Features of the Features: The Making of Super Special Features
Super Special Features became a glimmer in the eye of writer Grady Hendrix when he was standing in line at Kim's Video in Manhattan returning a DVD of Single White Female 2 on Sunday morning. The Dukes of Hazzard special features were playing on the in-store monitor and Hendrix was entranced by the backbreaking labor behind the construction of Jessica Simpson's short-shorts.
"I knew this was a story that the public needed to hear," says Hendrix, journalistically. "I knew that if this story gripped me, it would grip others."
Hendrix raced home after paying his late fees (which weren't really fair since he had been meaning to return the disc for some time and it was just an honest mistake that he kept forgetting to put the disc in his bag) and pitched it to Slate editor Michael Agger during a phone call on Friday afternoon as Agger struggled to force a readable piece of copy out of the argumentative and, unfortunately, drunk Hendrix.
"I knew Grady was just looking for an excuse to watch The Dukes of Hazzard. He told me that he was all alone over the weekend and had nothing to look forward to. I felt sorry for him and so I agreed in order to get him off the phone," remembers Agger.
Mistaking Agger's desperation to extract himself from an awkward social interaction as a "greenlight" for the piece, Hendrix attempted to track down the DVD.
"I knew it streeted on Dec. 6, but this was Dec. 3. I could have called the publicist handling the DVD release, but I was too lazy to do that. It wouldn't have been hard, but I just didn't feel like it. Instead, I decided to find a store that would break street date. My mind instantly turned to Kim's."
But Kim's Video was made of sterner stuff. Rather than telling the visibly disturbed Hendrix that the film was not yet available, they told him it was rented out. Then they informed him that it was sold out, as well. Knowing that he lived a 40-minute subway ride from the store, the Kim's staff relaxed, sure that Hendrix would not return. But, inexplicably, he did. Day after day. And each day he met with failure.
Despite owning a Blockbuster Reward Plan that allows him unlimited free rentals until Dec. 12 (because he forgot to renew it), Hendrix purchased The Dukes of Hazzard from Best Buy on Dec. 6 rather than renting it.
"I don't know why I did that," he says, ruefully.
That night he returned to his favorite position on the sofa with his stuffed animals and watched the special features all the way through, with a brief break to look at pornography on the Internet.
"There were an awful lot of special features," he says. "But I knew I couldn't quit. The readers were counting on me."
Writing furiously, Hendrix produced a first draft of the article that was 3,000 words long, 2,000 words over the length that Slate would accept.
"At that point," says Hendrix, "I knew I would have to take out some of the words."
Turning the piece in to Agger on Thursday afternoon, Hendrix then relaxed by listening to illegal MP3 downloads.
"I know it's not smart to admit this, for a lot of different reasons," he says. "But I feel that if someone's taking the trouble to read the article's "Making of" featurette then I should take the trouble to be completely honest with them. Along those same lines, right now I'm wearing footie pajamas. You may laugh at me, but I am warmer and comfier than you."
Meanwhile, back at Slate, Agger's crest fell as he read the article. Yet again, Hendrix had turned in copy that was inept, incomprehensible, and illegible.
"The illegibility issue is what most troubles me," said Agger. "He types it on a computer but it is 100 percent impossible to make out what he's written. I don't know how he does that."
Telling his wife and child that once more they would spend the weekend alone while he attempted to rewrite this article, Agger was heartbroken.
"It kills me to abandon them," he said, "But what else am I going to do?" Impressing himself with his own passion, Agger dove into his task and 20 minutes later had something that he thought would work. Now it was time to send the article to Ohio.
"One of the copy editors lives in Ohio. There's been a lot of controversy about outsourcing work to Ohio these days, especially when I have to call AOL customer service and they've outsourced it to Ohio and I wind up speaking to someone who barely understands English. But labor is so much cheaper there that we almost have to do it."
The copy editor, who asked to remain anonymous, worked diligently on the article and returned it to Agger within 90 seconds. Agger approved the changes and then the Ohio copy editor sent it to a second copy editor, this one located in New York.
"It helps to have a native English speaker look over it," Agger explains.
This copy editor posted the article with Gutenberg, the publishing software used by Slate, and the article was reviewed by individuals in the art department who carefully chose what artwork would run with the story: none. It was a difficult decision that took a lot of careful consideration.
The article was then sent racing down the information superhighway to Virginia where the Slate servers are located. Packed carefully inside damp tobacco leaves, the Slate servers will store this article for all eternity.