be either remixed, remastered or just replaced. You may be working on a project that has (or needs) a surround-sound mix of the audio, too. In this case you must determine whether the surround mix will be in Dolby Digital or DTS surround.


Is the audio coming from someone other than the video editor?

The video editor will typically not supply surround audio, though they may have it synced to the video in the case of HD sources. Usually a surround mix will come from an audio facility or from the audio mixer. If the band created a surround version during mixdown, you may find that source in the tape vault. At any rate, you need to find the best quality audio to go on your DVD (even if it’s just stereo). In many cases, a video editor will work with lower quality audio than is available for a particular video (this is not necessarily the editor’s fault – he may have been given lower-quality audio to begin with), so we need to check our sources.


Will there be a PA or amended version of this DVD?

Wal-Mart and Target will not sell PA versions of anything. If you have a PA source and you intend to release it, the chances are that you will also have to create an amended version. Both audio and video need to be considered for amended material, and you may need bleeps in the audio and blurs in the video to make it suitable for all audiences.

Creating both a PA and an amended version of your DVD will impact your budget. Packaging will most likely change, another master is required, and vendor orders will be affected.


Who is designing the packaging?

There are two graphic design stages in DVD authoring. One stage is packaging; the other is menu design. In some cases, the two are the same, though it is our experience that print graphic designers tend to shy away from menu design.

Your package designer should have access to very high-resolution graphic files to work with, as well as the proper fonts, logos and colors associated with the DVD. Package design is a very long and cumbersome process, involving multiple revisions and copy editing. Be sure that you have access to all elements of the package design, as you will most likely have to reuse some of them in the near future.


Who is designing the DVD menus?

Your DVD menu designer must also have access to the same high-resolution graphics, fonts, logos and colors as the package designer. Usually it’s best to wait for the packaging to lock down (as far as the graphics are concerned – not the copy) before delivering approved assets to the menu designer. This way, the menu designer is working with pre-approved assets.

In some cases, however, you or the artist may elect to use none of the packaging art for the DVD menus. In such cases, the same delivery rules apply regarding graphics, fonts, logos and colors.

Frequently the DVD Menu designer is also the DVD authoring house. As they are familiar with both the technical and creative aspects of DVD design, this is a good choice. If you choose to go with a menu designer other than your authoring house, it is important to maintain a line of communication between the two, as revisions and corrections are frequently required after menus have been submitted to authoring. The menu designer will have to have a full understanding of DVD menu delivery specifications before creating menus for DVD.


Who needs to approve the menu design?

Getting the appropriate people on board with menu design early is important. It can alleviate a lot of headache and stave off revisions when an approver is viewing graphic design at the comp stage of the project. They can communicate the product manager’s or band management’s comments and needs directly to the designer.


Do I need to include any logos or warning screens for the DVD?

We do not recommend using FBI warnings or logos at the beginning of DVDs. We view a DVD as an extension of an artist’s work, much like an accompanying album. No one puts the record label’s name on the first track of a CD, so it seems intrusive to do the same on DVD.

That said, if this is a requirement, either at the beginning of the disc or for the credit roll, it is important for you to identify and source all the logos and splash cards you need for the menu designer.


Do I need to compile credits?

Usually credits are placed in the packaging booklet. However, many of the personnel in the production process are left off of the packaging because of their late involvement in the process, meaning that packaging copy was approved and locked down before you even got involved in the project.

For this reason, credits are included on DVDs. You will likely need to compile a list of everyone involved in the DVD production process that was omitted from the packaging. Don’t forget to include yourself.


Who is authoring the DVD?

The authoring house is the last quality control stage in the DVD production process. The job of the authoring facility is to help you realize your creative vision, to help you get the results you need and to deliver a flawless DLT to the plant on time. Above all, the author’s primary goal with respect to your content is “don’t break it.”

Your authors will be in constant communication with you during the last two to three months of the authoring process. They will also be in communication with the video editors, mix and mastering engineers, the mastering plant and in some cases, management. They are the experts you trust to package your creative content into a technical format. In most cases, they will also have a hand in approving RSPs before manufacturing. You want to be sure that you are comfortable with their process, their team members and their competence, as well as their skill.


Do I have a Naviational Flowchart for Authoring?

A Navigational Flowchart (aka Nav Chart) is a map that illustrates the layout of a DVD. It connects actions to menus and buttons, and shows the authoring house how the disc is intended to be laid out. The flowchart for some discs can be brief and basic. For titles with complex content (games and quizzes or educational DVDs, for example) the Nav Chart can contain hundreds of lines of instruction and scores of pages of navigation.

A sample Navigational Flowchart template can be found here


What is the title of this disc?

It may seem silly, but your authoring house will need to know the title of your DVD. This is because computers and some DVD players display the title when the disc is inserted. Without a title, your DVD may inadvertently be named DVD_VOLUME or simply untitled.


Is there any extra audio that needs to go along with the menus or the credits?

You’ve nearly finished your project. Packaging is set, videos are approved, graphics are finished and the authoring house sends you and management the first ref of the project, which is due at the plant on Friday. The DVD opens with a slick motion graphic that looks awesome until someone in the room says, “How come there’s no music?”

With DVD – especially when there are motion menus and credit rolls – users expect to hear something with the menus. Be sure to find out what audio can be used under motion menus and credits. We recommend obtaining instrumental versions of the video content instead of repeating the songs for the videos, so the disc doesn’t feel redundant.


Will this be released domestically, internationally or both?

Releasing a DVD in multiple countries requires a little more coordination and expense than releasing domestically. The coordination effort applies to manufacturing abroad, and the expense applies to creating another master that applies to the foreign country’s Region Code. Creating a master for another country is a minimal authoring expense. However, if that country conforms to the PAL or SECAM video standard, the expense will be akin to re-authoring the entire disc.


Who needs to approve the finished disc?

Usually management will approve the final ref. Sometimes the label does. Sometimes they will approve RSPs, but that’s not always the case. Everyone directly involved in the project, including yourself, should have their eyes on a copy of the DVD, but it’s critical – especially in those last-minute situations – that you know exactly who has final approval on the project.


What happens when it’s finally approved?

When approval is finally given for a ref, that approval is communicated to the authoring house. Authoring then cuts a DLT (or a CMF) and ships it to the plant for manufacturing. The plant puts the DLT into mastering, where it verifies that it conforms to the DVD Specification. It then passes to the LBR, the recording device that creates metal master molds. Those molds are used to create a glass master, which in turn are used to create yet another metal stamper. The stamper is used in manufacturing to literally stamp data onto a physical disc.

The first manufacturing run from the stampers is usually small, and that run creates the RSP (Replicated Sample Product). RSPs are delivered to the label (and hopefully to authoring) and put through another QA pass.

Once they pass QA, a full order is run through the plant, and package assembly begins, combining print art, screen art, DVDs, cases, shrink wrap and stickers. Orders are drop-shipped to distribution centers, and from there they are moved to retail.

But before all that is over, you have another project on your desk.