Festival Series: BluRay versus DCP

Still From Film Derby Baby
Still From Film Derby Baby

Our latest DCP was for the Indie Doc Derby Baby, produced by Dave Wruck and Robin Bond for Robin Bond Media. The film, which has no less than 100 Showtimes across the country Derby Baby showtimes, is a great project which we were proud to help get on the big screen. The film’s Producer’s contacted us seeking to find out more about the DCP option. They understood BluRay or even a HDCam tape delivery were options but they wanted to see if a DCP could be done quickly and inside the Indie Budget they were working with. One of their first questions centered not around price but around the benefits of a DCP over a BluRay.

The wide adoption of BluRay, after the HD-DVD/BluRay Wars (remember those?), gave us a standard that has allowed theater owners to offer a presentation platform of high resolution and reliability to today’s Independent Filmmaker. The ease at which a disc can be authored and played back on almost any machine, worldwide, coupled with the fact that the 1080p format scales nicely with the Digital Projection 2K standard and it’s relatively cheap disc/burner cost, make it a great tool for the filmmaker looking to release his/her film.

So why use a DCP?

First let’s answer the question, what is a DCP? DCP stands for Digital Cinema Package. In short, a DCP is the digital equivalent of a 35mm film print.   It is what you give to a commercial theater so that they can screen your movie on a digital ( also known as “D-Cinema”) projector.  Like a 35mm print, a DCP is a world-wide standard.  If you walk into any D-Cinema theater, anywhere in the world, they can play your DCP without a problem. It can handle files up to 4096k in size and runs at speeds up to 250 Mbit/s! It also operates in XYZ Colorspace rather than videos YUV/RGB Colorspace. So in short, it is made to as closely simulate the image complexity and fidelity of film as possible.

But why spend the money on a DCP? Is a DCP really that much better than a BluRay. In short, yes!

BluRay, DCP Frame compared

A BluRay gives you easy access to the 1080/24p spec, and 5.1 Dolby Surround audio. and having seen many BluRay projected films, It can look stunning given the author encodes at the highest rate allowed, color corrects with D-Cinema in mind and uses as close to master quality as they can. But even with those pluses, the BluRay has the following limitations;

  • Since the Projector screens at only 2k or 4k, any HD material will introduce bars on the sides.
  • Most likely your compression will come in somewhere around 12 to 25 Mbit/s, falling way short of the 250 allowed by the server.
  • Since there is no standard on authoring, encoding from say a H-264 web release to BluRay is allowed, meaning there is nothing to prevent you from burning your 640 x 480 scaled Youtube video to disc.
  • A mistake in the authoring process can result in an unplayable disc.
  • Films, can for the most part be copied by anyone.

DCP standardizes the process, giving the filmmaker full access to the 2048k/4096k image format, and it allows films shot in 2:35/2:40 to be projected as intended. The DCP will not be created if the source footage is not within the strict DCP spec. Another benefit is that DCPs don’t wear out like 35mm or scratch like BluRay’s.  Digital copies do not degrade, so you’ll never have a broken, scratched or dirty DCP.  The 1000th screening will look just as perfect as the first. Also as stated above, If you walk into any D-Cinema theater, anywhere in the world, they can play your DCP without a problem. Often housed in a military grade USB drive, factors such as scratching and damage from transport are nonexistent. And since the package is housed on a Linux formatted hard drive and in a muxed jpeg2000 format, copying a film is extremely difficult.

Another factor, and a very important one if you care about the look of your film or your film depends on the look to enhance audience participation, is regardless of what you deliver on, that your film will be projected in XYZ Colorspace not in the YUV/RGB Color we are all used to from our television sets. DCP’s are automatically converted to XYZ in the packaging process. DCPs and theatrical D-Cinema equipment will make well-shot and color-corrected footage look absolutely fantastic.  The color gamut and contrast are far superior to anything you’ll see on your computer monitor.

3D DCP’s are easy to encode and package. There currently is no solution below 5k for authoring 3D BluRays.

