DCP: What the HECK is a Digital Cinema Package?

Digital Cinema Package, DCP, Simple DCP, Post production Supervisor, Post production workflow, D Cinema

What the HECK is a Digital Cinema Package (DCP)?

In its simplest form, Digital Cinema Package or more commonly known as a DCP could be seen as the digital version of a 35mm film print. Its main advantage is that you can present it to theaters to enable them to project it via a digital projector. A digital cinema Package is recognized and accepted all over the world

The digital cinema package comes in a briefcase. The case is either yellow or orange in color. The package includes an instruction manual, a drive, a power brick, a power cord and a USB cable. There are few steps involved in ingesting the file into the DCP server.

The first step is to open the case and confirm if all the accessories are complete. Each of the items above must be there. If it is not, you should find a replacement for the missing item as every one of them will be used.

When everything is complete, the second step is to make sure you have enough space. The size of the file is usually under either the DCP size label or Content size label. The size of a show is usually between 750GB and 1TB. After checking and finding out that you have enough space you can move on to the next step.

The next step is to plug in your DCP to your server. Plug the power brick into an outlet through the power cord and plug the other end of it into your DCP drive. Then connect the drive to the server through the USB cord. Since there are different servers, check the particular server manual that is specifically for your server. Go through the instruction on how to ingest film.

The final step is to ingest the content of the drive into the DCP server. This could take between 20 minutes and 2 hours depending on the length of the show. There is a little precaution here. It is advisable to do other things and come back later but you should be coming back to check if there is any problem every 20 minutes.

You don’t want to come back after 2 hours to find out the ingestion stopped after 20 minutes. Do you? Having given a brief introduction of digital cinema package and outlined the steps involved in ingesting it, the discussion should shift to the more technical aspect of the package.

The main reason for the popularity of this technology is that D-cinema theaters can play it all over the world. So you can move about with your movie and show it anywhere in the world. You just need to negotiate with the D-Cinema theaters in the city in which you want to show it.

The DCP is made of several types of media files like audio, video and even subtitles. It also comes with instructions on how to play them. A lot of studios deliver their films to local theaters through this form.

Some people believe that the DCP has come to replace the traditional 35mm film print. Yes, they are right. This is because DCP has several advantages over the traditional 35mm film print.

Unfortunately, 35mm film print is dead. The movie and theater industry killed it. It vanished gradually. Many theaters no longer have 35mm equipment so even if you produce your movie with it, you won’t be able to show it. What is the point creating what you can’t use?

In fact, all new theaters are digital only. The disappearance of 35mm film print began between 2010 and 2011 when the DCP emerged. Well, you won’t blame film makers when you realize the huge difference in the cost of making 35mm and DCP. In fact, it costs about 90 percent less to use the DCP technology.

Look at the cost. Then, if you shoot on video tape, you would have to transfer it to 35mm film print and the transfer process is known as “Filmout”. This will cost at least $40,000. That is not all.

You still need to make a print of the film and send it to each of the theaters where you intend to show it. This costs about $1,500 each of them. If you are sending the movie to 4000 screens, it will cost about $6 million.

With the emergence of the digital cinema package, all you have to do is to send movies to hard drives and the hard drives can be reused hundreds of times. So, the whole cost has virtually disappeared.

Thinking that the quality of the movie may be less? Don’t even go there. Beleive it or not, the quality of both of them are the same. With such a huge difference in cost, why won’t the shift from 35mm to DCP be very fast? $6 million is a large sum in whatever terms you want to put it.

That is not all. There is another huge advantage that DCP has over 35mm. 35mm is subject to wear and tear. Its value reduces with each screening. You can’t compare the first screening to the 100th one. 35mm can be broken or scratched. DCP is not like that. IIt is in digital form so it does not wear out.

The quality of the first screening is just that same as the quality of the 10,000th screening. Considering the two big and irresistible advantages DCP has over 35mm, why won’t 35mm technology die a quick and natural death?

Now, at this stage, the next question on people’s minds will be “What do DCPs cost to make?”. A feature-length DCP usually costs between $1000 and $3000. The variance in cost depends on the runtime of the film and special options such as editing, encryption, 3D, 4K just to mention a few.

This cost covers all the steps in the production like quality control, mastering and even the production of master DCP hard drive. You may also need additional copies. Additional copies will cost you about $160 to $350. It depends on whether you prefer a CRU or USB drives.

While the typical turnaround time for the production of a DCP is 7 business days, it can be done in about 2-5 days but you have to pay for express service. It is better to plan ahead and leave enough time to avoid express service. If you give the lab enough time, there will be a correction of many mistakes like glitches in any of the files.

