Interview from the Vault

A Conversation with David Lemieux

(Part 2)

First Appeared at The Music Box, March 2002, Volume 9, #3

Written by Eric Levy

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Well, on to View from the Vault II. I love that you put a complete, live Rubin and Cherise over the main menu. That was an inspired touch.

Thank you. I rented a movie on DVD, and the menu had music over it. My idea was to take the version from the Buckeye show from June 9 (the week before the actual View From the Vault II show) and use that Rubin and Cherise as video bonus footage. We have that on video. Unfortunately the mix isn't that great, and it's not as good a version as I would have liked, so there were three other audio-only versions to choose from: Cap Center, Orlando, and Nassau. Nassau didn't have Bruce on it, so that was out.

So, I called up the video distributor and suggested putting the entire song over the menu. They said, "People don't want to hear a song over the menu. They just want to go straight to the movie." I said, "Come on, you don't know Deadheads, they want this, trust me." So they said, "How long is it?" And I said "Six minutes." They said "Six minutes! How about thirty seconds at the most?" And I said, "No, it's six minutes or nothing, and I'm not taking nothing for an answer."

I dug my heels in, and Jeffrey was all for it. We got into this good-natured discussion with the distributor about it, and the song prevailed. I would have rather had an actual video performance of it from Buckeye, but it wasn't as good. So, we went with this one and now the world has a really good quality Rubin and Cherise from the Orlando show on 4-7-91.

Justin Kreutzmann's Liberty video is a nice bonus.

Yeah, that was interesting. What happened with that is when So Many Roads came about — and that's around the time I started working here — Justin was hired to do the Liberty video, and he did a great job. When I saw it I thought, "Wow this is a really great video, it's a nice, touching piece." He really put his heart into it, and he used a lot of stuff from Eileen Law's photo archives and a couple bits and pieces from our archives here in the vault. The extent of the video's distribution was online, where you could watch it on a three-inch by three-inch little box on your computer screen — all jerky with bad sound — and I said, "Well, that's no good."

When it came to doing View from the Vault II, we wanted to make it a great DVD, and we wanted to put on some little bonuses, aside from our hour from RFK '90. I called Justin and he was all for it. It's turned into a real hit. People really like it, people are talking about it, and that's exactly what I wanted. It deserves to be seen, and barring putting out some other kind of music video compilation, this was the place for it. I think future View From the Vault [releases] will also include little videos, or if we have a twenty-minute chunk from a certain show we'll use it.

Do you know what show that Liberty is from?

The audio is the same as on the So Many Roads box set (3-30-94), but the video is from three different shows — you can tell because they're all wearing different shirts.

But it looked like the vocals were synched up.

That's Justin. He did a great job. He does a lot of that. It's a perfect synch. In fact Mickey came in and looked at it when Justin finished, and he said, "Oh man, he nailed it." So I figured this was the place for it. I'm glad we did it. With Rubin and Cherise, Liberty, and an hour from RFK '90, I think this is a pretty successful DVD. It's something we're all really proud of and I hope other Deadheads dig it. The first View from the Vault did really well. Critically, it did well. People seemed to like it. I think commercially it did okay. I kind of hope this one equals that — I like it better. This video would have been View from the Vault I had we not done Boston (9-25-91) as a Dick's Picks last year. We didn't want two '91s coming out three months apart. That's why we went with Pittsburgh '90.

Also watching the DVD you really get the sense that Bruce [Hornsby] was pretty excited to be playing with his heroes.

Man was he ever. With a Dick's Picks it doesn't matter what the band looked like that night, but with video you really have to take that into account. It becomes not only performance, but how did the band look. And we do have other videos — I won't say they're better, I really think this RFK show is tremendous — of some equally strong shows where the band just doesn't have…

Okay, you know how this RFK video looks like seven guys just having fun as one unit? There are other videos from the same era where it looks like seven guys in bubbles doing it for themselves. And they're playing tremendously — don't get me wrong — the playing is just as good. But with View from the Vault II, all those shots of Mickey looking over at Vince [Welnick] and Bruce and Jerry and just laughing — this band was having so much fun that night, and that's a huge part of why this one was chosen, as well as being a tremendous show and sounding great and all that. And it did have a pretty darn cool set list. Which isn't to say that was why it was chosen, but again a cool set list will often indicate a really great show.

This is the first official Maggie's Farm to be released.

Yep, the first Maggie's Farm, and it's a really good one — you get to hear all five of them sing. There's some good stuff such as two different versions of Dark Star on video! Stepping back three or four years, I couldn't imagine getting a DVD official release that's this kind of quality with more than one Dark Star on it.

I love how on View from the Vault II, Bruce Hornsby plays the piano with his foot, Jerry Lee Lewis-style, at the end of Lovelight.

