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by Natasha Senjanovic
August 9, 2012 12:28 PM
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Not So Fast: Projection Expert Unspools 5 Major Caveats to the Digital Revolution

3. Digital projection systems have a heftier carbon footprint than we like to think.

I’m a little dubious about this whole “environmentally friendly” concept, because if you’re replacing a projector every 10 years, before it can even prove its longevity, how environmentally friendly can that be? Yes, you’re not developing film and chemicals, and you’re not burning as much fuel for shipping, even though the movies — those hard drives — are still being shipped in a case by FedEx or UPS. It is a little friendlier short-term, but each generation of prematurely out-dated digital projectors may end up as scrap metal.

4. DCP creates more work for festivals.

I’ve resisted opening up the DCP format to filmmakers in the past, but presently the tide is turning and we must use it in order to satisfy distributor requirements.

When we get a film on HDCam, and after it has passed our quality-control process, we take it to the screening, push it in the player and hit Play. With DCP, we have to take a hard drive and upload it to a server before the screening, then we have to verify that content and get a digital key (or KDM) from the distributor or filmmaker that gives us permission to play that movie on that equipment at that given time. If we have to move the screening to another theater or play it on backup equipment, this becomes a big issue for the festival.

The big challenge is getting keys that are accurate and on time. Fortunately, they can be emailed. You open the message, there’s an attachment you unzip, you put that information on a thumb drive, then push the thumb drive into the server. The server recognizes you have a key and matches it up to the film. But often we put the thumb drive in there and the server will say, “OK, you’ve got a KDM, so what? I don’t see a movie it belongs to.” Which means the KDM is wrong, it wasn’t properly made and it’s not talking to that movie. So we get back to the distributor for a new key, we give them our server ID, etc. Hopefully this isn’t happening last minute; hopefully it’s happening the day before or even sooner. Because it can be a high-stress process in an already high-stress environment!

I just finished the Nantucket Film Festival, and when the movies were over my day was not done. I had to make sure that tomorrow’s movies were ingested, that the previous day’s movies were deleted (since the server only holds ten or so films) and that we had the proper keys for those movies — or else we didn’t have a show.

5. Digital technology is deceiving filmmakers into thinking that post-production is easier and/or less important than when working with film. 

I think a lot of younger filmmakers working in digital from their laptops have trouble getting to a post-production facility to get that high-quality finishing work done because they don’t have the money. But this means they’re not actually spending the time to do a final watch-down, which is, “This is the tape that’s going to the festival, so I’m going to sit in the theater and watch it.” That’s something they should be doing, and they’re not. Because in the digital age, they’ve got until this date to get it done, and often they’re going over deadline and doing press, which at the time seems more important — until they get to the world premiere and their film plays incorrectly!

What happens is that after they finish their film, they’ll have Bob and Joe make dupes, or clones, of their HDCams, and whatever system they’re using would take that audio, which is encoded to two channels of audio, and put it on each channel, which then becomes mono. When you play this accidental mono mix back in a theater, everything comes out on one channel, on one speaker. Filmmakers are falling down on that last step of the delivery process.

To say that digital is the great equalizer is too much of a sweeping notion. I think you have to look a little more closely. Digital technology doesn’t mean that everybody can achieve great quality, it just means that the door has opened a little wider. But then you walk through that door, and it’s still up to the filmmaker to provide that quality.


  • Paul | August 10, 2012 3:25 PMReply

    I rather like the idea of a festival not being able to play a film delivered in DCP format. For the foreseeable future, any film mastered for theatrical presentation in DCP format is already well on its way to commercial success in comparison to the genuine indie films for which festivals ultimately are designed.

  • Mo | August 10, 2012 3:11 PMReply

    @DIGITALRULES - You have no idea how festivals really work. I can sympathize with the intention of your argument but it has no relation to the reality on the ground. Just sayin'.
    Good luck out there.

  • transtemporal | August 9, 2012 11:13 PMReply

    Lol, couldn't you have saved yourself a thousand words and written: "Digital sucks. 'Nuff said."?

  • TheCinephiliac | August 9, 2012 10:00 PMReply

    I'm an avid lover of film, the aesthetic and idea of it just warms my heart, and while I'm not too crazy about digital I think some of the speculations about it's impact are a bit far fetched. I feel film and digital both have their pros and cons but I feel the pros of digital outweighs its cons. That being said I don't think digital is the beacon of hope for cinema the way this generation may think or want it to be and I wholeheartedly agree that digital is taking away the focus of good storytelling methods. It's more about looking good as opposed to telling a great story these days and I just wish this up and coming generation of filmmakers will revert back to innovative ways of telling a story and not really so much on the digital format.

  • DigitalRules | August 9, 2012 6:10 PMReply

    1) So-called "arthouses" are not being forced to show any films via DCP except by major Hollywood studios...if they cannot present a selection of innovative alternative films outside
    the Big 5 they are irrelevant anyway...don't need them...we can see breakout indies at the mall or chain theaters
    2) No films are being shown only in 3d...they are always offered as 2d films also...same with
    48 fps...Peter Jackson was even scared to show it at 48fps recently and his will show at 24fps
    in theaters alongside the soap opera version
    3) Carbon footprint...throwing away a machine every 10 years? People junk cellphones, computers, etc faster than that...not an issue....for most of us.
    4)Festivals don't have to bow down to "distributor requirements"'s your festival, have the
    balls to make your own rules on how you will exhibit films...if you bow down to studios don't
    blame them for making you kiss their ass
    5) Post-prod is definitely easier digital vs film...but I agree people should make sure their audio
    mix is correct.
    All in all digital rules but you make good points which mainly demonstrate that festivals and
    arthouses should stop being wussies.

  • K2 | August 10, 2012 12:16 PM

    TRANSTEMPORAL: I don't think it sucks, I just don't think it's all it's hyped to be.
    DIGITALRULES: I agree principally with all of your points except that I feel that, like many things in our streamlined, bottom-lined, homogonized lives, somehow digital is doing the opposite of what people think it's supposed to do: make things easier, more accessible, more green and allow for more creativity. It's my hope that it will eventually do all of those things but in the meantime I feel that some of the creative and independent elements of society are getting edged out. Perhaps these will be the qualities that will allow them to persevere and succeed in the "digital revolution".