Nate Von Zumwalt
When Graef Allen, manager of content services at Dolby Laboratories in Burbank California, took the floor at the first-ever #ArtistServices San Francisco Workshop last month, she addressed the room of attendees with a raw disclaimer.
Allen conceded that her presentation was not for the faint of heart, despite its euphemistical title, “Digital Cinema Mastering 101 for Indies.” Rather, this would be an arduous crash course in the teachings of digital cinema mastering and distribution, navigating the shallow ends of the technical terrain inherent in post-production.
But, Allen noted, before she descended into her svelte introduction of the day’s most foreign material, there would be significant financial incentives for filmmakers with the gusto to do their research about mastering and distribution options. (And the quickest way to an indie filmmakers heart is by speaking directly to their wallet.) And so off we were, co-hosted by Ted Hope and the San Francisco Film Society, amidst a cloudy but beautiful day at The Presidio.
The buzzword of “Digital Cinema Mastering 101” is DCP, or Digital Cinema Package. A DCP is a collection of digital files used as a standardized delivery method for a film and is intended to match, if not surpass, the quality of 35mm prints. In more tangible terms, think of a DCP as a very powerful USB drive.
As Allen ran down the advantages of using a DCP to deliver one’s film, the obscurity with which the workshop attendees had perceived that acronym only moments before all but vanished. Among those advantages, and most notably for indie filmmakers, were the cost benefits. While the cost of a feature film print is somewhere in the range of $1,500-2,500 per print, a feature-length DCP is estimated around $150-650 per unit for unlocked versions.
Additionally, the “media integrity,” or physical vulnerability of a DCP is nowhere near as fragile as a 35mm film print or even a Blu-Ray, as it is less susceptible to heat and light damage (at least for now). And finally, but certainly most relevant, is the prevalence of digital cinemas around the world that are capable of playing a DCP and giving presentation standards parity. The format is well on its way to broader acceptance and is already accepted at most major film festivals (Sundance, Toronto, Berlin among others) globally as well as at both mainstream and art house theatres around the world.
After completing the mastering process and obtaining a hash checked DCP, there are several options for duplication of the package, as identical copies can be created individually or in batches.
As Allen wrapped up her presentation, a room saturated with self-sufficient artists and creative DIY filmmakers appeared rapt by the notion of seeing a film’s evolution through to the final stages of mastering. During a day dedicated to achieving ultimate artistic autonomy, Allen had expanded on the boundaries of creative independence.