Our interview with Sharpline Arts' Producer David C. Fein

If you've become a DVD addict in the last year, you've probably seen at least one DVD that was realized with the assistance of Sharpline Arts . The most high profile of these projects was last year's Alien Legacy collection. But even cult classics like The Last Starfighter and Bride of Re-Animator have been given the special edition treatment at Sharpline Arts' full-service production studio.

Sharpline Arts has also received acclaim for audio projects. Their aural work includes restoration on the original Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series, isolated music tracks on laserdiscs such as The Sound of Music, and several high-profile movie music CD reissues. You may have seen Sharpline Arts' name in the liner notes for the Star Wars Special Edition Soundtrack CDs and the first-ever issue of the complete Superman: The Movie score.

David C. Fein, a co-founder of Sharpline Arts and the supervising producer on the company's projects, originally came from a technical background, specializing in computer networks and operating systems. But while attending film school, Fein and his partner, Michael Matessino, began working with Twentieth Century Fox to carry out their unique vision of an extensive "interactive book" to chronicle the making of a motion picture, as opposed to adding a sparse selection of ‘commercial’ extras to a home video release.

And there's one other thing about David C. Fein - he's a Rocky Horror Picture Show fan. "I don't have a history of dressing up as Frank, or Brad, or anything…" Fein jokes. He has come to love the film for the entertainment value it provides regardless of the audience phenomenon. "Because when you realize the energy and the wonderful passion that everyone has in the picture - it just carries over to the audience," he says.

After we spread the word about our Rocky Horror video site on Sharpline Arts' message board (found at their website: www.sharplinearts.com ), Fein contacted us because he noticed that some of the issues he had with Rocky's remixed stereo soundtrack were being voiced here. " Your site is basically the article I've wanted to write [about the audio] for a while, but actually you beat me to it," Fein says.

Because of projects Fein was involved with at the time, he had the unique opportunity to witness the evolution of the original home video release of Rocky Horror at Twentieth Century Fox. "We were working on the Alien and Aliens laserdiscs, and kept a strong working relationship going with their production people," Fein explains.

I went on to The Abyss: Special Edition, while Michael [Matessino] - my partner - went on to do The Sound of Music and The King And I on laser[disc]. So we were basically always there, and I served as a consultant on a number of other projects as well, like War of the Roses, and others that we were asked to look over and offer input on, and one was Rocky Horror ...
After years of hesitancy, Lou Adler finally agreed to a videotape release, carefully watching to insure that it wouldn't hurt the midnight showings.... To that end, Fox planned the original VHS release to be very limited, and they also wanted to make sure that the release was something special, so they jointly decided to do the stereo remix for both the video release and new theatrical prints.  Essentially taking the opportunity to enhance the film overall thanks to the opportunity the video was presenting.

A Fox representative called and asked how much I knew about Rocky Horror, and I said, 'well, I'm a fan of it, and have been following the film for years... ', I really enjoy the film. At this point I offered to review the transfer and they sent me a videotape. They knew it was a very important release, and wanted to make sure that even the most passionate fans would be satisfied...'

As a film historian and enthusiast, I had an interest in making sure that [the videos] would be the best that they could be, so I offered suggestions where I could.  Fox sent me a copy of the final transfer and sound mix, and while I was satisfied with the picture quality for VHS, I was concerned about the mix.

"You have to first understand that I really enjoy the stereo mix, except during the musical numbers," Fein explains. Chace Productions , a LA-based audio studio that specializes in remixing mono sources into stereo -  as was the case with Rocky Horror - performed the remix. "Chace did an incredible job," Fein points out. "Their work is outstanding, and I think overall they're work is very under-appreciated.  We also worked with them during the Rocky and Bullwinkle restoration."

The main point of controversy for Fein came from the use of the stereo album masters for the musical numbers in the remix. "I was concerned and disappointed because the [re]mix audibly placed voices on the opposite side of the screen at some points during the songs. What's worse is that room ambience is lost in exchange for isolated 'surreal' studio acoustics... [The remix] made the film sound and feel different, and a number of sound effects disappeared, and it made the mix sound as if everyone was standing in the [recording] studio, as opposed to keeping the presence of the scene, which is the way that [the mono version was originally] mixed."

"It's just not the same film anymore. It feels moreso like footage intercut with a music video. Understand, I accept this as an alternate version, just not the version I prefer. I'm a purist, and thankfully with DVD there's enough room and options to offer viewers the film the new mix, or with the actual mono track.  Hopefully the 'true' mono will be offered, perhaps even a new 5.1 [digital surround] Chace stereo track with the songs remixed more faithfully from the original film stems."

Although he wasn't involved with the project, Fein also had distinct opinions on the materials presented on the 20th Anniversary Rocky Horror Picture Show laserdisc box set. "It was terrific to have some extras on Rocky Horror, but I feel that some material just didn't seem necessary or worthwhile when more attention could have been spent focusing on the phenomena."

"The best extra offered is the outtake, 'Once In A While.' The availability of this scene, and some of the other extra footage implies that there may be more out there," Fein believes.

Then there was the issue with the audio tracks on the laserdisc that annoyed a lot of fans, Fein included. "I was pleased when the laserdisc’s announcement said that it was finally going to offer the 'original' mono track.  However, what was on the disc was merely the stereo track combined to form a mono track.  That's simply not what was advertised, or what the audience wanted," Fein says.

Fein also had his own ideas about the disc's other extra audio track - the audience participation. "I really didn’t like the way it was executed, offering an audience participation without the ability to hear the film is like hearing a punchline to a joke without hearing the joke!  The track currently offers the audience participation isolated on one channel while the 'fake' mono track is on the other and this simply doesn't work if you try to play them together.  It’s a mess." he says.

"If I were going to produce an audience participation track today, I would place the movie in front, and have the audience participation in the surround channels. So, basically, you as a viewer can actually feel like you’re in the audience enjoying the experience…  That’s what we should all be aspiring to… To help people get as close to the theatrical experience as possible at home.  In many ways home video is becoming a souvenir of the theater experience…  a remembrance…  We, as producers, should work towards capturing that magical feeling as much as possible."

Since Fein is in the business of creating special edition materials for DVD, we asked him what else he would like to see on a Rocky Horror DVD. "First and foremost, I’d love to hear a Tim Curry/Richard O’Brien commentary.  I don’t know a Rocky Horror fan that would be able to resist purchasing it! I'd love to learn more about how the film evolved…" Fein suggests. "I find it amazing and fascinating that Richard O’Brien actually sat down to write a play like this. It's the story behind the story, the people who created everything about this film that I find very bizarre and captivating."

But what about the controversial audio issue? "In regard to Fox putting [a DVD] out with the mono track, I believe Lou Adler would have to approve that. If I understand correctly, he owns the picture, and it's his decision."

With the huge success of Sharpline Arts' work on Fox's Alien Legacy , we asked Fein if he thought Twentieth Century Fox would call on him to create special edition content for a Rocky Horror Picture Show DVD. "I love the film, and would create an irresistible and deeply satisfying project," Fein told us.

Fein says he likes to keep an optimistic attitude. "Anything is possible," he offers.


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