You know when we were considering releasing this video, we were watching from an incredibly critical standpoint. There are these little moments that indicate, "Oh this is cool." Bruce leans over and starts playing piano with his foot, and you can hear those high keys, "Ding ding ding." Jeffrey and I looked at each other and knew, "This is the stuff. This is what the other show we were looking at doesn't have." It's all those little moments, like during Dark Star when Bruce is standing up and playing his little Casio and getting those electronic sounds — those are the indications that put certain shows over the top. During Estimated Prophet on View from the Vault I, Jerry does this little knee-bend as Weir is doing his front-of-the-stage theatrics. Jerry cracks a little smile as he's strumming the jam during Estimated, and he's so into it he starts bending his knees and strumming harder. It's those little visual indications that tell us, "Hey this is pretty interesting."

A funny thing about the bonus footage on View from the Vault II, Phil [Lesh] is wearing the same shirt.

I know, pretty wild, eh? It must have been his RFK shirt. Actually, I watched RFK '92, and he's not wearing that shirt.

Could you say more about how the criteria for choosing a View from the Vault release differ from an audio-only release? Obviously, you have a lot less to choose from.

We do have less to choose from. It's performance first of all and second is really how they look. How are they interacting? When they screw up do they yell at each other? We've got to look out for that. Sound quality is a big issue — some of the videos don't sound great. Fortunately the last couple sound pretty good. It's pretty much the same criteria, but remember we're not dealing with the 1972-1978 era. We're dealing with '87 and '88 a little bit, and then really '89 to '95.

What format was the video portion preserved on?

From '87 to '95, [there are] about five different master formats. There's a lot of three-quarter-inch video, but I don't know if we'd ever use it as a master format. Downhill from Here (from Alpine Valley '89) is one-inch analog video, and there's some Beta SP from '89 and '90. '90 to '91 is D2, which is digital. The last two videos have been digital masters, so that's part of the reason they look so good.

I'm always very impressed with Len Dell'Amico's direction. How did the direction take place during a concert? Did Len tell each camera operator what to do?

Yeah. They had headphones on and there would be five or six cameras.

So would he say, "Cut to Vince now" for instance?

Oh no, he would be doing the cutting. Len would be in a truck with six TV monitors in front of him — one for each camera. So he's watching what each of those six cameramen are doing, and if none of them are doing what he wants — and generally they would be covering their guy — Len would say, "Okay, I need a tight shot of Vince, I want to cut to him in a minute." The guy who was in that area would then zoom in on Vince.

So, Len would be watching the six TV angles at once, and he would have a switcher — one through six — and he'd say, "Okay this is what we're going to do." The video feed that he would be switching manually — in real time, obviously — would go to the screens and would also be split and go to the video machine and be recorded. Each of the six camera angles were not recorded which is why if the camera starts shaking for example, we can't cut away and go to something else. We don't have that extra footage.

So we're seeing exactly what was on the screens at the show.

One hundred percent — graphics and all. There's nothing we can change. Well, we can change the graphics a little, but we can't get rid of them. In fact, we have put different graphics in at times. Not always, but there have been a couple times, particularly with View from the Vault II where the graphics were not so interesting, so we put in something else. This is another issue. I get a lot of flack: "How can you cover Jerry's solo with graphics?" And it's not my choice. I didn't put that in. But we can't get rid of it because we don't have alternate footage, or isolation footage as it's called. We don't have that to insert unfortunately.

I love the roller coaster imagery during Franklin's Tower.

That was my choice. We had something else over that. It was a really quaint animated graphic that really made a lot of people cringe. It was very dated, and it didn't hold up. We had another tape with a couple graphic elements, and I argued it out with Jeff, and he said, "Oh, no, not the roller coaster." But we tried it in the video-editing suite, and it worked! Jeffrey said, "This is great." So, whenever I watch it now, I get a big kick out of it.

On the final tour (Summer '95), two sets of screens were used: One showing the band playing, the other with the usual trippy graphics. Are both in the vault, and if you release any of those, could you edit from one screen to the other?

If we had both, but I don't think we do. I think we just have the band part of it, but we do also have other tapes called graphical element tapes. Those are the raw footage that was used during the concert. So there may not be specific footage of a particular show's graphics, but we do have four or five hours of graphics from that tour. We could do that, but if we had a clean feed of the band like we did at Alpine Valley, I very much doubt that we'd put any graphics over them.

Was it the same camera operators at each venue on a tour?

When we did the credit lists I remember looking through the old tour files to see who was on the road at the time. We saw that they'd bring three or four of their own guys then hire a couple of locals.

Are concerts that were shown on pay-per-view eligible for the View from the Vault series?

