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Have Mercy - A DVD Talk with Director Richard Shepard
When you hit Blockbuster on Friday night, the shelves are loaded with films you've never heard of, and, for the most part, that's for a good reason. Then there are Richard Shepard's films. Working below the radar of the casual film fan, Shepard has made a career out of blowing past the expectations people have for low-budget films.

Working with several big-name actors, including Maura Tierney, Adrien Brody and Sam Rockwell, he's created popular films like The Linguini Incident and Oxygen, as well as several episodes of the acclaimed series "Remember WENN." Currently, he's working on his biggest film yet, The Matador, starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear.

After reviewing the recent DVD release of Mercy, I had to the chance to grill the writer/director about his films and the DVD medium.

DVDTalk: Listening to your commentary on Mercy, it's obvious that you're a fan of DVD. Do you own a lot of DVDs?

Richard Shepard: I have a bunch of DVDs. Mostly ones I know I'll watch more then once...such as Rushmore, Ronin and The Godfather, Part II.

DVDTalk: Were you a laserdisc fan?

RS: I did own a laser disc player...funny you should ask. I had Taxi Driver and Sweet Smell of Success and Midnight Cowboy.

DVDTalk: Do you have a favorite DVD (other than your own)?

RS: Favorite dvd? Hmmm...hard to say. I have The Godfather, Part II, which is my favorite movie of all time, and I love Coppola's commentary. So, so much better then [William] Friedkin's on The French Connection--another of my favs. Friedkin seems to be just watching and commenting on the obvious...Coppola tells stories and teaches.

DVDTalk: As a writer and director, do you feel that the commentary is the best feature on DVDs?

RS: I love the director commentary the most. When it is good...it's like a pathway into the filmmaking process. I'm okay with deleted scenes, but usually you see instantly why they were deleted.

DVDTalk: What feature do you think is best left off a DVD?

RS: I stay away from "the director's cut" if it is a dirtector with final cut (like Oliver Stone). They already had final cut, so I know it's just a marketing tool.

DVDTalk: Your commentary on Mercy (and Oxygen for that matter) is in-depth and informative. How difficult is it to talk for that long? How do you prepare for it?

RS: I take the commentary very seriously. It's a great record of the process of making each movie. I do a full script of the whole film, with stories i want to tell so they're fresh in my mind. Then I don't bother looking at the script. I just use it as a guide and go with the image and talk...and talk.

DVDTalk: Which did you prefer more, your solo commentary on Mercy or your commentary with Adrien Brody and Maura Tierney on Oxygen?

RS: I love them both, but it's easier by yourself. As you can tell, I have plenty to say, and I had to share with Adrien and Maura. On the other hand, I love what they had to say. (pause) We should have done 2 tracks.

DVDTalk: Do you think film school would have been different for you if commentaries like your Mercy track were readily available then?

RS: Sure. It's great insight into the real process of getting a film made. Certainly, if someone wanted to make a feature for under 60 grand they could do worse then listening to my commentary on mercy.

DVDTalk: If you could go back and produce your own big-budget special-edition DVD of Mercy, what would be on it?

RS: Just a new transfer in the correct aspect ratio and better digital color timing. The disc was produced on the cheap, with a 8-year-old D1 master. But I appreciate it coming out nonetheless.

DVDTalk: Now that almost all films you've directed are available, are there any plans in the works to bring The Linguini Incident to DVD? Any possibility of a commentary with David Bowie and Rosanna Arquette?

RS: Wouldn't that be great. I have no idea. I don't control the rights and the producer was a thief and a coke head. As you can see, I have lots and lots of fun stories from that one.

DVDTalk: As you're working on your new movie, are you working on materials for the eventual DVD release?

RS: I am editing my film The Matador, a black comedy with Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, and Hope Davis. I'm very excited about this one. I can't wait to start showing it to people. It's the biggest movie budget wise I've ever done, so we'll see. We had a DV crew filming the whole movie for the eventual use in a behind-the-scenes documentary for the DVD.

DVDTalk: Does the existence of DVD make it easier to make editing decisions, knowing you could possibly put the deleted materials on DVD?

RS: Yes. There are already deleted scenes I would love to see preserved.

DVDTalk: Three quick questions before I let you go. You're only allowed to watch five DVDs for the rest of your life. Which ones would you choose?

RS: Oh God. Don't make me choose. Don't! Please!

DVDTalk: Your choice: a big theatrical release and a bare-bones DVD, or direct-to-video and a blowout special edition?

RS: That's a Sophie's Choice question. I want both.

DVDTalk: What do you want on DVD that you can't get?

RS: What movie? Hmmm...a great documentary called Demon Lover Diary about the making of a horror film. It's one of the funniest movies ever made...much like "Lost in La Mancha", only better, crazier.

DVDTalk on: Richard Shepard
Scotland, PA - producer
Mexico City - writer/director
Oxygen - writer/director
Mercy - writer/director

- Francis Rizzo III

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