Lastly, In order to be considered for an Academy Award, your film must be delivered on either a film print or a DCP. For full specifications, go here, http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/rules/digital.html

Derby Baby Logo

Derby Baby DCP
A darling film, about love, addition and ring rash, Derby Baby was turned into a DCP from a sequence of Tif files and a set of discrete 5.1 audio files. The original film was uprez’d from 720p to 2k by Dave Wruck and sent to us via a Hard Drive. The finished 90 minute film was sent to a D-Cinema in Los Angeles for screening on a CRU 100 gig hard drive. To get more information on the film, go to http://www.derbybabythefilm.com/

So what special steps do you have to do in order to prepare your film for a DCP? Contact us and we’ll gladly walk you through the steps.

The price of DCP’s have come down drastically in the last few years. The choice to go with the format used by all the major studios versus BluRay is a much easier one today. The ability to compete with the majors is now fully within your grasp. For instance, we offer dynamic packages starting around $10 per minute. Visit us at www.madwerkz.com or contact us at madwerkz for more info on creating DCP’s. Happy filming.



The Art of The Guillotine: Finishing Sentences

“The best collaborations are the director-editor teams, where they can finish each others sentences,”

These are the words of Writer/Director and all around “Do-it-Different Guy” Quentin Tarantino when asked what the most important collaborations where in making a film. He went on to add that his own editor, Sally Menke, was his “only, truly genuine collaborator”. Indeed, even noted Film critic Walter Kerr has argued that editing is comparable in its importance to directing itself, and should be credited as such; he wrote “At the very least, it seems to me, the editor’s credit should be rescued from its place near the bottom of the list, an area we may call Oblivion…. Second position is where he belongs, and no lower, if we’re still going to hold him to also-ran status.”[1]

Oscar winning Editor Thelma Schoonmaker

Recently, we’ve seen a lot of films where the end credits read as such, Written, directed, edited, sound mixed and starring…. insert one name. Never mind the circus which comes with acting and directing yourself, but the one that gets us is the WDE (writer, director, editor) or Indie Trifecta.

The greatest downside to cheap digital tools is that any Filmmaker can now pull off the Trifecta (writing, directing and editing) or even the dreaded Quad Singularity, Writing, Directing, Editing and Acting!  (See that black hole ahead, that’s your film!). The old world notion that a filmmaker should have to raise funds to hire or pitch professionals to work/gift on their films is no longer necessary (Hint: if you can’t convince an individual to invest in your project (funds or gifted work), maybe a re-evaluation of your Project might be called for) In the words of one filmmaker, “Final Cut Studio comes with a manual, so why do I need an Editor, Colorist or Sound Mixer?” (The next Oscar winner to get up and thank Apple or Avid for creating a great manual will be the first)

This post is not a comment on the hobby filmmaker or the occasional practitioner, but to the auteurs/pros and career filmmakers who dream of one day holding a statue in their hands (as we do also).

Today, filmmakers yearn for EPICs and Scarlets, but how many times have you heard someone long for a Murch or a Cox? I think the latter is far more vital to success (I have an EPIC and I’d trade it for a Murch/Cox or even an Angus Wall in a heartbeat). As proof I point to this long list of Oscar winning filmmaking collaborations;

35 years and more

30–34 years

25–29 years

20–24 years

15–19 years

9–14 years

Sure, we’ve all heard repeatedly the wounded cry of a lot of filmmakers, “look at Akira Kurosawa (who both directed and edited many of his best-known films, Seven Samurai (1954) and Kagemusha (1980)) or The Coen Bros, who edit under the name Roderick Jaynes, they can do both well”. I think if your opening statement is to compare yourself to the above auteurs well, have a nice day, because I really don’t think you are in the same Astral plane as the rest of us. These are unique individuals, that’s why the list above is sooo very long and this paragraph has three names, nuff said.

So what am I saying? Get an editor. An Artist. Someone to finish your sentences. Beg, Borrow, Bribe and/or just Ask. Develop inhouse (Many wanna be directors would do far better learning storytelling, pacing and angles by editing than crowning themselves helmer and asking mom and family to crew. And not growing or maturing as an artist because of it) .