Yeah, I think so. This goes back to putting out shows that people don't already have. The pay-per-view of the Shoreline Summer Solstice show (6-21-89) circulates in such terrific quality. With audio, it's one thing because there's so much audio out there, but with video there's relatively little available in good quality that isn't official. So, to put out an official release of a show that's already circulating in tremendous quality is something we'd shy away from. There's hardly any video out there, so I think we could definitely pick some other really good concert from that era.

Is all the old film and video footage of the band, like old television appearances, in the vault?

Unfortunately not. We've got very little of it. Like the Playboy after Dark — we've got a reference copy someone sent us, but as far as Calibration and all that, we've got none of it.

Is releasing all of the previously available videos on DVD part of the long-term plan?

Absolutely. I'm sure Backstage Pass and So Far are going to come out, and there's a ton of bonus footage for So Far.

Would Len Dell'Amico be interested in doing audio commentary?

Well, we haven't gotten that far into it, but I'm sure he would be. What Justin would like to do with Backstage Pass is... Remember the video's only 34 minutes. He's got a whole bunch of stuff that he shot backstage himself — that actually is backstage footage of Jerry rehearsing and other little bits that are incredible. So maybe an hour of that, then maybe an hour of little songs that we'd never use as a complete show video release because it might be a terrific version of a song that falls within a weak show. I think that's what you'll end up seeing. He's coming by tomorrow, and we're working on that.

Dead Ahead combined with the Showtime special would make a fabulous DVD, especially since the Showtime special has never been released.

Yeah, plus all the footage from 10-29-80 that no one's ever seen.

Somewhere down the road maybe?

I definitely think so. I don't know about the Showtime special because then you get into dealing with two different companies, whereas if it was just one or the other it would be a lot easier to do. I think if it had to be either one, it would be Dead Ahead.

It's great that the recent videotapes are being released in the European PAL format. Are the DVDs multi-regional?

Yes. That's something I insisted on — that they be printed as Region 0, no regional encoding. I think that the first couple DVDs (Ticket to New Year's and Downhill from Here) have regional encoding only because a lot of DVD authoring houses default to Region 1. After that, we had to make specific instructions saying no regional encoding because it is an actual active process to encode DVDs.

Like I mentioned, I loved Justin Kreutzmann's Liberty video. Any chance of collecting all of the Dead's MTV-style music videos for official release?

I think so. I'll probably talk to Justin about that tomorrow for Backstage Pass. I think there are about seven of them.

A perfect place for those would be on The Making of Touch of Grey video.

True. I'd love to see that come out. And again, that's short. It's only thirty minutes so there's definitely some room in there for extension.

What about The Grateful Dead Movie? You want to get that really perfect.

Yeah. It will be done right. And there's so much bonus material to sift through. To mix it and make it perfect — make it surround sound 5.1 — that will be a really big task.

In an old interview with Donna Godchaux, she said there was actually interview footage with her and Keith Godchaux that got edited out at the end.

That's what we'd look at, though we'd definitely focus on music. I went through the entire collection of outtakes, and there is quite a bit of interview footage with roadies and deadheads, but I think the focus of any bonus material would be music. If an interview was particularly interesting or insightful we'd include it. I think everyone would like to hear Keith talk, so I think for that reason we'd definitely try to find some little bits and pieces like that. I remember watching a [version of] Big River from one of the shows. Do you remember that guy in front of the stage who mouths the words "Back to back/Chicken shack" [during U.S. Blues]? During Big River, there's one camera angle only on him. It's really quite funny.

One quick point that always confused me: The laser disc of The Grateful Dead Movie looked really good. The entire film was letterboxed except for the animated opening. Was that shot in a different aspect ratio?

I don't know about that. I've seen it theatrically, and the whole film is definitely 1.66:1 including the animation. And to answer the question of why it looks so much better, the video has been out almost 15 years and the transfer that was done for the VHS copy is a different transfer than the laser disc, which was done in '93 and looks significantly better — not because it's a laser disc but primarily because it's a new transfer. When we get around to doing the DVD, we'll take the original negative and transfer it with 21st Century technology, and it will look spectacular. And, of course, we'll do it in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio as opposed to the more square 1.33:1. We also have a 30-second animated television commercial for Mars Hotel that we'll definitely put in there, too. When the Dead had their own record company they said, "Hey this will sell records." So they made this really nice little animated film shot on 35mm. So we'll put that in, some extra songs — big plans. I'd ideally like to see two discs: one of the movie and one of bonus material.

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Of Further Interest...

An Interview with David Lemieux: Part One

An Interview with David Lemieux: Part Three

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View from the Vault is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

View from the Vault II is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

Both editions of View from the Vault are part of a boxed
set, which is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

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