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Not So Fast: Projection Expert Unspools 5 Major Caveats to the Digital Revolution

By Natasha Senjanovic | Indiewire August 9, 2012 at 12:28PM

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.
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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.

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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.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit, Digital Projection, Karl Mehrer, Festivals, Filmmaker Toolkit: Exhibition