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Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
Aug. 20, 2008 | 6:29 PM

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An Interview with George Feltenstein for HOW THE WEST WAS WON

Released in 1962, How the West Was Won was photographed and projected in the panoramic three-camera Cinerama process.  It was one of the most ambitious projects of it’s time and boasted an all star cast including Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, John Wayne, Eli Wallach and Richard Widmark.

This fantastic “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” is loaded with bonus content including over 4 hours of all new special features plus collectible memorabilia including a 36 page Cinerama Souvenir Book reproduction, a 20 page reproduction of the original general release press book and more.

George Feltenstein is the driving force behind Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.  He has an incredible knowledge and passion for film history.  He has supervised the release of some fantastic DVDs including the Pre-code “Forbidden Hollywood” collection, The Casablanca 60th Anniversary Edition and the “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” series of numerous classics including Bonnie & Clyde.  When speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Warren Beatty called Feltenstein “a force of nature.”  Naturally I was thrilled to get a few moments of his time to discuss theglorious release of the Cinerama classic “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” of How the West Was Won

I’m sure you are getting asked this a million times, but how did you digitally erase the join lines?

It is the centerpiece of why we are talking on the phone today.  This is an enormous achievement.  First of all, the people that did the work are incredibly talented colleagues at Warner Bros. Motion Picture imaging, which is our technical operations group on the lot.  I’ve been working with the MGM library on home video for twenty-two years.  I was at MGM then at Turner and now at Warner Bros.  Where the library goes, I go.  I’ve always made a joke facetiously that maybe someday they’ll find way where we can get rid of those horrible join lines on How the West Was Won because even despite the fact that the film has looked wretched since 1964 and that anybody who didn’t see it in Cinerama had to watch that awful reduction version with the three panels…it has still been tremendously entertaining, captivating and a best selling title and well regarded everywhere it goes…so imagine being able to make it look phenomenal and brand new. Our colleagues across the street wrote a software program that would take into account the fact that the three panels not only are three separate pieces of film each with a need for independent color balancing, but they also have a different focal point, focal length and depth of field because they were done with three cameras in three different places intended for a curved screen projection.  They had to calculate how to adjust each panel and do it independently and then stitch them together on video so it each panel was scanned at 6K resolution, which is the highest possible resolution you can get out of a piece of film and then once the scanning was done off the original negative, each panel was stitched together digitally using the finest new software they could write frame by frame to achieve what has been achieved.

Wow!  I have to say the results are really stunning and impressive!

I feel that way too.  I just saw it the whole thing on Blu Ray this weekend for the very first time and I was blown away and very proud. 

Do you have a similar plan for The Wonderful World of Brothers Grimm? (also shot in Cinerama)

No, not at this time….The Wonderful World of Brothers Grimm negative suffered a very bad water damage problem on a few reels from leaky tunnels underneath the MGM lot where it used to be stored.  Now that being said we have safety separation masters that we could use to fix that so it is technically possible, but the film does not have the commercial viability that How the West Was Won does, so the enormity of time and expense that this kind of thing takes makes it an unlikely candidate to have a similar restoration at this time.  I think now that we’ve written the software programs and developed the technology if costs come down maybe it is something we could look at many years down the line.  Right now we’re just focusing on How the West Was Won and with great pride and excitement. 

Why did they only use the smile box version on the Blu Ray but not on the standard DVD?