Why get an editor? Because it helps to have someone who knows your goals, but can see with a fresh pair of glasses. (Editing IS directing, it’s just done at a keyboard instead of on a set.) Someone once said; A Film is made (3) Three times, once with the pen, once through the lens and finally in the edit. If you as the filmmaker helm all three times, how many opportunities did you miss to re-tell the story or explore other avenues in the plot because you can’t see anything other than the story the way you wrote it? A good editor can see and shape audience reaction, even if the Director missed getting the footage needed to tell the story in production. (When problems shooting the mechanical shark on Steven Spielberg’s Jaws threatened to sink the show, Verna Field’s legendary edit of ordinary b-roll shots of a shark fin slicing through water, transformed the movie from ordinary thriller to box office legend). Two storytellers, each seeing the goal and working, together to complete the vision.

(As Martin Scorsese garners another statue for his visionary film Hugo, one has to ask, would “Marty” be Marty without Thelma Schoonmaker? Maybe so, maybe not.) For an inside story on the Scorsese/Schoonmaker collaboration on Hugo go here

Another point is that if and when you are lucky enough to get funding for your projects, know that very few investors are going to be comfortable with the WDE scenario. Most will outright prohibit you from holding all three hats, often bringing in their own editor or (worse yet, Director). Despite the fact that securing funds with yourself listed as WDE is difficult to impossible (unless you have a proven track record of success with that model), why not start collaborating before that?

Personally, I’ve completed projects where I was forced for reasons to edit my own work and I’ve helmed projects edited by amazing collaborators that saw my vision. I’ll take the latter, every time. And though I can edit, I’m NOT an editor, as I’ve seen that a good editor is a storyteller and artist in their own right, and not just the Director’s (or Producer’s) puzzle builder. (I’m also a Colorist and I love collaborating with talented Directors and Producers as it gives me a chance to tell stories with light and color, adding my uniqueness to their vision)

I hire or beg good artist to work with me because I want to collaborate, with talented artist, some even though we don’t share anything in common but a love of good storytelling. The fact that they work with me, helps me to understand that I’m maturing as an artist myself. And having someone to finish my sentences makes me a better filmmaker. Good collaborations produce good results, from Production Design to End Credits, thus producing the best product-Films people enjoy and want to watch. And isn’t that the point?

Final Cut Pro-X: (Dr. Strangelove, or why I learned to love the bomb)

We recently spent some time with Professional DaVinci Colorist and Editor Jason Feiler of Kalman Pabst & Associate. His work ranges from color grading numerous Independent Films to editing spots for Moen and Arhaus

Using Final Cut inhouse, Jason relies heavily on it’s workflow and ease of use when sending projects to DaVinci for finishing. In talking about X, we  listened to his joy and pain (mostly pain) concerning Apple’s new version of their Professional NLE system. I thought I’d share it, as while the web is full of reviews of the new release, having a working NEO professional, who deals with deadlines and clients everyday, discuss first hand his experiences I thought would be great.

Jason Feiler

Many editors I’ve talked to have simply abandoned the idea of FCP X. Apple’s new release to be sure is a new, radical way of editing, and its definitely a 1.0 version. Its new keywording and bin structure features make it quite easy to get up and running on  a project, especially if you don’t have an assistant editor. Its fun to play with, add effects, and create fun little movies,but in very little time the “Pro” will realize that despite some sexy styling, this baby is made for the iMovie masses.

FCPX Interface

Its not that its a bad “app”,  its just not designed for pro editing and pro output (To date, X does not support a second monitor or output via Kona or BlackMagic card). A huge part of editing is making cuts on intuition, in order for that to happen you need to have muscle memory. Meaning that an editor can wave their hands over the keyboard and perform magic without using the mouse, quickly and seamlessly. Well Apple felt that was no longer important, and that as editors we should drag clips around a “storyline” until it magically (or magnetically) found its place. Thats fine for someone that has never edited or doesn’t really appreciate what its like to trim a single frame away for the perfect cut, but not for professionals. We need control, we need that muscle memory. Often, the meter is running as I work and Apple’s radical changes in “thought process”, shouldn’t cause me (or anyone else) to have to think, “what is the new way of doing this?” as clients sit, a few feet away.