However, some labs do not render express service. They will tell you how early they can finish at no extra cost. You either take it or leave it. It is worthy of note that different labs offer different charges. So, for the purpose of comparison, you should know all that should be included in your quote.

Mastering

This is the process of converting audio and video files into the format that D-cinema systems will recognize.

Quality Control

Quality check is as crucial as mastering. There are so many kinds of mistakes that can occur at this stage. It could be sync problems, dropouts or even glitches just to mention a few. The film will be watched on big 30-foot screens so every little error becomes overly conspicuous on the screens. According to Murphy’s Law, whatever can go wrong will go wrong. So, experienced technicians will make all the corrections. To avoid embarrassing surprises you should ensure that a thorough quality check is done on your project.

Transfer to either CRU or USB drive

This is the process of converting the mastered files to an EXT 2/3 formatted Linux hard drive. Depending on your preference, the drive could be a standard portable USB drive or a professional DX115 drive carrier, called a CRU. Both of them will deliver the same quality film. The only difference lies in their costs. USB drives are much cheaper than CRUs. However, a few theaters may demand only a CRU.

Turnaround time

The quote should include a guaranteed turnaround time. If the turnaround time will be too late for you, you can specify what you want and the quote will be adjusted. It is very important to bear in mind that the quicker the turnaround time, the higher your charges will be.

Since last minute changes occur all the time, you can’t be too sure that you won’t edit a couple of scenes later. While a lot of labs charge full encoding fee to re-encode, a few charge a discounted rate. It is even better to use this as one of the criteria to select your lab. That means you should go for a lab that offers discounted rate to re-encode your movie.

There are several factors that should determine the frame rates of your DCP. If you want a DCP that is compatible with all kinds of D-cinema systems, you should shot and edit at 24p. Then you make a 24 frames per second (fps) DCP. If your main aim is winning an Academy award, it is compulsory to make a 24fps DCP.

24fps is also the best if you intend to sell the movie to foreign buyers. This is because most of them will demand a 24fps. 24fps seems to be the established standard all over the world. Otherwise, you can go for DCPs that runs at 48, 30 or 25 frames per second. It is also good to note that DCPs play in whole figure frame rates. If your video runs at 29.9fps it will be converted to 30fps for theaters

You can make a DCP yourself but there are a few things to consider. You can get free DCP software like Google DCP software but many of them are poorly tested. Most of them are not reliable. Quality is not cheap. If you want the best, go for the expensive ones.

If you want the best, go for the expensive ones. The cost to make a professional DCP is normally between $1,000 on the low end to over $8,000 on the “really” high end but we found an amazing company called Numb Robot creating them for $540! More on that later.

Some of the reliable software packages are Clipster, QubeMaster Pro, and Davinci Resolve though I would stay away from EasyDCP. EasyDCP is infamous for not working correctly in theatrical projections. If you want to make real money with it, you have to invest in the expensive DCP software. Most importantly, you need a real theater to test your job.

The best MAC or PC can only simulate a theater, they can never be like the real theater. This should not be a problem because some theaters will allow you test your DCP for free if it is a documentary or if you run a non-profit organization.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences accept DCPs for Academy Awards but the DCPs must meet certain specifications. To boost the success rate of your film, you should consider the tips outlined below.

Helpful tips

Do a thorough research and ask as many questions as possible. Post production can be easy and smooth and it can be tough. It all depends on your choices. Once you start on a wrong foot, it will be a difficult journey all through. But if you get it right from the beginning, you will smile all through. This is why you need the contribution of experts.

To be on the safe side, shoot and edit in 23.976fps that can easily be converted to 24fps during mastering. This is because it is the standard. The Academy, as well as distributors, will only accept 24fps. Never make the mistake if shooting in 30p. You will most likely regret it except if you thrive on complications.

Poor sound quality mars a film much more than poor picture quality. So, you should take the time with sounds. It pays so much to invest in an experienced sound designer. When it comes to DCPs, there are no shortcuts. If you want quality, you have to start and end with quality materials and then you also need the assistance of professionals.

If you really want to go into it, it is advisable to take a proper course on it. You will be well prepared for it. You should also give your lab enough time. If you want express service, you will get it but it can’t be compared to the service they took enough time to deliver.

Getting a DCP created for your Indie Feature for $540!

If you are looking for a quality DCP my suggestion would be to try the indie film friendly post-production company Numb Robot. Creation of a 90-min feature-length DCP starts at $720 with a 5-day turnaround but if you wait a few more days it’s $540 with a 10-day turnaround. CRU hard drives for, the industry standard for distributing feature DCPs, are just $200 each. They also do short films. They have delivered masters to the Sundance, SXSW and the Toronto Film Festivals, just to name a few. Click here for more info. 

If you need help with understanding post-production workflow or need to consult a professional post supervisor click here.

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