The amazing thing about picture and sound is that no one understands either of them completely, even after thousands of years of study. So don’t feel like you are the only one. It was only 110 years ago that Einstein proposed what seems to be the best working theory for light, but they were just untested theories. Now, every year, someone makes progress proving another piece of his ideas.
More recently, it was a long and hard 15 year transition from film to digital projection. A lot of lessons have been learned. And now it seems projectors are changing again, to laser light…yet another set of ideas in the constant march toward trying to fulfill the Director’s Intent. Audio also has many topics that are argued about in the professional groups. There’s always something to learn.
Again, the point is: Don’t be feeling like you’re the only one who still has confusion in these areas. Those confusions are what we are going to work on, bit by bit, some through these Lessons, and some while doing the practical and important steps of watching and listening to the Manager’s Walk Through Series DCPs – and using the associated Checklist.
Be certain that you let us know if we skip a step in explaining these things, if there is a lingering misunderstanding, a word not well defined – use the Comments below, or write to us on the Contact, Please page.
Let’s start. A DCP is a Digital Cinema Package. This package holds all the frames of the movie, all the music, dialog, sound effects, all the subtitles and files for the blind/partially sighted, deaf and hard of hearing. In addition, the package has some extra files that tell which of those files to play, and when.
Most of the time, these are made so that no one can steal the valuable parts. To do that, they use what the security people call Encryption. The files are jumbled so they can only be opened and played by a projector with permission. The permission comes with security keys that are sent by the studios, or the groups they put in charge (usually the distributors.)
To make all the parts work together, those many files that are described above – in that one little paragraph – took 10s of 1,000s of hours of engineering time from groups like the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (celebrating 100 years of activity this year! Congratulations SMPTE!) and more 1,000s of hours from the studios and cinematographers and sound editors and manufacturers. There is a group called the Inter-Society Digital Cinema Forum (ISDCF) that still meets every month to discuss the pain points that occur when the hopes and the standards meets reality. They helped develop practices like the Naming Convention that you may have seen when you look at a movie title on a disk – you see the strange groups of letters and numbers that are communicating something with code instead of words.
That DCP also contains the hopes and dreams of a director and producers who spent 10s of 1,000s of hours to build an idea that they want to transfer into the minds of your audience, using your equipment. Generally, we call this the Artist’s Intent, or Director’s Intent.
With so many parts to the DCP, and so many parts to the equipment in between the DCP and the screen, there is a chance that there will – sometimes – be a problem. The chance is that some of these problems will negatively flavor the Artist’s Intent, they’ll negatively flavor the experience of the audience. Thankfully, many of those potential problems have been discovered and been made less likely. But there are some problems that can never be permanently fixed and some circumstances that make problems appear ‘just because’, and that is the point of the Checklists and their associated DCPs.
When things go wrong, we want to discover those problems early, before your customers discover them. And, we want to discover them in a way that we can logically present them to the Tech Support Staff. With good information, they can handle the problems more efficiently.
OK; we’ve covered a lot, and each bit has layers of potential questions. Thanks for reading, and please – ask questions.
Here is the link for the Managers Walk Through Series Report Form on paper. You don’t need a password if you just prove that you are a human.
And here is a link to the Online Version of the form: Managers Walk Through Report Form – Cinema Test Tools. With it you can easily flick a switch on your phone screen, make notes, and if you need to, send it to the tech. More magic at the Movie Theater!