Here’s a few things that a Professional Editor might be able to live with or without in considering upgrading to X;

Extensive Terminology re-education
No support for OMF (no sending files to ProTools)
FCP 7 Plugins won’t work until updated to new 64bit FxPlug2
You can’t import previous FCP projects (this is HUGE)
Color Match in Color Board doesn’t show feedback in controls

Lets talk about color correction in FCP X. This is an area that really concerns me, as Apple has added a whole bunch of canned looks into FCP X, and a new color board. I have to admit I had a blast “playing” with these looks, however at the end of the day it was very destructive. I want to clear the air on this subject, yes technically if you do more then a primary correction its called color grading, but lets be real there is so much more that goes into color grading then tweaking a few colors or adding a vignette. BlackDesign DaVinci is my tool of choice and a great one at that, in fact no other name says color correction like DaVinci. It’s a powerful tool and I use it every chance I get. But for the project that needs finish in the NLE, I still like to be able to offer something other than canned looks to my clients. The thought is nice, but again, a tool for the iMovie masses. (In fact, I’d have to say that ripping off the Magic Bullet Looks approach to cc, makes the Apple solution even more puzzling, i.e. build a better mousetrap, etc.)

One more thing that keeps getting overlooked is that FCP X is designed around the HDSLR/H-264 user. Apple wants you to bring your native h.264 footage into FCP X, thats fine, but what about the rest of the filmmaking community. (To date, FCP X cannot even work with RED or Alexa footage.) Remember h.264 is a compressed output CODEC, not a capture and definately not an editing CODEC, we seem to have all forgotten that. I’ve found that part of editing is knowing what to do when something goes wrong and how to fix it, its understanding CODECs, framerate, bit depth, resolution, the list goes on and on, but in FCP X you simply do not have that control, and I think that most users of FCP X right now are okay with that lack of control and understanding.

Who knows what will happen in 6 months or a year, but one thing is for certain, and thats the television and film industry will not stop and wait for Apple to come back down to earth. Use whatever tool gets you to where you need to be, but don’t sacrifice quality to get you there.

Me? Still running FCP 7 and I’m now evaluating Avid and Smoke at the office and Adobe at home.

Jason Feiler is a DaVinci Colorist and Editor at Kalman Pabst, he can be reached at jasonpfeiler@gmail.com



Today’s Independent Filmmaker – Choosing the correct RED Workflow Part 1

The approaching Fall usually signals the end of the shooting season here in the Midwest. Most productions aim to head into post production in the upcoming months and that usually signals our busy season here at the studio. With the Michigan film incentive tanked, the list of big Independent films is down from last year and that’s allowed us to spend a good bit of time refining our workflow and working closer with DP’s to deliver a better solution for them. And as new DOP’s and Producer learn to work with bigger budgets and more ambitious projects, it’s imperative that they find successful workflows and we help them to find them, together.

Early in the year, we wanted to see what workflow performed best for our clients. Being primarily a VFX company we have our own internal workflow that revolves around 32 bit Linear based formats such as OpenEXR or Tif and for grading 10bit DPX. But recently an increased amount of RED work has come into the studio often from DOP’s we have never worked with before. Last year saw everything from REC 709 baked DPX’s to CameraRGB and PDLOG LUTed 8 Bit Jpeg shots coming in. True, the look is just that, a look (if we get the r3ds) and the metadata can be changed at any time (CameraRGB can be changed to REC 709 easily inside REDCine) But the choices the DOP made while looking at this “Look” are forever. DOP’s who light via the 720p output of the camera could almost be considered a plague now. Whether it’s ArriRaw, Canon StuLog or Technicolor color science, DOP’s who don’t test or know what the color science is doing inside the camera, and adjust their style to match, are all too common.The last thing we want to see is a look of surprise on the DP’s face as he sees his footage on a 10 bit Cinetal display for the first time. (as opposed to their own 14 inch LCD MacBook Pro)

At the beginning of the year we set out to develop a workflow best suited to the Indie producer but which allowed us to deliver a good product. We hoped to be able to engage Producers and DOP’s before they shot as to solidify the workflow. Some had time, some did not. After the conversations we took some RED footage we shot from last year and treated it like it had come in from the three most common color science choices. The results….

