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One DVD to Rule Them All
Producer Michael Pellerin’s (C87) epic DVD-making adventure results in a masterpiece.

In 2001 Michael Pellerin embarked on a mission. As the producer of The Lord of the Rings DVD trilogy, Pellerin (C87) has spent the last three years shuttling between his home in Los Angeles and his office in New Zealand to film and compile interviews, previously unreleased footage and documentation from the LOTR series. And while producing the DVD might seem less daunting than trekking to the depths of Mount Doom, there was immense weight riding on the production.

“There’s a lot of pressure because this DVD is going to exist in people’s libraries for a long time,” Pellerin says. “There’s a sense that, ‘This better be good!’”

If critical support is a sign, Pellerin has met expectations. At the 2003 DVD Premiere Awards, the highest honors in the field, The Fellowship of the Ring: Special Extended Edition raked in six awards, and Pellerin garnered two. New York Times reporter Peter M. Nichols wrote: “If there’s such a thing as the perfect DVD movie, it has to be The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”

For Pellerin, success didn’t happen overnight. The idea of working in the film industry started as a child’s dream.

“There were really two movies that inspired me and those films were 2001: A Space Odyssey and the original King Kong,” he says. “I remember being amazed that a screen could be a window into experiencing things we would never see in our lifetimes.”

With this early inspiration, Pellerin launched an education in film, graduating with bachelor’s degrees in literature and radio/television/film from Northwestern and a master’s in film production from the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. As a documentarian, Pellerin wanted to give audiences a behind-the-scenes look at major film projects. He found an ideal medium in laserdiscs, record-sized digital discs that allowed for improved visuals and inclusion of extra footage, interviews and exclusive artifacts from classic films.

His first job was for a company that produced laserdiscs for Walt Disney. Studio executives asked Pellerin and his co-worker Harry Arends to create an anniversary edition of Snow White. To Pellerin’s surprise, Disney had archives brimming with objects and images from the film.

“There were all these wonderful treasures that could be compiled together to make an entire package,” he says.

In four years the team produced 15 laserdiscs, but in 1997 laserdiscs were phased out. A year later, however, a new product emerged: DVD. Like laserdiscs, DVDs promised better visual and sound quality in addition to bonus features and extra footage. When Disney decided to produce films on the infant digital medium, Pellerin was the obvious man for the job.

Then in February 2001 during a chance meeting with a New Line Cinema production executive, Pellerin was asked about his interest in working for New Line. There was one project he was interested in: The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The request was taken seriously, and within a week he secured a deal with New Line.

Six months later Pellerin was on a plane to New Zealand to set up shop for the biggest DVD project to date, a three-film, back-to-back ordeal.

Pellerin was not alone on the project, however. Director Peter Jackson, who produced laserdiscs himself earlier in his career, sought to collaborate with him. Pellerin welcomed the director’s involvement. “It’s a far more fruitful product when you are collaborating with the filmmaker. ... The DVD becomes a part of the film itself,” he says. “When I’m almost invisible, that’s the best.”

Pellerin might be invisible on screen, but his contribution to the film has not gone unnoticed.

— Rebecca Zeifman (J04)

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