More For Filmmakers Ep. 4 – DCP
When I first started in film I remember having the conversation about film versus video stating something to the effect of, “I know all about video but nothing about film.” The response was, “Film is easy, video is the hard part.” I really couldn’t understand that way of thinking but I think it was because they had more knowledge of where things were going.
This was the late 90’s and everything was going digital but not the way it is now. First you had to print the film, then telecine it (shoot it on to video), with a drop frame rate that matched what you were going to do with the film, then you uploaded those tapes into the Avid (or Lightworks), cut the movie, and then assistants conformed the work-print to match the edit. After that you had to have the negative cut to the work-print, inter-positive, inter-negative, release print, etc. It was a lot of work!
It’s still a lot of work but now through the magic of desktop editing and cinematic DSLRs you can shoot and edit a feature for almost nothing if you have to. Despite that, just like in the early days, it doesn’t matter if it is a big budget Marvel film or a $100 film made in your parent’s guest house, they are all delivered the same way – DCP.
In this episode of More For Filmmakers, we are going to discuss all things DCP. Actually, all things DCP except where it came from because that’s not going to be relevant to most filmmakers and if you really want to know then click HERE.
What is a DCP?
DCP is short for Digital Cinema Package and it essentially does what film prints used to do – it is a medium for delivering the feature to theaters.
Things you should know…
DCP creation begins when you are in pre-production – seriously. When you are choosing your shooting format you need to keep in mind your final delivery platform. If your feature is only scheduled for online services and TV then you are likely fine shooting it 16:9 as that is traditional HD formatting. However if you want to shoot for a theatrical release then you are going to need to plan to shoot in order to output as flat or scope which are the only two formats that are really cinematic formats. Let’s look at these in comparison:
As you can see, the ratio sizes are different. They are different enough that if you lay one on top of the other (as shown at the bottom) then you get bars outside of the frame. So if you frame/shoot for 16:9 then the film won’t be properly formatted for a theatrical release. There will be black bars on the screen and if the projectionist can (or bothers to) zoom in the image then you will lose part of your image. So start with the end in mind. If you are going to go theatrical then shoot your project as such, cut it as such and export it … you get the idea.
There are a lot of ways to create a DCP. Fortunately you have options for all skill and fiscal levels. Let’s look at your two most basic options:
1 – Have it made for you.
This is deliciously easy if you can do it. Simply edit, color, and export your project and then a post house will create it for you. If you can afford it then this is an easy decision to make. Price varies greatly (Flat fees between $1,000 and $10,000 or by the minute) so you will have to shop around. We don’t necessarily endorse any particular company but there are companies that will do things that others can’t. For example, if you are going to distribute to a large number of theaters then you may have to go with a lab like Deluxe (who have been tops in their field for years on a number of things).
2 – Create the DCP yourself.
At first this may seem like an attractive option BUT there are a number of drawbacks.
a. You have to adhere to specific naming conventions. An export DCP from Premiere isn’t going to do this unfortunately.
b. You will need to watch things such as your audio levels. Theaters are typically run at about 85db (this is a gross oversimplification) and there are standards so you will need to make sure that your mix adheres to and resides within those standard levels.
c. It is going to require some power to build. It takes a lot of processing power to build a DCP, you are basically creating a giant decoding and encoding task at a very high level for hours and hours. Our DCP creation time recently was tripled when we had a catastrophic failure on our Linux based multi-processor DCP creation machine and had to build it out on another computer.
If you do choose to create it yourself then I highly recommend DCP-O-Matic. The author, Carl, has done a ton of work on the app, it runs on many platforms and it is updated constantly. We have gladly contributed to the development and if you use it then you should too, however it is free to use if you choose to do so.
Encryption is a tough subject for indies as there advantages and disadvantages to doing both. First what is meant by encryption?
Encryption is a method that assigns a key to a particular projector such that the DCP can only be played on select projectors with the exact right encryption key. The theory is that it prevents people from stealing the digital file of the film and uploading it. This is true, however, feature theft at the theater level is extremely low. Think about it, if a film was pirated from a theater, then that theater wouldn’t be getting any more films. It would simply put them out of business. So for an indie there is a relatively low risk of having your film stolen from a theater. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it’s extremely rare – I don’t know of any cases personally.
There is also the argument that a key prevents showing the film without paying for it. This is something that I have heard of. Fortunately for us, we have rarely been stiffed on receipts (but it does happen) and having an encryption key is a good way to prove that it was indeed watched. If you have a run of 1-10 theaters then an encryption key shouldn’t even really be a consideration but for larger runs it might be.
That’s all to impart for this episode, if you have questions about DCPs feel free to send a note via the contact page.
Attribution: Aspect Ratio Diagram