Dailies/ProRes Transcode REC709 Gamma

No Brainer here, if we setup the files this way, we had the best reaction to dailies, the grade versus the FCP offline and/or VFX Shots that were delivered back to the client. The reason- the shots at all times most closely resembled the shots as seen in the onset monitor and the editors FCP/Avid pass. But the loss of latitude in the highlights or dark areas, the baked in contrast, coupled with the response curve mimicking video more than film, left the final prints looking more like a good 5D shoot than a 4k image lens on a film lens. This is also the quickest workflow because so many decisions have already been made.

Dailies/ProRes Transcode REDGamma2

Definitely an improvement, the REDGamma2 curve allowed us to be able to get a curve closer to film and take advantage of the latitude available with the MX Sensor. Only in a side by side could the clients see a difference in the onset look (Rec709) provided by the RED monitor with all of them choosing the REDGamma2 as a more film like image. True, RED considers the Color2/Gamma2 to be the closest Linear curve to film. While not log, doing VFX using this curve was definitely doable and meant that transcoding to 32bit OpenExr, gave us our VFX plates and finals for grading at the same time. This allowed us to grade in After Effects or Nuke, without a Speedgrade pass.

Dailies/ProRes Transcode REDLogFilm

Our preferred format, it closely resembles the latitude of film and gives the greatest response back on grading. If you construct a beautiful shot, REDLogFilm will give it back to with the love, discarding the harsh edge of film. Not quite the Eterna look (yet) but REDLogFilm also gives us the best environment to grade and composite our vfx shots. Most major film post houses work in Log or Lin 1.0, and that allows them to squeeze every ounce of beautiful out of the negative. The drawback- The image in no way matches the on set image. Untreated, it looks milky and flat. To the untrained eye it is a disaster. But it is the color science we (and most of the industry) probably would like to be handed to deal with. To DOP’s working in Independent Film, asking the Director and the Producer to trust him to turn the milky image to beauty is a battle they have to fight if they want their images to compete.

The solution. For now we recommend REDGamma2 with REDColor2 as the color science. It strikes a nice balance between the DOP’s need to show an image that is vibrant and contrasty, but will not have the shock factor associated with learning that they had more latitude in the camera than what they saw thru the monitor. The majority of our clients are seasoned pros who know these things, but as new DOP’s and Producer learn to work with bigger budgets and more ambitious projects, it’s imperative that they find successful workflows. We are trying to educate our DP clients to get to know the curve of REDLogFilm and REDGamma2 so they can light for the extra latitude, even though they can’t see it on the set. Much like the old lady, good old film, trusting a light meter and experience will yield great results.

Part 2: We’ll grade the Log RED Footage, dealing with the image in several solutions such as Adobe, Sony, Iridas and Finally Final Cut Pro.

(Note:) We decouple the Quicktime gamma on all our workstations in order to not let Apples 1.8 Gamma influence our decisions.


A Little bit of Color in my Life

Having done quite a few Grading jobs for Indie Film and taught the fundamentals of color for the last three years at workshops and as a Professor, I’m often astounded when the subject of Color grading tools come up, especially when that conversation is usually between the Producer and myself and not the Director of Photography. The tendency to say “We’ve got Colorista” or “Apple Color comes with FCP”, “Our editor will just tweak the colors at the end or he’ll just do it in FCP!” is almost as common as the hiring of a DP because he has a RED or a 5D with Lenses these days.

Here’s where the decision to “Finish on your own” if you are an indie filmmaker can turn into a nightmare

While Colorista and Color are wonderful tools and they have saved my butt many times, Stu Machowitz (the creator of Colorista) never intended for them to replace a DaVinci or the skilled artist that uses one. Colorista and Color’s toolset is impressive, especially given it’s price, but the fact that sophisticated but necessary task such as tracking are difficult, if not impossible to do easily in these programs, frame those tools as Primary and simple shot grading tools more specifically.

