Apologies for being a bit quiet lately. It’s been a busy time. Since my last post, I’ve been in a deep rabbit-hole of research and trial and error. I’ve been proudly failing daily. Failing is learning. But I’ve been failing to find the answers I seek, figuring out new ways to google or people to contact for various details that might help unlock the next lead to try. So what’s been going on?

Firstly, we have started submitting MR CLEAN to festivals. This usually means using sites like FilmFreeway or FestHome to try and create a project, and then search through the thousands of listings for film festivals, to try and match their requirements and themes to your project and budget – ala some crazy film dating game and some routes can work out quite pricey from what I’ve read…. One of those requirements is to create a DCP – or Digital Cinema Package, for the festivals that require that as a deliverable, to be able to screen your film in the way it was meant to be seen / provide the best screening experience. But when I first saw that most established, big fests needed one and usually post houses or expensive software was involved, and hiring out cinemas just to check the results, sounded like a pain. So I avoided those fests… until Darwin revealed that despite the fact he’d told me originally an MP4 or MOV was fine, we needed one for our cast and crew premiere screening after all! He did reassure me that he’d take care of it. But I guess I needed to learn about it after all – to be self-sufficient. And to be able to create any future ones on demand.

Mr Clean and Sven Gunnar cast and crew premiere

Secondly, in order to create said DCP, I was doing research into creating a 5.1 surround sound screener, as up until now I’ve mainly been focussed on the web and TV viewing experience. But although I had a mix provided to me by Luca, our ace Sound Mixer in Milan, I had not done this in FCP X before. So then I needed to do a deep dive into tutorial articles, FCP manuals and videos, in order to work out how to do it in my case – as most other articles seemed to mainly focussing on doing the actual mixing and not what to do when you get a mix from someone else. So I had to learn how to create a cinema ready screener ready to be converted into a DCP. Fun times….

It’s been 8 long days and nights. Doing the day job and having a life, and then spending any free moment researching and playing around. Often almost falling asleep at the computer. And yesterday was the big day, where we went to try out our DCP files for SVEN GUNNAR and MR CLEAN, for a coming premiere event at Zita Folkets Bio in Stockholm, and I realised I’d gotten almost everything right… except for one important thing!…and luckily I wasn’t the only one…

The DCP:

I am not an expert. I did a lot of googling and reading various articles. Some of them out of date. I discovered why not to do this yourself. Why some DCP creation software plugins and tools range from 499 euros to 2,000 euros and what free options were out there. As far as I can see you can do it all for free. or you can buy the tools… or you can pay someone to do it for you. But you can do it for free… however, if you want to be sure, a little investment in validation and transferring the finished files is worth it.

A DCP is essentially (and I’m expecting lots of technical arguments against my over simplified and non-technical layman’s explanation and I’m ignoring Blu Ray creation – and that’s ok. I am not professing to be an expert. Just explaining it in the way I know how) a media server-friendly version of your screener. Essentially you can export out all of the images / frames of your video to the file size heavy TIFF format for best visual quality, convert them to JPEG2000 and export the audio mix into individual frames. Or (as I did) you take your MOV / MP4 etc and convert the sound and images into a DCP friendly format. Once you’ve created it, you then typically transfer said files onto an EXFAT formatted drive. Now this last stage I had heard can be problematic on some Mac systems.

Luckily, I tried DCP-omatic, and was happy to donate once I knew it did the trick (and followed these videos), using it to create my DCP file from my exported screener. I fed it the Pro res MOV file and it quickly did the job – once I learned how to alter the settings to stop scaling and keep it 1:78 / 16:9 ratio. Soon I had a working DCP, which I could test in the free player that comes with it – although I was freaking out about dropped frames and wondered about bit rates etc. But soon realised a cinema should handle what my iMac Pro couldn’t.

Then I had to figure out how to get it onto the thumb drives I ordered. I eventually saw no other option other than either chancing it, or opting for DCP Transfer, to see if that could get the job done. Although I dislike software as a subscription models, I did a test and it worked perfectly – so that was 50$ for one month’s license and 1 activation fee (as they know they can make money each time you re-activate, after previously cancelling…). But the tool works as designed. It’s simple, logical and does the job of formatting your drives, copying the DCP onto it and validating it afterwards. It is worth the money… but about that subscription model….

Btw Darwin used Premiere to export his DCP. We’ll get to how that worked out. But mostly it went ok for him, with one issue. Well, one other issue than another exorbitant subscription model…. 😉

Thumbdrives soon to become DCP screeners

The 5.1 surround sound:

I had a great surround sound mix. I needed to swap it for my stereo mix. Then work out how to activate surround sound. Then assign each track of the surround sound to a role. Then I had to figure out how to export a multi track quicktime file – as there was no recent video on it since the last big update to FCP X. But it all seemed to work ok in QuickTime. But would it work when in the DCP????

Using DCP transfer

The big mistake / testing the DCP in the cinema:

So Darwin and I met with Johnny (SVEN GUNNAR) and Dana (the lovely guy who helped get the venue for us) yesterday and we each ran into one issue.

  • Mine was that the DCP worked perfectly on loading into the media server. However, in the test screening I had zero voiceover in the mix! WTF?!?! I later found out that this was because my project timeline was linking to the 13th Dec mix, the one where there was no voiceover, and not the corrected mix delivered on the 14th Dec mix. Weirdly – and I wish I’d taken a screenshot, it had the right file names in the title – as I can’t replicate this error! But when I manually checked the files outside of FCP X I could see what was wrong. So I needed to delete the surround sound mix and do it again. Now it’s all good. But it was weird watching a file with missing elements, just like when we did it in Barcelona the first time. I’d been so focussed on the mechanics and checking certain things worked I hadn’t watched the screener or DCP all the way through! Doh! Do check your files after every export! But the file did look great on the big screen.
  • Darwin’s issue was that the Premiere file DCP name was not in the right server syntax format when copied onto the DCP. Darwin considered a workaround, which was to just copy the file name my DCP had, and paste it onto SVEN GUNNAR DCP and it worked perfectly, gaming the serving to accept it. But you definitely want to get that right if using Premiere to make sure no other festival writes-off your DCPs if they run into a small error like that. they might not want to try workarounds, if loading hundreds of screeners and might be looking for a reason just to send it back, rejected and fee lost…

Anyway. A stressful day I don’t want to revisit yesterday and a good fail. But now we have working DPC for the screening. Just got to get it to the cinema – because the screening is next week! And we have another film to shoot!… bye!