The best thing about DVDs is not the fact that they're tons lighter than ancient VHS tapes or that its easier to zip from scene to scene with the remote, or that you can watch your favourite films in languages you never heard before. The best thing about DVDs are the deleted scenes and director’s commentaries. That is, if you’re a writer keen to learn the craft.
Many directors and screenwriters are just obsessive writers who like to jaw about their craft and so the obligatory director’s commentary which many a film fan would ignore is actually a gold mine for learners like us.
Do you want to learn about how to stitch some back story into a scene? Check out the director/screenwriter’s commentary on Cider House Rules and hear author John Irving explaining how he struggled to find a place where he could establish the hero, Homer Wells’ stance on abortion.
Are you looking for the strength to cut scenes you love from your manuscript? Check out Finding Nemo and The Incredibles where you can actually see the scenes they chopped out for the sake of getting the story to move faster (the fact that the directors also co-wrote the screenplay seems to add to the dynamic of the director’s commentary).
How do you plot a story? Listen to the director’s commentary of The Day After Tomorrow and learn first hand the struggle to create credible scenes out of a fantastical premise. In You've Got Mail, director Nora Ephron (who in a previous life was a best-selling novelist) actually points out where each act begins and ends.
But as with other instructive material, some DVDs do it better than others. For example, Big Fish about a man with a talent for storytelling, seemed a great bet for a long writerly discourse on constructing a story. But disappointingly director Tim Burton’s commentary focused on the celebrity of his characters – how Ewan McGregor was "great" and how the elephant had a poo at the moment when McGregor leaned up against him – fascinating stuff but will be completely useless when next one does battle with one's manuscript.
Have you listened to a director/author's commentary you can recommend for writers interested in craft?