That’s actually a very good question.  The smile box is a very niche thing that definitely something that only the home theatre enthusiast would understand what it is and why it is and basically want it for their 100 foot screen home theatre.  When people knew that we were doing this there were little dribs and drabs on the internet like, “God I hope they put it on smile box.”  If we did that for the general release we would have a lot of people not knowing what was going on and have complaints about it, but if we did it in addition to the regular version so the consumers had a choice, that would be the way to do it.  We also felt that the home theatre enthusiast would want this kind of thing and not Mom and Pop with a 37 inch television and so with Blu Ray having six times the resolution of DVD, and also really the home theatre enthusiast is the target consumer for this smile box of How the West Was Won.  If you are a home theatre enthusiast you either have a Blu Ray machine, or you’re not a home theatre enthusiast.  We felt that this was the way to go.  A lot of people I know have not bought Blu Ray players yet because there is nothing to buy that interests them.  They are not gamers and they don’t like CGI movies.  They like a different kind of film that isn’t really available on Blu Ray with the exception of films that we put out here at Warner Home Video.  There aren’t a lot of older titles available from most of the other companies so accordingly I know several people who are buying Blu Ray players for their home theatres specifically because of How the West Was Won and the smile box.  That was basically why.  We wanted to target the home theatre enthusiast and give it a wonderful showcase and we’ve achieved that. 

I heard this is going on HD on Demand the same day the DVD is released.

Yes, Starz Encore has the license (which they had pre-existing to the film) and when we found out that they had that we offered this to them because television viewings increase home video purchases.  It is basically a way to audition what a film would be like if you brought it, especially for the HD on Demand because when you’re watching that you’re still seeing something that has a logo bug on it and it is not like you can burn a high def DVD of it, but it is going to make people want to own it.  Not to mention the fact that Blu Ray is far superior to anything we can get on broadcast television.  Our research has shown that 70% of the people that buy a classic film on DVD (and this would probably be applicable to Blu Ray if the titles were available) do so because they’ve seen the movie on television.  We look upon television exhibition as a sales tool for brining awareness to our library and in this particular instance we really want to bring attention to the restoration that has been done and call attention to the film itself.  We reached out to Starz Encore and tried to help them come to the party and really make the noise around this event that we feel it deserves.

I love the extra items that come with the DVD including the photos, the exhibitor’s campaign book and all of the wonderful extra items in there.  It is really first class!

Thank you.  We have developed this concept of adding memorabilia to our releases which we started doing back in 2005 with our Wizard of Oz release and we’ve been doing it a lot more frequently now that we’ve developed the name “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” for those kinds of releases.  For How the West Was Won we wanted to be able to give people something that was a keepsake of the experience and I’m very pleased about it and there were many people who were involved in the film who are still happily still with us and healthy and vital.  We are having a screening of the film in Cinerama at the Cinerama Dome two nights before the DVD comes out and a lot of the people who were involved in the movie will be coming to that screening.

One or 2 more questions unrelated to How the West Was Won, but I just wanted to ask them…...I love your latest Pre-code set with the 5 films!!  Are there any more pre-code sets in the future?

Absolutely!  “Forbidden Hollywood” is a series that I developed on VHS in the late 80s and then on laser disc and now the first two box sets are part of our collaboration with our sister company TCM and with the TCM archive, where they show the movies on their channel, again driving home video sales.  Those films are amazing.  The next “Forbidden Hollywood” set will be coming out early next year.  We are doing restoration from nitrate on six films that will have commentaries and lots of neat extras and will be equally as salacious and scandalous as those in the previous two volumes.  We certainly have enough films in our library, truly remarkable because they are so vital and fascinating compared to a lot of the tame thing that followed after the code became enforced.  We plan to make that a yearly event at Warner Home Video.

I’m dying for Ladies They Talk About.

Yes, it is a great movie.  That was part of the laser disc collection of “Forbidden Hollywood.”  We are hoping to make that part of the next DVD set. 

What about The Big Parade?  It is among my most favorite silent films.

We are planning that for 2009.  We will hopefully be releasing both the original 1925 version and the 1931 “sound re-issue” which had a score with sound effects synchronized.  We’ve planned something very big around that.  We want to do a King Vidor set with The Crowd and The Big Parade and some of his other silents.  There is a lot more silent film coming from Warner Home Video! 

For those of you who live in Los Angeles, below is the flier a screening of HOW THE WEST WAS WON in the Cinerama Dome that is NOT TO BE MISSED!!




  1. great interview, but why are they doing this when I am going to be out of town?!  WAUUGGHH!!

    Posted by Gordon S. Miller on 08/24 at 03:30 PM