Sophisticated re-lighting or painting with light, in essence, recreating the mood or making a shot into a work of art, similar to a painting are the domain of the Colorist, not just making every shot balance out before a Quicktime is rendered

Tangent 200 Colorist Board

That is not say that your feature or short can not be done in Color or Colorista by your Editor or yourself, quite the opposite. But given the fact that more times than not, an Indie shoot is rife with let’s say “Less than ideal conditions” means that your footage is going to need MORE, not less attention in the grading stage. And that demands an artist, a Colorist, not an editor or producer “watching tutorials” minutes before starting a primary. My point usually to the Producer is to be as concerned with finishing as they are with sound. Both make or break a film. Both need capable professionals in tune with capturing an audience. Color decisions that make sense in a Quicktime environment such as FCP (like stacking 3way Color nodes to get a look), can prove disastrous if then that Quicktime is used for a DCI theater presentation (Film Festival). XYZ colorspace not with standing, the false gamma given by Quicktime has been known to make have many filmmakers scratching their heads trying to find out why the image on the movie screen was so flat.

Rum Runner Title Sequence

Rum Runner
Shot on Canon 5D, Zeiss Lenses,
Courtesy of ACK, ACK Productions

Color Correction

I wanted to pick an example which is reflective of the experience most Indies are having these days. The above image is from Rum Runner, a wonderful short directed by up and comer, Andrew Fenske, debut DOP’d by Kevin Coyne and Produced by Gina Brinker. Veteran Canon shooter John Turk served as Steadicam and Camera Operator for Kevin which allowed him to spend a great deal of time researching his look, but unfortunately as time constraints threatened the production, Kevin had to adjust on the fly. As a result, although lit adequately, he was not able to get the look he had hoped for in camera. The edit was done in Final Cut Pro and then sent to Apple Color where I performed a quick Primary and Secondary Grade on the film in order to get it out for a festival showing. But because Kevin and I had talked extensively before, during and after the production phase, I had a good ideal of what he was looking for and planned to go back later and do a full grade My workflow in Color was as follow, establish a Primary Grade, using the ProRes 442 online files with a roundtrip back to FCP in ProRes 422 with a gamma of 2.6 for theater delivery. Once the festival was done, I went back and looked at my notes for the shoot and CineSync reviewed all the shots. Below is the result.

Review session of colorBecause a lot of the shots on the production were done on a stabilizer and/or with a handheld approach, tracking a lot of the Color correction changes would be necessary. Faces, adding lighting to walls, corners, etc. would require a track first to compensate for the camera drift. Here’s where the decision to “Finish on your own” if you are an indie filmmaker can turn into a nightmare. While Colorista, MBLooks and Boris can use the AE tracker to apply an Adjustment layer with color changes applied to it, the process means stepping out of the plugin, tracking, then going back to the Color software. Not to mention that finding a reliable tracking point on a face is an adventure upon itself. The novice quite often chooses to just do a Primary using Magic Bullet Looks for getting a safe (Film, Television, web) deliverable rather than tackle a series of time consuming, tracking task along with stacking of Colorista nodes to get a look. The Colorist takes many different factors into account, such as concatenation (the negative result resulting from stacking plugins of same mathematical process on top of each other) 8 bit banding, and chooses the tool best suited to getting the job done. Sometimes Colorista is the best tool, sometimes DaVinci.

The second grade of Rum Runner saw the shots converted from the Canon master into Tif files (I usually like to use 10bit DPX files, especially if the master is RED, ArriRaw or some format that can give me a Log file. Since CineStyle was not available when we shot, the files were already encoded REC709, so Tif worked as a grading solution. I also want true 10bit images so I needed to bypass the ProRes Quicktime curve and acquire in as close to original master look as possible. The files were then taken into Scratch (my tool of choice for Canon 5D grading) and then a series of mattes, secondary scaffolds (Power windows), a key matted Diffusion pass (to smooth out skin) and a lens flare was added. A paint pass to fix skin blemishes was done and finally the color was graded for DCI (Theater, Film Festival) and REC709 (Television) and two different passes were output to digital files.

While the snapshot above does not reflect the finished shot, it is a significant improvement of the first grading session that I would call equal to what most indie filmmakers do. Quick, down and dirty. And while the software chosen helps, the point is that in order to compete, one has to emulate as much as the Hollywood experience as possible, for audiences will not except anything less. Grading is an art form and while the failure to do it well won’t destroy your film, a good Colorist can most definitely propel your film from ho hum to memorable.